Okay so before I take a look at Season 2, a brief word on Season 1. I’m planning to do a “Thoughts on…” piece (bit late for a review, given that season 2’s airing) on the first season, but for now I’ll sum up my thoughts on it thusly: I agree with the two main issues people tend to have with it, but I still really enjoyed it and will happily defend it. Berserk is one of my very favourite things in the world, but it’s been years since I read any parts of the manga that weren’t the current chapters, so until I’ve re-read it (which I plan to soon) my recollection will primarily be broad strokes.
Episode 1: The Rent World
Is the bit at the start a reference to the “Lost Children” arc? Can they adapt that please? I really like the part where Guts hangs a child on the end of The Dragonslayer to use as live bait. Anyway the bulk of the episode is about Guts returning to Godot’s cabin, finding that absolute bastard Griffith has arrived to see Rickert, and then fighting Nosferatu Zodd in an attempt to get to Griffith and murder him. I felt the fight with Zodd got a bit silly at times- the effect of them both swinging their swords really fast looked odd and really didn’t match the intense rage Guts is meant to be feeling. If you’re unfamiliar with Griffith because you only watched the first season of this anine: he’s responsible for Casca’s current mental state, her and Guts’ brands, the deaths of all of Guts’ friends and indirectly responsible for Gut’s missing eye and arm. Guts’ hatred for him burns so bright it threatens to consume his entire being, as we’ll see later. So the scene of Guts trying to reach him was fine, but lacked punch. I like the quieter scenes of character development- one of my favourite scenes from season 1 was Guts sitting with Godot on his death bed- and the short moments of that here are nice. What I’m not into is the sudden cut at the end to a montage of the Kushan-Midland war that’s going on. I know it’s an important part of the story and leads to crucial plot points later on but this should have just been about the Band of the Hawk.
New opening credits are good, I like that it’s more general scenes of things to come and not a play-by-play of previous events like the first OP was (more on that in my season 1 article), and the animation is bloody lovely. The animation in the episode proper shares the issues season 1 had, so I won’t touch on them here. Overall though it’s a good episode, and it’s nice to have Berserk back so soon.
Episode 2: The Winter’s Journey
Oh hey, they made the Hellhound scene a lot less rapey than in the manga- oh. Oh wait.
The bulk of this episode is given to Farnese and Serpico’s backstory; she was horrible and out of her mind, he put up with it. I’m not a fan of Farnese and Serpico at this point in the story, I think they get better later on. I am glad they’re fleshed out though, particularly given their importance later. The best scenes were the ones involving Guts dealing with his inner darkness; a beastly black hound with glowing red eyes known colloquially as “The Hellhound” (0r if you want to be more formal, “The Beast of Darkness”)- a monster trying to convince Guts to murder Casca and dedicate himself completely to killing Griffith, and at one point almost makes Guts rape Casca. The biggest problem this episode was its wildly shifting tone: the aforementioned Guts scenes are as brutal and uncomfortable as they were in the manga, but because this show is in such a rush about a minute after Guts assaulting Casca and almost raping her it’s onto Isidro-based comic relief and suddenly Serpico and Farnese have arrived to join Guts’ journey. The content here is all excellent I just wish it would take its time more. I really like how when the Hellhound first appears to Guts in a nightmare it seemingly gets bigger and more powerful the longer Guts lets it talk, and how the demons drawn to Guts’ brand are dispelled by dawn breaking seemingly due to a stronger demon (the Hound) and Guts managing to overpower it. Nice cameo by Schierke too, I’m very much looking forward to her becoming a regular.
Overall a good episode, but it could really do with slowing down.
Episode 3: Banner of the Flying Sword
Ugh, it’s a Griffith episode. They introduced the new Band of the Hawk- Grunbeld the big dude, Locus the archer and Nosferatu Zodd (whose allegiance to Griffith has never sat right with me though it does make sense) are the top men in an army of Midlanders and Kushan prisoners led by the newly returned Griffith. It’s here where the anime takes the same turn the manga did: making me sit through scenes of people fawning over and pledging allegiance to a character I utterly despise. But still, despite my hatred for Griffith I can’t deny they did a decent job establishing him as a supernatural being that people who don’t know the full story could conceivably rally around. It’s nice to see Zodd again, Grunbeld is important to an iconic scene the show is barrleing towards with reckless abandon and it’s important to show the odds that Guts will eventually go up against (presumably) but bloody hell do I hate Griffith. I hate him so much.
Only two scenes of Guts’ new party- Farnese and Serpico joining up (nice cut to Casca sitting, hood up behind a tree when Isidro brings up what Farnese did to her, as a callback to what Guts did) and a nice closing scene of the group preparing for an imminent attack. Guts and his new group are what make Berserk for me so it’s nice to have some time with them, but with the preview showing them arriving at the Mansion of the Spirit Tree I’m worried character development for the group will be eschewed in favour of building up Griffith’s support. The show is already light on character development most of the time, and rushing into more action scenes doesn’t help. But for now I remain cautiously optimistic.
Episode 4: Forest of Demonic Beasts
This episode was a lot better; no Griffith, no one fawning over the new Band of the Hawk, minimal action actually. Just an episode about Guts’ new party getting to know each other and moving towards some vague destination, which is conveniently replaced with “Wherever that Witch girl came from”. Said Witch girl is Schierke, and she’s awesome, particualrly as the story goes on and, with her extensive and varied magic powers, becomes an important part of the team. As much as I love Shierke however, it’s too early for her to be in the group. This is the first time Guts, Isidro, Puck, Serpico, Farnese and Casca have been together, and they get about fifteen minutes before the story gets back to powering through ten chapters an episode. Still, what little time they get I thought was very good; Guts training Isidro, Serpico handling all the survivalism tasks in the way a butler might, and Farnese realising how fallible she is, and how her life in the Holy See has left her woefully unprepared for the world. This is where her character becomes far more interesting, as she comes to terms with her shortcomings and grows as a person. Guts’ New Party are our heroes going forward, against a monstrous villain that even I despise. They need time to develop and grow on the audience. Hopefully once Guts has the Berserker armour and Shierke and Ivalera join the group they’ll have more time dedicated to them.
By James Lambert