An early criticism of the classic 1997 Berserk series that longtime fans will remember scratching their heads over was the omission of the comic series’ ominous Skull Knight. Even as officially licensed figures of the character popped up on specialty store shelves to coincide with the early 2000’s DVD release, even those who had bootlegged the series on VHS years prior and thought themselves experts on all things Berserk (raises hand) were left wondering “yeah that guy looks cool, but who the hell is he?”
Skull Knight’s purpose, aside from, yes, looking pretty fucking cool, was to warn Guts of and then save him from the eclipse massacre, though with said rescue happening off-screen in the ’97 series I suppose the creators had no qualms about leaving Skully on the cutting room floor right next to Wyald and Silat. Which brings us to Episode 6 of the new Berserk series, and Knight of Skeleton’s offering of clarity to Guts in regard to the heightened intensity of the usual strange supernatural goings-on lurking in the moonlight.
The Knight appears to offer warning to Guts yet again, but this time The Black Swordsman already knows. Griffith, now Femto, and his God Hand are returning for a second eclipse. Guts vows that this time it will be he himself who saves he and Casca from the demonic onslaught, and not the Skull Knight.
Farnese, still reeling from witnessing Mozgus’ violent inquisition first hand, while her ranks dissent as a result of her obvious weakness, seeks council with the man himself, suffering the company of his seemingly grotesque henchmen, who are in reality just as reluctant and conflicted as she. As they approach Mozgus they witness his own brand of self-flagellation, Farnese shares her doubts and is surprisingly met with sympathy and reassurance by the hulking inquisitor, and walks away from the encounter relieved. Serpico is less convinced.
Catching up with Luca, one of her charges, Nina, lures a “customer” of hers into a strange demonic, cannibalistic sex ritual, seemingly presided over by Slan of The God Hand. Nina’s friend is “killed” as he attempts to flee from the madness, just as Luca arrives to admonish Nina for her participation. Unbeknownst to any of them, Casca has tagged along, and gains the attention of the hedonistic revelers, who remove her bandages to reveal her true beauty and (of course, this is Berserk) immediately attempt to rape her. Casca’s brand begins to bleed and for once she is saved by the demonic hordes, witnessing them possess her attackers, causing them to brutally, murderously fight amongst themselves. Her mysterious “demon baby” suddenly appears, driving off the demons and causing the surviving heathens to worship her as a witch.
Episode 7 starts right where 6 leaves off, Casca’s fellow peasants now bringing her gifts, word having spread amongst the settlement of her supernatural prowess. Nina is still shaken from the previous night, and confides in Luca about wanting to abandon “Elaine”, which of course Luca will have none of, as one of their number “Pepe”, comes under fire from the inquisition.
And who should show up just in time to right that injustice but The Black Swordsman himself, Guts making short work of the power abusing Holy Iron Chain Knights in question, and gaining the attention of Luca with his queries about a “branded girl”. The group makes haste for Luca’s tent, Guts’ mind racing about he and Casca’s history and time apart, and Puck and the previously abandoned Isidoro getting exactly the kind of reaction from the peasants and prostitutes that you’d expect, only to discover that “Elaine” and Nina have disappeared.
As the gang splits up to cover more ground in the search for Nina and Casca, Isidoro and Puck get some very good character work, showing exactly how well the creative team behind this adaptation have played the manga’s sometimes grating comic relief duo. If you’d have told me how much I’d enjoy Guts’ two unlikely companions in this series I’d have called you a god damned liar. Kudos to the 2016 Berserk team for that. Not JUST for that, but especially that.
As the boy and the elf spot Casca apprehended by the previous night’s demon sex cult, word gets back to Farnese and crew about not only the cave dwelling fuck happy heathen cannibal gang but also the violent reappearance of one Black Swordsman. And Puck and Isidoro look on in horror as the heathens unveil their plan to sacrifice Nina and Casca to the previous night’s master of ceremonies, our friend the Goat Apostle. ‘Doro sends Puck to go get Guts as he attempts to handle things himself in another fantastically goofy sequence ripped straight from the source material.
As Casca’s brand bleeds and demons once again rise from the cave walls the Holy Iron Chain Knights arrive on the scene to do battle with the possessed heretics, Azan somewhat amusingly reasoning that their appearance and behavior must be drug related, and Farnese taking comfort in that explanation given her regrettable encounter with the horse. With the Knights nearly overtaken by the demonic cannibals, and Casca firmly in the clutches of a possessed Goat Apostle (and his weird snake, penis, thing), all seems lost until in a flash of white light, Guts and Puck return. Violent retribution awaits, but sadly, not until the next episode.
On the AV front Berserk 2016 continues to impress, shaking off the early awkwardness (for the most part, there is an odd spanking scene that doesn’t quite translate from page to screen and could’ve been left out to everyone’s benefit) of the first episodes with artfully constructed battle sequences and creepily convincing effects accompanying the many supernatural elements on display. The music is great in these episodes too, though lacking any actual compositions from series mainstay Susumu Hirasawa, the music here definitely fits his chaotic techno orchestral mold well, and the sillier scoring of Isidoro and Puck’s best scenes take things right to the edge of camp but not over, playing the comic relief just as well and the writing and acting have thus far.
Berserk’s self-seriousness may be causing a minor internet backlash as this series and the upcoming PS4 game put the largest spotlight ever on Miura’s dark fantasy, but as I’ve written about before, if you’ve glommed onto this thing over the years it’s hard not to carry a piece of it with you, like your own perpetually bleeding, demon attracting brand. This series may still have some rough edges, and I’m sure the game will as well, (critics have been historically unkind to Tecmo’s Warriors series) but it’s still the best this IP’s ever been treated, and if you’ve been with it for a while you can’t help but be simultaneously proud and defensive of your own personal little corner of medieval hell.