First Look: Berserk (2016)

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Manga Adaptation by Millepensee
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Set in a fantastical and medieval-style universe, Guts, also known as the Black Swordsman, is a wandering mercenary pursued by dark forces. Branded as an unholy sacrifice, he must fight off the literal demons that continually hunt him while seeking vengeance against the man who made him what he is.

Artemis’ verdict: Hulk SMASH

An important note before I get properly into things – I will not be comparing this show to either the original manga or the 90s anime at any point in this post. I’m not saying there’s not a conversation about that to be had, but a) that should be by people who have way more familiarity than me with the franchise and b) I personally don’t care all that much anyway. So for all intents and purposes, I’ll be treating this adaptation as I would any other anime.

I guess I’ll start off my addressing the elephant in the room right away, the single aspect of Berserk that pretty much everyone is guaranteed to bitch about: the CG. Here’s the thing – I think that by and large, anime fans need to get over it whenever a series ends up using significant amounts. Do I think it’d be awesome if every anime was still created using traditional cel animation? You bet. Is that financially practical or even viable these days unless you’re Studio Ghibli? Sorry, nope. And hey, while anime clearly still has a long way to go before heavy quantities of CG is integrated seamlessly into shows, things are progressing, which is why I wasn’t particularly put off by the visuals in Ajin or Knights of Sidonia. Unless things are truly bad – and I’m talking first season of Sailor Moon Crystal levels of bad here – then chances are, I can get used to it.

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Having said that, Berserk sure ain’t pretty. The mouth movements in particular are especially off, to the point where it felt similar to watching one of those badly dubbed, old-school Chinese martial arts movies. I could probably overlook this in time, but I’m not sure I’d want to and I wouldn’t blame anyone else for not wanting to either. The general ugliness of the character designs can easily be put down to a purposeful decision by the art team – this is an unapologetically ugly world, so why should the people inhabiting it be any more appealing? – but I’ll admit it, the CG also isn’t doing the show any favours in that department.

Putting all that aside, I actually think Berserk might turn out to be a decent enough series. Not at all the kind of series I’d enjoy, and as such I have no intention of watching a second episode, but I get that there are plenty of people out there who’d appreciate it for what it is: a rare gem amongst the veritable piles of vapid school romances, endless parades of moeblobs, and relentlessly cheerful slice-of-life titles. In fact, it’s even a standout amongst most action titles – the kind of anime that would take one look at so-called dark and gritty shows like Attack on Titan and burst out laughing. Berserk on the other hand would be a contender for the manliest anime ever created, and it doesn’t waste any time doing it.

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In fact, watching it is exactly like going back in time to the kind of protagonists that populated the action shows of the 80s and early 90s – Fist of the North Star, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Golgo 13, Bastard!!, Violence Jack. If you’re looking for angst then I suggest you look elsewhere, because Beserk is all about the bulging muscles, billowing cloaks, colossal swords, and angry rock music. Oh, and the characters who have absolutely no interest in being heroes, of course. Less talk, more fight! I can respect that. There’s also enough blood and guts (get it??) here to make most dark fantasies seem positively cheery, to say nothing of the graphic sexual content. Censorship is definitely going to be a thing, and even then it’ll still put the likes of Elfen Lied to shame.

If that sounds like it’d be right up your alley, then enjoy. Like I said, I can understand the appeal. As for me, I’ll be sticking with something a little more vanilla. Not enough raging testosterone I guess.

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Iro’s verdict: 14-Year-Old Cool

About the only thing I knew about Berserk going into this was that it inspired quite a bit of Dark Souls, and well… I suppose I can see some of that here, but mostly this show seems like it’s laser targeted at edgy tweens. Big swords, gratuitous violence, a badass-yet-tortured loner hero, guitar shredding, et cetera; I’m not terribly interested in any of it. Visually, the show flip-flops between looking decent and looking bad, chiefly because of the rapid switching between close-up 2D animation and CG for basically everything else. It’s reminiscent of Kingdom, and while I’m more accepting of CG nowadays (see also recent Glorio favorite, BBK/BRNK), it doesn’t do this show any favors. In the end, you probably already know if you’re into the adolescent brand of dark and edgy Berserk brings to the table, so if it’s your thing… enjoy, I guess.

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Aqua’s verdict: The Uncanny Edge-Man

Is Berserk, one of the most beloved manga of all time, forever doomed to receive half-assed adaptations, or was it never that good to begin with? This first episode certainly seems to indicate the latter, as even the hilariously shoddy animation, sub-sub-par CGI, pompous, cheesy directing and generic butt-rock soundtrack couldn’t hide that fact that Guts is about as charismatic as a bag of potatoes and the plot makes Garo look like War and Peace. By the way, we need to talk about Casca’s rape for a second. It’s basically manga’s equivalent to Barbara Gordon’s paralysis at the hands of the Joker in The Killing Joke, both one of the most egregious examples of what we comic book fans like to call the ‘stuffed in the fridge’ syndrome and a very significant event that unfortunately, can’t easily be ignored. Yet does that justify the laughably voyeuristic, borderline fetishistic glee with which this new anime flashes back to this traumatic event? Are we truly supposed to care about Casca or Guts here, or is constantly reminding viewers about the rape yet another trite device Berserk uses to shove in your face just how gruesome and dark and mature it is? “Blood and guts and blood and guts and blood” chants an ominous choir during Guts’ tortured nightmare, though with the singers’ limited mastery of English pronunciation, it sounds more like “brood and guts”. And that is, ironically, pretty much all that this show has to offer.

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3 thoughts on “First Look: Berserk (2016)

  1. Berserk was one of the first anime’s I saw in the late 90s and as thus in one of my top 5. It introduced me to the concept that things that are animated didn’t have to be all bubblegum and lolipops (or rabits, ducks and mice). It blew me away. Blood, guts, a love triangle and ruthless plot sold me and I rewatched it countless times.

    This CG abortion is terrible. The only reason I will watch it is because I want to know what happens after Guts and Casca escape the demon dimension. Yes yes I could read the manga, but I’m just not the manga guy (let alone online manga). I have slim hopes the cg will improve as they work out the kinks.

    • If I had been a Beserk fan back in the day, I’d probably keep watching out of curiosity as well – also not a manga reader myself so I get where you’re coming from.

  2. I literally watched the whole original series over the past few days – something I’d been meaning to do for years – just to catch up for this. It’s a real shame that there was no need to rush. One of the irritating things about the godawful CG is that the first shot, with the knight we haven’t met before, genuinely looked quite nice (save for the lip syncing, which is a whole other issue). From then on, pure trash. It’s like all those shit CG background characters finally got the starring roles they always wanted.

    The audio design was also trash. Guts’ sword sounds like someone punching a radiator, and we have a selection of what might as well be royalty free tunes instead of the Susumu Hirasawa soundtrack the original is famous for. His music is still around, just don’t expect it until the preview of the next episode.

    Is the series meant to be good? Well, I enjoyed the Golden Age arc for the most part, certainly could have done without Casca’s rape, but I hear better things about what’s to come, and that makes me hopeful. Not sure this series is going to be the best medium for it mind you, but I don’t think we’ll be getting a series on-par with the original any time soon, if ever.

    Have to say I disagree with you Aqua on the episode’s portrayal of the rape scene. Given it was barely on-screen and censored way beyond anything we’ve seen in this series, I think “laughably voyeuristic, borderline fetishistic” isn’t fair. I mean, it shows up in one of Guts’ apparently regular nightmares, and given his relationship with Casca it’s no surprise it’d be there. I wish it wasn’t, obviously, but it happened and it’s important to Guts, so here we are. I do, however, worry that this scene will crop up a lot in this series, at which point I think that description will be valid.

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