by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Berserk (TV 2016) ?
Now that our house of cards has been built up over the past seven episodes, it's time to send it all toppling tragically downward, as Guts faces off against a goat-man, Serpico, and his own all-consuming guilt. Unfortunately, that third battle is the one he ends up losing before the other two battles even start.
You'd think the Black Swordsman would have learned after the first several times that abandoning his loved ones for their "benefit," whether to protect them or find himself or whatever the case may be, is never ever worth it. And yet, as soon as Guts finally reunites with Casca, he's sending her away once again, since he's stubbornly more concerned with finishing a duel against her would-be goat-headed rapist. He says that he'll whisk her away and stay by her side "this time for sure," but it's always "next time" with Guts. He's always "not quite ready" for his next goal in life, always "waiting," "reaching," or "following orders." If Griffith's fatal flaw came from overthinking and obsessing over his own long-term desires at the cost of simpler satisfactions, Guts's has always been his rashness to act in service of short-term victories while neglecting the bigger picture. After this close a call and that vivid a prophetic nightmare, Guts should not be letting Casca out of his sight for even one millisecond.
Anyway, to make a long story short, Guts makes the understandable mistake of entrusting Casca's safety to Isidoro. Look, it's great that the kid has proved himself so capable in the rescue effort so far, but he's still just one wily thief with a chirping pixie on his shoulder. Despite the rock-throwing brat's best efforts, the weight of Nina's karma ends up dooming the bunch, when Joachim catches sight of her and alerts the Holy Knights to the escaping heretics. Even after finding Casca again and saving her from a hungry half-Apostle in an explosive fight scene (it's nice that the animation is still continuing to improve ever so slightly), Guts realizes that he's only nudged her even closer to that nightmarish fate of being immolated as a witch by the inquisition.
This leads us to the episode's strongest scene and Nina's probable exit from the story. So long, Goldilocks. We hardly knew ye. Even if we do see this poor girl again in the following episodes, I'm silently wishing we won't because whatever's left of her probably won't be pretty. Her decision to drag others down in a desperate bid for survival rather than risk her life supporting them finally dooms the dying girl when the inquisitors choose her for the torture chamber over Casca because when they started to take Casca first, she didn't say a word. Nina finally realizes that even when she feels she has nothing to lose, putting herself first isn't always the best path to survival, finally resolving to at least try and use what's left of her life to help Casca or Luca if she ever gets the chance. In its infinitely engrossing cruelty, Berserk cuts from this flicker of hope in Nina's heart as the doors before her open to the horrifying view in the room beyond. As the dark and poisonous music sting makes clear, Nina has entered a hell where neither confessing nor rebelling can save her, stripping away even the miniscule agency she had to begin with. It's a perfectly directed moment, so sadistic it's almost comical, and in an episode with little relative plot motion, it was definitely the moment that most stuck with me.
The only other major development we get before Guts, Luca, and Isidoro march on the tower to rescue their loved ones is a little peek into the mind and heart of Serpico, and my initial judgment of him as "Judeau 2.0" is looking more and more accurate. Not only does he fight with his quick wit and light weaponry rather than pure firepower, he also seems to have feelings for his oblivious lady captain. Unlike Judeau though, Serpico can easily match skill with Guts in a fight (even though physics alone dictates that his wee foil shouldn't be much use against Guts's big-ass blade, no matter how good his technique is). Either way, Serpico is out to gut Guts for personal reasons rather than pragmatic ones, just like Farnese. In fact, his reasons are exactly the same as Farnese's. He may not know the depths of repression and shame she's suffering from, but he can tell that Guts's survival is weighing heavily on her mind, and he fears for her continued career and survival in battle if he can't put her heart at rest by taking out the Black Swordsman. It's an interesting dynamic to be sure, and I can't wait to see how such an antagonistic Holy Knight duo will end up joining Guts, because right now it seems like an impossible team-up.
While Berserk 2016's production work continues its upward trajectory, I still have reservations about how they're going to reach a satisfying conclusion to any of this madness in just four more episodes. Of course the show gets much closer to watchable right when it's ending. Berserk really is a tragedy!
Berserk is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Jake has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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