Berserk certainly made some waves when it re-emerged from a nearly 20 year slumber last year. While many ardent fans of the manga were excited to see the story finally progress after the classic anime series was followed up by a three part OVA that simply rehashed the opening arcs, once Berserk properly arrived, there was quite a bit of disappointment to go around.
Despite a rocky start, including the continuing concerns regarding the animation style, once the story began to move properly, Berserk appeared to have gained a loyal viewership, and a second season was promised. After nearly a year, the moment of truth is here! Season two has arrived, and it’s time to sink our teeth into it and see how it fares. Let’s re-visit these last few weeks.
Episodes 13 (Premiere)
The opening episodes of season two pick up right where we left off: Guts and Casca are returning to Godo’s house after their prolonged battle against Mozgus at the Tower of Conviction. As Guts struggles to come to terms with the fact that Griffith has seemingly returned to human form, his sworn enemy appears before Rickert.
While Rickert remains blissfully ignorant of the horrors that Guts and Casca endured during the Eclipse, as well as Griffith’s demonic transformation, Guts attempts to strike Griffith down almost immediately before he is stopped by Nosferatu Zodd.
Zodd and Guts engage in a furious battle, demonstrating Guts’ growth since the Golden Arc when he and Griffith first battled the monstrous Apostle. While matching Zodd blow for blow is incredible, Guts still cannot overpower him or gain the upper hand as Griffith closes in on Casca, triggering horrific memories of her violation at his hands.
Griffith leaves Casca unharmed and summons Zodd to leave, as Guts feels a sense of helplessness at being unable to protect Casca yet again.
Elsewhere, a fierce battle in Midland is coming to a close as Midland forces are defeated and the women are being marched off, presumably to be sacrificed to the Kushans’ gods. A young woman in line comments that the Hawk is coming. Just as a Kushan commander is disparaging his assassins about failing to capture Griffith, the man himself appears on horseback, much to the Kushans’ surprise as the episode comes to a close.
The battle between Zodd and Guts is very well done. If there’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed in Berserk, it’s an often overlooked element of anime in general: sound effects. The clanging of swords, the sliding of metal and reverberation of hilts and armor are all captured wonderfully in these battles. Berserk has always been about intense battles between Guts and other superhuman enemies, and the quality sound effects really drive home the fervor and desperation of these fights.
The opening episode also does well to set the stage for the arc to come. While the Conviction arc was much like The Hobbit in that it hinted at whispers of an unspeakable evil that had yet to surface, the climax saw the return of chief antagonist Griffith, and now we have this dynamic character to lead the way as Guts continues his long and sleepless journey.
The second part of the premiere focuses mainly on a character that I loved to hate last season: Farnese. Going into the history of this troubled former Knight and her close confidant, Serpico, we begin to understand just a bit of her insanity. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still on my list of crappy characters, but I appreciate the effort they put in to try and humanize her.
The majority of the episode documents Farnese’s past; from when she discovers Serpico beaten in the streets and commands him to be her servant, through their childhood together and ultimately to her psychotic break and attempt to burn down her home following the announcement that she was to be married off.
After her marriage prospects were all but exhausted, her father saw no other alternative but for her to join the order of the Holy See and become an Iron Chain Knight. During her fervent witch-hunts, Serpico’s own mother is found suspect and sentenced to being burned alive. Forcing Serpico to renew his vows to her, Farnese cements her role as his master as the two toss the torch onto the wood-stack and witness Serpico’s last relative burn away.
Despite this horrific experience, Serpico seems as dedicated as ever to Farnese, and swears to do whatever he can to assist her in her latest mission to catch up to the Black Swordsman.
While Farnese, Serpico and Isidoro were searching for Guts, he and Casca have an unfortunate encounter that rattles their mutual trust. After a demon strikes Guts, he goes into a berserker rage and grabs Casca by the throat.
Even though Puck is able to bring him back to his senses, Casca is terrified (and rightfully so), and attempts to run away. In order to keep her safe, Guts ties her to a tree so she won’t wander off again.
The episode shifts its focus back to Farnese and Serpico, as the pair finally reaches Guts by tailing Isidoro, who tells Guts he had been searching for him since they left the tower. At the end of the episode, Farnese humbly requests to join them.
Following the fairly fast paced and heavy first episode, this episode appears to pump the brakes a bit as it attempts to flesh out the newest members of Guts’ party. We also begin to see a bit more of Guts internal struggles and his own (literal) demon that he’s fighting.
Farnese still sucks, but maybe she’ll start to suck less…
Episode 15 picks up with Griffith casually strolling into an enemy compound. The Kushans are amazed that the legendary Hawk of Light is in front of them, but before they have much chance to react, Griffith kills their commander.
In the chaos that ensues, a handful of extremely powerful warriors appear to pledge their swords to Griffith.
An exile of the Kushan clan known as Raksas, who possesses an amorphous black form, protects griffith from would-be assassins and promises to one day cut off his “beautiful head”.
Sir Locus, otherwise known as the “Moonlight Knight”, commands a powerful spear and easily dispatches enemies. He claims that “Divine Revelation” led him to Griffith and as such offers his sword for the cause.
Of course, Nosferatu Zodd makes his appearance as well, easily tearing through enemy forces like a hot knife through butter.
Finally, an exceedingly powerful warrior named Grunbeld arrives, commanding a wide array of weaponry, including some gnarly cannons. While he’s rumored to have been a legendary human warrior in the past, his red eyes and rumors of his death imply that at this point he’s become something else entirely.
These four offer their infernal powers to Griffith and begin to form a revived Band of the Hawk to do battle against the Kushans and bring Midland back from the brink of destruction.
The opening half of the episode is both exciting and concerning at the same time. Yes, it’s awesome that Midland is making a comeback, and it’s always fun to watch overpowered demon soldiers absolutely wreck the opposing forces, but you also understand that each of these formidable foes will eventually prove to be an obstacle for Guts, and so the previously daunting task of taking down Griffith becomes even more difficult. You also see some echoes of the Golden Age arc in the second half as Sonia, the young girl who prophesied the coming of the hawk, explains the structure of the army to young Mule Wolflame. Rescued by Griffith’s forces in a seemingly impossible battle, Mule is amazed that former enemies can eventually rise up within the Band of the Hawk, and even command soldiers. Griffith’s unorthodox approach to inspiring his troops and improving morale have made a comeback, but this time it is accompanied by his supernatural powers.
While Griffith gathers his army, Guts’ party grows as well as Farnese implores him to let them join. After Isidoro mocks her, she makes a dramatic gesture of cutting off her hair to show her commitment to atoning for her sins.
Troubled by his recent outburst, Guts accepts Farnese and Serpico to join them, though he promises it will not be an easy journey. The duo agrees and the newly reinvented group moves on to their next destination.
This episode was mainly foundation setting for future conflicts, but the pacing was great. While the opening half does seem to fly by, we will definitely have an opportunity to learn more about each of Griffith’s generals. In the short-term, it does an excellent job of making the Band of the Hawk a force to be reckoned with. Of course, Guts will be the one reckoning with them soon enough.
Which brings us to the most recent episode: episode 16. Farnese goes through some growing pains as she tries to find her place within the group. The opening montage is a comedic haphazard of Farnese trying to be helpful, but mainly messing up everything from cooking to washing the clothes and attempting to fight off demons. Eventually her role comes down to babysitting Casca and tending to the fire. Her fall from being a respected commander of the Holy Iron Chain Knights to her current situation causes her to feel like extra baggage. Still, she seems to have a soft spot for Casca, who also appears to be growing close to her as well.
While Farnese struggles to find her place in the group, Isidoro trains with Guts on his swordsmanship.
While Guts is obviously worlds apart from him in terms of skill, it’s refreshing to watch Isidoro hone his skills, as well as watch Guts mentor and train an apprentice of sorts.
As the group ventures to the nearby Port of Vritannis they are set upon by a group of Trolls. Guts is indisposed elsewhere as Isidoro attempts to employ his recently sharpened swordsmanship to protect Casca and the others. The troll proves to be too much for Isidoro, however, as he’s nearly killed before a young witch appears to offer her aid.
The witch forms a magic circle, which offers the group some protection until Guts arrives to disperse the monstrous attackers. The witch notices that Guts and Casca are different somehow, though she doesn’t pay it too much attention before they go their separate ways. Of course, not before Isidoro inadvertently gropes the witch, which causes the flustered magic-user to temporarily make him act like a monkey.
The group soon comes across a wandering villager in the forest that is seeking out a mystical witch to help battle the growing threat of Trolls. Thinking that the witch they just met was the one in question, they venture deeper into the forest until they come across an impressive residence near its heart.
While making their way towards the home, earth elementals around the property come alive and begin attacking Guts and the rest of the group. Though they initially seem indestructible, Casca inadvertently uncovers their weakness when she takes hold of a miniature doll housed within the larger golems.
The rest of the group soon exploits this weakness to make quick work of the elementals, but are stopped by the true Witch of the forest. The young girl who assisted them earlier is simply an apprentice, and leads Guts and his companions to meet her Mistress.
A friendly face at first glance…but can this witch be trusted? How does she know about Guts and Casca’s brands? More to come next week, no doubt!
Overall, Berserk is shaping up to offer a strong second season so far. Sure, the art style hasn’t miraculously changed, but it still carries the weight and aesthetic of the dark fantasy genre very well. With more specific goals in mind, a clearly identified antagonist, and a central group of protagonists that are seeing more and more proper development, Berserk is sure to give us something exciting to look forward to each week.
I’m definitely staying tuned, and I encourage you to do the same!