by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?
Two weeks. That's how long we had to wait to find out what happens when Guts doesn't care about pain anymore. Surely we had to sit through last week's crudely edited recap episode so that all resources could go into making our hero's first fight in the Berserker Armor as vicious and visceral as possible. Sure, the show's hyperactive camera would work against the story's emotional punches, as it tends to do. Sure, this anime is entirely too fond of a pink and purple color palette when it comes to monster designs. But usually, the source material's strength helps carry the adaptation even through its clumsier moments.
From a storytelling point of view, Guts' fight against Grunbeld isn't Golden Age material. It's there to provide the framework for pushing Guts beyond his breaking point and let the Beast of Darkness take over. Though reasonably badass and plot-relevant, fights like these tend to have a certain shonen-esque feel to them even in a manga as merciless as Berserk – the hero has to be brought back from the dark side by the powers of love and friendship after losing control in the fight against a superior opponent.
Thankfully, it's not Schierke's friendship that brings Guts back from his liberating rage, but her reminder that "A human soul wouldn't let itself be so badly hurt for something that doesn't matter!" How wise our little witch is for her age, and how crafty Miura is to write lines about his hero at his worst in such a way that they would work just as well for Griffith before he became the big bad. Schierke's description of Guts' memories (among them the lovely bathing scene that only ever made it into the 1997 adaptation) as bubbles of light in the darkness is reminiscent of Griffith sinking into the abyss during the Eclipse, after he resigned his humanity and the corresponding pain. Unlike Griffith, Guts finds something worth enduring for and reclaims his humanity with a well-intended but overused Hai Yo. I never though I'd tire of a Hirasawa song. In his first Berserk soundtrack, Forces and the uniquely poignant Gats never failed to hit home, partly because of how deliberately and sparsely they were used. The same can't be said of Blood and Guts which is already pretty on-the-nose on its own, but when accompanying Schierke's explanation of the armor's bloody history and body-eating dangers, things get a little too obvious.
Audio issues aside, the pressing question is whether twice the preparation time helped improve the visual experience this week. Looking at the glaring continuity mistake at 15:26, where Schierke's arm goes from raised and stretched to bent in the split second of one cut, the answer is "slightly at most". Grunbeld's transformation sequence is given the typical dissolve treatment, but the biggest problems don't come from an absence of budget and quality control. Once again, the hyperactive camera pans and zooms compulsively, regardless of adding anything to a scene and rather taking impact away. Seeing Guts' battered, aged, bleeding face after regaining human consciousness and abandoning his fight against Grunbeld to protect the women is a shock for Farnese. If only we were allowed to feel with her by seeing what she sees instead of quickly panning over a (lovely hand-drawn) still in close-up. Close-ups are also the only pan-free moments we get of a transcended Flora saying goodbye to Schierke, a scene that could have been much more powerful if someone had got stopped the camera from running on autopilot.
At its most annoying, the constant need for movement doesn't just prevent us from feeling, but from seeing what's happening altogether. When Guts shatters Grunbeld's shield (a big moment in the fight), we cut on impact without any chance of actually seeing the shield shatter and experiencing the blow and gravity of the moment. In a visual medium, communicating that gravity through Grunbeld's commentary alone isn't a convincing adaptation choice; it only reinforces the shonen-esque atmosphere. Faithfully following the source material in every detail can be detrimental to the experience in a different medium, as shown by the shortcomings of the meta humor ("No fair! He was in the middle of transforming!"), which don't match the established stakes when spoken aloud.
As is fitting for the closure of this chapter in their journey, Guts's party reaches the physical and emotional end of the world: the sea. The poor elves must have worked overtime to mend his broken body, but even if there's never time to heal all wounds, Casca's smile and some support against the darkness make the pain more bearable – maybe even worthwhile.
In Windham, things went downhill fast after Midland abandoned its savior. For a miserable group of resistance fighters, it's the hope for that savior's return that gives meaning to their survival. Oddly enough, the one holding down the fort is no other than Foss, waiting to be saved by the man he once planned to poison before being blackmailed into regicide. His visually unappealing expository scene in the underground canals doesn't get any prettier with panning, but at least we learn that Princess Charlotte is still alive, imprisoned in the same tower her lover was tortured in. When Griffith's Lancer and Archer arrive on scene to announce impending salvation, Foss and Laban's prayers seem about to be answered. I'm certainly ready for some more Hawk of Light business as we reach this season's home stretch.
Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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