It is finally here, after over eighteen years, Kentaro Miura’s Berserk returns to the small screen. Please be warned this article will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the anime, the movies, and the Manga through chapter 117 or so. I will not provide a comprehensive scene by scene summary, but I will share my thoughts on the episode and how it contrasts with the previous adaptions and the manga itself. This 2016 series marks the first time that events beyond the “Golden Age Arc” have ever been animated. Needless to say that many fans, including myself, have been anxiously waiting to see how this new series was going to turn out.
In typical Berserk fashion, let’s start with some background…. The first time I watched Berserk, it was 2000. I was twenty one. Berserk brought me back to anime after a three or so year lapse during college. The experience of watching that series on VHS tapes during that time gave me a strong appreciation for it and the ending left quite an impact on me. Due to trauma, I wasn’t even able to admit how much I really loved the show until years later on. The 1998 anime itself is probably one of the best examples of how a show can really push people to read the manga. After watching that anime I simply needed to find out what happened next. Berserk was the first manga I have ever read, up until then I had only collected comics.
As any longtime Berserk manga fan will attest, Miura possesses both a monstrous artistic ability and a terrible inability to publish on anything resembling a regular schedule, at least since 2006 or so. Over the years the clamor for more anime dimmed, with the fanbase became more or less concerned with just simply getting more story, as the mangaka’s output reduced to a trickle over time… But the last four years or so, things have been looking up. Berserk got a trilogy of spiffy new CG enhanced movies, Miura released more chapters, they finally got off the boat, and of course this 2016 series was announced…
The long wait ends with this anime. After watching this first episode, I have to say it’s fairly close to what I expected after viewing the PVs. Many of the decisions that were made in this adaption are reasonable, but none are really inspired. Looking back, the most exceptional aspect about the original Berserk anime was its music. The glorious soundtrack. The 2016 anime actually sounds pretty good to me so far. The new OP is good and has some nice guitars, though to me it’s not as endearingly out of place as the original’s “Tell Me Why”. I haven’t heard any “Forces” in the background, but I did really like the theme of the Knights, especially the low, deep strings at the end.
As far as visuals go, the CG models and art used in this new series… well I’m going to have to get used to them. The use of crosshatching on characters to invoke shadow is interesting, don’t love it or hate it yet, we’ll see if it grows on me. Gut’s character model is a little lankier than I’d like, particularly in the face and arms. Gut’s torso seems alright if not a bit stiff, I’ll chalk that up to how that model will need to be animated. There seemed to be a general lack of fluidity to some of the animations and camera movements. In general I found there were some scenes where it was hard to follow what was supposed to be happening. I’m hoping that those sort of storytelling issues will be resolved in future episodes.
I admit, I prefer the more old school look and designs of the 1998 series. Though in the past, I have never been overly critical of the CG used in the new Golden Age Movie Trilogy. I thought those movies looked pretty good most of the time. I can see how some people would prefer the animated, if sometimes wonky, character models of the CG era over the static non-animation splash scenes of the 1996 anime. Technology and tastes march on. If these production techniques enable the story to be made when they otherwise would go untold, so be it. I’m ok with how overall this could look, but I do think there is a lot of room for improvement within this technological framework. The real strength of Berserk has been its story and its characters anyway…
Speaking of story, the new anime skips many events immediately following the escape from the Eclipse, though some are briefly glimpsed during the OP. It is possible some of this time period will be covered by flashbacks later on. Additionally, the manga’s introductory “Black Swordsman Arc” (which was briefly shown in the 1996 anime’s first episode) as well as the “Lost Children” chapter have been largely omitted. Instead small elements of each have been combined into this single first episode, jumping two years post eclipse (according to the manga) in the middle of the “Conviction Arc”. The episode does fulfill its purpose I think, serving as an introduction to Guts, Puck, and the world of Berserk post-Eclipse. . It shows Guts in the present day, with much of his humanity from the Golden Age arc gone, the curse mark and evil spirits pushing him ever closer to the edge of madness, with only his stubborn instinct to fight and live remaining.
I had wondered if the show producers would keep Puck in or write him out, but this adaption is faithful in that respect. They even kept Puck’s occasional “chibi” representation. I predict many fans who have not read the manga and only have had exposure to the anime or movies will be surprised (probably negatively) at some of the “light-hearted” elements that the creator includes in this story. For those of you that don’t read the manga, not to worry, the story will also give you all the terrible things that you have come to expect… At the very least, this episode provides a decent look into the type of people and monsters that exist in this world.
I hope the series does find its legs, as to me it currently lacks some clarity both in the art/animation and direction at this point. The episode is an ok start. I know the story can be great, I just hope the production rises to the occasion.
Well, that’s all of my reactions/impressions of this first episode right now. ShadowHaken and I have committed to writing a reaction every week. I am a massive Berserk fan and hope the series turns out well, but I also am an old jaded downer... You can check out my previous attempts at Berserk write ups in the AniTAY Beginners Guide and the Summer 2016 Sequel Guide. The only articles I regularly post are the comparatively short OP/ED a Day every other Thursday. As I mentioned before I am trying to stay away from episode and scene summaries, but I am likely to do a little experimentation on the format of this reaction as the weeks go on. If you have any suggestions or topics you want me to address, please leave them in the comments.