The first true moment of continuity with the Golden Age Arc
Season 1, Episode 4
“Ultimately, all that remains is a shattered pile of powdered rust.”
The credits roll, and I think, “Wow. Two scenes, huh?” But in truth, we’ve gotten a lot accomplished with such little material. It’s a breather episode, likely sandwiched between two more action-packed episodes, including the dismal “Night of Miracles” from last week. Guts is on track to St. Albion to find Casca, we’re introduced to a heavy and his fighting tournament roster of torturers, and we catch up with our old friend Lady Farnese.
Still, the content felt light this week, and that’s a good thing for the most part, because there’s space to breathe. The episode is titled “Epiphany,” which is very literal, and so much of the first half is given over to Guts mulling things over. Not so surprisingly, this is the most compelling Berserk (2016) material on offer thus far.
Guts’s precious sleep is interrupted by visions of Casca being burned at the stake, and the demon baby appears before him with a warning. Guts returns to Godo’s house in the woods, where Rickert has been holding things down. For the most part – he watches over Erica while Godo lies dying in bed, but about a month ago, they lost Casca. Guts is understandably furious, and Erica jumps to Rickert’s defense through tears: “where were you?”
At that moment, Guts has an epiphany, that this journey of vengeance has been keeping him from the people he cares about. At the heart of his concern is a troubling hypocrisy, that he wages war on the Apostles in the name of the “irreplaceable,” and yet two of those continue to exist. For a violent, wandering swordsman, people’s value comes only with death. Revenge is an offensive maneuver, where defense would keep Guts in one place – and vulnerable.
Erica shows Guts the cemetery for the Band of the Hawk, an arrangement of swords in the snow, which recalls that fateful day Guts walked away from Griffith, when ‘he started the war.’ The little girl may not understand the enormity of the tribute, but it means a lot to Guts. Rickert has been forging these swords for this solitary purpose, and Guts recognizes that he’s paying his respects, and moving on. He’s found a new way of life, just as he’s visually matured. Granted, Rickert would look different regardless, given the animation style.
The episode’s true epiphany comes with these pieces falling into place. Guts stares into another fire, and stands suddenly – he’ll find Casca. This will reconcile defense with mobility, and in retrospect seems somewhat obvious. However, heading out on this new journey means leaving still more people behind, as Godo is reasonably convinced he’ll never see Guts again.
Godo is an old man who adopted Erica, but claims to have never known how to raise her. He leaves that duty with Rickert, expending the last of his energy to the sparks that keep him going. He’ll always reforge the sword, and this is a fate he doesn’t wish on “that idiot” Guts. Maybe Casca will save him from the single-minded journey to Hell? The Hell that is man’s ambition, to spurn all others in pursuit of a dream.
On paper, this sounds fine. Classic Berserk. It might just be, if you let your imagination select what you’re watching, like with last week’s sexual assault marathon, so you reduce all spoken dialogue by two-thirds. It’s Godo’s sudden exposition about Erica, and Guts’s incessant inner monologues, which rap upon your skull and ask if you got the subtext. Every interesting character detail given is repeated twice over, spoken like a visual novelist being paid by the word.
Frankly, it’s only Episode 4. But that’s three weeks of waiting for the next morsel of the story, and so the episodic becomes more depended upon and scrutinized – are you giving me enough week to week? Last week, it was too much, and this week it was just enough, but delivered unbelievably bluntly. If the action is fated to include sexist imagery from out of time, and the drama is to pass with no grace or subtlety, the scratchy soul of Berserk (2016) will match its truly bizarre animation style. The exposition of the Golden Age Arc anime may have transpired in much the same way, but I experienced it all at once. Perhaps a rewatch would improve Berserk (2016), but I can’t see myself ever getting to that point.
The story is from another time, its outdated gender politics presented with a heaping side of storytelling muscle cleaved off and splattered all over the butcher’s tile. The bubbly fat that remains is animated by consequence of a bold style and limited budget. The jolty camera angles interspersed with multimedia montage – it’s the least natural anime possible, and so Puck becomes ever more valuable as the human edge in these ghastly proceedings.
It nearly pains me that these proceedings are getting more interesting. Where I considered skipping this episode and putting the halt on the series entirely after last week’s episode, I’m actually excited about next week. Things are in place now, and their potential intersections and shakeups are intriguing. By the time we see the Holy Iron Chain Knights again, they too feel established enough to warrant a single damn. While the hundreds of marching soldiers along a mountain pass recalls images of the Golden Age’s kingdoms at war, we understand that the world is changed.
It may not be the Berserk I fell in love with, but it’s enough to give me hope. At the very least, it’s hope beyond this current dynamic where the good episodes point to something better on the horizon, and the bad episodes are bad television, not just bad Berserk.
How do I feel about the series at the present moment? This exchange from another anime, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, presented without context:
Motoko: His motives were insane, and his methods were awkward, but…
Batou: Hey, whoa, whoa. Am I wrong, or did that have a sentimental ring to it?
‘Awkward’ has been a running theme throughout, like all the time in the world didn’t prepare the creators of new Berserk to craft something carefully, so that every success feels on accident. It looks slapdash, and they’re not giving you reason enough to not make that easy leap that the rest of it is similarly hammered together with the same desperation. It’s like a misplaced blueprint for a sword we’re now putting the finishing touches on, but long after it’s cooled, where the sparks are all gone.
And yet, I keep at it.