Berserk
Episode 19

by Anne Lauenroth,

How would you rate episode 19 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?

Unfortunately, last week's trend (and my enthusiasm) didn't quite carry over to episode 19, which is a messier affair than its plot requires. Even if storytelling time with Morgan has to make way for fighting monsters and destroying property, the problems lie mostly with the same directorial choices I've yet to grow fond of. Once again, the soundtrack becomes a major point of frustration, and it pains me to say this, since it's not Shiro Sagisu's compositions that do the damage, but the way they're held back from succeeding.

When the orchestral piece to establish danger and confusion at the ogre's arrival is superseded by Susumu Hirasawa's epic Hai yo to announce Guts accepting the challenge, it works to exude pure fighting badassery – if only everyone would refrain from stealing the music's thunder by constantly yapping over it to voice their amazement at Guts' skill. When the orchestra takes over to let the kelpie join in the fun (accompanied by constant dialogue explaining enemy classes and objectives), just so Serpico can celebrate his own entrance with a cool, minimalistic guitar piece called The World That Guts Inhabits (a world that sounds more like somewhere in Mexico than monster-ridden Midland), the intended coolness already suffers from overkill. Once Guts and Serpico have identified their preferred opponents, it's time for a brief heavy-metal-ish interlude to go along with the ensuing hack and slash, before Schierke needs something more ethereal to seek the river spirit's help. Of course, before that happens, there's room for a reprise of the guitar piece when Serpico experiences another moment of coolness. Apart from the sheer number of tracks, not all transitions are particularly elegant, reducing pieces that could be powerful on their own to constant noise, nullifying every emotional impact.

One thing that is truly awesome is Schierke, our mind-blowingly powerful mage. Poor third-wheel Isidoro is far from the only one to be gobsmacked. Guts is fairly impressed by what she can do, Farnese is close to a revelation, and even the reverend has to come around begrudgingly when the villagers praise the tiny witch for only destroying their houses when they could have become troll food. Said praise begins with a very weird point-of-view shot looking over Schierke's hat from I-don't-know-who's perspective, but let's stay focused on the good stuff for a while. At least where story and theme are concerned, Berserk rarely disappoints.

As mighty as she may be, Schierke's power has its limits – or at least it should. She has the spiritual strength to construct a sanctuary in her heart (something Farnese does not have and is desperately trying to find), but she's still human and not immune to emotion. After the villagers treated her kind the way they did, anger plays a prominent role in her actions, and when her own rage coalesces with the equally resentful feelings of the Lady of the Depths, Schierke almost lets her emotions get the better of her, emphasizing that she will need more than theory and aptitude to fully grasp the immense responsibility her power brings. It's a responsibility not just for the people who believe in her, but also for herself. We've seen what abandoning this kind of responsibility has done to Guts when he was fueled by nothing but his thirst for revenge, and I feel that when he comforts Schierke after the waters have swept away Casca and Farnese, Guts understands what she's holding herself accountable for better than the others. Her hair's still wrapped around his finger at this point, a nice detail to show they haven't lost their bond in the fight.

Thematically, this episode carries on where last week left off, almost adopting a conciliatory tone. The names people call their gods by may change, but humanity's need for "salvation" does not, even though the subtitles translate Schierke's "sukui" as the more neutral "aid". What a relief this must be for Farnese, to know that she's not alone in feeling so lost. It's when people start forgetting their connection to the past and others that they become most susceptible to manipulation by those monopolizing salvation for their own claim to power. Morgan's village experienced a timid leap of faith, and on this very local scale, it might just work out. At least for a little while.

Conveniently for our more physically gifted heroes, Schierke's shield exclusively protects against spiritual forms, and despite its hideous appearance, the ogre is quick to adopt a strategy that enables Guts to do what he does best. His years of demon fighting can't be rendered irrelevant simply because another powerful member joined the party, and to a lesser extent, Serpico also gets to show off his supernaturally enhanced fighting chops. But the time for awe was last week, and as cool as his walk into battle is portrayed (with a reasonably well-directed fight against the frog horse to follow), he's no superhuman. When Serpico takes a major hit, he's in immediate danger, a nice reminder of our group's humanity.

While Serpico's change is subtler than Farnese's, neither of them are content to find comfort in each other's brokenness any longer. It's good to see them developed at such a realistic pace. Sadly, some things never change, and since we've apparently spent too much time without any woman getting at least abducted by human or inhuman monsters, we close with Casca and Farnese being carried off by trolls, accompanied by misplaced elfish chibi bickering.

Rating: C

Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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