It’s been some time since Berserk has graced our television screens, and even longer since new content has been animated. We had the original show in 1997 and the rework movies in 2012-2013—and that’s it. Not to mention they covered the same content, so it really was the same thing twice over. But Berserk is resurging, in a big way. Berserk is a cornerstone of the anime/manga genres. It’s the highest rated manga on MAL, and in the top 200 for TV adaptations, and that’s because the Berserk manga is an absolute masterpiece—and as a long time fan it’s really rad to see Guts on my screens again, but the first episode isn’t without fault.
First off, this new Berserk show is a direct continuation of previous animated shows/movies, so I recommend watching those or reading Vol.1-13 before trying to wrap your head around what’s going on in our tragic hero’s story. And what’s going on in the story right now? An almost staggering amount, apparently.
This show kicks off with about two minutes of “The Black Swordsman” arc, then without pause jumps to the very end of “The Lost Children,” then tosses in Isidro for extra confusion, shows Schierke for a hot second, before finally catching up with our wounded warrior walking through the woods alone. But not for long because Puck shows up shortly after. Now that’s a lot to take in in the first few minutes or so, even as someone who’s read these few chapters over and over because they are so damn good. The encounter in the forest is an amazing scene, and a cruel reminder that those who stay near Guts are bound to a gruesome death. Berserk has always been a very dark fantasy story: it depicts horrifically violent acts, brutal rape scenes, and violence against children so viewer discretion is definitely advised.
Even if it was a bit jarring to see so many members of Guts’ party so early on it was very nice to have Puck involved; he’s an excellent character to balance the somber and gritty Guts. Speaking of jarring, the CGI elements of the show are admittedly a bit distracting; I think anyone would have opted for a traditional 2D rendition if we had the choice. It isn’t all bad though: some of the action sequences (which Berserk admittedly is about 50% brutal action scene) looked really striking from a visual standpoint. Seeing Guts go toe-to-toe with some skeletons and the brief shot we got of the demon tree was really impressive. The downside being the static scenes where not a lot is going on are even more distracting now and the blend of styles, while cool at times, doesn’t always work.
What does help with this, though, is the pounding soundtrack: it seriously kickass. The opening theme is a fantastic choice for Berserk, and when the music ramps up during a battle it’s an excellent addition to the heavy swing of the Dragonslayer. It’s not just soundtrack: the other audio elements of the show are also of exceptional quality, and the metal clang of the Dragonslayer against Guts’ foes is really neat. Aside from pure soundeffect, the Voice Over for Guts and company is fantastic: Hiroaki Iwanaga absolutely nails the powerful and stoic Guts. I do hope he has the range to really show that Guts is very much a broken man, a warrior haunted by demons and powered by hatred; and Kaoru Mizuhara plays Puck just as I would want him, a perfect mix of comedic relief and nuisance.
It’s hard to really put a ribbon on “The Branded Swordsman”: it’s an exceptionally busy episode from a content standpoint, and its visual style doesn’t always stick the landing, but does allow for some pretty impressive action sequences. Hiroaki Iwanaga and company brought that extra level of production value by adding their excellent voicework backed by a profound soundtrack and overall impressive sound design. Even with the shortcomings, I can’t help but grin ear-to-ear seeing one of my favorite works of fiction coming back onto the collective mainstream audience screens; knowing that there’s a whole new generation of Berserk fans on the way is so cool. If the show can faithfully adapt its source material and convince the audience that CGI was the way to go, that is.