- Oct 25, 2017
...is the lack of Black Swordsman Arc adapted properly.
So recently a good friend of mine has been reading this great series for the first time ever, and as usual I get a kick out of seeing his reaction to things in the midst of the iconic Golden Age arc. There's so much genuine unexpected twists and turns that it's always fun to see how people take in the series.
However his reaction to the Black Swordsman arc was something special. In the span of 3 volumes, the series escalates from an action-packed dark fantasy manga full of edge and grit, to revealing the final bosses of the series in a sudden encounter with the Godhand in one of the greatest scenes of early Berserk ever. In a rather shocking and sudden manner Guts goes from slaying demons to dealing with the gods that reside in this chaotic world of Berserk and it's fucking amazing.
More importantly, establishing Femto aka Griffith as Guts' real target (in volume 1 he mentions the Godhand but Femto doesn't get singled out until later), we get a clear sense that Femto has done something really terrible to Guts. So much so that he's willing to sacrifice anything whether that's innocent people to his own health to get to him in some way. However he couldn't, Femto was above him in every way, but Guts did managed to interrupt the ritual enough so the Count wouldn't get his way. It was also established that Femto was once a figure that Guts looked up to as well in a very brief flashback that eventually segways into the Golden Age arc later on.
So what's the big problem? None of this is featured in the anime. The Count's story, as well as Guts' first post-Eclipse encounter with the Godhand, has yet to be adapted into the anime in any way. However chapters of the Black Swordsman arc HAVE been adapted...twice.
The First Time - Berserk (1997): Episode 1
To be fair to this version, out of all the adaptations this one gets it the most for better or worse. The ebb and flow of the relationship between the Black Sowrdsman arc and the Golden Age arc still exists in the 1997 anime. It's still a highly flawed way of going about it, but the concept is still there. Episode 1 of the 1997 anime took the first chapter of the manga and inserted scenes of Guts being really angry at Griffith/Femto. So in addition to an adaptation of the Snake Baron story, the episode establishes that Griffith has done something very terrible to Guts and has ascended to a higher level of existence.
However it's very likely they had a limited amount of time and episode count to really work with so I'll cut them some slack here. For the most part it does a good job at surmising what Miura was trying to accomplish in the Black Swordsman arc. It isn't nearly as good, but it works with the author's intent on some level.
The Second TIme - Berserk (2016): Episode 1
A weird adaptation combing Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the series and adding elements from the Conviction arcs and the Millennium Falcon arcs, this adaptation is the absolute worst way to go about it. The main climax of the episode involves Guts' epic battle with the skeleton army, which was a very cool moment in the manga but it wasn't solely included in the story BECAUSE it was cool but rather to showcase that Guts was being tormented by demons.
On top of that, without any context whatsoever, if someone who has never seen the Berserk films this is a terrible way at introducing the main character. As a stand-alone anime, Berserk (2016) and it's second season give Guts no particular reason why he wants revenge so bad. As a debut episode, the problems with this series were already seeping through.
Simply put, there isn't an anime adaptation of Berserk that is complete.
Not even in the somewhat beloved Golden Age films, a lot of the tension of audiences knowing that Griffith fucks over Guts is lost. Throughout the Golden Age arc you're supposed to get the sense that at any point Griffith will snap. "How is this going to happen?" is a question you're supposed to ask.
Without that, Griffith has a Behelit which is neat, but it doesn't mean anything at that point because someone that hasn't read or seen a glimpse of what it can do has no understanding how dangerous it is. Then Zodd appears and tells Guts he's doomed which you know...without the context of knowing Griffith becomes Femto is pretty much just generic villain jank rather than, "Oh shit Zodd KNOWS."
Yeah, the Black Swordsman Arc isn't the best arc in Berserk, but that's ok. That's how the series started, warts and all. I'm not a fan of Guts willingly fucking an Apostle knowing how much in love he was with Casca myself. I get those complaints. However, it's still an important part of Berserk's history and setups the entire premise of the series without having to rely solely on shock value without the context that Griffith has set Guts' life into a living hell. Hopefully the next time Berserk gets adapted in the future the people involved will understand this at least on a level similar to how the 1997 anime set things up which at least got the concept from the manga in tact.