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, particularly 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 Schierke 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 Schierke and Ivalera join the group they’ll have more time dedicated to them.
Episode 5: Spirit Realm
The spike in consistent quality seen last episode continues here, with the whole runtime dedicated to exposition and preparing for the upcoming troll fight. Guts finally meets someone who can tell him about the Brand of Sacrifice he and Casca have been saddled with following The Eclipse. It’s a relief to see the two of them find an ally who can provide them serious help; Schierke and her Mistress can mask the Brand to keep Guts and Casca safe for a while, they provide Isidro and Serpico with magical weapons, and they give more insight into the whole “demons coming out the woodwork at night” situation. As much as I enjoy the action scenes in Berserk, I do appreciate the moments when it slows down and lets the audience soak up the atmosphere and character. Admittedly you have more time to do so in the manga, in which you’ve spent ages with Guts and literally any chance for him to catch his breath is a huge relief, and it takes its time showing you just how awful the world they live in really is, but it’s still noteworthy in this adaptation. Seeing who Guts is when he isn’t cutting people and monsters in half, remembering what he’s been through and seeing that despite what’s happened he’s still capable, deep down, of trusting people is an integral part of the story. It’s admittedly dampened here because it left out the scenes early in his Black Swordsman career when he went out of his way to be a cold-hearted dick because he couldn’t bare to get close to anyone after what Griffith did to him. But for those who saw the three preceding films adapting the Golden Age arc need to see that everything that happened didn’t crush Guts’ spirit completely. That hope still exists in a world this bleak. That why episodes like this one work.
Episode 6: Fight for Survival Against the Demonic Legion
The janky animation came back for Guts’ big moment against the Trolls, but that’s my only real complaint. I quite like the Magnificent 7 feel to this episode; the first real test for Guts’ New Party is saving a town from a horde of malicious creatures. I like the little touches before the fight like certain townspeople not trusting them (but they have to admit that Guts looks pretty tasty), Isidro’s guarded heart-to-heart with Morgan about his future and exactly why he follows Guts, and Guts’ little moment with Schierke. “Doing something you don’t want to do, because you’re told to is weak” is a good line, and it suits his character, especially after all that business with Mozgus and the Holy See. The fight itself was solid- everyone works together well, and it’s nice to see Farnese start moving towards the more useful character she becomes later on. As much as I love the character developing moments in this series and insist they get their time in the sun, I do have a soft spot for Guts facing dreadful odds and cutting them in half. Overall it’s continuing on in positive fashion, and as long as we stick with Guts’ New Party for the time being its all good. It’s also slowed down slightly now it’s adapting Schierke, Flora and all they bring with them; it was presumably rushing to this point like Season 1 rushed to Guts’ confrontation with Mozgus. Still, it remains enjoyable.
Episode 7: The Arcana of Invocation
Part 2 of The Magnificent 7 story; Guts and friends drive off the remaining creatures and save the town. Joining the fray is a massive Ogre for Guts to tangle with and a Kelpie, which can only be described as a Frog-Horse (and indeed is described as such in the episode) with the power of water magic. Serpico gets that scrap because it’s more his speed, even though it nearly kills him. This episode was almost entirely action, but it works after the solid set-up last episode. It took the time to explore Schierke’s powers, mindset and relationship with Flora (as seen in a flashback to her explaining how to recover from being consumed by magical power) as well as Guts’ burgeoning trust and faith in her (lovely moment when he calls her “Commander” as he sets out to fight the Ogre and buy her some time). Overall a solid episode and continuation of Guts’ journey and willingness to trust people while carving up huge monsters. The preview for the next episode showed Guts finally meeting Slan, so it’s going to be a big one.
Episode 8: The Corruption of Qliphoth
There’s quite a bit to unpack with this episode, but I’ll start by saying that it’s easily the best episode so far this season, and I have no complaints about it. It starts off bleak and horrible, with the traumatic, dire situation the captured women and children of Enoch find themselves in. Then it quickly becomes triumphant with Guts cutting down Trolls left and right with the repeater crossbow, starts to move into almost feel-good territory when Farnese, Isidro (both starting to realise their full potential) assist Schierke in rescuing the townspeople and Guts seemingly kills a member of the God Hand and ends on the genuinely beautiful realisation by Guts that he’s finally found new comrades with whom he feels at ease, and trusts. It was all great, and reminded me why I love Berserk so much; on top of a likeable group of characters, drama and people and monsters being cleaved in half by the baddest man on the planet with a heart of gold you have Miura’s excellent, nightmarish creature design. The episode takes places almost entirely in the titular Qliphoth- a dark realm hidden in the woods populated by things Junji Ito would have nightmares about and seemingly powered by the evil emulating from Slan, the female God Hand member. I always found it somewhat odd (and quite a surprise) that Guts runs into one of the God Hand in the woods and seemingly kills them (with the manga’s classic combo of cannon arm and Dragonslayer), but given her last words to Guts that they’ll meet again coming after she “dies” I’m not sure she’s gone for good. Regardless, it’s still a win, and Guts so rarely gets real wins. Apart from putting down Mozgus (who was an obstacle really) and rescuing Casca, everything from the Eclipse on has been pretty grim. Also, Skull Knight makes an appearance, and Skull Knight is the best. Now he has a sword made of Behelits that can slice portals into space, and rescues Guts once again. Now, when I say I have no complaints about the episode, I do have one small one: when Guts reminisces about The Band of the Hawk at the end, Casca’s White, then back in the present she’s Black. I think it’s because in the films she was white and this anime is a continuation of those (which I’ll elaborate on in my piece about season 1), but it still seems weird, and it’s always annoying when they white wash Casca, who really is supposed to be Black. Still, the ending is a beautiful moment all the same, and I definitely didn’t well up. Shut up, you did. Ahem. Next episode is a big one.
Episode 9: The Berserker Armour
I have defended and will continue to defend this anime adaptation of Berserk; yes the animation isn’t all that, yes it rushes through the story and yes all things considered this isn’t the anime adaptation Black Swordsman Guts deserves, but I still genuinely enjoy it. Maybe I’m just a big Berserk mark, maybe I’m just easily pleased and will take whatever adaptation of my favourite manga I can get, but I will stand up for this adaptation. Having said that, I do have my limits, and I’ve reached them with this episode. As the name implies Guts finally gets the Berserker Armour, the iconic gear that stops him feeling pain and stitches his wounded body back together at the expense of leaving Guts covered in wounds and in constant agony when he isn’t wearing the armour. He gets it right at the end of the episode, squaring up to Apostle opponent Grunbeld as Skull Knight and Zodd look on and “Ash Crow” plays on the soundtrack. Everything leading up to that looks abysmal, because apparently they completely ran out of money. Highlights include Isidro rolling around like Sonic the Hedgehog with several frames seemingly removed from his animation, Guts “walking” away by awkwardly shuffling from side to side (I retweeted a gif of it on my Twitter account- it really must be seen to be believed), janky, awkward movement and characters talking without moving their mouths. The episode also has a penchant for almost-still images; well-drawn but with barely any animation in a manner reminiscent of the original Berserk anime’s fondness for actually still images, though there it was charming and added emphasis to certain scenes. What makes this really sting is that the show has been barrelling towards this very moment; the armour was shown right at the end of season 1, its mission statement as an adaptation is clearly to get Guts into the suit, and when they finally get to it it looks like this. Did they not plan for this moment? I knew this episode had problems going in, but it was worse than I imagined. I did manage to squeeze some enjoyment out of it; Schierke’s tearful breakdown over the death of her Mistress, Skull Knight being Skull Knight and of course the ending with the Armour itself, but they’re mired by woeful execution. Next episode is a recap of the season so far, presumably to re-group and ensure that when Guts finally fights Grunbeld it won’t look like this. This episode wasn’t enough to put me off the season, but it’s easily the worst of the season so far.
Episode 9.5: Recollections of the Witch
This is a recap episode. That’s not a big deal, that happens in anime sometimes, but somehow they managed to do a terrible job of it. Firstly, they interrupted the flow of the series by sticking this in here; last episode ended on Guts donning the Berserker armour and it shifting to reflect the visage of the Beast of Darkness- that’s a big scene. Instead of seeing him fight Grunbeld I have to wait two weeks, with a recap inbetween. There’s a preview of the next episode and the animation shown looks decent, which leads me to the following question: if they can alter the animation between episodes so drastically, and their schedule allows for changes like that from episode to episode (and haven’t got the whole series prepared) why didn’t they have the recap between episodes 8 and 9? That would fit the flow of the narrative far better, wouldn’t interrupt the important Berserker Armour reveal and maybe episode 9 wouldn’t look so bad. I don’t know the ins and outs of anime and its scheduling, I just find it odd that two episodes can look so drastically different, and wonder why the recap was placed where it is. As a recap, it’s weak; short, disjointed clips from season 1, extended clips of season 2 (the bulk of the runtime), showing that Guts, Griffith and the Bakiraka exist, but not who they are, what they’re about and how they know each other. No new footage, no narration thing anything together, no real context, and not even a framing device (the title does not reflect the contents of the episode). Just clips of stuff you’ve already seen.
Episode 10: A Journey Begins in Flames
So for all intents and purposes, this is the real Berserker Armour episode. After an episode of almost farcical animation struggling to adapt one of the most dramatic, iconic moments in the entire series and a context-free recap of things you’ve already seen, it’s finally time to continue the story. You know what? It’s definitely improved. The animation is still really patchy at times; people running looks pretty janky, and the blood spurting out of the Armour as it patches Guts back together is so goofy it almost derails any scene it’s in. Of particular note is when Guts uses his cannon arm, shown here as a small, slightly raised ring in the palm of his prosthetic hand, rather than the hand folding down as is usual. But for the most part it’s decent: Guts flips around in a way that holds together fine, Grunbeld barely moves but it doesn’t look as stagnant as you might expect, and the rest of Guts’ party is wisely relegated to occasionally commenting on what’s happening. The episode does have moments I really enjoyed; the uneasy, disbelieving tone Isidro uses when commenting on Guts’ rapidly diminishing humanity, as the latter kills an apostle by crushing it with his helmet’s teeth, like a dog who’s grabbed an animal by the neck. I like the beginnings of Schierke’s more active role, as she delves into Guts’ mind to snap him out of his blind, murderous rage, and the subsequent scene in which he swiftly and fluidly saves his entire party. I like the reveal of Guts’ white streak of hair, wisely left up to still images, which have consistently been of higher quality in this series. I was also surprised how decent the broken arm scene is, in which Guts’ arm is snapped to the point it’s facing the wrong way, only for the Armour to literally force it back into place. For you see, the Berserker Armour doesn’t heal Guts, it just keeps him able to fight for as long as he can keep going, and takes a serious toll on his body, as we’ll see later on. The episode also debuts the Kushan-controlled Crocodile Men, who I knew I remembered, but incorrectly placed in episode 7, and the first rumblings of an anti-Kushan resistance that will end up allied with (ugh) Griffith. I felt like this whole scene was sloppy, the series as a whole doesn’t handle the non-Guts scenes very well for the most part. It all ends on an oddly upbeat note with one of my favourite panels – Guts handing Schierke her hat after it’s knocked off by the wind – and a hopeful “At least we’re all alright for now” tone quite alien to Berserk. Overall a solid episode; the animation is still bad at times, but enough of it worked that it didn’t matter so much to me.
Episode 11: Proclaimed Omens
Oof, this one was rough. Once again I’m in awe of how the budget is distributed in this show; once again the series gets to a big scene involving the Berserker Armour, only to have Guts fight something that looks like a boss from a low-end Ps2 game. Also of note is Guts awkwardly moving his prosthetic arm around, a scene in which Guts and Schierke talk to Skull Knight while a picture of Puck’s face appears on screen and increases in size, and what seemed to be a massive frame rate issue going on in the background of one scene. It’s not all bad though, some of the animation in the fight scenes was pretty decent, and I really liked the ending, in which Guts succumbs to the Berserker Armour and advancing on his friends, with Schierke rescuing his mind at the last moment. Guts’ struggle with the Armour is a key emotional focal point in the series, tying into the ideas of what Guts has been through, and what he’s willing to go through to protect Casca and murder Griffith. So it’s nice to see them at least try and give it some weight, even if the animation does let it down sometimes. Elsewhere Guts and Schierke build their friendship, the first hint of Schierke fancying Guts comes up, and Skull Knight informs Guts that A) The Beserker Armour is real bad news and B) Casca’s mind can be fixed, by it might not be what she wants. Big news, that, though don’t expect to see it, because the manga has just gotten to the process, which let me tell you, is harrowing. Anyway, decent episode for the most part, it’s just a shame parts of it looked so bad.
UPDATE: So I completely forgot this at the time, but this episode completely missed out that mysterious little boy who may or may not be Casca and Guts’ child. In the grand scheme of things he’s not essential, but it still seems like a big thing to omit.
Episode 12 (Season Finale): City of Humans
This one was almost uniformly awful except for the last five minutes or so. The animation was dreadful, particualrly the faces of everyone not previously introduced; flat, poorly-defined blobs of flesh with tiny eyes and gormless expressions. Pirate Captain Bonebeard makes a mercifully brief appearance (sounding like Goro Majima, though IMDb informs me that’s not the case), the primary plot is Schierke learning how awful the world she inhabits is, Sonia telling a rambling story about how awesome Griffith is using birds as metaphors and then a janky sword fight involving Isidro. Then suddenly, everything changes: the last major scene, in a tavern where Guts beats up drunks for harassing Casca and spilling wine on Schierke’s clothes looks bloody lush. They bring out that lovely hand-drawn art style they usually reserve for short scenes and still images and it’s fantastic. Guts calls Schierke his comrade and makes her feel really wanted and welcome, the episode ends on a high, and I’m left wondering why the rest of the episode looked quite so bad. The season itself ends on a literal “The Adventure Continues” cliffhanger as Guts metaphorically continues his journey into the darkness as Skull Knight warns him that he will face more Apostles, lead by “The Hawk” (unless the shot beforehand of the Party all asleep means that he actually left without them, but that doesn’t happen in the manga so I’ll assume it is just a metaphor). I am glad the very last scenes were good and both the episode and season ended on a high, it’s just a shame everything else this episode was so poor.
I’ll be honest, I’m glad this season’s over, because I’m really starting to see the cracks. I know, I know, to most people said cracks are six feet wide but I really enjoyed the first season (which I do still intend to write about), and I’ve actually got a fair bit from this season, but I can’t deny a lot of it is really poor. This season rushed through even more than the last one, which rushed to the Holy See business and stuck with it. This one powered through to the Berserker Armour but messed that up and then kept rushing even though it had achieved its apparent objective. There were good episodes; I unequivocally enjoyed episode 8, I enjoyed 10 and 11 for the most part, but Christ, that Berserker Armour episode was a rough sit, and even the watchable scenes can be dodgy at times. I maintain the previous season looked generally better, and definitely more consistent than this. I don’t know if they have a season 3 planned; the ending of this season suggests they might not, but there is more to adapt, though at the rate this season moves they’ll catch up to the manga soon. If they do make another season I’ll watch it, but only because I’m a huge sucker for Berserk, and I’m more than happy to just re-read the manga and re-watch Season 1. Overall I have enjoyed this season, but it hasn’t made it easy for me, and my enjoyment comes with a rather large asterisk.
By James Lambert