Thanasis is a writer, professional geek, and assistant editor at MANGA.TOKYO. He started watching anime with the mecha shows of the 70s and hasn't stopped since. He loves JRPGs.
The hate train for this anime is a long one. Reviews after reviews on the net are damning the damn production for its damning quality and damning issues and the damn Berserk for being less than they damn expected.
I have to warn you that his review is not written from a fan’s condemning view. I am not a Berserk fan. I don’t consider myself a fan of any certain series. I just love otaku culture and I love watching anime. Does that make my review less credible? Maybe. Do I have a different opinion? Probably not. But I am sure not as mad as all those zealots out there.
Berserk is the third anime adaptation of the famous Kentaru Miura manga. It was preceded by the 1997 TV anime and the Golden Age Arc trilogy. It covers parts of the Black Swordsman arc and the Conviction arc. A second season has already been announced for Spring 2017.
The series assume a prior knowledge of past events, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t get the following summary:
Guts, a former mercenary who fought alongside the Band of the Hawk, is after his former leader, Griffith, who in order to achieve his dream of ruling a kingdom of his own sacrificed his comrades to the God Hand and became a demon through a ritual called the Eclipse. Guts and Casca, his driven-crazy lover, were the only survivors. They were branded with marks that attract every evil creature that exists in the world.
In this new series, Guts who is now known as the Black Swordsman sets off to find Griffith and avenge his fallen friends. In his journey he will make new friends and he will fight demons and humans alike.
I haven’t read the manga. I have known Berserk and Guts strictly from the anime and I must say that the intro and first episode might feel a little overwhelming to first-time viewers. My suggestion is to go back to the basics before you attempt to start the series. The plot assumes that you already know about the events of the Eclipse ritual and that you know the names of everyone that has already appeared in the series.
That said, there is a huge gap between the events of the Golden Age Arc and the events of this series. I felt right from the beginning that there was something missing, and a few fans told me that this arc is not a direct continuation of Golden Age. They skipped six volumes of the manga, and probably these six volumes were explaining the brand marks and how Casca became a vegetable, and so many other plot holes that felt out of place.
Because they tried to cram a whole arc in 12 episodes and contrary to the 1997 anime, the story felt crowded and uninteresting. No longer do we have the amazing character dynamics between the trio of Guts, Griffith, and Casca. Griffith is just a mindless demon who doesn’t even play any important role, Guts is distant in relation to the rest of the characters, and strong and independent Casca is reduced to a mind-fracked vegetable. Isidoro and Puck were a nice comic relief, but their relationship with Guts wasn’t built upon. Mozgus Disciples could have been interesting if we had the chance to witness some more backstory. Luca and her prostitutes made for an interesting group, and Luca’s development was not half bad, but she could have been so much more.
However, there was great individual drama and we heard some very interesting monologues. After all, Berserk’s emphasis on themes of morality and religion has always made for interesting dialogues, but in this series the themes remained mostly on shallow and weren’t unfolded properly. The themes were there though: critique about religion, chastity, bigotry, faith, and more were prevalent in all twelve episodes.
Overall, the story was good. Not great, but definitely enjoyable if your expectation are not fan-damning high.
This is where things went wrong. I am usually always in favor of story and characters first, but this time the animation and sound were so awful that they actually impaired everything. The only thing not that terrible was the voice acting.
The production was done by GEMBA, Millepensee, and Liden Films. The animation style of the series is a 2D and 3D hybrid. The characters and objects were rendered with Cel shading, and their shadows contained a linear hatching effect that looked like pencil lines. In one word: weird. In two words: too weird.
The characters looked dull and lifeless. They struggled to lip-sync with the dialogue and their facial expression resembled old (and awful) Cel shaded games. They moved like impaired shop dolls and fought like floatable air-beds. Have you seen a floatable air-bed fight? Neither had I until Berserk. The same comments apply to the dull backgrounds. The 2D parts and the various stills were not great, but in front of the 3D ugliness they felt like an oasis in the desert.
The flow of the story was smooth and it followed a linear model, but the direction was not the best. The director jumped from scene to scene like he was in a hurry to show every possible angle or every single character. Sometimes I had to pause the scene to make sense of what I was seeing, and there were many instances where even the pause was unhelpful. There was an overuse of zoom and I felt like I was watching a sports game instead of a gore-fest. Combine that with how bad the series looked, and there you have it. Not good.
The sound is classes worse than its predecessors. If you count out the ‘ok’-ish opening and ending themes (Inferno by 9mm Parabellum Bullet, Meimoku No Kanata by Nagi Yanagi) and the insert songs Ashes and Ash Crow from Susumu Hirasawa, the rest of the soundtrack were a bunch of forgettable heavy metal songs and clunky sound effects. I was under the impression that Gut’s sword made the same sound whatever it hit. I couldn’t identify every single BMG that went wrong, but the overall feeling was so bad that you knew that the sounds were off.
The voice acting was quite good. The primary voice cast were reprising their roles from the Golden Age Arc film trilogy, and voice actor Unsho Ishizuka reprised his role as both the Void and the Narrator from the original anime.
Religion: Religion is a major theme of the series. Farnese uses her bigotry as a cover for her deep-seated self-loathing and sexual sadism. Mozgus uses his bigotry for his self-delusions of grandeur and pretense holy quest. The mob use their bigotry as an excuse to allow atrocities and to be controlled.
Backstory: Even though the series assume that the viewer already knows about the events that have already taken place, there are instances where a few background information is given, like Episode 02’s interrogation where Farnese tells to Guts about the Band of the Hawk.
Censorship: Berserk has a lot of nudity and Japan has a lot of censorship laws. Female characters such as Farnese and Luca who have nude scenes are drawn or rendered without visible nipples because of them. There will be an uncensored Blu-ray release that will eventually free the nipples as well as all the carefully-placed shadows that are used to hide the X-rated bits.
Vengeance: One of the basic themes of the series is Gut’s journey of vengeance. Guts’s hatred and rage is so incredibly powerful that it manifests in the form of a black wolf-like monster with jagged glowing red eyes.
Unintended Spoiler: I hope it was unintended because the opening sequence is a big spoiler of the Golden Age Arc.
I remember reading that the series was supposed to be 24 episodes. I think I know why they decided to push back the remaining 12 episodes in a separate season (Spring 2017): They are going to ditch that awful animation and return to hand-drawn. At least, that’s what I hope, because after the Scottish shower I had to endure between the ugly CGI and decent story, I don’t think I can handle another flop.
I don’t think that Berserk was that bad. Yes, the visuals were horrifying and the direction a bit amateurish, but the story and dialogue reminded me what the series is all about: a dark medieval fantasy about the struggles of a lone warrior that has a thing or two to say about themes like religion and morality. I am probably not re-watching the series anytime sure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it if you haven’t already.
Let me know in the comments what you think of Berserk? Did you hate it? Did you love it? Why?
©KENTAROU MIURA(STUDIO GAGA) HAKUSENSHA/BERSERK PARTNERSHIP