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  Specs
  • Full Frame
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • Outtakes

Berserk 1 - War Cry

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 125 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
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Based on the manga Hakusensha (Young Animal) by Kentaro Miura, Berserk is an anime series of blood, medieval carnage and, erm, blood - gushing, red rivers of blood. The story revolves around a mean motor-scooter by the name of 'Guts' (character names are just getting more and more stupid aren't they?) who roams the kingdom of Midands as a mercenary for hire. Without any real sense of purpose, and valuing victory in battle over his own life, Guts recklessly engages any opponent that crosses his path. Never giving an inch in battle, Guts finally meets his match in Griffith, an exceedingly camp, long-haired lothario and amateur philosopher whose talents with the sword are legendary. Trounced and humiliated by Griffith, Guts is initiated into the 'Band of the Hawk' - a band of boy soldiers who, under Griffith's skilled leadership, are the land's most feared group of mercenaries. Their very name spelling victory on the battlefield, Guts immediately proves himself a valuable asset to the Hawk - but not everyone is happy about their newest member; Guts included. But all in all, with the Hawk Guts leads a relatively carefree life; killing, resting and killing some more. And yet all is not quite what it seems. This Griffith has a hidden agenda which, amongst other things, includes ruling the world…

War Cry, the first volume of this rather violent series, presents the first five episodes of Guts' adventures with the Band of the Hawk:

The Black Swordsman
A huge man with one eye, an automatic crossbow and the hugest, most phallic sword in the history of the world comes to town seeking 'The Master' of the surrounding lands. After dispatching a few lackeys, this Master - some kind of bad-ass snake demon - comes after him, only to be killed in the most violent manner possible. And who the hell is this king Griffith that old one-eye hates so much?

The Band of the Hawk
Ah, so the one eyed dude's name is Guts, and this series is to tell the backstory of this sword-wielding bad-ass! It's years previous and Guts is a young man working as a sword for hire in a nameless army. Battle ensues, and while all others quail, Guts defeats Bazuso - a feared fat bastard who is blocking their advance. Leaving the battle with his reward, he is accosted by members of the Band of the Hawk and, resoundly beaten by their leader Griffith, is asked to join the band. Looks like Griffith may have a crush on our friend Guts, but there's honour at stake and Guts immediately challenges Griffith to another duel...

First Battle
With the duel between Guts and Griffith in full swing, an already injured Guts doesn't stand a chance. And with defeat, Guts is subjugated and initiated into the Band of the Hawk; a group of mercenaries who, at that very moment, are helping one of the King's regiments to trounce an attacking enemy. Given the all important task of rear-guard, Guts acquits himself wonderfully against almost overwhelming opponents, much to the chagrin of other elements in the band...

The Hand of God
It's the day after the battle and Guts and Griffith bond with a little naked water fight. While Griffith reveals his intention to secure a kingdom for himself, Guts muses over his own past and his overbearing, violent mentor Gambino. Griffith has his grand plan, but just what is it that Guts wants out of life?

A Wind of Swords
For three years the Hawk have battled on the side of Midlands and its king, against its age old enemy Chuder. And now another decisive battle has arrived. Single handedly sealing the victory for Midlands, Guts again shows his propensity for reckless self-endangerment. With victory comes a knighthood for Griffith, bringing the blonde swordsman closer to his ultimate aim of world domination. Thanks Guts! But the war's not over yet, and the Hawk launch yet another attack on yet another enemy camp. Isn't slaughter fun?

Despite the relative high level of gore and violence, these first five episodes of Berserk seem to crawl along at a snail's pace. After quite an engaging first episode, in which an enigmatic hero is introduced and several intriguing questions are posed, the pace slackens off considerably and we are slowly introduced to Guts' backstory, Griffith, and the other members of the Hawk. With the initial introductions over, the central narrative seems to wander aimlessly hither and thither, rather confusingly seeing the Hawk battle this enemy and that, for this lord or that, for no discernable reason. With no clear motivation established for any of the central characters, it's hard to care less which of them lives or dies.

And so, even with five episodes included on this first volume, War Cry represents a rather dubious introduction to Berserk and I for one would find it hard to justify the purchase of volume two on the strength of it. However, if the fan sites are to be believed, the series becomes a lot more engaging in the next volume, and so I will reserve my judgment until then. I just happen to have the disc sitting here in front of me so, stay tuned!

  Video
Contract

In terms of its quality of animation, Berserk is typical of action anime produced for television. While the action scenes are fluid and filled with a flurry of detailed movement, money has been saved on the quieter moments; displaying many instances of panning stills. These stills, like many of the series' backgrounds, are at least nice to look at; being drawn and coloured in the 'watercolour' style that is typical of the fantasy anime genre. While keeping with the medieval production design, character designs, meanwhile, are rather outlandish. In his hawk-shaped helmet, Griffith looks remarkably like a member of G-Force, while Guts' massive sword in Episode 1 looks more like a surf-board sized Paddle Pop than a weapon of mass destruction. The bizarre production design also shows in the getup of the other members of the Hawk, with a wide variety of helmets and armour on show. But overall, while outlandish, the credibility of medieval look and feel is established and maintained by the series.

Madman's full-frame transfer, meanwhile, is a tad below average for their otherwise high-standards in anime for DVD; mainly due to deficiencies in the source material and telecine job. While the colours - mainly blood reds, deep sky blues, and earthy browns - are vividly reproduced without bleeding or chroma noise, there is an almost constant level of low-level film grain exhibited in the background of most images. These same backgrounds are often a tad soft, but this appears to be more a stylistic decision by the director than a deficiency in the transfer. Adding to this are a light peppering of film artefacts and a small yet regular amount of telecine wobble. As we have come to expect, Madman have added nothing at all in the way of compression artefacts to the image and all in all, while strictly less impressive than some of their other anime releases, the noted deficiencies add up to nothing that will really spoil a viewer's enjoyment of the disc.

  Audio
Contract

Opening with a very unsubtle rocking theme tune, in terms of audio Berserk is typical of anime produced for television in the mid-'90s. With Dolby Digital stereo mixes provided by Madman in both the original Japanese and an English dub, the soundtrack is rooted firmly in the front channels; my Prologic decoder routing sound to the rear channel only during a handful of occasions - mainly for thunder and lightning, and in one case the ambience of buzzing crickets in a summer field. While dialogue emanates clearly from the centre speaker throughout, channels separation across the front is minimal with only nominal use made of stereo effects. The subwoofer is effectively silent throughout.

In terms of the English dub, the English dialogue varies from the Japanese translation substantially - again in a ridiculous attempt to match dialogue to the mouth movements - but all major plot points remain covered by the dub. While the Japanese cast is in all ways superior (no surprises there), the cast assembled for the dub is also reasonable, with no strong accents to annoy.

  Extras
Contract

Madman have done a great job with the animated menus on War Cry - a shifting pan over what I can only guess is promotional art for the series - very effective. The menus provide access to what is a relatively standard set of anime extras...

  • Production Sketches: 36 still images provide line drawings of all the series' major characters, their weapons and armour.

  • Art Gallery: Eight still images of promotional art for the series, these are drawn in the same style as many of the backgrounds seen during the episodes.

  • Outtakes: Just over two minutes of fluffed lines and silliness made by the English cast during dubbing. There's one or two funny moments here.

  • Textless Opening The opening sequence, with rocking theme song, is provided without the credits.

  • Madman Propaganda: Trailers for other Madman releases Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Noir, Rurouini Kenshin, Hellsing, GTO, Excel Saga, and Burn Up Excess.

  Overall  
Contract

Despite the enormous body count, this first volume of Berserk is a tad slow to get going; despite Madman supplying us with the maximum five episodes in an attempt to draw us in. This said, given the zeal with which this series is discussed by anime fans on the Internet, I think I'll reserve my judgement on Berserk until I see the second volume.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2414
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      And I quote...
    "Whilst Berserk was greeted with enthusiasm by many anime fans, this first volume is directionless and a little slow to get going - even despite the high body count."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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