Berserk (2016) Ep. 1: Abandon all hope

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Let me start off with a major caveat — a caveat that will probably annoy some people: my last exposure to the Berserk series was when I watched the first anime adaptation a really, really long time ago. Think early 2000s. Yeah, it’s been more than a decade since I last revisited this universe. Lots of people typically think you’re supposed to do your “homework” before you dive back into these treasured series. In some people’s minds, I’m supposed to have watched The Golden Age films to refamiliarized myself with Berserk. No, I didn’t do that. Judging by the very first episode of this 2016 adaptation, I don’t believe it was necessary anyway. Berserk is not a complicated story even if I don’t remember much about it anymore. I still remember Guts, of course… I still remember Griffith, and I still remember that some fucked up shit happened at the end of the first anime adaptation. As a kid in high school, that was definitely a jarring way to conclude a story, ’cause it wasn’t really a resolution that you expected to see at that age. Well, there was no resolution in the traditional sense of the word. The hero’s friends all died, the hero’s girl got raped, and, well, the hero couldn’t do a damn thing about any of it. And then the series was over. What an ugly, brutish end to a story set in an ugly, brutish world. And what have we got to hang our hat on? Revenge. That’s all I really need to know for now, and that’s what the first episode of this 2016 sets out to accomplish.

It is still an ugly, brutish world! Even without Griffith and his hellish army, this is not a place for the soft-hearted. Villages are beset by brutes and thugs. Women are dragged into dark dens where they are more than likely mercilessly raped. The strong bully the weak, and had Guts not entered the room, some kid probably would’ve lost his life at the start of the series. But justice here comes in the form of teeth raining from the sky. Guts punches a couple mercenaries in a tavern and blood splatters everywhere, but no one really cares. This is just how it is. This is your ugly, brutish world. It’s a wonder why anyone even steps foot outside of their homes. Well, I suppose you’ve got to eat, but it’s somehow worse outside of the towns. Forests are filled with evil spirits, reanimated skeletons, and murderous trees. Dude, why even bother? If you’re Guts with your broad, 3-foot-across shoulders and the 200 lbs. hulking piece of metal that you call a sword, I suppose you can make it in this universe. And even then, he still needed his prosthetic arm to fight his way free from the tree that so desperately wanted his soul. But where does that leave the rest of us? There are stories that depict the beauty of the human struggle — that no matter how dark and hopeless it gets, we must still endeavor to carry the fire (see: The Road). It’s hard to see that light in Berserk.

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In this introductory episode, Guts crosses paths with an old man and his daughter, and I can’t help but wonder what these two were even doing in the woods. No, really, what the hell are you two doing out here? Oh, I’m sure they have their reasons to get from point A to point B. We all have our reasons. Every morning, I have to get to work, so I truly understand that burning human desire to get from point A to point B. At the same time, I’m not stupid enough to cut through San Francisco’s Tenderloin on foot in order to do so. And yet, the very worst that San Francisco has to offer is child’s play to a world like Berserk. So imagine an old man and his beautiful daughter traveling through a dark, scary forest with nothing with which to defend themselves. It boggles the mind! What sensible souls would do such a thing? But they’re not here to be sensible. They’re here to die. They’re fodder for the story. Their deaths serve to remind us that we’re watching Berserk. Ironically, it’s the old man offers to lend Guts some assistance, because it’s dark and raining outside. Obviously, the elements are the least of anybody’s concerns here, and Guts tries to refuse their help. Like most fictional lone wolves, he knows all too well that he’ll bring them nothing but disaster. But a quick glance at their surroundings is enough to convince him that it’s too late. The old man and his daughter are going to die 100%. Those are the odds. With Guts traveling with them, maybe it goes down to 99%. Maybe.

But Berserk reminds you not to get your hopes up. The universe reminds you not to get too attached to any of these characters. There’s a darkly funny moment where Guts entreats the girl to get back into the carriage, but before she can even give him a proper reply, a spear guts her through the abdomen (no pun intended), then the title of the anime flashes across the screen in red, capital letters as if to say, “You’re watching Berserk, bitch!” And inevitably, the old man dies too. Those brutes that followed our hero into the forest don’t even manage to catch up to him. They also meet their horrible, miserable demise in the dark forest. If you’re weak, you will die, and this is a painful fact that Guts repeats to himself at the end of the episode. He looks demented as he treats himself with these cold rationalizations, as if it was all a game. He stuck by the old man and the girl as a gamble. He wasn’t going to go down himself. He can’t go down. Not until he gets his revenge on Griffith. But in the meantime, he may as well play this miserable game where he’ll see if he can try and help these hopeless souls cheat death. Then when Guts inevitably fails to save their lives, another small part of his soul — whatever remains of it — dies with them, and he can only comfort himself with that ghastly philosophy that only the strong will survive. Puck, bearing witness to everything, can’t help but murmur, “This is the world Guts inhabits.”

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Guts is pretty badass, isn’t he? And boy, there sure is a lot of blood and gore in this anime. It’s been so long since I’ve watched the first adaptation that I’ve almost forgotten how violent this story is. But I’m not a kid anymore, so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to react when Guts smashes a man’s face with his iron fist, and a heavy metal guitar starts thrashing in the background. The violence isn’t really cool anymore. It’s all just kind of sad. I grimaced when I saw that lady being dragged into the darkness. I grimaced when Colette was killed. I only sighed when zombie Colette flashed a grin after murdering the old man. Yeah, I guess if I’m anyone in this story, I’m probably that old man. I’d be the pathetic old codger telling the badass “black swordsman” that I don’t approve of violence, so the universe rubs it in my face by killing me in the very first episode. What am I getting at? Well, while watching this episode, I was somewhat reminded of Garo, and like Berserk, Garo’s universe is beset with misery and death. Evil spirits and the powerful constantly prey upon the weak. But Garo also celebrated human relationships. The love and bond between a father and son. The determination of a young prince to save his mother. The sacrifices of a family to help a stranger back on his feet. There’s hope in Garo.

I don’t know how much hope I expect to find in Berserk. Probably not much. This is a an ugly, brutish world, and the prophecies at the very start of the episode reminds us that it’s about to get much worse. The fifth angel will descend upon the world, and he’s going to fuck some shit up. This episode is nothing more than a teaser, an hor d’oeurve, a taste of things to come. After all, most of you didn’t tune in to watch Guts to fight some generic 3-D skeletons straight out of some opening level of an ARPG. Nevertheless, a part of me doesn’t really want to sit back and just “enjoy the ride.” I don’t want to celebrate human misery to a thumping metal track, and watch human lives fall in waves each episode. Guts may have been badass to my teenage self, but as an adult, I can’t help but shrug. Basically, I want something more than just a revenge story. And yet, I find my reaction to the first episode oddly funny. As a kid, I wanted to see that revenge. I hated Griffith, and I hated what happened to Guts and Casca. I wanted to see what happened next. What happened next was nothing. I didn’t follow the manga, and at the time, I didn’t really know how to. Now that more of the story is finally being adapted, I feel like I’ve already moved on. The part of me that desired revenge had long died, and now, there’s just a grumpy adult trying to get himself back into the mindset of experiencing the world of Berserk all over again.

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As a minor aside, I don’t really care for the 3-D look. At times, it makes the characters look like cheap marionette dolls.


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12 thoughts on “Berserk (2016) Ep. 1: Abandon all hope

  1. neeba

    Being ready to move on is probably the mindset of every former Berserk fan at this point. Even if this new TV series brings some new fan in, they will have to wait another 25 years for the conclusion. And before long they will be ready to move on too.

    Reply
    1. ioncarryon

      Hahaha! You summed it up better than my long post, but yeah that’s pretty much it.
      Most people I talk to who still keep up with Berserk do it out of obligation more than anything, and even most of them know that the story will likely never develop very far–let alone end–before Miura dies.
      Berserk is an unfinished deadman walking.

      Reply
  2. ioncarryon

    “Basically, I want something more than just a revenge story.”
    Beserk began as a story about a man who was overcompensating in might and murder because of a great trauma in his past which left him hollow, empty, and suspicious of everyone. This man joins a band on mercs who are reflections of his old band of mercs when he was young, but these acted as a family. In his travel to see his leader and best friend to victory, he finds love, friendship, and eventually overcomes his traumas.
    ___While Guts overcomes agony, his friend Griffith sinks deeper into depravity, selling both body and soul all for the sake of achieving his dream. After being ensnared in a dungeon, tortured and famished to skin and bone, he is rescued by his merc team and best friend, who is now the spitting image of the man HE once was: revered, followed, loved.
    ___The envy of a fallen leader of his newly risen best friend leads him to sell everyone into hellfire as he is quite literally caught up in schemes larger than the world, but the new scars he leaves on Guts and his lover bring Guts to not only charge forward in a hope of restoring his lover to sanity but also in revenge against his treacherous best friend.

    Why do i type all this? Because the whole point of Berserk’s LOOOOOOONG intro known as the Golden Arc is to show the motivations for the characters and how these meager men fall into the workings of an elder abomination playing at God and its stranglehold on the human realm.

    It’s a rape-revenge story that is actually a “man vs god” story, with Guts eventually taking on “GOD” just to see justice is done.

    The problem? THIS STORY, FIRST WRITTEN IN THE 80’s, IS NOT REMOTELY CLOSE TO BEING FINISHED

    And the author eventually fell into the snare of making the world pretty much: “YOU GONNA GET RAPED: MIDDLE ERF EDITION”

    Berserk is a crime of literature and all fiction, a story that should have ended long ago but due to unparalleled procrastination and pointless additions is stuck well into it’s beginning phase after DECADES of publication. Casca is STILL not healed, and Guts has only just gotten off the boat (which he was on for far, far too long…).

    TL;DR You won’t find anything more than a revenge story that is quintessentially “edgy” because the writer didn’t give a flying rapehorse [look it up, mate, it’s ridiculous] about his narrative’s soul. The story is pathetic all because the writer is pathetic.

    Berserk is empty because when it should have been filled (and fulfilled) it instead languished in prolonged hiatuses and narratively retarding side-arcs.

    Reply
    1. sonicsenryaku

      i agree with everything you said but the whole “narrative has suffered from side-stories” each of those additions to the stories fleshed out the worlds and the characters. I think berserk’s greatest sin is as you said; it’s haitus’ have ruined a lot of its momentum. And while i do think the side stories have added quite a bit to berserk’s lore, miuraa should focus more on bringing the story to some narrative crescendo with it’s characters and then focus the story to a conclusion, especially since he continues to take all these breaks

      Reply
      1. sonicsenryaku

        i was sort of disappointed with this first ep all things considerd. Shin itagaki doesnt have a good handle on the tone of berserk (or how to pace scenes and transition between them for that matter) and as a result his directing is uneven. I really wished the director of the berserk movies was at the helm; He did a fantastic job capturing the true essence of what berserk is

        Reply
      2. ioncarryon

        I suppose that’s fair, and I do agree also.
        I don’t like all the side-stories instead of the main focus being…well…focused on, but in the very least those side stories actually gave us *something*.

        Reply
  3. Blue

    Guts isn’t meant to be shown as one in this point of the story. The scene between Colette and her father and the violence that followed isn’t meant to be cool, it’s supposed to be horrifying and tragic and was originally portrayed as such, you had the right reaction. The music choice was just bad. As for the criticism about revenge and lack of hope, I’ll come back to that after the show is done.

    At any rate, the first ep’s a mish-mash of events and characters arcs apart with volumes worth of development skipped, and I’m not a fan of the direction either. I’m not impressed with this adaptation.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Whether or not he’s meant to be badass at this point in the manga, that is how the adaptation depicts him, and I’m only covering the adaptation. People will inevitably bring their feelings of the manga into this, but I haven’t read the manga, and I never will, so obviously, I can’t speak to any of it.

      Reply
  4. ndqanhvn

    If Berserk ended at the Golden Age Arc, I won’t mind really. Hardcore fan might say it’s just the point everything begins, but to me its the finest arc in the whole manga. Classic tragedy is hard to find in manga or anime, and the fall of Griffith is very wonderfully written, and very inevitable. But then it has to descend into a not-so interesting or creative dark and gritty fantasy adventure, and I lost all interest. I dropped it long already.

    But the art of the manga is magnificent. Maybe that’s why he took so long.

    Reply

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