The dark fantasy realm in which the current anime adaptations of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk unfolds is a turbulent existence, where it’s a struggle for heroes to survive each day as they’re relentlessly assailed by ceaseless hordes of malevolent beings fixated on their destruction. In a fashion, this metaphorically mirrors the production itself. For despite the top-notch writing, acting, and direction on display, fan reaction to its usage of 3DCG animation is sharply divided, with the criticism focused on one point that is undeniably plain to see: the CG models simply lack the complexity of the much better looking 2D animation shots integrated alongside them. (Others voice displeasure at director Shin Itagaki’s kinetic camera movement, but these people are simply wrong.)
In 2016, an announcement was made at the conclusion of the 12th episode and the “Tower of Conviction” arc that Berserk would resume in approximately six months, and during the interim significant portions of the previously aired episodes were redone for the uncensored Japanese Blu-rays. As of this writing, the cleaned-up version of previous season has not yet been released in the US on home video or made available for streaming, but sample comparisons suggest a dramatic visual upgrade.
The TV/simulcast edition of the second season, though visually upgraded from the previous, is not so drastically different as to sway the minds of those who simply couldn’t bear to watch before. But for those who stuck with it — and that’s still quite a few, as Berserk remains among the popular simulcasts of the season — these episodes adapt the initial portion of the lengthy “Falcon of the Millennium Empire” arc, which marks a major turning point in the series status quo.
For you dedicated manga readers out there, this correlates with the start of Volume 22. Now literally a god, Griffith, the White Hawk, has restored himself to a new physical body with which he will claim ownership over the kingdom, and he’s recruited a new army of legendary creatures and warriors—some thought to have died long ago—to his cause. The only recognizable addition to this new Band of the Hawk is Nosferatu Zodd the Immortal, the fearsome beast who hasn’t been seen since the “Golden Age” arc, outside of a brief appearance at the end of the last season. However, the remaining new members all exist as dark foils to the previous Band of the Hawk: an exceptional marksman, a towering giant, a young boy, and a fiercely loyal woman. I’d worry about them suffering a similar betrayal at the hands of Griffith as their predecessors, but they’re on an inevitable collision course with our hero and thus may not have the opportunity.
That hero would be Guts, the Black Swordsman, who now embarks on his incredibly lengthy venture to Elfheim in search of a cure for his beloved Casca, whose mind and spirit remain shattered. But as Guts gradually falls victim to demonic influences, be they external or internal, he realizes he’ll have to once again seek help from others if he is to survive with some semblance of his soul intact. I refer to it as “a Dungeons and Dragons party” since everybody is imbued with powerful magical artifacts that grant unique abilities. The most noteworthy of which is the Berserker armor, an extremely powerful suit of armor that requires great physical and mental sacrifice of the person wearing it. Fortunately, Guts has a penchant for that sort of thing. The prominence of things like elves, witches, trolls, and magic items does signify quite the departure from the “low fantasy” aesthetic that first drew me to the series, but on the other hand even Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star needed people to talk to and kill the baddies in a different manner to keep things from getting overly monotonous.
An overlooked critical aspect to the success of the series is Kentaro Miura’s comedic timing, and now that Guts has multiple travel companions they’re sure to throw in a quick gag even in the middle of a life-or-death battle. The decades-spanning appeal of Berserk could not have been reached were it just bitter nihilism and atrocities nonstop, but make no mistake: there’s plenty of that to go around, too.
Berserk always had a reputation for its general audience inappropriateness, but this arc is particularly resplendent with sexual assault, torture, and nudity on top of all the usual bloody murder so a little levity helps prevent you from getting numb to it all. Each episode this season begins with the warning “This show contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised,” and it’s not just for show, even with the omission of the most graphic details for the sake of the television broadcast. Violence is more or less fully intact, but the nudity is downplayed either through shadowing or, more frequently, giving ladies the Barbie doll anatomy treatment when in a state of undress.
Truth be told, these sorts of details don’t dawn on me as I’m watching. With so much manga to adapt and so much of that manga consisting of double-page spreads, each episode of the Berserk anime covers something like six entire chapters worth of manga; that’s nearly one full volume in the span of just 20 minutes! Most anime settle for adapting one or two chapters an episode, and while I love the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Attack on Titan anime to death, it’s a commonly heard criticism of both that they tend to feel rather drawn out at times. Nobody would ever say that of Berserk.
I, for one, hope that the series continues on, though I maintain that I’d be perfectly fine if Guts and his party were to hop onto the ship to Elfheim at the start of one episode and then reach their destination by the end of that same episode, because the alternative is adapting roughly 65 chapters of them basically taking a boat ride as Griffith continues doing what he’s always doing: battling the medieval Arabian-inspired Kushans and corrupting the Church. Such is the world of Berserk: the calm, handsome guy the people adore is actually one of anime’s most despicable villains, while the enraged, scarred “Black Swordsman” is the true hero. Carry on, Struggler.
Season 2 of Berserk is available from Crunchyroll and FUNimation.