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A year has passed since Guts parted ways with Griffith. The Band of the Hawks is plotting a rescue mission to save Griffith who is confined to prison. One night, a group of assassins attack the band, and a bloody battle for survival begins. Just as things are beginning to look grim for them, Guts reappears and saves them. Guts rejoins his friends and embarks on a mission to save Griffith, however.Written by
Still marred by the same issues, but definitely the best one so far
Whereas the first two films ranged from merely passable to a downright butchering of the story, Descent finally finds a comfortable groove and is definitely the best one of the films so far.
Descent has many points in its favor before the film even starts; this movie covers the most important and character-focused part of the story without any massive battles or political plotting. The movie is focused solely on the survival of the Band of the Hawk, with the battles being small-scale skirmishes than entire armies clashing and the story moves away from the mundane and medieval aspects to the (personally) more interesting stuff with demons and the supernatural. This allows for a tighter focus and structure.
The pacing is far from perfect, but it's finally at least decent. After the first 20-30 minutes, the film finally takes some time with the characters, and actually manages to establish some emotional attachment to them. It's definitely a positive for the film.
In the first films the blend of hand-drawn animation and CG ranged from looking terrible to at best alright, but here it is finally used rightly. It's not perfect, but it's lightyears ahead of the first two. The studio has cleverly chosen to use CG for the character models, but their faces are animated in 2D. This does a good job of abridging the two different animation styles, and the moments when the two clash are far less numerous than before. The film being more character-focused also gives us more moments where they are animated fully hand-drawn, and it looks great. When the Eclipse begins, the movie really becomes a treat for the eyes: all the various monsters and the surreal landscapes of the demon world look great, and the action scenes are very well directed and animated.
But despite all this, Descent is far from great. The problems are smaller than before, but they're still the same. The biggest one is undoubtedly the pacing; the film still feels like a heavily cut down cliff's notes version of the story. If the film was 30-40 minutes longer, maybe then it could have covered everything that's in the story. The most outrageous examples of this are that a) we never find out what Guts has been doing during his year of absence and b) one scene where Caska seemingly arbitrarily switches between three completely different emotional states in the space of only a few minutes.
Despite the praise I gave the animation, the CG on the humans still looks jarring and is very easily noticed. It's less problematic than before, but still an issue. The score is a mixed bag; at times it's appropriately booming and ominous and at others bizarrely inappropriate. There are moments where mere silence would have suited some scenes better than the music in the film. In fact, the more ambient-styled score of the original series suited the Eclipse's nightmarish events better, and that's quite an odd thing to say, considering the original's fairly weak score.
The odd thing about Descent is that for every thing it does better than the series, it seems to get something else wrong. Here we finally see how Guts escapes the Eclipse, but Rickert's own mini-story has been almost entirely cut out. The animation is far better than the series, but the voice acting is clearly inferior. The film completes this part of the story, but so much that is important to future events has been cut out that continuing from this will be quite hard. The definitive animated version of Berserk might lie somewhere between these films and the original series. Perhaps by making a supercut of the two one would end up with a masterpiece.
Recommendation: Despite all I said, I enjoyed this film. It has its problems, lots of them, but the good ultimately outweighs the bad. Worth watching.
PS. For all you expecting Wyald and the Black Dogs: they're not here. Sorry.
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