by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?
When you gaze into the darkness, the darkness gazes into you, as well.
Why should I resist the urge to open this week's review with a pseudo-Nietzsche quote when Berserk embraced the same excerpt from Beyond Good and Evil (in the original German, no less) in its 2016 PV? Besides, there's nothing pretentious about this line in an episode that's about a lot more that the depictions of mass rape, slaughter, and troll guts would suggest.
Still, if I'd stumbled upon this episode out of context, I'd probably have lasted no longer than a few minutes. Things get very unsafe for work even by Berserk standards, and too much of it is so painfully ugly. With their nipple-less boobs, empty zombie faces, and scary puppet run cycles, the rescued villagers are almost as disturbing as the creatures inhabiting Qliphoth. Here, Guts is involuntarily reunited with God Hand member Slan, whose fascination with him and humanity's potential for darkness has only grown since they first met during the Eclipse. Observing him engulf himself in a darkness that we've only caught brief glimpses of, Slan knows how right Nietzsche is where Guts is concerned.
While the hundred-beast fight references one of Guts' most epic victories from a golden time when Casca was more than a prop to promote the growth of other characters, Guts can only truly indulge in doling out violence once his new companions are out of harm's way – save from both the trolls and himself. Life is hard, but it becomes wonderfully simple when it's just him and his sword, "forged by the malice of thousands of dying souls." Guts can't cut Slan because fighting for so long has made him inhumanely strong, but because he's slain so much darkness that his weapon has become infused with it. In a way, struggling for as long as he did has made gazing into the abyss Guts's permanent state of being, and there's nothing more desirable to Slan than to possess or be destroyed by a human being in perpetual conflict with darkness, both needing it to survive and resisting it to stay sane.
To fully appreciate Qliphoth as more than a place where monstrous creatures congregate for our protagonist to slay, we need to look at what originally spawned them, something that wasn't sufficiently addressed in this or previous episodes. Slight spoilers for the manga version of this content ahead. Despite its supernatural setting with high-fantasy evils and inescapable fate, everything in Berserk can be traced back to the question of human agency, making killing sprees against silly-looking CG trolls a lot more interesting than they'd be without this thematic foundation. The creatures gathering in this part of the astral world were once inhabitants of people's dreams and fantasies, the same subconscious fears and desires that gave birth to the prophecy of the Hawk of Light/Darkness and possibly even the reason behind the God Hand's existence. As the worlds start to overlap after Griffith's ascension, these subconscious manifestations are gaining form in the physical world, with the disastrous consequences we've already witnessed. What's going to happen when Schierke and others like her will no longer be able to seal the places our darkest fantasies flock to? What if everyone has already gazed into that abyss much too long for it to ever be closed again?
As awesome as Skull Knight's new toy and its epic name are (forging himself a weapon out of swallowed behelits can really only be seen as giving God and his Hand the middle finger), behelits are pretty dangerous things. His Sword of Actuation might be able to cleave through space and send the spawn of darkness back into the vortex it crawled from, but no one ever managed to come back from that far down the abyss. No one but Griffith, whose continuous suppression of his own humanity took him right into the heart of darkness, where his meeting with destiny turned Berserk into the kind of tragedy Nietzsche found so reassuring.
All the Nietzsche references aside, the episode's outlook is quite far from pure nihilism. Belief in others and oneself is rewarded, just as it should be after working though the necessary destruction of false pretexts. Seeing Farnese as she is now, scared to death but standing up for others despite her understandable desire to curl up in a fetal position, she's come such a long way, from pretending to be strong by oppressing the weak to finding true strength within herself so she can protect someone even more powerless than her. Good for you, girl. I have high hopes for you.
When Guts entrusts Isidoro with the position of rear guard (remember the first job Griffith trusted Guts with?), little Dropey makes it work with the combined powers of Guts and Rickert's explosives, Flora and Schierke's salamander dagger, Morgan's cutlass, and his own guts and cunning. Accompanied by a badass soundtrack, Isidoro tackles his inferiority complex to Schierke by heroically protecting her. Go boy, you rock!
Last but not least, our little troll adventure concludes with Guts accepting the human nuisances around him as comrades, causing a lump to form in my throat that's both painful and strangely comforting. Let darkness look back all it wants, it's not yet time to give up on these guys. Not after they've proven themselves so apt at staring back.
Rating: A for content, B- for execution
Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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