Part 1 of the four-part watchalong of Berserk with Amelia, Peter, and special guest Kara Dennison!
WARNING: Due to the nature of Berserk, sexual assault, abuse and violence will be discussed in this and future episodes.
Berserk Watchalong – Episodes 1-6
03:33 Past experiences with Berserk
07:22 Why not watch it before?
08:52 Hopes and expectations
12:52 Episode 3
17:47 Differences from the manga
34:58 Guts and Griffith
38:12 Portrayals of masculinity
42:29 Farnese and Griffith
45:39 The next six episodes
52:22 Peter’s expectations
55:01 Farnese’s virginity
Recorded Sunday 25th June 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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AMELIA: Hi everyone and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Amelia, I’m the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist, and I’m joined here today by Peter Fobian and Kara Dennison, special guest. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves?
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian, I’m an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll and an editor and contributor for Anime Feminist.
KARA: I am Kar-ah Dennison or Care-ah for those who don’t care. I am a contributing news writer for Crunchyroll and Viewster.
AMELIA: Excellent. Now, we’ve invited you here today, Kara, because you and I have not seen the most recent series—is it two series now?—of Berserk. We have both seen a version of Berserk back in 1997, is my understanding, but not the most recent. Is it two cours now there are?
PETER: Yes, moving into third.
AMELIA: [laughing] Moving into the third as we just found out today. So, we decided that would be our next watchalong. A watchalong is where we watch six episodes at a time, with some people in the room who have seen the series and know it very well and some people in the room who have never seen it. And after six episodes, we discuss what we’ve seen from a feminist perspective and talk about what we think might be to come and our hopes for the upcoming episodes; and then watch another six and do it again until we’ve got through the series.
AMELIA: So, the reason we picked Berserk…a few things. [laughs] One was, Peter’s a big fan. It comes up in AniFem internal chat quite a lot, and it’s always—
PETER: [crosstalk] Sorry.
AMELIA: No, it fine; because I’ve been meaning to watch it for absolutely ages. I watched, I think, one episode and said, “This is nothing like the 1997 series,” which I knew and I really enjoyed. There’s no sense of resolution from the end of the ‘97 series, it’s not exactly heavy on resolving its a story. So it didn’t feel satisfying to me and I didn’t kind of like the aesthetic of it, so I just watched one episode and then said said, “No, not for me. Moving on.”
But you have continued to talk about how it’s actually very good and very interesting, and there’s a lot of feminist discussion points in it, so I’ve always meant to get back to it. And once we finish the watchalong of SHIROBAKO, which is more on the… how to say…more on the more delicate and more probably [clicks tongue, thinking] gentle slice-of-life kind of storytelling. I wanted to do something quite different.
Now, other members of the team are going to be looking at more kind of shoujo and josei anime and watching and discussing those. So we thought we’d do something very different, and it doesn’t get more different than Berserk.
AMELIA: So that’s why we’re here and looking at it. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of feminist discussion about Berserk in this way. I think there are bits and pieces, but pulling it together in this kind of ongoing analysis I don’t think happens that often. Correct me if I’m wrong, readers, if there’s something out there I would love to see it myself.
PETER: I’ve been looking for it. I haven’t found it.
AMELIA: Haven’t found it. Okay, we’ll have to make it. And also, if you guys have any pitches on this, please do feel free to pitch us on shows like Berserk. We would love to have more feminist perspectives on that.
AMELIA: Please. So starting off, we’re just going to look at what our individual experiences of Berserk were before this watchalong. So, I mentioned that I watched the 1997 version. What I didn’t say is that that was back in 2004, off the recommendation of my university housemates at the time. In that sense it was one of the earlier anime that I saw at that time, I was just in my first year of university. I had a lot to watch, and most of what I had seen was [on] DVD, so it was quite a restricted selection.
I haven’t seen the films. I haven’t read the manga. I watched the ‘97 version again fairly recently as kind of a refresher, but that’s about it. I am very under-read, I think, when it comes to Berserk. I found Guts and Griffith’s relationship absolutely fascinating. I found Casca to be a really great but kind of underpowered character? If I remember rightly, her greatest triumphs as a leader tended to be off-screen; and when she was onscreen, it was kind of mostly to show how devoted she was to Griffith, or how impressive Guts was. And again, correct me if I’m wrong on this, it has been a little while since I saw it, but that was my recollection. So I knew there’d be quite a lot to talk about in new Berserk, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Kara, how about you, what’s your background with Berserk?
KARA: Well, I first watched it in my college’s anime club, so that would have been around 99-2000—so, of course the ‘97 version. And at that point it was back in fansubs, because Guts’ name was spelled “Gatts” to tell you that tell how long ago it was. It was G-A-T-T-S. A lot of what we watched in my anime club, no matter how serious, no matter how good it was, no matter how whatever it was, everything we watched became an in-joke with us.
And so, while recognizing sort of—again what you said about the Guts and Griffith relationship—the whole thing was sort of a massive joke for us, because it was so ultra violent and it was such a crazy thing. And it was so crazy compared to the other stuff we watched, which was like Slayers and Utena and it was the sore thumb in our group. So we watched it every week, solely so we could spend the next week making gags about how gory it was.
KARA: I don’t think I’ve ever done a serious watch of it. I’m not very familiar with any other iterations of it. My version has always been almost like a proto-meme of it.
AMELIA: So, this is gonna be quite different experience for you.
KARA: Oh, yeah.
AMELIA: Okay Peter, how about you?
PETER: I couldn’t tell you when I watched the 1997 anime, but I’ve watched that, I think, two or three times now, as well as the new movie trilogy that came out as it was coming out on Blu-Ray.
I’ve been following the 2016-2017 anime, doing a couple of pieces on Crunchyroll for that. I also reviewed the Berserk and the Band of the Hawk video game and I interviewed the producer of the anime, Reo Kurosu, right when it was first coming out. Got a bit of a background with the series.
AMELIA: [laughs] A little bit of a background. And a deep love for it, which is exactly what we need. ’cause I think they were going to be times when we’re saying, “Why, Peter? Why does this happen this way?
PETER: Oh, yeah.
AMELIA: And you’ll be able to defend it as best you can, I think.
PETER: I know I’ve thrown around it might be one of the best manga ever made a couple of times, which is dangerous, but.
AMELIA: Fighting words.
AMELIA: Kara, just quickly before we move into [the] new series, why did you not watch new Berserk before?
KARA: ‘Cause I don’t have time. The funny thing is, it’s like, when I started getting into working in the anime industry—and that’s both localization and news writing and feature writing—the more you work in the anime industry, the less anime you get to watch less unless you’re actively working on it, and unless you’re actively reviewing it. And so, it was there, and I was aware of it.
And I was like, “Gee, I should totally watch that. It looks neat.” And then it went away, and it just sort of backslid with absolutely everything else on my list that I’m just now sort of going back to and going. “Oh, I remember feeling like I really had to watch that, or I couldn’t sleep at night, and yet, y’know…”
[laughter of recognition in the room]
KARA: It is not for lack of trying and it’s solely a lack of time.
AMELIA: Yeah, no, I completely identify with that, and I’m sure Peter does too. I end up binging an awful lot right before we do our mid-season check-in and end of season wrap-up podcast recordings. Over the next week or two, I am going to be watching a lot more anime than I’ve been watching in the last month. And like you say, unless you have kind of a professional reason to consume it, you do end up consuming a lot less, so I completely sympathize with that.
Okay, so what did you hope or expect when you went into this? Or was it just a case of going in with this knowledge of Berserk as a proto-meme and not really knowing what to expect?
KARA: I honestly didn’t know. I had no idea. My experience between watching the ‘97 version and picking this up was occasionally doing articles about how cool the soundtrack is and this new maquette that they put out. I had seen the art style I had heard some of the music, I was aware it existed, but I knew nothing of the plot. I think I very much expected to just see all the same characters. Because I kind of think you do expect that. When you have an ensemble you think, if I’m going into the new show, I am going to see characters one-two-three-four-five. By way of animation, I think I was expecting something very different.
KARA: Not the way you might think. I was expecting a lot more 2D animation, and I was a little surprised at seeing the cell shading and seeing how it looks now. But I really think I was just expecting the show to pick up again, which was potentially quite short-sighted of me, but hey.
AMELIA: That makes a lot of sense. I’ve mentioned that I was not exactly is thrilled with the aesthetic myself, and I’m very not picky when it comes to animation. I can sit through some pretty staggeringly bad animation, but there was something about the way it was handled that felt just really jarring to watch. So, I completely understand that.
PETER: This is actually a bit of a recurring theme with Berserk having poor—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, really?
PETER: Yeah, the first 1997 anime everybody said it was animated with quotation marks, because there were so many scenes with static faces or something like that. Where maybe they would be sliding the cell to the side. It was actually pretty famous. It got a lot of criticism for its “animation.” And then the trilogy, a lot of people weren’t happy that they incorporated 3D, although I think that’s the best looking Berserk that has ever been made, is the movie trilogy. And now, of course, the new series, which is a 100% CG. So, it seems like every iteration has some sort of problem with the visuals. at least from a fan perspective.
AMELIA: It’s just being true to itself. That’s fine.
AMELIA: We can support that.
PETER: Continuing the legacy.
AMELIA: Let’s look at these first six episodes. We’ve got quite a lot to cover in this, I think. I just wanna dive right in there. Farnese is a new character. She, I think, has some really great moments, and then she has some really difficult moments to watch. Kara, what did you think of her?
KARA: Farnese the character, the character outside of the things that happened to her, I think she’s quite fascinating from what we’ve seen [in] episodes 1 through 6. Especially, what we find out at the very end of Episode 6 is she has a lot of influences on her that have affected her psychologically, obviously, and of course we can go into that more later; but I thought what was interesting about her is she is very much motivated by praise—in very, very strange ways, but she is motivated by praise. And I think that’s interesting, I think she has the potential to be a much deeper character than she looks so far, and yet at the same time of afraid she won’t be. And then there’s… and then there’s episode 3.
PETER: [uncomfortable laughter]
AMELIA: Let’s talk about episode 3.
KARA: So, for your listeners, I was out yesterday, and I was getting Twitter messages from you guys.
That was basically, people were saying, “I stopped watching at episode 3, and if you can get through episode three, then you’re fine.” And I had stopped at episode two before I had gone out to grab something to eat. And I was like [false enthusiasm] “Oh boy! I’ve localized some pretty hellish stuff before. How bad can it be?” And I come in going, “Oh, there’s the thing she was talking about.” And then five seconds later, “Wait, no, maybe that’s the thing she was talking—”
As I said to you, every time I saw the thing that you were talking about, there was another by-god thing, you could have been talking about. And it was just like, I was getting slammed in the face over and over by… “Oh, you thought that was bad? You thought that was bad? Oh, you thought that was bad?” And I’m just like [wincing] “Nooo, look.”
AMELIA: Yeah, it was pretty hard to watch. The thing that I was talking about was the entire episode pretty much.
KARA: Okay. [laughing] I was like… Did you mean the wall? Did you mean the horse? Or did you mean the sword?
AMELIA: So many moments. Yeah, I found that one really hard to watch. I think for me, because she had been framed so respectfully up until these scenes. Even when she was topless, even when she was flagellating herself, she was framed in a really respectful way as a human being, as I recall. As always, people, correct me if I’m wrong; but I got the impression that when she was topless it was just, “She is a human who is topless.” She wasn’t being sexualized. She was whipping herself, which would have been quite easy to do, but that wasn’t a priority.
And then suddenly through this episode, we get all this back arching and we get… her breasts have not gone nipples for the most part, and then all of a sudden in some angles in some moments they do have nipples, and it was just really uncomfortable to see her suffering in this way, and to have her character design and framing changed for what looked like sexualizing purposes in this moment of real pain and suffering from her. That was really hard to watch.
KARA: I think what he said was interesting about the fact when she was topless and from when she was flagellating herself all the way through. I thought it was just me, but I was going. “This doesn’t feel sexualized, it just feels like… Oh, she got grabbed and she was in the middle of this, and it’s annoying and it’s a little embarrassing for her,” but it doesn’t feel like “Oh we’re just gonna hang her upside down off a horse with her top off so people can stare at her,” because who was staring at her? Puck, and what does he know. It reminded me in a weird way—and this is a weird thing to compare anything to—but the live action Rose of Versailles movie?
KARA: At one point she was wandering around topless, Lady Oscar was, and it was just the most “meh” thing in the world, and I was like, “Yeah, this is the most ‘meh’ in the world!” And then suddenly it wasn’t. It was such a shift, tonally. Yeah… it did get very difficult to watch it. I love nightmare fuel as much as the next person. I am a sucker for nightmare fuel. But why doesn’t always have to be like, weird sex nightmare fuel.
KARA: Like, why am I in the bad part of Pixiv, instead of…episode three was the bad part of Pixiv. That’s the only way I can describe it. And I just wanted to leave.
AMELIA: I have not been to the bad part of Pixiv, and now I don’t think I want to.
KARA: [crosstalk] Don’t. Dooooon’t. [laughs]
AMELIA: Okay, best avoid it. Yeah, it was a shame because I think the actual things that were happening, there was a way to do it as convincing nightmare fuel with a topless woman without sexualizing her, and they actively chose to sexualize her in those moments. Ugh, I just hate it when that happens.
KARA: [agreeing in the background]
KARA: The other thing that got me was the Lady of The Manor. And it’s like, alright, if you’re gonna have body horror have body horror, but why’d she have to have the…why. Why’d it have to be from there up? Why couldn’t you have just—
AMELIA: I didn’t totally follow that one. Was she a character that we have seen before, or did they just introduce this new character and a flashback just so that they could explain why she’s on the wall?
KARA: They just decide to put a girl on the wall. Maybe Peter knows, I’m not familiar with it.
PETER: This is actually something I knew I was gonna have to bring up.
PETER: Some of that episode is in the manga, but I’d say the lion’s share of the episode actually was not featured in the manga at all. Guts grabs Farnese and he’s riding away on the horse, then I think she falls off the horse. They fight those weird dog things. The horse does…the horse thing, and then the sword thing. And then Serpico shows up. The manor just never happened at all in the manga. I believe they said it was kind—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It was all outside…?
PETER: I think I heard something about it being based on maybe some drafts that Miura had thrown out or a storyline he considered doing but had decided against, to sort of frame that episode. But that wasn’t actually part of the canon.
AMELIA: Wooow. That is a huge change in my head.
KARA: Mm-hmmm. In my head it’s like, well, if you decide not to put it in the manga that’s uhhh, that’s your clue.
AMELIA: Maybe we should respect that decision.
KARA: [Laughs] Yeah, I just… again, body horror, nightmare fuel, whatever. You kinda look at the way it’s done and you’re like—as I was telling someone earlier, when I was… Another guy from the newsroom has actually watched all of the new series, and I said, “I expect Berserk to be gory, but when you do certain things over and over, it starts to look like a kink, and I have questions.” Y’know? I start to wonder, “Are you doing this for effect, are you doing this to scare us, or does your animator like what he’s drawing?”
AMELIA: I think that’s a fair question.
AMELIA: This was perhaps one of the few times I’ve watched an anime and really felt strongly that different animators were doing different cuts in this one. Because Farnese… is it Far-NES, or Far-Neh-Say, or?
PETER: Technically it should be Far-Nays. I looked it up. That’s actually the name of a wealthy Italian family from the Renaissance era.
AMELIA: So, it does have the “eh” on the end.
PETER: I guess. I just…may be like, in Miura’s head, but that’s hard to pronounce in Japanese, so I think they just leave that last part off.
AMELIA: Okay, Farnese. So, there were moments in different cuts. Like some moments, Farnese was really sexualized and then at other moments she wasn’t, and it really did seem like it was almost to the animator’s taste. And that made me quite uncomfortable as well.
PETER: I can’t say there’s a lot of weird camera pans they do to try to capture… And I think it comes off as more voyeuristic, ’cause they’ll go panel to panel in the manga. But instead of doing that, they’ll shift from one panel’s perspective by rotating the camera to the next panel’s perspective. And then in some cuts, I know they just basically added a whole lot. Like the spanking scene? That was like two panels and did not have a lot of those angles.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh my god, okay.
PETER: Yeah. So, I think that there was, on the adaptation side, some more emphasis on certain visuals.
AMELIA: That’s…really upsetting. That’s quite a shame. That’s really disappointing!
PETER: [crosstalk] I mean…you can’t…I don’t wanna defend Miura too much, because all of this [sic] topless and nude scenes absolutely happen in the manga. Except he does draw nipples. So…uh.
AMELIA: That was so weird, it felt really on uncanny valley that you have these CG characters with no nipples.
KARA: It’s that whole monitoring thing like you had in the Utena movie where it’s… “Well, we wanna have naked people but we can’t show those things! Welp, we just won’t draw those things.”
AMELIA: [laughs] Just no nipples, that’s fine.
KARA: Yeah [laughs]
PETER: I’d say, I’d try to get used to that. I think they might be putting nipples in in the Blu-Ray but I’m not sure if that…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, wow.
KARA: Well, y’know, okay then.
AMELIA: Is anyone out there buying the buying the Berserk Blu-ray for the nipples?
PETER: I…uh… should I answer that question?
KARA: I don’t want that answer.
AMELIA: We don’t want this answered.
PETER: I have seen side-by-sides of other scenes and they do make a lot of it look a lot better. I think it’s in episode four where Guts goes back to his kind-of home, and…I can’t remember what the little girl’s name, is.
AMELIA: Erika, isn’t it?
PETER: Yeah, when she’s running up, she kinda looked like she’s made out of Playdoh in that scene, but they fully animated her face when she’s running up for the Blu-Ray version. They do a lot of improvements.
AMELIA: Okay, that’s something.
KARA: A lot of the characters at times did look like PlayStation 2 sprites here and there watching it on streaming.
AMELIA: Kind of nostalgic.
KARA: Sometimes the filter would be lovely, and then sometimes it just really wasn’t. And then every time you get the little chibi Puck, he looks like a plastic toy. And…[dissatisfied noise]
AMELIA: I found that less weird than…Okay, so we’ve got the sex worker Nina, her lover—Joaquin, is it?
PETER: Joaquin, yeah.
AMELIA: Yeah, and he shows up naked and looks like a Ken doll and I find that a bit more disturbing than Puck looking like a little doll.
KARA: Yeahhhhhh. ‘Cause at least, at least Puck is a little fairy-elf thing. He might just look different. He’s magical. This dude’s a human dude.
AMELIA: Exactly. And I kind of feel like, if you’re telling an adult story about adult topics for adults, then just be anatomically adult about it. It’s not a problem. I would much rather have realistic anatomy. I think people sometimes assume about me that I don’t like nudity, it’s like No, no, no. I just don’t like unrealistic anatomy or implausible anatomy or jarring visuals related to anatomy. And the CG Ken doll is just as jarring and unnatural as enormoboob fanservice.
Either of those I find just slightly disturbing, and I would much rather that they just have… adult-looking breasts, adult-looking penis, whatever, just have it there and it won’t be an issue. Like we were saying earlier about Farnese when she’s topless and it’s just not a big deal. That is what it should be like in a story like Berserk. And instead, it’s either sterilized or sexualized or some very uncomfortable combination of the two. It’s a really odd tone to pick.
KARA: [helpless laughter]
PETER: I think that kind of gets into Japanese televised content laws.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Sure, but there are better ways to do it than—
PETER: I mean, if they just made a movie series and kept everything as accurate as possible, I would have been happy with it too.
AMELIA: Artistic nudity or artistic representations of nudity have been around for literally centuries. They had better options than CG Ken doll.
PETER: I don’t know how rough Japan is about nudity on television though, so I don’t know what their standards are.
AMELIA: It’s not a lot. I remember when I was that there was no nudity that I saw on mainstream television channels, and I don’t think it will have changed drastically since then. And just in Japanese culture in general women won’t wear kind of lower cut-tops and things like that. I would be amazed if there’s ever made it to live action, put it that way; but I think that a live-action would almost serve the story better than the choices that they’ve made in this Anime. But let’s get back to the feminism.
AMELIA: Farnese is an interesting character treated quite badly, framed in really difficult ways. Let’s look at Casca. I think this is a real point of disappointment for me because Casca is, not put too much emphasis on it, but Casca’s a woman of color and that is all too rare. And she is a character who, when I first saw Berserk, I really resonated with aspects of her—aspect of her really resonated with me, I should say. She’s not my favorite character of all time, but I really appreciated the fact that she was a fully developed character.
You know, this is the low bar that we have kind of set from ourselves a lot of the time: she’s a fully developed character, she’s a woman of color, she’s in a position of strength and leadership, she’s misused by her leader who she’s devoted to. There’s an awful lot of substance to Casca’s character and it’s completely gone. I understand their reasons for it, but…I’m not sure it’s worth it. I wonder what they’re getting out of this decision that they couldn’t get out of a Casca who’s been traumatized and decided to go into hiding and keep her identity a secret, rather than the Casca who just has lost any sense of self. What did you think about her, Kara?
KARA: I gotta admit, [sad sigh] I was watching for her. Y’know?
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah, exactly.
KARA: I’m not gonna lie. And the one thing in my old anime club there was never a joke is that Casca’s too good for this show. She’s too—as the kids say now, too good for this show, too pure. We loved her, and that was the one thing that was never a gag is that she deserved better all the time. And so I was like, “Yeah, Casca! Oh my god, she’s in the opening. Kind of awkwardly, but she’s in the opening.” And then we started seeing these flashbacks and I started realizing, “[flat] Oh okay, this is more about Guts and what he’s doing after everything’s fallen apart. [chipper] That’s alright! Oh my god, Casca’s back! …ish.”
AMELIA: [commiserating] Yeah.
KARA: For me as a writer, as a friend of writers, as a friend of showrunners, I never wanna say, “you should not have done this because it’s not what I wanted.” Like I’m never gonna say that to someone who runs a show, I’m never gonna look at a show and say, “This episode sucked because it’s not what I wanted.” But I will admit, some serious disappointment when we finally get her back.
AMELIA: She’s not back. That’s not her.
KARA: She’s half-aware ghost bait, essentially. She stumbles around, she gets attacked, and then the monsters show up. And then she stumbles around and stacks up some rocks and some more stuff happens and…I’m sad, and I know we’re six episodes in, so I’m hoping it changes. Or I am hoping that the story that this version of her tells is so crazy dynamic that I take back what I’m saying right now.
AMELIA: Yeah, that’s probably my take too. I would love to see her regain her sense of self, her memories, her… Just her character. Her character’s completely gone, and she’s replaced by this person who’s just a shell, and a shell who is basically a baby in an adult body. Which… we see infantilized women all the time. In anime it’s usually not quite this extreme, and it doesn’t usually have this kind of traumatic underlying story to it, but it’s still hard to watch. Especially when it’s a character who has been reduced.
PETER: I imagine is pretty jarring too, because I don’t know if they… neither of you have watched the movie trilogy?
[A round of “no” from both]
AMELIA: The last thing we saw was the ’97 Eclipse. That’s it, and then cut to this.
PETER: Yeah, so then the ‘97 anime ends basically, I think, just at the end of the Eclipse so you’re like… And then what happens? The movies cover some chapters that occurred. I think the anime assumes you watched the movies. ‘Cause it covers some scenes like the reveal that’s happened to Casca and some of the stuff that happens in-between. So just going from literally the Apocalypse to Casca being like this is…I imagine not knowing that beforehand it would have been even more surprising. Just in episode 2 and 3 Casca shows up like that.
AMELIA: Disappointing is the word.
PETER: I do wanna say, one of the things I find most encouraging about the Berserk fandom is that it’s pretty much universally agreed that everybody wants old Casca back. Even the fans who are mostly about the male power trip aspect of Guts killing demons with his sword. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say that like, “Oh, Casca’s whatever,” give or take something like that. Pretty much universally, everybody has said, “I want Casca to come back, I want her to be her old self again, I wanna see her kickin’ more ass,” that kind of thing.
AMELIA: Well, it sounds like we’re not getting it in this series then. Oh, well.
KARA: [Sad sigh]
PETER: I will say nothing.
AMELIA: You’ve already said too much. I think Farnese is gonna have to fill that gap, and it’s frustrating that I find myself saying this. “Welp, the one strong female character has been knocked out of consideration, so we’ve got another one to fill her place. No more allowed. The token has been filled.”
And that’s a shame. Because the other women, we have the sex workers who’ve taken Casca in and are looking after her; particularly Luca, who is a character that I really liked, actually. I found her to be… This is what we mean when we say, “strong female character is not about physical strength.” The way that she treats the women around her with respect and points out, “we need to stick together by being equals, that’s the only way this is going to work.” And she still doesn’t succeed. And that spanking thing? again, quite uncomfortable. But as a character, I find her quite interesting.
KARA: Yet at the same time, it was interesting but it was also sort of, you know. Not the actual scene, but sort of the before and the after of it just sort of being this… I have never seen that reaction to dragging someone out of a drug-fueled orgy. That’s kind of amazing.
AMELIA: [crosstalk][laughing] Which is a situation you encounter frequently, obviously.
KARA: It’s like “I’m not angry that you’re worshipping demons, I’m just disappointed.” But it was the after of that scene. I mean yeah, the spanking was kind of super-duper awkward, but then sort of the… “I was scared, I was freaked out. You can’t do stuff like that. We had that talk this morning.”
AMELIA: Yeah, it’s very parental.
KARA: So, I do love Luca as a character in the fact that she is almost—not even almost—a parental presence for them when they probably have nothing like.
AMELIA: And the fact that she takes Casca in when she clearly is in what is potentially kind of a dangerous situation for Casca, she does make the point, “you shouldn’t walk around without bandages on because otherwise, there’s no hope for you.” Which was, again, a little bit uncomfortable. [sarcasm] Men are all just rapists waiting to happen, right? [sigh]
I wonder…I mean, I questioned the decision to have her taken in by sex workers specifically. And are they going to do something with that? Are they making a point with that, or was it just to tell a story about sex workers? I don’t know. I’m not sure how they’re gonna handle it. I like the fact that they’ve got a character like Luca. There’s that great moment where this guy Jerome’s saying, “I’m gonna come back. I’m gonna take you to my home, and I’m gonna make sure you’re well taken care of. You’ll be my mistress, I’ll look after you.” And she says, “Oh Jerome, that’s so wonderful.” And then when he leaves, she’s like… “Yeah, I could never do my job and believe anything like that,” and she’s just so down-to-earth with it, which I really appreciate.
But again, are we putting Casca with sex workers specifically so that Casca will be mistaken for a sex worker to set that up or is… I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m very cynical and question the motivations for story choices like this. But if they’re gonna go and make these sex workers fully realized characters and really make use of it in that way and not just end up torturing them, for example—which we’ve seen quite a lot of even in these six episodes—then I’ll rethink that.
The one last thing we probably should talk about before looking at the next few episodes is Guts and Griffith. That their relationship is absolutely central to the 1997 series and presumably to the films as well. And I know it’s a relationship that’s discussed from a queer perspective quite a lot. This isn’t something that I’m completely familiar with myself. Again, I haven’t really been involved in fandom or done much reading around the series, but I know that that is absolutely a way that it was introduced to me when I first saw it. And now we have Guts and Griffith not in each other’s lives really, but Griffith is still very important to Guts. He’s kind of centering his existence around finding Griffith, from what I can tell, and getting his revenge. I don’t know if I’ve got his motivations right there.
PETER: The transition was really awkward since they’ve done it in so many different ways, different parts. They’ve actually left out two story arcs that have never been animated. One that occurred before the Golden Age rewind happened, and then they kind of jammed part of another story arc that happened before the Tower of Conviction—this current arc—and the Golden Age, which was called Lost Children, into that weird first episode. A lot of that is kind of just out. Basically, Guts wants to kill Apostles right now, which are those half-demon used-to-be-people things.
And I think that might have been why Miura had that scrapped idea for the third episode in there. I noticed that the more Apostles he was introducing, it seemed like he was growing progressively more… making them more sympathetic characters; like, life circumstances led them to make the decisions that they made that ultimately turned them into monsters, which would be the story of Griffith as well.
Obviously, he was very… What he did was absolutely wrong, but you can see why he did it. So, Guts—I think he definitely wants to kill Griffith, but Griffith’s in another plaintiff existence right now and his status of existence as questionable. At this point he just sort of…You miss his resolution. If you watch the movies, I think they include that. He just decides to travel and kill Apostles and somehow climb this ladder of demons to finally reach Griffith and stab him in the heart or something like that. That’s his motivation, at least when the anime begins.
AMELIA: I kind of wish they’d done a really short catch-up at the very beginning of this series. I think…did Attack on Titan’s second series do that? I think it did. The very first episode at the very beginning. I think it just caught you up with what had happened so far.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, they had a lot of flashbacks.
AMELIA: Oh no, I just mean in the very first minute, there was like a montage. I think. I really wish that Berserk had done something like that, to really catch you up. ‘Cause there’s a lot that, I think, if you haven’t seen the films you won’t have seen it at all. And if you haven’t seen the ‘97 series since 1997, then you will definitely have forgotten it.
What’s interesting about Guts and Griffith… from a feminist perspective, obviously there’s lots about them that’s interesting. But from a feminist perspective, what’s interesting about Guts and Griffith are the different types of masculinity that each of them represent. Griffith is kind of a bishounen, right? He’s kind of a pretty boy, but he’s got this immense strength and charisma. And Farnese has already been kinda called out for not having the right charisma and sense of leadership. And I think when you watch that with Griffith in mind, as this example of really an incredible leader—he gathered so many people around him who would follow him to the ends of the earth, and that’s kind of undeniable—and Farnese really is lacking by comparison. And so that is one form of masculinity that Berserk has been very good at showing.
And on the other hand, we’ve got Guts with his giant sword, which I’m pretty sure they’re gonna just keep telling us, [mock deep voice] “It was too big to be a sword,” and just bring that point over and over again. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a meme on that. So that’s a really unsubtle presentation of masculinity. But these two men, their relationship was really magnetic and I kind of want to see them interact again. But on the other hand, I know that would kind of signal the end of the story, so I’m quite comfortable keeping them at the distance at the moment. But how do you think they might handle that going forward, Kara?
KARA: Hmmmmm. I don’t know. Everything you say is very true. It’s very interesting to see sort of those two sides of it. Because…now, when I was in college, when I was 18-19, Griffith to a bunch of teenagers was hilarious. To a bunch of teenagers in 1999, he was super-duper funny. In retrospect, looking back at him, I adore him. I think you’re right, that should we see him come back fully then yeah, story’s over. This is a “getting there” story in a whole lot of ways, but… I don’t know, I really don’t know how they’d go about that, but [sighs’ I am is torn as you are. Because I do, [agonized] I want for Griffith in the show too, but I appreciate what that would mean, so…
AMELIA: Yeah, it seems like he’s only gonna show up in flashback or with the giant mask on.
PETER: [crosstalk] Femto?
KARA: Yeaaaaaaah… It’s a little Char Gundam-type thing. Like, [deadpan] “hm, wonder who’s under the mask,” but…Yeah, I’m torn.
AMELIA: It makes me wonder if they’re going to have other characters who are going to represent that kind of masculinity or if it is just going to be Griffith. Griffith is like the paragon.
KARA: We haven’t really seen anyone like Griffith yet. Granted, we’re only six episodes, we’re a quarter of the way through. But I mean, if we look at the male leaders we’ve seen, we’ve got… What’s his name, the Macy’s float.
PETER: [laughs] Mozgus?
KARA: Yeah, the guy who throws himself on the floor a thousand times before breakfast. We got him and then we have Farnese’s….
PETER: [crosstalk] Serpico.
KARA: Serpico. I wanted to say his name was Serpico and I’m like “That can’t be right,” and no, that really is his name. It’s like he is occasionally a voice of reason, but he’s not a leader, and I don’t see anyone yet who could fill that role. I don’t see anyone yet who could even go on a character development journey to fill that role. And again, I could be wrong, but it seems like that is something hugely lacking from this. And maybe that’s on purpose, maybe we are meant to feel the absence of Griffith.
AMELIA: That would be my guess, to be honest. I really think that perhaps the void is intentional, and I think that it’s interesting then, that they have this void and essentially the character they fill it with is Farnese. So we’re in a situation where they’ve got this really important significant masculine character taken away, and they filled it with this young religious woman. I think that could be a really interesting choice. Now, the fact that I mentioned earlier the kind of contrast in her leadership, or lack thereof, and Griffith’s. I think her arc could be the one to get her to a point where she is a genuine leader.
I think that would be absolutely fascinating to watch. It’s something we never saw with Casca. By the time we saw her, she was already fully developed and she was a leader, offscreen most of the time, but she was a leader, she was respected already; whereas Farnese is going to go on a journey to earn the respect of the people around her. And I think that could be a really interesting story and something that I wouldn’t have expected from within Berserk. So, I’m very interested to see where that goes.
KARA: I would love to see that for her because of all the characters I’m encountering, she’s the one where I could go, “okay, here are the three directions his character could go depending on what the plot is intending to do.” And any of them could potentially be interesting. One or two of them could be utterly disastrous, but there are a few stories that could be told with her. And I’m hoping it’s the up-and-coming leader one.
AMELIA: What are the ones that you can think of?
KARA: Up-and-coming pyro, I think is…I mean there is every possibility that she could just go completely off the deep end, because we’re already seeing that she has that tendency and, y’know, in some of the more uncomfortable scenes granted, but…just sort of this concept that… “No, this is not necessarily out of religion that you’re doing this.” Yeah, so, there’s becoming a wonderful leader, there’s becoming a complete maniac; which honestly, I’m here for that too. Or she could just go down the road of… I can’t see her becoming a weak character, I can’t see her becoming someone who just sort of buckles and become secondary, but anything can happen. I’ve seen weirder, but…
AMELIA: [crosstalk[ Well, Casca’s transformation is probably the most shocking.
KARA: Yeah, if it happened to Casca it can happen to anyone, and that’s what scares me. But I’m really hoping that what we see with Farnese is something very bold, something very forward. I’d love for it to be the leadership story, but if she just goes nuts, I’ll take it.
AMELIA: What else would you like to see from the next six episodes?
KARA: [sigh] I want them to do something about Casca. I know I keep coming back to that but it’s just aghhhhh. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, because I love the scaries, I want to see a greater variety of weird ghosts and monsters. I was really iffy about them when they threw a beholder up and said it was an incubus. And I’m like “Great, okay. Oh, are we going that way, alright.” But when they had the ghost on the wheels, like the torture, I was like, “Oh my God. Now that’s what I’m talking about, that’s wild. That’s the stuff!” When I think of weird, crazy horror and you have people who were killed on wheels using the wheels to go charging at people, that’s the stuff. I know that sounds absolutely horrible of me. but I am macabre and morbid and terrible.
AMELIA: That’s why we invited you here. It’s all good.
KARA: Yaaay! Because when the ghosts show up, I’m like, “oh yeah!” I mean, that level of visual creativity, that idea that—to put it bluntly, there is horror to be found in something besides eldritch horrors grabbing naked women. When they get super creative with the horror, it is amazing. And I wanna see it sort of go creative and go interesting like that, because that’s when it’s at its best and that’s when it’s at its, “here’s why I’m watching” sort of thing.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yup, makes perfect sense.
KARA: Yeah, so visually: want more scary stuff that isn’t just sex. Selfishly, I want Casca back.
AMELIA: As do we all.
AMELIA: I think I’d like to see more exploration of kind of the human horror that we’re starting to see. You’ve got this—what is his name, Peter, Mozgus?
PETER: Mozgus, yup.
AMELIA: He’s appalling, but he’s appalling in a way that we have seen with scary priest characters before in fiction in general. And I would like them to do something a little bit more interesting than that. Does he genuinely believe what he’s saying, or is he just sadistic? And then we see Farnese kind of getting some joy out of this as well. So, what’s her appeal here? Is she really as righteous as she seems or is she kind of being terrible because she just enjoys being terrible to people? I don’t know, it would be really interesting to find out. I hope we get some more insights on the characters of the people who are doing these terrible things. ‘Cause right now it does feel a little bit torture-porny and I would like to have a little less of that. Like I get it, torture’s awful. But a lot of the torture that they showed us was really sexualized. And when you had that foregrounded image of this woman’s breast being kind of squeezed by pincers and—
KARA: [wincing hiss]
AMELIA: There was other stuff in the image which I won’t describe, but it’s quite sexualized torture for the female characters. And for the male character’s it’s “just” having all your bones crushed by a giant wheel. That’s kind of different tiers of torture there. I would like them to back off the sexualized torture a bit and look a bit more at the horror of the people who are inflicting this on their fellow humans. I would like to see more of that.
And of course, I’d like to see something of Casca, and Griffith reuniting with—not Griffith, that’s not gonna happen—Casca and Guts reuniting in these six episodes feels like a reasonable aim. It’s only gonna take him three days to find her, in theory, so that would be great. If they don’t reunite and this is an entire cour of Guts looking for Casca and finding her in episode 12 I’ll not be best pleased. That is quite important to me, I think, that they resolve that quickly and move on to something else. I’d like to do more about Serpico. Is that his name?
PETER: Yeah, Serpico’s great.
AMELIA: I really wanted to know more about him, because it kind of seems like Farnese is responsible for killing his mother? But they didn’t go into any detail on that. At the same time—
PETER: [crosstalk] Did they talk about that already?
PETER: Okay, I must’ve missed that [while] rewatching.
AMELIA: What he said was, my mother was killed in front of my eyes three years ago.” Was it mother or father…a parent was killed in front of his eyes three years ago. And this was after they had said that three years ago Farnese, as a very young-looking child, I didn’t realize how young she was in present day.
KARA: Yeah, the juxtaposition sort of drove home that she was responsible in some way.
AMELIA: But possibly not in a way she wanted to be. We’d seen these images before of people throwing rocks. Not at other people, not because they particularly wanted to, but because they needed to avoid suspicion that they were somehow complicit.
AMELIA: It seemed like that was maybe more the sort of thing, but she’s may be convinced herself—anyway. I want to know more about Serpico’s story; and as well, he said something about how he was in that, I don’t know what you call it, that regiment or whatever. I think he was there because he can’t stand the sight of blood, but he sees blood plenty of times in these six episodes and it doesn’t faze him. So that’s clearly not the reason, and it’s clearly something to do with Farnese. He puts his life at risk to go and find her, but if she’s responsible for the death of a parent of his, then it doesn’t add up yet. I’d like to know more about his story.
PETER: You can’t see it, but my hands are rubbing together right now.
AMELIA: [laughs] There’s good stuff to come.
KARA: He’s got the closed eyes, like, Zelas from Slayers. Whenever you have a character with the closed eyes, you know, that they’re gonna like, flip.
AMELIA: He opens them occasionally when things are extremely bad, that’s like a barometer of how bad things are.
PETER: I think Guts calls him a fox or something like that, ’cause it’s the clever closed eye-type. I guess it’s a stereotype.
KARA: [crosstalk][joking] He called him a fox.
PETER: Archetype, that’s the word. He says he’s a fox. He uses the word fox to describe him a lot ’cause he seems way too clever for his own good and I don’t know. Foxes always have closed eyes in Japanese art for some reason.
AMELIA: [giggling] It sounds funnier in English, though.
PETER: Yeah. “Foxy.”
AMELIA: Peter, has anything surprised you about our discussion today, or did it go pretty much as you would have expected?
PETER: I guess I was maybe expecting a bit more time spent on different aspects of the characters; although I guess especially in these first six episodes, it’s a lot of getting hammered with really uncomfortable visuals as they’re introducing a pretty big cast that plays a part in the Tower of Conviction. So, I guess that wasn’t too surprising. I was glad you touched on Luca a lot ’cause I really love Luca.
I thought maybe… oh, you did talk about Jerome, right? How he said he bring her back to his house and she could be his mistress, all that. I thought maybe you’d have something to say about maybe examining the offer in and of itself and not just a response to it.
AMELIA: Ohh. Yeah, I dunno.
PETER: Like, if you found that to be him trying to be genuinely compassionate or…
AMELIA: I didn’t, personally. Okay, as soon as Luca was cynical about it, I became cynical about it. Kara, what did you think of that?
KARA: I don’t know. At first I was like, “Aww…hang on.”
KARA: For a split second, I was like, “yay!” and then the minute she said something, I went… “Yeah, no, hang on.”Anyone can say anything when they’re at war. And the dude is probably assuming he’s gonna die, and it’s gonna be… if he lives and she comes back holding him to it, he’s not gonna know what to do.
AMELIA: That was actually my first thought. As soon as he said that was like, “Oh, you’re gonna die.” But that was because I assumed he was genuine and people aren’t allowed to be in love and happy, so I assumed that he was going to die on that basis. Then when he left and Luca was really cynical about it, I was like, “Oh no, no, he’s probably lying, so maybe he’ll live. It might be okay.”
KARA: [laughing in the background]
AMELIA: He went on to show himself not to be the greatest guy, so I… He was really disrespectful to Farnese. And that is quite an interesting story in itself. It seems like a lot of that friction is coming from him and the fact that he doesn’t respect her as a leader. Or it’s being voiced through him, I should say, maybe not coming from him, but he’s representing that view, to us pretty strongly.
PETER: He’s her troops’ perspective character, I think.
AMELIA: Yeah, so I don’t want him to be with Luca. she’s too good for him, but at the same time—
PETER: Agreed there. For sure. I thought you might have something to say about a lot of Farnese’s apparent self-value being tied up in the fact that she’s a virgin, ’cause the Holy Iron Chain Knights have to be led by a virgin maiden.
AMELIA: Oh, I didn’t pick up on that.
PETER: A lot of the sexual themes that come up with Farnese, I notice, were typically… Well, obviously, there’s the religious aspect where she has to keep to these values of chastity and, well, not being a sadistor burning things. Unless you’re burning witches, that’s important. But at the same time, there’s actually an actual value to her virginity beyond just some sort of conceptual—I mean, it’s still conceptual, it’s stupid that they have to be led by a virgin maiden, but this is important to her since it also represents her status in her military unit. I guess you’d call it.
AMELIA: Oh, wow, I did not realize that at all. There’s a line where they say quite clearly the role of leader of this troop is typically a woman or is traditionally a woman, but I didn’t—
PETER: [crosstalk] They say virgin maiden.
AMELIA: Did they say virgin maiden? How did I miss that? Okay.
KARA: It may have been depending on… I don’t know how many places run it, so it could have been something in translation.
AMELIA: I watched it on Crunchyroll.
KARA: Oh, I did too, so maybe we just missed it.
PETER: Oh, they might have said virgin maiden in the first episode where it’s just throwing some exposition about the Holy Iron Chain Knights at you and then they say woman later. I think Jerome says—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] That’s far more likely that I just missed it in the early episode. Oh yeah, no, that is really interesting, and we should definitely talk about that in the next six episodes. So, her virginity has military value. Wow.
PETER: Yeah. It’s tied to her self-worth, I think, because she if anything is very proud of her status and the church and her faith, and she can’t be where she is unless she’s a virgin.
KARA: [musing] Ah-huh.
AMELIA: That’s very interesting. Okay, let’s definitely [indistinct] on that next time and talk about this. I might have to re-watch some of the first episodes and see it through that lens, ’cause I missed that completely and that’s pretty significant. So, thank you for bringing that up.
PETER: Sure. And I think I was a bit surprised to kind of… I don’t know if you guys mentioned Nina too much. Didn’t spend too much time with her. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot right now, but I thought they presented a couple of interesting things with her, like her disease and her troublesome relationship with Luca.
AMELIA: I think it’s because I couldn’t find really much to say about her at this point. She does have this presumably sexually transmitted disease, and she and Luca seemed to have a bit of a fractious relationship but also deeply caring. But beyond that, I don’t know, I don’t really get a sense of her yet. I don’t know if she’s a real character yet or if she’s just serving a purpose to prop up a particular story and then we’ll never see her again, I guess.
PETER: We’ll revisit that, then.
AMELIA: [laughs] We’ll revisit that, okay. Anything more?
PETER: Nothing that I think I could get away with saying without giving away something.
AMELIA: Okay, then let’s wrap this one up for today. Thank you both so much, that’s really interesting. I’m looking forward to going through this one. I think it’s gonna have quite a few challenging moments as an anime and I’m really glad to have a place to discuss that. I think it’ll be really valuable.
Just to wrap up then, our work is available on www.animefeminist.com, and you can find us on Twitter @AnimeFeminist. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/animefem, and we’re on Tumblr at animefeminist.tumblr.com. We also have a Patreon, which is Patreon.com/animefeminist, and we are now beyond $1000 in monthly income, which is absolutely incredible. We have, as of this week, 250 patrons supporting us. That’s a quarter of a thousand.
It’s so happy, it’s absolutely wonderful. And they are making sure that everyone we can pay is getting paid. The only people who are still being unpaid for regular work are our editors, who edit the contributor pieces that come in, and they’ve been working unpaid since September last year. I would really like to be able to pay these wonderful people. At the time of recording we are just 115 dollars away, so if you can spare a dollar a month it really does add up. Please go to patreon.com/animefeminist and send us a dollar a month to continue our work. Or if you send us five dollars or more you can join our private AniFem Discord, where you can come and tell us how wrong we are for everything we’ve discussed in our podcast today. Rhat’s also absolutely fine. Thank you so much to Kara and to Peter, we will be back next time with episodes 7 to 12.
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