To say that the 2016 incarnation of Berserk got off to a rocky start would be an understatement, and the online reaction to this shoddily animated and oddly paced version of Japanese artist Kentaro Muira’s dark medieval fantasy was just as brutal as the demonic violence contained within. As a huge fan of the source material, I took a more measured approach to this criticism, but even found myself siding with the series’ most vocal detractors after a head scratching clusterfuck of a third episode.
Something miraculous happened after that though, as the 4th Episode righted the ship in a big way, though somewhat bogged down by heavy dialogue and world building, a lot of telling without showing, it was still a huge course correction that I hoped the creators could maintain as we got deeper into the meat and potatoes of Muira’s post-“Golden Age” era. I’m happy to say that’s exactly what’s occurred, as Berserk Episode 5 continues to follow Episode 4’s lead and doubles down on the series’ trademark violence for good measure.
Episode 5 begins with the reintroduction of manga favorite Isidoro, finding himself once again in the middle of trouble, with Guts facing off against villainous Kushans in beautifully bloody battle, Kushan leader Silat and his envoy of heavily muscled Tapasa looking on safely from afar. Silat has encountered The Black Swordsman once before and is smart enough to keep his distance. Isidoro, well, isn’t, and begins to foolishly follow behind Guts and Puck.
Meanwhile, Lord Mozgus’ inquisitions of the Midland countryside continue apace with the peasants starvation beginning to solidify into rebellion. Mozgus intervenes, seemingly benevolently, and saves a malnourished child from death, only to then subject the child’s innocent mother to his elaborate and bizarre torture chamber, forcing Farnese to look on. We can begin to see Farnese’s sense of justice and sense of faith internally wrestle with one another as she continues to be exposed to the evil within Mozgus and his followers.
We are then formerly introduced to Luca, proprietor of the crude, proto-brothel where Casca (now called Elaine) has taken refuge. Luca has wrapped Casca’s face in bandages, to hide her beauty in an attempt to keep her from being victimized in the harsh medieval war scape Midland has become. But as the sun sets and Casca’s brand begins to bleed, Luca and her charges will learn that there are far worse things after them than rapists and thieves.
Dusk falls on Guts and Puck as well, just as Isidoro catches up to them and, hilariously, attempts to steal Guts’ enormous dragon slayer sword while Puck looks on in amused disbelief. Guts briefly considers taking on the brash youngster as an apprentice, but immediately thinks better of it, as night falls and our heroes are beset by a horde of bloodthirsty wheel demons (take note, Dark Souls fans, Berserk did it first). As Guts takes up arms and a Susumu Hirasawa composition blasts through the speakers the message becomes clear: Berserk is fucking back, here to take its rightful place in the revered lexicon of hardcore action anime fans worldwide.