The New Berserk Anime Already Outshines The '90s Original

Berserk's first episode of its 2016 TV series premiered today. My jaw is still on the floor, where my tongue will need to be scraped off with a spatula. That's some damn good anime. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

The dark medieval manga boasts 343 chapters of fantasy gore, which creator Kentaro Miura has been industriously producing since 1989. In 1997, the shonen anime Berserk debuted to critical acclaim. Three movies and two video games followed, many not quite matching the quality of Miura's manga in tone or execution. I don't know about you, but I've just been waiting for an anime reboot, praying that Berserk's brutal fight scenes will finally be rendered to befit Miura's eye for high-brow pulp. And this rendition fucking delivers. Its first episode, "The Branded Swordsman", is a grim, sanguine mess embellished with pitch-perfect writing, masterful texturing and world-building mysteries that will be enough to take me through the whole series.

This debut episode features the protagonist mercenary Guts revealing several details about his cursed past and massacring a mob of Incubi in a possessed forest. It. Was. Awesome.

It's no secret that, even for 1997, the original Berserk anime looked bad. Its colour palate was drab, its shading lazy. I feared that the series' latest rendition would go the route of Sailor Moon Crystal, sacrificing the artist's original style and tone for vapid glitziness. Not so! Our dear Black Swordsman is rendered with brash, sketchy lines that evoke the series' grit. And yet, strikingly high-quality textures contrast against these lines, which appear lovingly pencilled in, to break up the aesthetic. Guts' prosthetic arm, armour and sword glimmer like hammered iron, nearly 3D. Bright fuchsias against oxblood depict dead bodies floating in a river.

And in favour of the laconic writing of the 1997 Berserk, this year's first episode captures the spirit of the manga, which is at times overwritten. Over a sea of blood (the episode's opening scene) appears the translation: "On that day, a dying sun rose above the multitude of nations." Unf. Go on.

Other one-liners like, "You're too damp to be useful as firewood" didn't land quite right, even though it was said to a demonic tree.

The grit factor can't be emphasised enough. Director Shin Itagaki, who worked on Fullmetal Alchemist and Gurren Lagann, did not skimp on the horror elements. At one point in the first episode, Guts is wandering in the forest and is picked up by a small blonde girl and her aged father who are riding by in a carriage. They kindly offer him nourishment. Although Guts warns them that he has been possessed by evil spirits, it's clear they were even more surprised than me about what would happen next: The forest transforms and becomes a nefarious realm of unearthed skeletons and ancient trees with prying tentacle-branches. Guts brandishes his sword, which prompts 20 seconds of gratuitously phallic up-and-downs along its "hulking mass of iron". He destroys the skeleton hoard. Yet in the process, this poor girl becomes possessed and decapitates her father. Guts slices her into tiny pieces in a scene that will scar me forever.

Since the series is based in the middle ages, you have to expect some overwrought sword-fighting. Blood is present in, I'd venture, over a third of the episode. But there wasn't any sexual violence. One of Berserk 1997's first scenes features a girl openly harassed at a tavern forced to lick spilled wine off a table. Guts, predictably, saves her. It's dull. Perhaps this series' writers have caught up with the times -- the corresponding tavern seen in this episode sees Guts saving a young, aspirant mercenary boy from a similar pack of thugs.

For anime fans who found 1997's Berserk a bit too emo, Itagaki opted to include Puck, the moe, winged elf boy (the earlier TV series completely erased him). In the manga, Puck was adorable comic relief, offsetting Guts' melodramatic self-hatred. Here, his animation morphs to accommodate his role in the scene: In a long monologue to Guts, who is ignoring him, Puck is drawn chibi to reflect his relative warmth.

Berserk is not for the faint-hearted. But "The Branded Swordsman" proved to me that directors of fighting-heavy anime are making more of an effort to beautify and civilise the genre, doing justice to shonen manga that showcases writing and ingenuity.

Americans can watch Berserk on Crunchyroll, but unfortunately it is currently unavailable in Australia. Hopefully that will change soon.


Comments

    You know when your favourite anime gets made into a game and you hope that the game looks just as slick as the Anime? Well this is the opposite. Loved the first episode and so glad Berserk is back, but in no way does the animation outshine the original or the 3 recent movies imo. This looks like they made 3d models of the characters on a pc and added cel shading. Exactly how I expect the upcoming game to look. Not great at all for an Anime imo.

      The animation in the 3 films was fantastic. At most times, it was hard to distinguish from 2D.

    I've been hanging out for a continuation of the OG series for way too long. The way it ended...

    Hopefully this one goes further.

    Edit: Also, i could've sworn that Puck WAS in the original series, but sans wings. Who was the optimistic blonde elf with the throwing knives?

    Last edited 02/07/16 9:42 pm

      That would be Judeau, he was a member of the Band of the Hawk, also not an elf.

    3Dcg is simply not up to par quality wise to use in an episodic anime, where time and budgets are often very limited, movies tend to be able to get away as it's done better but it is still noticeable. Bubuki Buranki tried it, and that was a steaming pile in its own right, and it just proved that it doesn't work. I'm all for experimentation and progress for animation but for Beserk? Really? Taking such a gamble for such a classic and well-loved series that hasn't seen new content in forever just seems stupid to me. If you enjoyed it then good for you, but for me I just can't get past the full cg treatment, what a wasted opportunity.

      Yeah, the tech is just not there yet. Additionally they're stylistically throwing away the thing that sets anime apart from other animation by going to 3DCG, which is a real shame.

    It was okay but 'already outshines the '90s original'?? c'mon son. Also lack of Hirasawa still hurts :(

      Hirisawa played during the "next time" sequence. Fingers crossed it will play during the series.

      Last edited 03/07/16 11:23 am

      So much this. It's not Berserk without Hirasawa. One insert track from him as a token gesture really doesn't do it.

    so according to anidb the 3 recent movies are prequels to this series, so it's cool that it's not another reboot.

      The 3 recent films are a retelling of what happened in the first Berserk anime. It covers the eclipse arc.

      The movies are the reboot. They made it impossible to continue the plot from the original series because they completely dropped the Skull Knight who is a really important character later in the manga.

        could have introduced him later or just changed the story, like it's done in almost every adaptation.

          IIRC the problem was that the same plot points still happened, but instead of the Skull Knight appearing, it was Zodd. Created all sorts of continuity problems as a result.

    Every comment and review I've read so far is of the opinion the animation sucks and it jumps so much of the story. It jumps basically to Farnese and skips so much such as the black swordsman and the lost children arcs. Its like telling the story of batman in the order of "My parents are killed but a criminal, im really angry.... Blank, Blank, Blank.... 20 years later the jokers a d#%"

      Came to say the same thing re the animation. Yet to find anyone apart from the author saying it is better than the original.

    I like the stylised look. I miss Hirasawa though. Still... Nice to see a different interpretation

    Judging by the title the author of this article didn't read the manga. The new anime is utter crap, it leaves out tons of character development from the manga, an entire character, who might turn out to be crucial in the story, and two whole story arcs (about 60 chapters) The animation is crap, the Dragonslayer sounds like a fyring pan, Guts didn't meet the new characters like he was supposed to and they revealed so many new characters in just the first few minutes, who aren't even supposed to be relevant for a good while. I would advise against watching this trainwreck, and highly encourage reading the manga instead.

    Waiting for the ultimate troll where we get stuck on a boat and then the animation company runs out of funds.

    Last edited 03/07/16 12:40 pm

    Jesus fucking Christ this looks HORRIBLE. I love the source material and I'm gonna watch the rest based on that but fuuuucckk what an eyesore.

    Also the reason Puck was not in the 90s series is because Guts meets him in this arc, which is set MUCH LATER. Shit.

    Hoping it does what the first anime did. Starts at a point and then jumps back.

    I think i'll wait until the "season" is finished first, i got burnt by the ending from the original animated series =/

    It was dark and heavy overall as a series but then took it to 11 so i'm not sure if i want to watch more of that.

    I'm just in it for the cool action and Guts blade, not horror and drama =)

    Author has obviously never watched any of the previous berserk adaptations.

    Truly dissapointed to see them reboot the anime like this.. And the guy who worked on the first season is actually allowing this.. I was super psyched and excited when I heard of the season 2 of Berserk. Now I am just sad and don't want to see more of it. Guess its time to read the manga.

    The original anime looked bad? Hell no! Sure the animations looked dated today but those drawn backgrounds were absolutely beautiful.

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