by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?
Clinging to strange superstitions, such as witches, will not solve anything.
When it's not depicting chibi elves clowning about on the sidelines, Berserk's humor gravitates towards the cynical end of the spectrum. Provoking a pastor into spouting the quote above, the show cuts right to the chase of this week's main theme: it's really just up to the flow of history to determine what particular belief will become part of people's everyday lives, what becomes discarded as superstition and heresy, and what's elevated (or mangled) into organized religion. Faith holds power no matter what stage it's in, and when Schierke picks a church as the place to erect a barrier against supernatural evil, she has to acknowledge a religion hostile to her as the motivating force for people to seek shelter at a place she must subsequently transform into a real sanctuary. Blurring the lines between salvation through superstition, the supernatural, and real-life power, she exposes how permeable the boundaries between those stages of belief truly are. It's also obvious how spectacularly superior Schierke's powers are to the ones of her fellow pint-sized party member, much to Isidoro's sorrow – especially since it's badassery all around this week.
Serpico can fly, Farnese shows how much taking care of someone else for the first time in her life has made her care, and old man Morgan goes from inspirational tale-teller to sacrificial inspiration in no time. Guts gets to display his full monstrous glory to the dramatic-wind-inducing fanfare of Susumu Hirasawa's Hai yo, and I can honestly say I haven't had this much fun with an entire episode of Berserk in a very long time. It feels good to be able to say that.
While the trolls look much better in the OP compared to their plastic in-episode selves, we're treated to so many expressive faces that I really don't care about the monsters' lack of yuk-inducing drool and hairiness. Focusing on our main characters leaves little room for any facial animation among the villagers, but before they take action to defend their homes, they're little more than an anonymous blob of fear and hostility anyway. At the same time, some of the village's architecture has been rendered surprisingly nicely. Panning shots still suffer from confusion about what they want to close in on, but Shin Itagaki really toned down the spinning, giving us clean and simple cuts to focus on what's actually happening. When he does unleash the crane toward the end, the justification for epicness within the narrative makes this moment feel so earned and glorious that I'd wish on a behelit to get more of this excellence!
Thanks to emotional animation and restrained camera work, we have enough time to appreciate some nice reflections before everyone gets busy showing off in magnificent fashion. Since he doesn't get to show off along with his comrades, it's Isidoro who gets to do the reflecting – or reject it with youthful opposition. His scene with Morgan not only looks pretty neat in comparison to what we've seen elsewhere in this adaptation, it's also a powerful cautionary tale. Going into the woods to seek adventure is the calling and freedom of youth, but once you accumulate responsibilities in the form of attachment to other people, life will end up driving you into a corner instead of the other way around. It caught up with Guts when he went away to find his own dream and learned of Griffith's imprisonment, and it's currently keeping him from pursuing revenge. These clutches of attachment can be bothersome, but they're at the core of all things human. It's Casca's attachment to Farnese that gives the former knight the strength to recognize herself in the pastor and confront her own darkness, even at the possible cost of her life. Casca is a burden, but right now, she's Farnese's burden, and she has chosen to accept and embrace it.
Morgan's fairytale was preserved in the forest long after life had moved on, ironically because it had moved on. If people hadn't stopped believing in witches, Flora might not have retreated into the spirit tree. There she remained, forever unchanging, just as she did in Morgan's mind, proving another interesting point: even if Morgan had to outgrow his dreams by necessity, his subconscious was never able to let go of them completely. And even if the elves withdrew into the spirit world, people still remember them – just to demonize them. Of course, their moment of intimate honesty is abruptly cut short by Isidoro storming off. It's his job as a child to scoff at regret and compromise. But listening to Morgan's story, I can't help but think back to another child's innocent dream of seeking purpose and living deliberately, and that's about as cautionary as a tale can get.
Episode 18 was enjoyable not just as supplementary to the manga, but in its own right, offering a gripping, fast-but-well-paced presentation. Even if I'm hesitant to go so far as to take this week as a sign of things to come, I'm very happy about the following rating.
Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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