Ever since I was young I’ve enjoyed Japanese anime. Not the cutesy Pokemon/Sailor Moon type stuff that many people immediately think of when they see the word anime – but the heavier movies and TV series that often have cult followings attached to them. Series like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo – all timeless classics. These types of stories are very much aimed at adults and are often surprisingly complicated when dealing with various scientific and political issues. Berserk, another old favourite has resurfaced this year and for once, is finally continuing the story.
Like most anime, Berserk is also adapted from its original manga and I’ll admit, as much as I enjoy reading/watching Japanese stories, I struggled with the manga. Japanese books/comics are effectively the opposite of their western equivilants – you start from the back cover and read from back to front. In addition, you’re scanning from right to left. I tried really hard to get used to this but it just does my head in, it feels so bloody weird!
The original Berserk anime came out in 1997 and follows the story of Guts (or Gatsu in the original manga), a swordsman noted for his strength and in particular, his ridiculously massive sword. The very first episode is present day and then quickly jumps back in time to follow a younger Guts as he hooks up with a renowned mercenary group known as the Band of the Hawk and the stories two other main characters, the enigmatic Griffith and the fierce warrior captain Casca. I won’t go into the story as it gets bizarre from that point, but I will say that Berserk is as unique as it is awesome.
The anime series ran for approximately 25 episodes and ended in a particularly dark place – and that was it. Short of reading the manga, there was no means of knowing what happened to these characters we’d grown to love – until 2013 when a series of three movies was released known as Berserk – the Golden Arc. These three movies effectively rebooted the series – following the same story but with newer (and not neccessarily better) animation – but frustratingly like the anime, also jumped back in time and retold the same story as the original 1997 show. Worse though, these movies of questionable quality skipped over most of the story (obviously limited timewise) and much of the character development suffered as a result. For someone new to the series this wasnt the best entry-point to the story.
But finally in 2016 we’ve been given a brand new series that continues the story. It starts with Guts fighting in a familiar tavern, but what happens there was not a jump back in time, but pushing forward! Woo!
And now having watched all 12 episodes of this first series (until it returns in 2017) I have to say the overall feeling is slightly under-whelmed. The animation itself is decidedly low-budget and has adopted this pencil sketch type technique which I assume is an ode to the manga but just makes everything seem a bit…shit. The character animations are jerky, the models a bit on the lifeless side and i guess the overall feeling is watching a video game from early 2000.
The story itself is not much better. I’m told from people who have read the manga that it hits all the key points but like the movie, it feels like it moves from one scene to the other with not a lot of explanation as to why. We’re introduced to this religious zealot known as Father Mogus and the Knights of the Holy Chain (basically like the Spanish Inquisition) as Guts tries to find Casca (who is still insane from the end of the original anime’s dark conclusion).
There’s fights with rather goofy looking demons, a range of odd new characters including a particularly annoying blonde with super tight curls, and well – there’s not a lot else to speak of. Guts is still pretty badass but i suppose the highlights are the comic interactions between the young thief-type Isidro and Puck the elf which tap into some of the things that make anime so enjoyable in the first place.
So while I’m keen to see how things pan out in the next series, I do have to say that Berserk 2016 was a bit disappointing and difficult to reccomend.