Berserk 2016 – Review
Original Air Dates: July 1st, 2016 – September 16th, 2016
Synopsis: In a medieval world of monsters and men, a lone black swordsman walks the land. After stumbling upon a poor elf tortured in a local bar, Guts, this mysterious swordsman, saves the Elf. The elf, Puck, follows after Guts wanting to thank him, but quickly discovers the swordsman is cursed and wherever he goes, evil is sure to follow. Puck joins Guts on his quest against the demons of the world in an effort to exact his revenge for the darkest day of his life. But can Guts succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds?
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: If you start Berserk and immediately find yourself having issues with the animation, know that it doesn’t get much better. While there are some sequences which do improve in quality ever so often, it’s hard to ignore the awkward and unnatural movements of its characters even when they are doing something simple like falling down. The blood spilled in action situations never looks natural, resembling tiny splinters of wood or a swarm of insects though that could partly be in an attempt to avoid coming off as too bloody or gory.
Tom: At times, on very rare occasions, the CGI does its job surprisingly well, crafting sequences that resemble the manga enough to bring to life snippets of what makes Berserk such a visual masterpiece. But these moments are fleeting and much of the time you’ll get the same awkward and stilted animation Linny described above. Even in the finale, as Guts speaks to his group about fighting for survival, his animation is disjointed, sloppy and more robotic than natural. It isn’t aided by character models that never look quite right. Guts’ face remains much thinner, more elongated than he’s ever appeared in the manga (Although the 2D animation, oddly, corrects this the few times it’s used.) Facial movements, especially lip flaps, are iffy at best and come make the characters more akin to puppets at worst. The complaints I had about the character models never actually interacting with one another eventually goes away thanks to tight shots that help to hide the greater limitations of the animation.
Linny: The only thing truly eye-catching about the series’ art style is the shading it uses, which makes the show occasionally look like pages of the manga brought to life in that they look like moving drawings. However, it is a rather unique look and could take a while to grow on viewers who prefer the more traditional aspects and styles of anime medium.
Tom: At times the series utilizes traditional 2D animation, particularly for very tight shots or more artsy transitions/depictions of the more abstract artwork of the series. While the 2D animation generally looks more on point, it lacks fluidity, often suffering from stilted and simplistic movements. The more often they lean on this for tight shots of our heroes, the easier it is to spot just how low budget the entire project is. Berserk 2016 isn’t helped by the controversy sparked early on, as it’s lead female, one of the few dark-skinned Characters in anime, Casca, was initially ‘white-washed’ in her early screen appearances. However, the good news is Casca’s skin color remained dark outside the opening animation, and that was even corrected during the series’ final episodes. This effort to course correct perhaps speaks to the efforts going on behind the scenes, desiring to appeal to fans, but limited by a strict budget and time to churn out a product. It doesn’t excuse the lackluster animation, but maybe it explains and shows that, for as mediocre as Berserk 2016 looks, there is still passion and love behind the project.
Linny: Berserk’s issues extend beyond its animation to a small degree. While this might be a subjective criticism, viewers may find Casca’s voice acting distracting or even disturbing. As she has been mentally broken down by this point in the story, it is most definitely not an easy task to accurately or easily depict her mental condition. However, Berserk 2016 depicts Casca’s addled state through making gurgling and warbling sounds that remind me more of a toddler than someone mentally scarred. For some perhaps that’s exactly what one expected her to sound like and the awkwardness of her sounds might help to sell how unfortunate and uncomfortable the reality of her situation is. For others, it can feel strange and mismatched to hear Casca essentially going goo-goo, ga-ga for the entire run. That aside, Berserk has a handful of characters who really stand out and make you cheer and care for them as they struggle against the brutality of their situation. It’s welcome within a narrative that seems like an endless parade of cruel people and incidents. Luca, a prostitute among the rabble living outside the central Tower and eventual stage for the season’s climax, is a prime example of someone who comes off as kind, brave and strong despite never wielding a weapon once. The best part about these new and interesting characters is that some of them, Azan in particular, are actually on the side against Guts, but still manage to appeal to the audience as people of honour and character with righteous beliefs and compassion. Or in the case of Serpico, even though he opposes Guts, he’s a complex character working towards his own goals in an attempt to protect Lady Farnese.
Tom: Beneath all of Berserk’s visual faults, the writing that solidified the manga as a work of art still shines through. Characters are still on point and even with some condensation to fit the Tower of Conviction Arc into just one season, their writing still shines through. But the character development Guts and the others accomplish is limited as this arc makes up an otherwise small component of the Manga’s overall journey. If anything the Tower of Conviction marked a greater turning point for the series, especially as Guts himself begins to open up again and question his quest for vengeance. For viewers using Berserk 2016 as their starting point, it lacks the impact without that greater narrative to effectively pull from, which is what made the Manga so powerful in the first place. By starting here new fans are robbed of the greater developments and I want to reiterate how bad a starting point this anime still is. It’s, at the very least, recommended one begin with the anime films of recent, although even then so much content has been skipped throughout these adaptations that there’s still significant damage to Berserk’s greater narrative.
Linny: Whatever one may say about the looks of this show, the crux and cruelty of the story is still present and compelling despite it all. That speaks to the appeal of the story itself and proves that despite the shoddy treatment it has received in terms of anime adaptation, Berserk 2016 reminds us why it is so well regarded by its fandom. At this point in time, it’s only fair to say that Berserk’s biggest draw will always be its story and if the story and characters don’t appeal to you, there isn’t much else to look forward to. I’ve personally always admired Berserk for how it has portrayed the darker sides and perversions of religion and how mass hysteria and twisted ideologies can easily turn humans into some of the cruelest creatures. While Berserk showcases the ugliest side of humanity, it manages to keep it engaging and captivating while avoiding turning into a mindless attempt to simply shock its viewers.
Tom: The Tower of Conviction arc suffers from a few minor compromises in condensing the story down into just twelve episodes, particularly the ending as the culmination of events is so rushed, so haphazard in its adaptation that everything wraps up with a haste that doesn’t allow viewers time to properly process Berserk’s grander message and themes. But even with these concessions, the strength of Berserk’s underlying narrative holds firm and is undoubtedly what newer fans are gravitating towards even if the CGI is demonstrably upsetting for long time fans of the franchise. The compelling battle between Guts, God Hand, Mozgus and his quest to save Casca all comes through despite the CGI’s questionable quality, and keeps Berserk the highly engaging property it’s known to be. Perhaps it’s even a testament to strength of Berserk’s narrative that is making so many newer fans able to overlook CGI that would normally be so harshly criticized.
Linny: Given that the show had to condense so much content, it’s surprising that it still decided to go with an anime only storyline that took up an entire episode. While it is a visually and mentally disturbing episode in true Berserk style and matches the general tone, maybe the show could have told the canon story better by omitting it. It’s clear that the show assumes its viewers will mostly, if not all, be familiar with the story of Berserk given how compact its story telling is. While it does sacrifice a bit on story, it ensures that the battle and fight scenes are the highlight of the series. However, once again, due to the animation quality, that might prove to be another disappointment in and of itself as the fights onscreen struggle desperately to come close to matching the manga source. It’s always a challenge to faithfully adapt and impressively animate well illustrated manga series, and this show is an especially good example of how difficult a process it can be.
Tom: As Adaptations go, there’s no denying that Berserk 2016 is disappointing. In some ways it feels like a battle the anime medium is never going to win when it comes to Berserk. Berserk’s art is so detailed, so incredible and visually impressive that without an absurdly high budget it might be outright impossible to do the manga’s art justice. Even for those who enjoy the series, it should be painfully obvious that what’s been presented here is of a low budget offering. That’s not to say Berserk 2016 isn’t enjoyable, as newer fans have taken to the series quite readily, and other more beaten down long time fans have accepted it for what it is. But even with as much of Berserk’s narrative that does shine through, there’s no denying that Berserk 2016 isn’t getting the budget and time required to produce a truly visually compelling product. When compared to the adaptations of One Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100, and other anime heralded for their visuals, it’s disappointing that a manga that’s so highly regarded for its art has an adaptation so lackluster, so low budget, and so stilted comparatively.
Linny: At the end of the day, Berserk 2016 stands as a testament to how amazing the artwork in the manga is and how anime seems unable or unwilling to invest the effort needed to put that beauty into motion. With most fans having accepted and mourned the fact that this is the norm with anime adaptations for their beloved series, Berserk remains a story best experienced in written form so everyone has a chance to see the beautiful art style employed in telling such an epic and powerful tale. It’s a shame that this adaptation hasn’t really improved on the quality of animation for the series, but given how engaging and intense the actual story of Guts is, there’s a high chance that it still manages to win over new fans who prefer watching to reading.
Tom: It’s unclear what Berserk’s problem is, as you’d think such a highly regarded Manga series would have studios clamoring to do a faithful and powerful adaptation. Despite the intense negative feedback from more die-hard fans, Berserk’s TV run isn’t over, as the series teased a continuation for Spring 2017. Based on what we’ve seen here, and my lack of faith with the company behind Berserk 2016, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any significant improvements from what we’ve got today. Ultimately Berserk 2016 is, almost amusingly, not for the more die-hard fans of the series, but rather an adequate way for a newer fan base to jump on board one of the longest and most beloved Manga stories to date.
Berserk 2016 is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com