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By Joe Bendel. They were not called dark ages for nothing. Battlefield carnage and an inflexible class system are the realities of the day. Yet, the charismatic leader of a band of mercenaries has unthinkably lofty aspirations in Toshiyuki Kubooka’s Berserk the Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King, the feature anime adaptation of Kentara Miura’s popular manga series, recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Viz Media.

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The relatively young looking Guts is a ferocious sword-for-hire if paid well enough, but he is not a joiner. Nonetheless, the mysterious Griffith is determined to recruit him for his “Band of the Hawk” mercenary troupe. While Guts easily overpowers Griffith’s best warriors, including the fiercely loyal Casca, he is no match for their angelically effeminate leader. Bested in a fair fight, Guts swears fealty to Griffith, quickly becoming his favorite.

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Thanks to Guts’ reckless courage, the Band of the Hawk earns the gratitude of the Midland Kingdom. Much to the shock and disdain of the nobility, Griffith is rewarded with a title. However, he has even further ambitions, including catching the eye of the Princess. It will probably end badly if you believe the prophecy of Nosferatu Zodd, but you can’t always accept the word of giant demonic mercenaries.

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While the Berserk series was produced in Japan (with the original Japanese soundtrack available as a DVD option for purists), it was clearly shaped by the Medieval Europe that served as the foundation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and most subsequent epic fantasy series. Yet, the anti-heroism of Egg is rather distinctive. Indeed, the opening battle sequences are unusually stylishly by anime standards, yet surprisingly brutal.

Intended for mature audiences, Egg should be considered anime for Game of Thrones fans. Blood will definitely run. There is even some brief fan service provided by Casca. While most of the target audience is probably already familiar with the franchise characters, new arrivals pretty much have to roll with the punches. We can glean there were some difficult childhoods in the past, forging everyone into lethal warriors. Of course, how much characterization do you need in the middle of a full scale siege?

As dark and moody as Egg gets, it never lets the angst interfere with the action.  As a result, the awkwardly titled Berserk the Golden Age Arc I: the Egg of the King delivers all kinds of hack-and-slash, making it a fitting stocking stuffer for a reasonably “grown-up” fantasy fanatic awaiting the new season of Thrones and the final Wheel of Time novel. Recommended pretty enthusiastically for genre and anime fans that prefer blood and guts over magical devices, Berserk … King is now available for home viewing from Viz.

LFM GRADE: B+

Posted on December 12th, 2012 at 8:30am.

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By Joe Bendel. Hired killers are not inclined to make alliances. Nonetheless, to survive the “Killing Chamber,” eight captured assassins will have to work together. Needless to say, not all of them are going to make it in Raimund Huber’s Kill’Em All (trailer here), which releases this week on DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA, just in time for Christmas.

The premise is elegantly straight forward. A shadowy criminal mastermind has abducted the top freelancers working in Bangkok, forcing them to face off in death matches, until there is only one. Defiance of his instructions will lead to another dose of gas flooding the chamber. On the other hand, each victor earns a trip to the weapons room. Basically, it is a martial arts Survivor with décor left over from the Saw franchise. Frankly, it is strange nobody made this film sooner, but here it is now.

Let’s have no illusions: this is an old school exploitation movie, through and through. What it might lack in subtlety, it makes up for with in-your-face violence, choreographed with authority by fight director Tim Man. Those nostalgic for Enter the Dragon rip-offs like Kill and Kill Again will get plenty of red meat here. The dialogue can be rather clunky, though, but that’s okay – the delivery often is, as well. Yet, despite ‘Em All’s profound B-movieness, the characters are better delineated than one might expect.

Gabriel is an explosives expert who wants everyone to join hands and work together to survive. He is also suicidal, so this might be his lucky day, regardless. Som is a Black Widow type assassin, who stuns opponents with her fearsome midriff of death. She also seems to know more about their predicament than she lets on. Carpenter is the crusty old Gary Busey-esque American expat of the hitman world, who hasn’t survived this long for no reason. “The Kid” is the quiet, wiry type, but you do not want to face him in a death match. Throw in a sadistic man child and a German anarchist and you have yourself a colorful crew.

Ammara Siripong in "Kill 'Em All."

No, this is not Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘Em All was obviously shot on a shoestring, but Huber still recruited a cast that will interest genre fans. None other than Shaw Brothers veteran Gordon Liu appears as their evil tormentor, “Snakehead.” Perhaps even more significant to martial arts connoisseurs will be the final film appearance of Joe Lewis, the international kickboxing champion and one time student of Bruce Lee, as Carpenter. Ammara Siripong (co-star of the Thai martial arts film Chocolate) is also an impressive screen presence as Som. Arguably, she has the best fight sequence, involving the lethal use of bricks (once again, ‘Em All is more about brute force than finesse).

You should know by now if Kill ‘Em All is your idea of a guilty pleasure. For action fanatics, it has some cool moments, especially those featuring the undeniably attractive Siripong and the late great Lewis. You could say it’s a bit grungy and unsophisticated, but Kill ‘Em All is still the perfect film to put on after a big family Christmas dinner. Recommended accordingly, it is now available for home viewing from Well Go USA.

LFM GRADE: B-

Posted on December 12th, 2012 at 8:25am.

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