A review of the story of Berserk before the new anime
The last episode of Re:ZERO gave us a white whale instead of my red herring and it looks like Subaru is due for another reset, so I thought I would focus on a slightly less emotionally traumatic show for this week’s column. I am, of course, talking about Berserk.
Fans of the manga or readers of my interview with Reo Kurosu should know that the series is headed straight toward the Conviction Arc, the launching point for the second leg of Berserk’s metaplot after the conclusion of the Golden Age. Since the Golden Age was the primary feature of both the original 1997 anime and the more recent movie trilogy, it makes sense to avoid that portion of the story this time around. Kurosu stated that they took this into account when writing the anime, so much of the most important points are likely to be covered in flashback, but that still leaves a few holes.
Like A Song of Ice and Fire, one of the things that makes Berserk so great is the tangible weight of Midland’s history and the tremendous depth of the setting, from the cultural to the metaphysical. Although it’s great we’re covering new territory in the anime, the story leading up to it is just as good and contributes toward the total picture of the world. At this point, we also have a number of adaptations through which we can enjoy it. Since the anime is still working its way into the real meat of the arc, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore parts uncovered.
This article will be a recap of the story leading into the beginning of the anime. Sort of like an episode guide, but not quite accurate since some of these arcs never made it out of the manga. I’m reviewing them in sequential order for the manga and will be including the most digestible version of each portion along with the relevance of the arc and the content. Obviously, this article will be full of SPOILERS and should be read with caution. This article is meant to inform and enhance your enjoyment, so if you’re worried it might ruin the show, then it might not be for you.
Once again, Kurosu stated that much of the integral plot points will make their way into the anime’s story, so this is in no way necessary to enjoy the show. That said, as a tremendous fan of Miura, I can’t recommend reading the manga enough. For those of you who have watched the other anime but not yet read the manga, you may find a few surprises here as well.
--SPOILERS START HERE--
The Black Swordsman (Chapters 1-3) Elements of the introductory chapters of the manga were incorporated into the first episode of the anime, such as the fight in the bar which results in Puck’s rescue, but rather than skipping town directly afterward, Guts sticks around because he has travelled to the village to hunt down an Apostle. A less accelerated version of the introduction in the anime, Puck follows Guts around after being rescued, discovers the swordsman’s dark nature, and witnesses him slay The Baron, an Apostle who has been forcing the local mayor to secretly send wagons of women and children to his keep who then never return. This arc is most easily seen in the original 1997 anime and sets the brutal tone of the story as Guts slowly tortures The Baron to death.
The Guardians of Desire (Chapters 4-9) Although this arc immediately follows the events in episode one of the original Berserk anime, the actual storyline is only available in the manga. Despite this, it essentially laid the groundwork for the entire series, describing the process which by which humans become Apostles with the aid of a Behelit and introducing the God Hand. This arc portrays the tragic side of becoming an Apostles, rather than the pure monster that was The Baron, forcing a guarded sympathy for some of these creatures on the reader. It is also where Guts obtains the Behelit, now known as “Betchi”, which he carries to this day.
The story is roughly similar to The Black Swordsman. Guts wanders into town in his quest to eradicate all Apostle and discovers the local ruler, known only as The Count, has been ordering the execution of locals for witchcraft. During the course of events, Puck is captured by The Count and given to his daughter as a gift, who Puck learns has been forbidden by her father from leaving her room. Confirming The Count is an apostle, Guts sneaks into his keep and The Count transforms into his true form, a massive, monstrous slug, in the subsequent battle. During the fight, The Count causes structural damage to the castle, forcing his daughter to flee her room where she witnesses her father's true form for the first time. Guts capitalizes on the distraction to deliver a fatal blow, but The Count uses his Behelit to summon the God Hand and asks for their aid.
After The Guardians of Desire, the series goes back in time to...
The Golden Age (Chapters 10-94) The most retold portion of the Berserk story, taking up the majority of the original anime and the entirety of the movie trilogy. The most digestible version of this segment of the story is likely the movie trilogy, which compresses the 25 episode 1997 anime into just under 5 hours while remaining mostly true to the manga. Serving as a first act, the Golden Age establishes the connection between Guts, Casca, and Griffith upon which the entire story turns. Miura spends his time investing the audience in these characters and the Band of the Hawk before unleashing the tragedy of the setting. Covering this arc would take a whole article, so I’ll just discuss one portion that was absent from both animations.
The largest missing portion from both animations is the period between Griffith’s rescue and the shortly before the Eclipse (occupying chapters 72-85). This period was essentially a prolonged chase where the king sent two groups to kill Griffith, first a group of Kushan assassins, then a band of marauders comprised of former prisoners and led by an Apostle named Wyald. Ultimately, it was a good decision by both studios to cut out this portion of the story since it does little for the narrative and arguably lessens the impact of the ensuing Eclipse by introducing many supernatural themes which, in the anime, seem much more alien following a more mundane version of the rescue and only a brief encounter with Zodd to indicate that all may not be right with the world. The main thrust of this portion of the arc was to begin introduce more supernatural elements and reinforce themes of irrevocable fate established earlier in the arc.
Then, The Eclipse.
Lost Children (Chapters 95-133) Easily the greatest narrative sacrifice that had to be made to bring us to the directly into the Conviction arc in the anime. It was originally the arc which brought us back to the present day after the conclusion of Eclipse at the end of the Golden Age arc, chronologically taking place directly after Guardians of Desire. If you thought the events of the Eclipse had left you a hollowed-out, emotionless shell then this arc was meant to teach you that you are still capable of suffering. Miura shows his strength as a storyteller by presenting Grimm’s Fairy Tales-esque story that shows you can feel sympathy for the devil.
Guts rescues a girl named Jill from slavers, who takes him to her village. After the locals try to capture Puck, Guts learns the village been plagued by a swarm of elves. Unlike Puck, these elves will kill humans and livestock while kidnapping children. Guts is present for the next attack, where he witnesses a winged girl who leads the elves in their hunt. Jill recognizes the elf girl as her lost friend Rosine, who had always dreamed of discovering elves and fled from the village and her abusive parents years ago. Rosine takes Jill back to her elf kingdom and Gut’s pursues, recognizing Rosine as an Apostle. During the course of the story, we discover that not just innate evil, but the cruelty of others can also drive one to become an Apostle.
Gut’s wounds from the climactic fight are ultimately what allows the Holy Chain Knights to capture him, bringing us to the events of the second episode of Berserk, or chapter 134 of the manga. The tankobon including these events was published in Japan in 1999, meaning the manga has seen over 15 years of growth since then, so the anime has plenty of story to cover. If possible, I recommend consuming every bit of Berserk that has been produced so far. The 1997 anime started a tradition of tremendous soundtracks for each series originating in the work of Susumu Hirasawa, the movie trilogy showed us what is possible when combining 2D and 3D, and the manga is one of the greatest works of fantasy from any region of the globe. This newest adaptation has a lot to live up to and some of the greatest moments of the story still to cover.
The best is yet to come.