The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide Berserk
How would you rate episode 1 of
Berserk (TV 2016) ?
What is this?
In the aftermath of the Eclipse, the Black Swordsman Guts is lucky once again to have escaped with his life, but this time his freedom comes with horrific consequences. Thanks to the God Hand's brand on the back of his neck, Guts will be haunted by hungry demons for the rest of his life, dooming him to a brief and lonely existence as he burns himself out seeking vengeance against his former friend, Griffith. But after he saves a young boy and a loudmouthed pixie on a whim from rowdy bandits, Guts finds that his doomed journey may not be so lonely after all, though the road ahead of him will still be paved with the corpses of the weak, innocent, and unfortunate. Berserk is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Watching Berserk finally move past the Golden Age Arc after so many years of waiting gave me a big bloody bucketload of mixed feelings. On the one hand, this is content I had been dying to see animated since I first shouted “NO! That's it?!” at the last episode's credit roll as a tenderhearted teen. It is absolutely satisfying just to see a post-Eclipse Midland unfold before my eyes, chirpy Puck and all.
On the other hand, I'm sad to report that adding big bold manga-style hatch marks to the janky CG models used for the Berserk film trilogy did not improve the illusion. The ratio of CGI to traditional animation in this TV series is alarmingly high even compared to those movies, with so few hand-drawn cuts you can probably count them on two hands. (Even when the hand-drawn stuff looks gorgeous, it's still so little compared to the ever-present cel-shaded puppet bodies.) So when a mono-textured, poop-colored, people-eating-tree burst from the ground at a glorious five frames per second to toss Playstation 2-era NPCs into its mouth, not even my strong nostalgic feelings for Berserk could overpower the disappointment.
Apart from a soundtrack contribution or two from Susumu Hirasawa (that we don't hear in this first episode anyway), there are no vestiges of the old Berserk TV series left in this 2016 continuation. This is the Berserk we've come to know through the reboot movie trilogy for better or worse, right down to the extremely ill-advised “BLOOD AND GUTS AND GUTS AND BLOOD” choral chant piece used for nightmare imagery. However, once you've accepted the new aesthetic, Berserk's one-of-a-kind take on dark fantasy still commands your attention as sharp as ever, and the strength of its content handily outweighs the weakness of this new aesthetic.
Series director Shin Itagaki has always had a twisted, frantic, psychedelic-music-video approach to storyboarding and pacing, which serves this new series tremendously well. You never spend too much time looking at any given shot before the perspective changes on you, but Itagaki's excellent sense of the camera in 3D space keeps his quick editing style from ever becoming disorienting. It's a perfect match for this frequently dark and surreal material, ensuring that this version of Berserk will keep us on our toes and never devolve into the worst possible reality for adapting this manga: shots of peasants and warriors sharing plot points in a muddy forest. If great direction can save the iffy production values and elevate the intriguing story of Berserk 2016 going forward, it will totally be worth the long and rocky wait.
Oh, and no Berserk newbies invited. This show assumes pretty intimate familiarity with those first three movies to really appreciate, so check them out before you dive into Guts's post-Eclipse adventures.
As a longtime fan of Berserk, both the manga and the classic 90's TV series (which still has one of the greatest opening themes of all time), the only thing I've ever really wanted - and I feel like maybe this is common among Berserk fans - is a lavishly-animated version of it that fully realizes Kentaro Miura's brain-melting art, something that really drives home the sickening gut punch his storytelling delivers. Did we get it this time?
Well, on the first tip, the answer is a hearty "nah". This TV version - as many have suspected - feels and looks like that series of underwhelming CG movies from a few years back, where moments of unrivaled 2D beauty are brought crashing to earth by endless sequences of cut-rate CG sequences that look straight out of an old videogame cutscene. It's no less distracting, and it might even cruddier than it is in those movies. It feels like a full 80% of this episode is animated that way, which is a real letdown - I was hoping against hope that they wouldn't lean on this unconvincing CG technique too hard. Oh well.
That last 20% looks phenomenal though - I like the cross-hatching effect they're using, and the 2D stuff that IS in here looks absolutely fantastic. The director really nailed the atmosphere and tone of the manga, and makes the traditionally-animated cuts really sing with simple camera placement and color choice. This may be the closest they've ever gotten to nailing the mood of Berserk - which is really important and a crucial part of what makes Berserk so special, so it might just be that there's enough good in this decidedly compromised adaptation to keep watching. So far the pacing is flawless - everyone (myself included) complains about the way they seem to just adapt the Golden Age Arc over and over and over again, but if they run through that material with an eye for tight scripting and efficient storytelling, it could really work.
I remain wildly skeptical about this whole thing, but there's enough in here to skeptical me watching in spite of the busted CG. That's a nice surprise!
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