It’s 2016 and Berserk is back in the hearts and minds of animation fans everywhere. Unfortunately, online criticism of the first episode has been somewhat merciless, condemning the art style, animation, and even whether or not the source material itself even remains relevant in this day and age. Without descending too far into grumpy old man, “get off my lawn” territory (believe it or not this paragraph was originally even longer), and having already tackled the realistic financial ramifications of the “hand drawn vs. CGI” debate in my recent Guilty Gear review, I’ll just say that Berserk isn’t Attack on Titan or even Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (and don’t get me wrong, I like Attack on Titan and LOVE Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure) , your average Survey Corps poncho wearing, “wryyyyy” meme loving teenaged mall dweller would probably piss their pants when confronted with the level of brutal violence and disturbing sexual depravity Berserk almost exclusively traffics in, so as a longtime fan I consider myself lucky to have ANY Berserk series to watch in 2016, especially one that’s been as reverent and respectful of the challenging source material (more so than any other previous adaptation) as this one has so far, slightly stiff character animation and over-bright, washed out color palette be damned. End of rant. Now, on to episode two…
We catch up with Guts and Puck right where we left them, surrounded by The Knights of the Holy Iron Chain, a vaguely religious (aren’t they all?) sect of untested soldiers led by the courageous Farnese, passive aggressive Serpico and skilled, legendary warrior Azan. Guts’ predicament brings him back to he and Casca’s ordeal at the hands of Adon’s men during his time with the Hawks, and causes him to (of course) lash out violently, despite his considerable injuries from the previous night. The ballet of severed torsos and arterial spray is realized flawlessly and evokes Kentaro Miura’s art completely, so much so that a devout fan of the man’s work could never fully condemn the animation style employed here in the heat of battle, despite its admitted shortcomings elsewhere. Quickly succumbing to his injuries, Guts then faces off against Azan, revealing himself to be aware of the warrior’s legendary reputation, before making a desperation play against Farnese herself and being bested and taken prisoner by the young female captain.
Even though Guts tends to be indestructible as a protagonist, not unlike a Goku or Kenshiro, it’s his pathos and neuroses that make him relatable, palatable, not unlike a Marvel hero. Even standing against entire armies of both man and demon Guts will not falter, but it’s his own psychological demons that he ultimately falls prey too, as his time with the Hawks and ultimate betrayal at the hands of Griffith haunt him (again, gloriously aping the earthier, grittier tones of the ’97 series, proving that the overall look many take issue with here is at least somewhat intentional) unconsciously as he is held captive. Farnese knows a little of Guts’ history, the Hawks’ mysterious disappearance, his time as the captain of their raiders, but longs to know more. Guts is of course tight lipped, sardonic and sarcastic as ever, even as Farnese resorts to torture, but it’s of little consequence. Any punishment she could conceive of let alone carry out would be nothing compared to what he’s already survived.
When all seems lost, Guts caged without armor or weaponry as the sun sets and the demons begin to circle, Puck comes to the rescue. Puck continues to be used incredibly well within the context of this pitch black world, even more so than in Miura’s original work. A comment of his near the episode’s beginning and a deadpan exchange between he and Guts towards its end had me literally laughing out loud, something I never expected. Guts conspires to take Farnese hostage to make good his escape but as he comes upon her tent he catches her mid-self-flagellation. Farnese’s intense and tortured relationship with her faith and duty in a world increasingly corrupted by demonic presence and supernatural elements is one of this phase of the comic’s most fascinating aspects and it’s a relief to see its’ beginnings presented here so matter-of-factly. Not sensationalized, not downplayed, just as laid bare as they are in the manga. Guts and Puck retreat on horseback, Farnese in tow, Serpico in pursuit, as night falls and the demonic hordes rise.
2 episodes into a purported 24 episode run the 2016 version of Berserk has set the stage for the carnage to come in relatively deft fashion, offering a lot to love for both grizzled Berserk veterans and newcomers open minded enough to get over themselves about the animation’s necessary budget constraints.