Episodes 13-14

by Anne Lauenroth,

How would you rate episode 13 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?

How would you rate episode 14 of
Berserk (TV 2017) ?

Griffith's return to the physical world provided a powerful cliffhanger ending to Berserk 2016, and the question of what his reborn self would be like loomed heavily over the new season. In-universe, people dream of the Hawk of Light to deliver them from darkness, but Griffith has more pressing matters to attend to before indulging in any savior business: proving to himself that the Eclipse got rid of that troublesome humanity of his once and for all. And so he seeks out Guts to do just that.

Winter sure is depressing in Berserk, always hurting people in so many ways beyond the physical cold. The “reunion” of the surviving members of the Band of the Hawk on the Hill of Swords makes for a powerful scene, from Guts and Zodd's fight in the graveyard to Rickert helplessly watching, frightened and confused as both fighters pick up the grave markers he made to commemorate his lost comrades, one of whom just returned from the dead only to be revealed as the one responsible for it all. It's heartbreaking to think that Rickert's shock and disbelief are nothing compared to the horrors he will have to endure after learning the truth.

It was winter when Guts beat Griffith and left the Hawks, and it's winter now when, after all his demon slaying, Guts can't even touch Griffith anymore. But something does get to Griffith, just when he reassures himself that he's finally free. While rescuing Casca from being buried alive might be explained away as the demon child's influence, Griffith's lack of total indifference in the fight between his new and former swordsmen is most interesting. I'm enthralled by the idea that even sacrificing everything and everyone in the Eclipse might not have been enough for Griffith to rid himself from every last bit of his human feelings, which might yet again get in the way of pursuing his “dream”. When he rebukes Guts for ever expecting anything else from him, his words could just as well be interpreted as blame for causing his fall: You should have known. You of all people. The fact that this struggle is still personal on both sides makes this one of my favorite moments in the manga. So how does this scene play out in the adaptation?

Sadly, things don't get quite as poignant as they could be, not only because of the much-discussed and even more hated CGI allowing for few nuances in facial expressions, resulting in some truly irritating reaction shots. The greater problem lies with the lack of nuances everywhere else. For the sound direction, one music track bleeds into the next, causing all those wonderful individual emotions of sorrow, fear, rage, and horror to melt into one big, indistinct pool of everything-at-once-but-less. Within his eclectic score, Shiro Sagisu has crafted some intriguing melodies, but the sheer, constant overflow still drowns every scene. Like Hans Zimmer's deafening organ in any given blockbuster, it's almost as if Sagisu is trying to make up for emotions that should have originated elsewhere, allowing for little effect beyond loud and ever-present.

Sagisu isn't the only one who apparently took the “silence is no longer silent” remark a little too much to heart, as Shin Itagaki is still afraid (or really not fond of) even a second of stillness. The more erratic the camera, the harder it is to stay focused on the emotion of the scene, as powerful visual compositions start to dissolve into one another before being able to work their full magic. Given Kentaro Miura's stunning artistry, it's sad to see images losing impact through movement instead of gaining any. Despite its own set of flaws, Berserk's first anime adaptation always knew how to use silence and stillness for maximum emotional impact - even where employed out of necessity. There's a thin line between overwhelming in a good way and just running over things with a truck; Berserk 2017's first episode sometimes gets crushed under its own excitement.

Poor Casca, who's been given the short end of the character development stick post-Eclipse, ended up with the most heart-wrenching moment of episode 13. Seeing her try to reach out to Griffith in disbelief and pain, unable to reach him because of how much it physically and emotionally hurt her, was truly hard to watch, even though I couldn't avert my eyes from the screen any more than she could look away from the person who gave her everything and then took it all away. Casca's character in its current state is always in danger of becoming a tool for everyone else's development, and seeing her express all these emotions without speaking a word was utterly devastating, especially in her following helplessness.

Winter has been just as cold for Farnese and Serpico. In a childhood of perpetual coldness, even the fires of people burned at the stake could be a source of warmth, and in a way, Farnese is still trying to find a flame to “melt the snow with”. Serpico knows he burned something irreplaceable that day, he just doesn't quite grasp if what he lost freed or imprisoned him, one of Berserk's many ongoing themes. Hopefully, both of these intriguing characters will have plenty of time to figure themselves out after gathering around another fire, an image eerily familiar from the Golden Age arc. Even though some other more thematic reflections were omitted from this flashback, I'm glad to see Farnese and Serpico's personal backstory getting so much screentime in a well-directed segment full of haunting imagery.

Episode 14 profited from its less frenetic direction and better balance on the visual and audio sides, leading to less distraction and more intimacy. In a tasteless segue on my part, this brings us to Guts' assault and almost-rape of Casca, which felt just as horrific as it should be. Seeing Griffith in human form briefly made Guts forget his “malice”, something he deems unforgivable. Rage and revenge are all he has left of his feelings for the Band of the Hawk and Casca when she was still her former, ass-kicking self. After that, there's nothing but grief. Deciding to look after Casca instead of going after Griffith (for now) requires a major readjustment of his goals that brings up emotions not on the rage spectrum, and Guts clearly doesn't cope too well, proving Luca right when she warned him that protecting someone and actually being with someone aren't necessarily the same thing.

As an avid fan quick to proclaim the greatness of Berserk to everyone, I still won't defend the more gratuitous excesses that occur in Miura's story, but I wouldn't count this scene among them. It's honest and necessary, no matter how painful it is to witness. Guts having it harder than anyone could take is no justification, but I can feel for him being overcome by all those memories he clings to in his desire for revenge while simultaneously running away from the emotions attached to them. Even if Casca can defend herself against some of Berserk's ready-to-rape thieves, she's not the warrior Guts loved, and seeing how she had already resigned herself to her fate when he finally let go was sad proof of that. The censoring in scenes like this continues to be cause for irritation, and when Casca's movements get too CGI doll-like, things become disturbing given her current state. At least Guts has undergone some major model improvement compared to the less stellar shots we saw of him in 2016, which I greatly appreciate.

After a return crammed full of great content and significantly better-directed moments in episode 14, our ragtag group of miserable non-heroes looks like they're about to set out on a road trip to the end of loneliness that will hopefully heal some wounds without opening too many new ones. Slim chance, I know, but I'm still cautiously happy to tag along.

Rating: B-

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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