Berserk – Episode 5 + 6 Review

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With Casca’s fate in question, Guts can only press on with his quest to find her and save her from the demons that chase them both for their brands. With renewed vigor and a restored Dragon’s Tooth blade, his mission is the only step forward. Does he stand a chance against the perils that await, or will he ultimately succumb to the crushing weight of the world around him?

Writer’s Note: I had some personal issues last week that prevented me from writing and publishing the review for Episode 5. As such, I am including the review in this one and the sections will be broken into two full reviews for each episode. Please be aware that this post will be much longer than a usual episode review because it contains two separate reviews.

The beginning of episode 5 shows a young boy we have seen before in a conflict with a small group of soldiers. After taking down three of them, he suddenly becomes surrounded by the rest of their group as he tries to weasel his way out. Claiming that scouts from Kushan are responsible for attacks, his story is believed until the soldiers notice discrepencies- unfortunately, they become null as the group is then eliminated by actual Kushan scouts who arrive. The boy is cornered until Guts shows up and slaughters nearly all of them visible. Nearby, other scouts are witnessing the carnage but their leader refuses to send more to assist- a face familiar to those who have seen the Berserk movie trilogy. He notes that it is impossible to take Guts down without sacrificing the whole squad to do so- a fact he acknowledges and refuses to indulge further. The scrappy kid now follows Guts attempting to get him to teach him the sword and show him how to be strong. Naturally, Guts refuses and warns him to stay away, which Isidro refuses. The perspective then shifts to Farnese in Albion, who is shown to be struggling with her duties to an extent, though the Inquisitor assures her of their shared faith. It becomes more and more clear that Farnese has a clear fetish for torture of both herself and possibly other people, as she sees more physical pains in front of her that shows her aroused reactions to them. In addition, the people of Albion are shown to be hostile towards those of the cloth because of their relentless violence and confirmation bias when prosecuting pagans and witches. We are also shown that these people are utterly helpless against the pure might of the Holy See, who clearly has skilled fighters enlisted for the cause. Casca can be seen in the crowd, but is then taken care of by Luca, a prostitute who dresses her as a sickly sister in order to keep her from being prosecuted and/or raped by those associated with the Church. In order to keep her protected, Luca entrusts Casca (known as “Elaine”) to her confidant, Nina. Nina escorts Casca throughout the camp but notices odd things about her as night falls. Guts is then seen confronting the demons that rise from the remains of those the priest had tortured earlier in the episode, bound by the same torture wheels used upon them previously.

As if audio production issues hadn’t already been a problem with this series, it becomes even more glaring when the insert song for the anime is abused on three separate occasions in the same episode. This is made all the more embarrassing by the distinct lack of any effort to even disguise the fact that the insert song is being overutilized. It’s great that there is one fantastic song in the soundtrack, but it cannot carry a full episode by itself like this- at least, not how the song is segmented. In addition, if you’ve seen any previous episode of Berserk, you already know how the sword sounds will literally ring in. Despite Guts getting a sharper blade, his sword makes the exact same cutting sounds as previous episodes. Even stranger still is the voice acting direction- although Casca’s VA was shown to have a dynamic range, even after her character falls victim to a mental break, the director apparently decided simple “oohs” and “aahs” like a petulant child would work best.

The animation budget clearly hasn’t gone anywhere, and if it has, it has only become a larger problem as the CG effects are beginning to look even more token, hollow, and uninspired. To put it lightly, it’s unbearable to watch all this action and have it look like a second year art student’s class project. There are so many broken elements mulling about this episode that it simply doesn’tt function. What looked mediocre before looks even worse now, especially when characters move quickly but don’t contain scenes of graphic violence. When Guts runs from Isidro, the animation looks stiff and unnatural, which might meet the tone of the series if it wasn’t for the fact that nothing unnatural is supposed to be happening at the given moment.

Episode 4 had finally given us a moment to calm down and collect ourselves, give us some decent looking 2D animation for once, and focus on the darker-but-mellow tone that Berserk can convey to get Guts’ emotional aspects through to the viewer. Episode 5 delved us straight back into the generic action tropes that have been plaguing the show since it debuted.

Not missing a beat, episode 6 begins with Casca encountering a fetus demon, surrounded by demons in the water on all sides that threaten the safety of her and Nina. However, this particular demon seems to “save” both of them from the demons around them. Meanwhile, Guts continues to make his way towards Albion, but he has an encounter of his own: Skull Knight, who has been missing since the Eclipse, stands before him with a warning of what is to come. Albion is to host an “event” similar to the Eclipse, and Skull Knight informs Guts of the purpose of this “event”: to resurrect Femto, who was Griffith before being accepted into the God Hand. Guts refuses to believe in fate and continues his charge towards St. Albion. Meanwhile, Nina becomes involved with a former customer and eventually convinces him to meet her at a demented pagan orgy full of censored nudity and psychadelic drug trips from a hallucinogen the pagans willingly indulge. Luca, who followed Nina to the site, immediately realizes the hallucinogen’s properties and observes from a safe distance while the orgy continues, but Nina’s lover realizes the pagans are cannibals are attempts to flee. The pagans push him off the cliff to his death to protect the cult from the inquisitors in town, and Nina breaks down after the murder. Luca emerges from her hiding spot once the rest of the pagans disperse and then punishes Nina before accepting some token apology. Casca is discovered by the pagans and is attacked, with the group of men intending to rape her and sending her into flashback. Immediately after her flashback, the fetus demon emerges and summons a group of demons to slaughter a number of the pagans, causing the survivors to brand Casca as a witch.

Once again, production issues are wrought throughout the duration of the episode. While Skull Knight seems to have gotten a visual upgrade (at least in comparison to the rest of the cast), nearly every other human character looks like a marionette being strung around other set pieces. Most of the CG animation looks extremely stiff and highly unnatural despite characters being mostly humans in the environment, and even the environments themselves look stilted and change properties depending on the camera angle. The worst scene is the orgy scene, which isn’t as badly edited as Joker’s origin scenes in Suicide Squad (if only because there’s no deliberate attempt at being edgy), but regardless, no sense of psychodelia is imposed by the episode. Instead, the editors appeared to believe that just including vague visual stimuli that is naturally confusing constitutes “psychadelic” and left it there as a confusing, huddled mess of CG ligaments and lack of genitals.

Thankfully, Guts doesn’t get around to whipping his sword around for more hollow ringing noises that sound wholly inconsistent with the universe and anatomy it’s being cut into. Instead, we can see and hear a lot of clipping, whether it be frames in animation or audio such as missing footstep sounds. When Luca is spanking Nina for misbehaving and getting involved with the group of pagans and putting the entire operation at risk, it simply looks awful and slow.

Despite the fact that plenty of plot gets developed in these two episodes, the events shown somehow still feel hollow and weightless. So far, the shining point of the series has been episode 4, where we see an entirely new dimension to the character of Guts and we see the effects of his crusade on his allies and the world around him. However, this episode gruels on and doesn’t particularly display any real consequences to any of the characters’ actions, and meanders to a point that was effectively summarizing an episode previous. The only new information we receive is that Albion is going to host the next event- something that did not need nearly half of an episode devoted to revealing. While it’s great that the source material is being properly honored, Lidenfilms continues to demonstrate that they simply have no idea how to properly execute any of the ideas in a coherent and meaningful way. So far, only 1 episode of 6 has been worth watching in any capacity, and the best it achieved was mediocrity. Is there truly no hope for the rest of this show?