by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Berserk (TV 2016) ?
Oh Berserk. Just when I'd finally gotten used to your questionable-at-best CG model monsters, episode 9 brings out Ivan Ooze. For whatever reason, gelatinous stuff is some of the worst stuff to see modeled in CG poorly; it's extremely difficult to model liquids convincingly in general, much less supernatural flesh-melting ones. The only thing more upsetting than poorly modeled fluids is poorly modeled human beings, which we already have in spades, so this week's Berserk ends up being one ugly-ass baby.
Speaking of ugly-ass babies, it's really beginning to look like Casca doesn't need Guts's protection at all! Thanks to the lingering spirit of her demon fetus, not even an iron maiden can squash her survival against all odds. On that note, this episode marks the point where non-manga readers (like me) are most likely to get lost in the shuffle of things left vague. While I was definitely expecting Mozgus and his men to condemn Casca as a witch and accelerate the fulfillment of Guts's nightmare, I wasn't expecting them all to sprout angel wings nonchalantly while the tower around them collapses in chaos. What the duck is going on?!
Okay, let's back up. First of all, I was wrong about Nina's imminent exit from the story, because Berserk isn't nearly finished kicking the poor girl while she's down. The inquisitioner only manages to half-yank out one of her fingernails before she sells Casca out for being the witch. Oh, Nina. I think that seals your fate. While I'm sure Farnese will go through a grueling redemption arc to become a stronger person, I don't think it's ever going to happen for the other petite blonde in this series. It's not a matter of if but when the story will finally decide to kill Nina or boot her out of the plot, but at this point her weakness has become a karmic wrecking ball that Berserk can employ whenever it needs to make everything a little bit worse for the people around her. If anything, that will be the only reason she's kept alive, kinda like the maddeningly unkillable Shou Tucker in Fullmetal Alchemist. Sometimes the littlest evils are the most harmful in the long run, because they always go unnoticed by endlessly forgiving heroes like Luca.
Speaking of Luca, after getting Guts and his sidekicks into the tower by calling on the help of her kindest customer, the soldier Jerome, she once again tries to sacrifice herself for others, right before fate steps in to keep her afloat. And by fate, I mean the Skull Knight swoops down and gallops her to safety before she can fall to her death. He's such an enigmatic force that I tend to forget about him most of the time, but seriously, what is the Skull Knight's deal? He doesn't seem to care enough about humanity to actively become a superhero in this burgeoning demon apocalypse, but he keeps doing bizarrely nice things for humans he barely knows like Guts and Luca, to the point where you'd think his demon superiors would have a few bones to pick with him. I guess they really stand behind that whole "do as thou wilt" thing, but if that's the case, why is the Skull Knight the only demon sympathetic to humanity at all? Just what makes him so special? Was he the lone survivor of another Eclipse from long ago? Is he a self-made demon of sorts, like Guts is rapidly becoming, from a time before most modern demons can remember? These are all shots in the dark, but the Skull Knight's actions continues to baffle me.
Equally baffling is the rapport between Farnese and Serpico, since this episode strongly implies that Farnese may have been partly responsible for Serpico's mother's death. But he's in love with her and trying to protect her from falling into darkness herself? What?! I hope we get a deeper look into Serpico's psyche some time before this season ends, but I'm not holding my breath considering there's only three episodes left. Regardless of Serpico's own twisted feelings, Farnese herself is slowly but surely beginning to crack. Her inability to escape the demons that turned her whole life upside down on that fateful night is gradually wearing away at her commitment to a delusional dogma. This time, when she sees Guts talking to Puck, she doesn't try to convince herself that it can't be real. Given the freedom to flee after she helps him search the basement, Farnese decides to follow the Black Swordsman, which means she's about to see Mozgus and his servants take on apostolic form.
This brings us back to the twist that left me confuzzled. Not only do Mozgus and friends look pretty ridiculous with big ole seraph wings coming out of their backs, they don't seem to be acting like the insane apostles we've seen so far. After their blink-and-you-miss-it demonic transformation via Ceiling Behelit (what?!), Mozgus and crew retain their sanity and relatively human appearance. Sure, he's madly insistent on burning Casca at the stake, but that's exactly how he was before the change, and his servants seem equally nonplussed about being suddenly turned into evil angels. Guts's own confusion is the only thing that makes me feel like I'm not expected to already know what's happening here, but if Mozgus and crew aren't "disciples," what the hell are they? And why would the demon hordes summoned by Casca's brand change these guys in such a different way? Is it a power she holds specifically or just a coincidence? I hope we get an explanation in the few remaining episodes, but the vague and dreamlike storytelling that has defined Berserk post-Eclipse can be pretty disorienting sometimes.
Speaking of disorienting, the direction and pacing this week were fast and furious in the best way. If I'm going to be scratching my head at all these psychedelic developments anyway, they might as well be delivered with style. Shin Itagaki's sweeping crane shots and ominous crossfades lend a wealth of atmosphere to the show's tragically ugly production design, and I'm continuing to enjoy the show much more now than I did at the start, even if I feel more lost than ever before. I hope we find out what's up with Basement Ooze, Ceiling Behelit, and the Seven Ugly Angels next week. I demand answers, Berserk 2016!
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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