Guts carries out the mission Griffith set for him but events take an unexpected and bloody turn. Unfortunately nobody has much time to dwell on the ramifications because the Band of the Hawk are called up to fight the army of Chuder in what could be a decisive victory for the country of Midland.
Those who have followed Berserk thus far will be keenly aware of how it never pulls its punches in depicting the violence and ruthlessness of the characters and the world in which they live. This volume really gives a shock to the system in showing how Guts goes about his task almost without question and ends up going much further than he intended: I was actually quite surprised at how this mission went awry, but at the same time was fascinated by the character study that followed. Guts seemed to act on instinct, only realising what he had done when it was too late; Griffith showed an impressive, and quite frankly chilling, lack of emotion when he heard the news afterwards.
This volume therefore gives hints at how far the characters are prepared to go, and how their relationships could eventually to fall apart, as foreshadowed way back in the opening episode. That is to say, Guts has proven to be an impulsive and cold-blooded killer and Griffith’s ruthlessness, alongside his enigmatic charm, highlights what a dangerous individual he really is. Given that we are supposed to expect the two of them to become bitter enemies later on, these moments, like the narrated introduction before the credits of every episode, hammer home the importance of fate and inevitability of how everything will eventually go wrong; which ironically makes the proceedings all the more compelling rather than detracting from their significance.
The first hints of cracks appearing in the friendship between Griffith and Guts occur here too when Griffith states that he can only consider someone his true friend when they stand on equal terms; since Guts has always considered himself to be below his comrade, the feelings of isolation, and I suppose rejection in some ways, begin to show. Even though Griffith has such a high opinion of Guts, to the point at which Caska is clearly jealous of him, the bond between these two men may not be perfect after all.
Speaking of Caska, we get a lot of insight into her early life here which explains her admiration for Griffith and enriches an already complex and bleak picture of the Berserk world. Like Guts, she had a traumatic childhood, finding security and meaning when teaming up with the Hawks under Griffith’s leadership. Some telling scenes between her and Guts, which would count as romantic ones in many other shows, show their more emotional sides and flesh their personalities further too.
Don’t be fooled by the amount of dialogue into thinking it’s a slow-paced show though: Berserk still knows how to pull off a visceral action scene when circumstances require it. Punctuating the moments of character development and political intrigue are the trademark brutal and blood-soaked instances of hand-to-hand combat with blades and arrows flying with gleeful abandon. The way in which the bad guys seem to ham up their characters, and the way in which blood sprays theatrically from open wounds, seem to be a bit overdone to me in a stereotypical anime kind of way; but then a guy taking several crossbow hits and still finding it in himself to wield a six foot-long sword doesn’t come across as realistic either. Perhaps the reason why I let it slide is, as much as I hate to admit it to myself, it looks so damned cool on screen!
There are still quite a few instance of stills during the less eventful scenes too, but the production staff wisely chose to spend their money on the scenes that really matter: the show’s vintage and effects of budgetary constraints (it’s a series that’s over a decade old now, don’t forget) are evident but fortunately still haven’t had a significantly detrimental effect on the entertainment value. It’s not a recent series nor a pretty one from an aesthetic standpoint, but it’s one of the most gripping new UK DVD releases of recent months.
Berserk continues to deliver in brutal action and characterisation as it reaches its halfway mark so if you’re able to overlook its (quite frankly minor) flaws you will appreciate how it has few equals. Thanks to aspects such as Naohito Takahashi’s flawlessly-paced direction, Susumu Hirasawa’s outstanding musical score and Kentarou Miura’s unforgettable characters, it continues to prove to me why it’s been a firm fan favourite for all these years.