Berserk (2017) Review - The Tease to End Them All
In memory of Chester Bennington (1976-2017)
For those keeping score at home, this will be the third consecutive show I’ve reviewed that’s not a standalone series and instead a second season for an already existing one. Not that I’m complaining at any rate, because I’d much rather have a good sequel to something I like than a newer series that makes me want to put a flamethrower to it, but I have to admit I’m feeling just a bit weary. And rewatching Kiznaiver and re-re-rewatching Bebop can only stave off new anime withdrawal for so long.
The good news is the summer season has finally arrived despite it missing the solstice by a good month or so, and with it a brand new set of shows! And what to ring it in than by slamming the door in its face and watching a sequel to a mediocre show from last year?
Well, I say “mediocre,” but the thing about the Berserk remake is that you can actively tell it’s trying to be a good show. It’s just not doing a convincing job at doing that. When I last visited this series, I was lukewarm on it and that’s if I’m being generous, but nevertheless I got my way through it all just in time for the sequel to pop out. I think I got its formula figured out: it shows just enough of its good elements for the viewer to think, “Well, that wasn’t an amazing episode, but it did some really cool things! Let’s put on another one and see if it continues!” Then another episode plays, something else engaging happens somewhere among the annoying side characters, frying pans and other nonsense, the viewer goes, “Well, that wasn’t an amazing episode either, but it did those cool things again!” and the cycle repeats for no less than twelve episodes.
Of course, by that logic it makes sense to wonder how in the world such a middling show managed to net enough attention to warrant a sequel, and that may have been in part to what it actually stood for at the time. If you were in the mood for a show with a dark, oppressive atmosphere and some pretty bone-chilling payoffs to go with it, then in summer 2016 I think it’s pretty safe to say the Berserk reboot had a monopoly there. And yeah, Re:Zero was part horror anime as well with some pretty gruesome setpieces to boot, but it didn’t come close to having the dark-fantasy atmosphere, dank story undertones and harrowing background lore that comes with a show like Berserk. Say what you will about the show on the whole, but in summer 2016 it stood out.
And apparently that gave it the attention it needed to push forward into spring 2017 with another season. However, this time it would need to do more than just be unique among the other shows airing. See if you can’t find the problem here: Berserk is a grim, nihilistic show about humanity being terrorized on a constant basis by unstoppable monsters with only a small band of heroes to keep them from dying in incredibly gruesome ways.
Yeah, I’m grossly generalizing here, but the most popular show of last season was Attack on Titan 2, and be honest: you were probably watching that instead. But regardless, that meant Berserk 2017 (oh, how I loathe referring to things by the year they came out) was almost completely overshadowed by more popular and admittedly better shows, and out of the 120,000 or so MAL users that came to the first show, less than half stuck around for seconds.
So I guess the big question now is whether or not the over 70,000 people who didn’t bother with season 2 really missed anything. And…jeesh, I really don’t know the answer to this one.
You may not have guessed it from my first review, but the new Berserks are actually pretty hard for me to analyze personally. For every great step forward it makes, it almost always takes two tiny steps backward that end up cancelling out whatever credit I want to give it. This is a show I really want to like more than I do, but it never seems to meet me halfway. And although Berserk 2017 does take lengths to fix some of the issues I had with its predecessor, I just don’t feel comfortable giving it a blanket recommendation.
If I do suggest someone watch this, I feel like I’d have to qualify it somehow. Berserk is a good show if you can get past this. You should definitely give it a shot unless you can’t forgive that. Let’s be clear, Berserk 2017 is not a bad show. It’s more like it’s very, very imperfect and how much you’re going to like it is directly proportional to how many of its imperfections you’re willing to let slide without shutting it off.
Berserk 2017 picks up more or less right after the events of last year’s installment, with Guts (Hiroaki Iwanaga, in his first major role) reuniting with Casca (Toa Yukinari, who did some support characters in Naruto: Shippuden) and still trekking onward to find and kill his treacherous ex-comrade Griffith (Takahiro Sakurai, Diamond no Ace, JBA Part 4, and most important of all, Reigen from Mob Psycho 100) with his slowly accumulating party of misfits and outcasts. The dishonored and disheveled leader of the Holy Iron Chain Knights from last season and her right hand man have joined in on the fun, as well as the red-haired unnecessary comic relief and ex-machina-in-a-can that you may remember from last season as well.
You may also remember that last season hinted at a witch possibly joining the party at some point. I’m pleased to report that Schierke (Chiwa Saito, Bakemonogatari, Madoka, and Kuroko) is a pretty nice addition to the series, if only because she’s the only female in the main cast that’s actually capable of doing something during fights, but let’s not dig that hole deeper than it needs to be. All you need to know is that the scenes with her casting her spells are some of the most creative bits in the series that showcase how great Berserk’s CGI can look when it’s done correctly. We get a good block of time dedicated to her and her backstory, all of which serve to make her one of the more fleshed out characters in the series so far. And considering that we were in need of a really solid three-dimensional character to help the show’s story along, Schierke is refreshing to say the least.
The unfortunate drawback here is that Berserk’s universe has just introduced magic as a thing people can do, and with that Pandora’s box opened, most of Schierke’s dialogue, once she finally joins the party and gets a move on, is fairly bland exposition explaining in detail how magic works. What’s usually supplied to the audience in a small piece of throwaway dialogue in other shows is instead heaped upon an otherwise interesting character, and knowing that there’s a 70% chance whatever Schierke’s talking about is going to devolve into more exposition on the magic system’s rules makes me feel like I’m sitting in on a grad-level law course I didn’t take the prerequisites for.
But enough of that worldbuilding crap. You don’t enter a Magic: The Gathering tournament to play Go Fish and you don’t watch Berserk so you can not see the gruesome, badass fight scenes. Guts' sword has stopped sounding like a frying pan and more like a whip for some unexplored reason, but I’ll take it. That right hand man I mentioned previously has, without question, some of the best fight sequences in the series. And despite Schierke’s spells bordering on the realm of overpowered, they are still pretty cool to watch, even if the animation occasionally staggers to framerates so low it burrows into the floor.
And…that’s really about all that’s changed, as short as that list was. Yeah, plotwise there’s still a good bit going on (and I think it’s worth mentioning that this show picks an absolutely horrible time in the story for a season break) but at the core it’s pretty much the same show that we saw last year. Berserk 2017 fixes some of the problems its predecessor had, but unfortunately those fixes are minor compared to some of my more major gripes from last time. The jarring shifts from 2D to 3D animation are still there, Casca is still about as useful as a used tissue in fights, and the writing is still just passable and doesn’t stand out in any noteworthy sense.
Berserk 2017 is a small improvement from last year, but considering what we got last year was a middling show with enough flaws to write a novel about, this time we have a middling show with some of the more minor flaws removed. And again, whether or not you’ll enjoy this series is entirely dependent on how many of those flaws you’re willing to forgive. Some of you might just want to stick around for the fight scenes, and if you can get past enough dodgy animation and static storytelling to get there, then you’ll probably have a decent time. Unfortunately, not everyone has that sort of patience, and considering that none of the big issues with the first season were addressed, I understand why some viewers just won’t bother with this one at all.
Berserk is still a one-of-kind show right now in terms of its atmosphere and universe, both of which are things I really, really like. It just sucks that the show attached to it is so average overall.
THE VERDICT: C
Next time: Things get game-y