As consistently brilliant as it is, I’m reluctant to say that this volume is another turning point in the Berserk story. The thing is, not only each successive volume but every episode seems to present us with numerous plot twists and pivotal moments; the fifth outing is no exception and therefore gives the sensation similar to the latter moments of a chess game where all the pieces are lined up for the final sweeping blow to put an end to it all. Every event we’ve seen so far contributes to the part of the story that these episodes are building up into: the Hawks seem to have the world at their feet but fate conspires to bring it all crashing down.
So far Guts has been the central character but in these episodes Griffith enjoys plenty of time in the spotlight; given his importance it’s only fair that he has at least as much screen-time as his beefy comrade. The assassination attempt that left volume #4 on such a cliff hanger is revealed to be something much more interesting: Griffith was aware of a potential attempt on his life all along, and arranges things so as to smoke out the conspirators who plotted against him. His intelligence and ability to read people is once again demonstrated to spectacular effect, as are his ruthlessness and lack of hesitation to punish wrongdoers and those who stand in his way.
The almost poetic chain of events that remove Griffith’s last obstacles in his ascent to the top are followed by the culmination of Guts’ long-standing doubts and soul-searching. His attempt to leave is marked by an edge-of-your-seat moment between he and Griffith, but the consequences take a while to reveal themselves fully. Is it fate at work here, or do the characters have control over the events that shape their lives? Does Guts belong with the Hawks or should he step out on his own and seek his own path?
The aftermath of this is once again a testament to Miura’s watertight writing but also to Takahashi’s mature and firm directorial hand. The scenes where Griffith’s charming and intelligent veneer is stripped away to reveal the lonely and insecure man beneath could have come across as corny and laughable; as a matter of fact the moment where, even as he seeks solace beside Princess Charlotte, he is still tortured and alone was every bit as powerful and chilling as his attempts to eliminate his enemies and silence his critics.
The later episodes that deal with what transpires after Griffith’s shocking fall from grace ensure that the two other leads, Guts and Casca, not to mention the supporting cast, are given the attention they deserve. Guts’ departure and what follows allows the story to tell us a lot about the motives and feelings of Corkus and Judou for instance; the unspoken feelings between Guts and Casca are also brought to the surface and offer resolution that many of us, deep down, had long been hoping for.
There isn’t much I can say from an artwork and musical point of view that I haven’t said in previous reviews: Berserk isn’t the newest of shows and certainly isn’t the prettiest. There are fewer battle scenes in these episodes so in that sense there is less to feel disappointed about when the combat slips into pans and stills mode. Hirasawa’s musical score is also used quite sparingly too but this only makes it more powerful: when the songs are included they are chosen with great care; their haunting and sometimes menacing atmospherics fit the events on screen like a glove.
I’m not usually one to draw attention to DVD extras but in Berserk’s case they are fairly unusual and worthy of note. As in the previous volume there’s an interview with one of the key staff involved: last time it was the manga-ka but this volume contains an interview with the producer. There are also some outtakes from the English language recording sessions; although slip-ups and goofing around aren’t things I would usually say fit into the package of such a serious series, some these are actually very funny (the Beavis and Butthead impersonation especially).
With the Hawks’ rise halted and Guts’ plans to leave this volume is an important instalment of a series full of significant an gripping moments. If you’ve followed their journey for as long as this, for your own sake don’t stop now: criticising the artwork is irrelevant when the story and characterisation are so gripping that they are nigh-on perfect. As a matter of fact, I can’t find a significant fault with these episodes at all.