Episode 21

by Anne Lauenroth,

How would you rate episode 21 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?

If its painfully visible lack of time and funds was episode 21's only problem, I'd almost feel bad about the following rant. Running out of both in the last third of a show is too common an occurrence to get worked up over, and the worst slip-ups will be corrected for the physical release. Seeing Berserk run out of everything just when we reach a moment fans have been anticipating for such a long time is unfortunate.

From the jarring CGI that didn't look this bad all year to the indiscriminately deafening soundtrack, everything that's been troubling this production comes together to turn what should be an iconic scene into a sad and clumsy little echo. I have no idea why what little budget seems to be left is spent on letting Isidoro roll around on the ground for ages when Flora's face is left looking so empty that it's almost scary, Guts' "walk" out of the woods at 6:43 is simply disgraceful, and apostle transformations are "animated" as half-second dissolves. Hand-drawn stills inserted in desperation don't add the intended emotional punch so much as break what little immersion is left.

Even the characters, Berserk's greatest consistent strength, are unable to provide much improvement. Many of this episode's important lines are given through telepathy and inner monologue. On the plus side, this means less mouth flaps to animate, and since lips occasionally fail to move even when characters are talking, that's probably a good thing. On the other hand, with everyone speed-thinking to get to the cut-off point, the last drop of emotion evaporates in the flames along with what's left of Schierke's childhood. That's where the good stuff begins, not just because Griffith's apostle army burning the mage who couldn't be touched by the Holy See's zealots and their cleansing fires is an interesting coda to the witch hunt story.

After Guts' encounter with Slan opened up old wounds in more ways than one, Griffith's insolence at calling his demon soldiers the Band of the Hawk twists the knife hard enough for our hero to find the power for one last stand. But wounded in body and soul, he cannot oppose Grunbeld, one of the more formidable foes to flock to the Hawk's banner. In order to survive, it's finally time for Guts to acquire his own supernatural token to grant him power in exchange for his humanity the ability to feel pain. At first sight, this seems like a sweet deal for someone constantly covered in blood.

But while innocent, enviable Isidoro is ready to cheer on the power of the Berserker Armor, Schierke knows that he who fights with monsters already has his biggest challenge cut out for him. Guts' pain didn't disappear because his wounds were healed; he just doesn't care about them anymore, and with the relief of not caring comes a freedom similar to the what Griffith achieved by sacrificing everything around him. Without the pain to keep him tied to what he loved and lost, Guts is swallowed by the Beast of Darkness within him – I would even say he even consciously embraces it now. Just as Femto's entire being was built upon Griffith's dream, nothing is left within the Berserker armor but Guts' innermost impulses, as the Black Swordsman becomes much blacker.

Even if Guts' "rebirth" from the blood and guts of the apostle that swallowed him is reasonably badass, getting accompanied by a Susumu Hirasawa song, it's interesting that the song chosen isn't the epic Hai Yo usually reserved for such occasions, but the much more subdued Ash Crow. We're still far from the synergistic, often contrapuntal use of Hirasawa's music in the 1997 series, but it's great to see what's happening here isn't treated as pure, undiluted epicness.

The question that remains now is whether Flora is right or not. Is karma/fate a spiral without the circular need to repeat and pay for past mistakes? With the preview hinting at a recap episode, it looks like we might have to wait for the answer another week. If this means more time and money to animate the Berserker Armor and upcoming fight, so be it. For the time being, it sure looks like Guts is choosing the same path as Skull Knight, but with the latter showing up at the spirit tree to send off his old friend, perhaps not all is lost.

Rating: D+

Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Anne is a translator and fiction addict who writes about anime at Floating Words and on Twitter.

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