Spoiler Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Berserk.
Since it began, Berserk 2016 has been heavily criticized by both hardcore Berserk fans and casuals alike. Having recently finished it, I can say that the criticisms aren’t inaccurate; the early episodes skip over a substantial amount of manga content, the direction can be confusing, and of course, the CGI is awful. In spite of all that, Berserk 2016 isn’t a bad anime. In fact, it’s actually really good. The reason I’m writing this isn’t highlight what’s wrong with it, it’s to highlight why its good in spite of those issues. I’ll be starting with the obvious: the CGI.
There’s no getting around it: Berserk’s CGI is bad. Really bad. CGI can be used well, and being entirely CGI doesn’t necessarily mean an anime looks bad, but Berserk has no idea how to use its CGI. Models often look flat, with little texture or depth to them, faces look awkward since the designs were never meant for 3D, movements look stiff and puppet-like, and the whole thing is just visually unappealing; it looks more like an old videogame than an anime. There’s no getting around the fact that it looks bad, but bad animation doesn’t make the show bad. The 1997 anime had relatively simple art and was still barely even animated, with obvious animation shortcuts every episode. The reason it’s so beloved is because the writing was more than enough to carry the show in spite of the animation.
While it isn’t quite as good as the Golden Age Arc, Berserk 2016 is still Berserk. The setting is just as haunting and engrossing as before (maybe even more than the Golden Age Arc) and it still elevates its action with thoughtful character writing to give it more depth, even if it never reaches the same heights as the best parts of the Golden Age Arc. Throughout Berserk 2016, Guts remains a relatively static character: a tough, cynical swordsman who only cares about getting revenge on Griffith and God Hand and protecting Casca. What keeps him interesting is understanding how he came to be that way. Guts’ cynicism and bitterness aren’t just traits he has because the writers want him to seem cool; he went through some of the worst experiences imaginable during the Eclipse, and his attitude is understandable. Nobody could go through something like that and come out unchanged, which makes him far more relatable. While he’s still the main character, Guts doesn’t get much development throughout Berserk 2016. The character who changes the most is Farnese, the commander of the Holy Iron Chain Knights who was tasked with capturing Guts. At the start, she’s steadfast in her religious beliefs and worldview to the point that she can’t even see Puck, the elf who travels with Guts. After meeting Guts and seeing the creatures he regularly fights, she grows to hate him for making her start to question her worldview. After seeing Guts stand and fight against horrible monsters, including a priest-turned-Apostle, she decides to follow Guts, seeing him as the one constant amidst all of the chaos she had witnessed. Her arc hasn’t yet concluded in the anime, but it’s still makes her an interesting character that I’d like to see more of.
The direction in Berserk is also been widely criticized. Director Shin Itagaki has only directed one action anime before (Devil May Cry) and has never done a CGI-heavy show like Berserk, which starts to show early on. Fights in Berserk contain frequent camera sweeps around the characters, a technique that’s difficult to do in 2D but easy in 3D. This can be quite effective when it’s used right, but the wild pans and sweeps in Berserk frequently do nothing to improve the fight scenes and often seem like they’re done for their own sake. At its worst, the direction actually confuses what’s going on by making it hard to tell where everyone is in relation to one another and what they’re actually doing. It significantly improves later on, likely due to Itagaki getting more experience with CGI, but can be frustrating early on. However, the direction isn’t all bad. The fight scenes are still impressive because of how strong Guts is and how horrifying some of the monsters are. The quick camera movement also ensures that Berserk is never boring and always seems to have something going on. Itagaki is also fond of pans across the length of Guts’ sword, Dragonslayer, which help emphasize how big it is (Dragonslayer is massive even by anime standards) and how strong Guts has to be to wield it. Some shots are even downright striking. All in all, Itagaki’s direction isn’t ideal and is occasionally a problem, but is far from awful.
As is often the case with adaptations, Berserk has been criticized for skipping parts of the manga. Skipping over source material is rarely ideal in an adaptation, but having read the parts that it skipped, I can understand it in this case. The two arcs it skipped, while good, wouldn’t work as well with the way Berserk’s adaptations have been structured compared to the manga. The Berserk manga began with the three volume Black Swordsman Arc, which consisted of Guts meeting Puck, fighting two Apostles, taking a behelit from one, and briefly encountering Griffith and God Hand again. It then transitions into the eleven volume Golden Age Arc, which the 1997 anime and the movies adapted. It then transitions back to the main story with the two volume Lost Children Arc before starting the Conviction Arc. The 2016 anime, on the other hand, covers Puck’s introduction and then goes straight into the Conviction Arc, clearly expecting that viewers have seen the 1997 anime and/or the movies and completely skipping most of the Black Swordsman Arc and all of the Lost Children Arc. Both arcs, while good, would not fit properly in an adaptation that starts with the Golden Age Arc. Aside from Guts getting the behelit, the Black Swordsman Arc’s main purpose is introducing Guts, Puck, and the Apostles (Griffith and God Hand appear but don’t really do anything). For anime viewers, Guts is introduced through the Golden Age Arc, Puck is introduced in episode one of this adaptation, and Apostles are introduced in the anime original part of episode three. The Lost Children Arc has even less of long-term significance, primarily serving to reintroduce post-Eclipse Guts and Apostles. Guts himself doesn’t develop much during these two arcs and Puck is the only supporting character who carries over to the rest of the story. Properly adapting these arcs would take around 12 episodes since they cover around five volumes of content, which is the same length as the Conviction Arc. Their inclusion makes sense in the manga because of the way the story is structured there, but they would not contribute a lot to the overarching story in the anime. It would be nice to see them adapted, but those two arcs are not necessary to the overall story when it starts off with the Golden Age Arc. Skipping them is an understandable decision on the staff’s part.
I’m not trying to say that Berserk 2016 is the ideal adaptation. It’s not. The animation is awful, the direction can be confusing, and the skipped arcs can be frustrating to manga fans. In spite of all that, Berserk is still an excellent story with memorable characters, an engrossing setting, and striking fights, even if it’s a step down from the Golden Age Arc. This may not be the perfect Berserk, but it’s still Berserk.
Berserk 2016 is available for streaming on Crunchyroll subbed and on Funimation dubbed.