Berserk (2016) – Episode 1 [The Branded Swordsman] [First Impression]
If you’ve never read the manga, seen the original 1997 TV series, or watched the trio of Berserk movies, here are a couple of things you should know before starting to watch Berserk (2016).
First some backstory. In events covered in the original TV series, and summarized in the trio of Golden Age Arc films, Guts was a swordsman who was originally part of a group of mercenaries called the Band of the Hawk. His closest comrades were a silver-haired man named Griffith and a young woman named Casca. Guts fought alongside them and the rest of the Hawks for three years before departing on his own, causing Griffith to become slightly unstable at the loss of his best friend. After seducing the king’s teenage daughter and being busted for it, Griffith ended up thrown in jail, where he was tortured beyond belief and psychologically broken.
One year later Guts returned and he, alongside Casca and the rest of the Band of the Hawk, rescued Griffith from jail. However in his pitiful state Griffith activated the red Behelit necklace around his neck, which triggered an Eclipse and summoned a quartet of evil supernatural beings called the God Hand. The God Hand convinced Griffith to join their ranks; all he had to do was sacrifice his former comrades. Which he did, and a horrific gory slaughter ensued.
Guts and Casca managed to survive, but they were permanently branded with marks which summoned powerful and dangerous spirits to them at night. Casca, as a result of being violated by Griffith (who was reborn as the God Hand Femto during the Eclipse ceremony) became mute and an amnesiac. Guts himself was left scarred and missing both an eye and half an arm. After the Eclipse Guts left Casca in the care of an old man named Godo, and a younger man named Rickert (one of the other Eclipse survivors) while he traveled alone, searching for the God Hand and Griffith so he could get his revenge. This is where this season begins, several years after Guts began his solo journey.
The second thing you should know is that this series is extremely violent and gory. Case in point: the opening shot of this first episode is of a lake of blood, with crows picking at the innards of all the rotting corpses lying dismembered in said blood. Furthermore if you’ve decided to watch the original TV series/movies, be forewarned there is rape along with some graphic sex. I will add [trigger warning] in my reviews as I feel it might be warranted, but be aware before watching that this anime is basically violence personified. >>;
Also, for once I actually have read the manga before reviewing a show, so I will try to take care to not accidentally post spoilers from later in the series.
Alright, onto the actual review!
As the first episode unfolds, a little elf sprite is being harassed by a group of men. And by “harassed” I mean he’s nailed to the wall by a length of rope while a man throws knives at him. We see a ginger youth struggling to keep up with all the demands for food and ale from these men he’s traveling with. When the kid eventually pushes back against his companions who are picking on the elf, he’s beaten up.
This is when Guts lumbers into the tavern. He quickly defeats the thugs, saving both the elf and the kid, then pays for some rations and leaves. Later that night the elf catches up with Guts while he’s eating a rabbit he killed and introduces himself as Puck. Guts is less than thrilled that this chatty little sprite appears to want to be friends, and his rudeness is what eventually causes Puck to leave.
Elsewhere in the forest, we see that the unnamed kid from the tavern has managed to escape. He’s looking for Guts, but he’s gotten himself lost.
Later that night it starts to rain, and a traveling wagon stops next to Guts to offer him a ride. They’re a monk named Adolph and his young daughter Collette; once Guts reluctantly accepts their offer of help, he sees that Puck is traveling with them too. After Guts falls asleep, he has a nightmare about the events of the Eclipse and all of the horrors he saw, and he awakens only to immediately kill an incubus which was feeding on the terror spawning from his nightmare.
Their group is forced to stop when Guts says other evil creatures are on their way. Guts arms himself and stands outside the wagon, waiting patiently. He is not quick enough however to prevent Collette’s death, nor her father’s a short while later after her corpse reanimates and kills Adolph. Guts is so shocked that Collete’s corpse manages to land a blow to his abdomen, but he instinctively reacts by slashing her body in half with his massive sword. He resumes killing the skeletons surrounding them, but after their bones have been scattered, his brief rest is interrupted by a hellish tree monster which has already eaten the bandits who had been chasing him since the events at the tavern earlier.
Guts is imprisoned by the tree creature, but as he sees the monster about to eat the top half of Collette’s body, he enters the beginning stage of his “berserk mode” and is able to fight back and kill the creature.
After the battles, Puck expresses remorse for what happened to Collette and Adolph, but Guts coldly says that it was their own fault for being weak and traveling with him. And this is his mindset throughout the series: essentially only the strong survive, and if the weak are not strong enough to protect themselves, then they will die and that’s all there is to it. Guts would not be able to survive if he worried about every weak person who crossed his path and died, so this is how he rationalizes his actions and their deaths.
As he leaves Puck behind him, Guts can hear the voices of the God Hand in his head. The brand on his neck is their tie to him, after all. Guts launches a shot from his mechanical arm into the air and their voices disperse. Guts walks away, with Puck trailing behind him.
My thoughts: I am SO EXCITED that I’m getting to cover this show. I’m a late fan to the series, but despite all the blood and violence it remains one of my favourites. Why? I don’t watch for the battles, but for the characters and the events which happen in between all the fighting essentially, and some of the philosophies behind Berserk too. It’s been a few years since the last Golden Age Arc movie came out (2013 in Japan), and I’m glad we have some new material that will be animating storylines from the manga which were never covered in the original series. (The manga is 300+ chapters too, which leaves lots of room for future seasons too~ )
I was thrilled to learn that Susumu Hirasawa, one of the composers from the 1997 TV series and the movie trilogy, would be contributing an insert song to this new series. The battle themes and music strike me as classic Berserk, but with a new amped up rock vibe added. This is not necessarily a bad thing; rather it merely reminds me that it has been almost 20 years since the original Berserk anime aired and so some things are bound to have changed. That being said, I love both the opening and ending themes (“Inferno” by 9mm Parabellum Bullet and “Meimoku no Kanata” by Nagi Yanagi, respectively), and Hirasawa-san’s “Hai Yo” is pretty fantastic too.
The voice-acting is spot on in my book, with the primary voice cast from the Golden Age Arc films returning for this new series to reprise their roles.
My only complaint about this new series is the style of animation being used. While I’m not going to attempt to guess the style, it reminds me of the CG used for the Golden Age Arc films, and I struggled with it even back then. The difference between the films’ animation and Berserk (2016) is that the latter looks like a “hand drawn” effect was added overtop the CG animation. This style works better for some scenes than others (ie closeups versus battles). Also, I personally feel that this newer CG style makes the battle scenes a little more difficult to track all of the movements and action going on. However it’s not the worst that I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure this animation style will grow on me in time (especially since this show will be two cours!! *excited dance*).
What I think I’m most pleased with so far is the portrayal of Guts. This is a man who’s lost his best friend, his lover and the extended family he surrounded himself with for years, not to mention that he was left physically, psychologically and emotionally scarred by the events of the Eclipse as well. As weird as it might sound, I’m really psyched to see how the cold looks and savage fury on his face convey this madness inside him when he fights.
Next episode it looks like we’ll be introduced to at least one of several unnamed characters from this episode, namely the blonde military woman from the opening seconds of this first episode. Who are her companions, and what do they want with Guts?
In honor of this new Berserk series, and because I am a new fan of Hirasawa-san’s music, each week I will end my review with a link to one of his songs, or some music from Berserk. This week I’m choosing “Forces”, the insert song from the original 1997 anime which was played during the preview of the next episode. It’s also my all-time favourite Berserk track. Enjoy! [Lyrics]
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