by Anne Lauenroth,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?
Depending on your level of frustration with this production, Berserk either leaves us with something as trivial as a bar fight animated at the same framerate as the 1997 adaptation, or a lovely hand-drawn scene about traumatized misfits bonding in an ugly world that's still worth suffering through if there are people to help you through it. Well, technically the episode doesn't end here, as we get an unnecessary coda in the form of a "the story continues" promise, which seems both desperate and hollow considering how this show was received.
Even with the low framerate, that hand-drawn, semi-functional family bar fight scene was lovely to see. Characters gained so much expressiveness by not moving like dolls that it would have been lovely to end on this tiny high note, if only we'd had the chance to actually look at them. But once again, there were credits to roll, and so they did, all over our heroes' hand-drawn faces.
Before that ultimate disappointment, there was actually some very nice stuff to be found here: Isidoro having his moment of courage and almost-glory while being forced to realize that cutting down depraved but screaming humans might not lead to the same heroic sensation as making trolls go boom. Little Kushan girls looking like mini-Cascas if she hadn't been bleached much paler from the Golden Age movies onwards. Isidoro and Mule becoming mortal pals by beating each other to swollen pulps, or Guts watching his tinier companions from the shadows, ready to intervene on their behalf if necessary but letting them sort it out on their own first.
Besides these isolated bits, the episode revolved around Schierke's culture shock and realization of just how different she is even from the people who now call her comrade, and how disgusting their world truly is even when it isn't being ravaged by trolls. Needing to get away from the human messiness, Schierke meets an equally lost soul – Griffith's seer, Sonia. Despite the camera's initial loss of control, it's a refreshingly intimate scene compared to all that visual and aural noise that's bogged down this adaptation in the past. These two girls couldn't be more different, and yet they understand each other in ways their comrades do not. Ultimately, both will go back to the people they had to get away from to renew their resolve, which, unbeknownst to them, makes them enemies. Thankfully, they're allowed their moment of bonding without things coming to their usual brutal end, at least for the moment.
It's a fairly well-executed scene (just don't look too closely at Schierke's zombie hand petting the seagull), but when Schierke chooses human messiness over fairytales, the impact comes from what her decision echoes in the narrative. Berserk has often employed meta techniques to draw attention to certain aspects of its story and characters, Griffith in particular. Enabled by people's belief in a story, his rebirth let him transcend from the "hero of a story" to someone "outside the story". On the other end, there's Sonia, who writes herself into her own warped fairytale version of the ugly world around her. She's not the first lost child to do this in order to cope with reality. Unfortunately, the powerful memory of what happens when people believe so much in a story that fiction and reality become indiscernible will be lost on viewers unfamiliar with an arc that never made it into any of the Berserk adaptations.
Something else never made it to the screen, and that's the part of Sonia's fairytale where the hawk goes to rescue the duck princess from the crows. It's been a while since we last checked in on Griffith. He's been busy beyond the task of burning witches. We might have to thank the recap episode for missing out on Charlotte – why would they set up the whole Windham underground resistance thing culminating in the demon army's arrival without ever following that thread to its obvious conclusion? If you're curious just how fairytale-like Charlotte's rescue itself was, take a look at the manga panels. It's really quite glorious.
With the manga off on another hiatus and reception of this adaptation being what it is, who knows how long it will be before we get more animated Berserk. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe, in X number of years or decades, when Miura finally finishes his opus, enough grass will have grown over the shortcomings and failures of prior adaptations that there can be a gorgeous, 2-D animated, Hirasawa-scored anime adapted by people who are able to tell their version of the story in a way that actually breathes new life into the source material. For now, I can't say I'm sad to see this one put to pasture at least temporarily. Even if this last episode ended on a slightly higher note than what we'd seen in recent weeks, my overwhelming impression is still that Berserk deserves so much better.
Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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