WARNING: Due to the nature of Berserk, sexual assault, abuse and violence will be discussed in this and future episodes.
0:09:26 Magic and rationality vs irrationality
0:14:58 Compassion in a dispassionate world
0:22:29 Schierke and Sonia
0:26:25 Schierke and Guts
0:30:50 Miura’s age and the maturing narrative
0:38:03 Serpico enabling Farnese
0:41:00 Overcoming vs dwelling in the tragic backstory
0:45:37 Peter’s surpises
0:49:09 Recommending Berserk and anime vs manga
1:10:45 BEGIN MAJOR SPOILERS
1:34:22 END MAJOR SPOILERS
Recorded Sunday 22nd July 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
[Editor’s Note: Apologies for the out-of-order numbering! This was originally intended to go up before the midseason review (“Chatty AF 20”), but we had to bump it back due to Otakon scheduling issues. The podcasts will appear in their proper numerical order on iTunes and Stitcher.]
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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. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves?
PETER: Hi. I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associates Features Editor at Crunchyroll and a Contributor and Editor at Anime Feminist.
KARA: And I’m Kara Dennison, a contributor at Crunchyroll and Viewster.
AMELIA: We’re here today to celebrate the final part of our Berserk watchalong. A watchalong is where we watch six episodes at a time and then people who have seen the series and love it, and people who have never seen the series before, get into a podcast recording and just discuss the six episodes we’ve just seen through a feminist lens, and then move onto the next six episodes.
So, we’re in our final leg of this. That’s episodes 19 to 24 of the new Berserk series, which has just finished airing, I believe. Kara and I saw the 1997 Berserk and haven’t been back to it since. Peter is a big fan, has seen all the TV series, the films, and he’s reading the manga. So, he’s our go-to person for any contextual information on this, and we’ll certainly be asking more about that later. But, first of all, last six episodes. Kara, what did you think?
KARA: I really actually enjoyed these. I think–
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] Me too!
KARA: –the introduction of Schierke was a big positive. I loved the way they were introducing, like we talked about last time, positive depictions of magic. I enjoyed the concept of the things that were going on and sort of the in-between feel. I liked seeing Guts’ new group working together. I enjoyed seeing Serpico being his own person and I like the promise of where Farnese is potentially going.
AMELIA: It was so good!
KARA:I know! The way I was thinking of it earlier when I was preparing for the podcast was, “These are the episodes I would show someone to get them into Berserk.”
AMELIA: Yes. And then you’d have to explain the previous….what? 12, 18 episodes? [Laughter]
KARA: [Laughter] Yeah. It’s like, “It’s not always quite like this, but this is it at its best.” What was the tweet we saw?I know you saw it ’cause you retweeted it. It was about…”Berserk is that friend who’s been having a horrible time, but they’re okay now.” Or something.
AMELIA: Yeah, and I retweeted it, and I was like, “I haven’t seen them getting better yet.” But, no, I understand completely what Nate meant with that. You get to episode 20 and you’re like, “Oh, no, no, no, no. They’re doing okay. This is alright.”
We did still have one moment of just women being raped by demons and I had this kind of sinking, “Oh, god, please say this is it.” And it was it. I don’t recall seeing anything after that.
PETER: Yeah, that was it for the series. It does come up one more time later on in the next story arc, and then after that I don’t think I’ve seen any of that since. Which is good. But, yeah.
AMELIA: Yeah. [Laughter]
PETER: We do notice it’s been decreasing over the course…at least to primary characters. And then…yeah.
AMELIA: Yeah, I don’t really want to give cookies for that.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. I’m just saying, in its current state in Berserk, a lot of stuff like that has fallen to the wayside and you can see it falling backward. Obviously, that doesn’t make it any easier to watch in the present, but that’s sort of the positive trajectory that it’s been on for the past twenty years of Miura writing this.
AMELIA: Yeah. I’m so sick of seeing naked women being violated. That’s…I’m so sick of that.
KARA: I did like our sort of final coda, which looked like it was gonna be terrible. The thing at the very end where they’re in the tavern, and it’s like, “Oh god, here we go again.” And Guts just kind of lifts his leg up and goes “Bam!” Just cut it off before it…Guts’ foot is me.
KARA: Just like, “No. We’re done.”
AMELIA: That was such a kind of cliched beat though. I’ve seen that in so many things.
KARA: Oh, I know.
AMELIA: Where the women are drinking, or they’re in a tavern situation, and guys come away and try to steal them away from their group, and I had this moment of, “Oh, no, it’s not turned into that, from what bad thing to another.”
But, yeah. It seemed…It’s ended up in a really pleasant–dare I say it?–pleasant place.
KARA: Oh, no. Definitely.
AMELIA: It seemed like quite an enjoyable series to continue watching.
KARA: Yeah. I’m actually…When it comes back, because, you know, it said it’s coming back, and it does sixteen seasons a year or something. But I mean…As I was watching, for the first couple weeks, I’m going, “I don’t know if I’m coming back to this after the podcast.” But then where it was left on this watchalong, I went, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m keeping it in my queue and I’m gonna pick up. Because where the story was left and where everybody was and sort of that end of the act kind of placement…Yeah, I want more of this.”
AMELIA: And it was the first time, actually. ‘Cause Peter was recommending this to me for months. Honestly, since the first season aired last year. He was saying, “You need to watch this. You should watch this.” And I kind of wondered where that was coming from right up until these six episodes.
So, now I finally get it. I see exactly where you’re coming from. I think we saw some really satisfying character arcs, which is always something that I will go to an anime for, and I can overlook quite a lot in service of satisfying character arcs. So, on the one hand: yeah, we’ve got Casca. She’s basically stagnant. On the other hand: we’ve got Farnese and Schierke, as well, is such a great addition to the cast.
But let’s look at these for a little bit. So, let’s look at Farnese to start with, because I…For my mind, she is the character that I feel I really latched onto in Berserk. She is the reason that I would continue watching between season one and season two. So, how did you feel about her character arc in the end, once we finally got to see the whole thing?
KARA: It really did not go in the direction I was expecting, but I’m okay with that, ’cause we got…It’s like we got to see this moment for her. We got to see the literal second when she knew what she was gonna do with her life, which, to me, I love. Seeing in a character when you just have that moment boil down for you and it was that moment, of course, with Casca and protecting her and then going, “Oh. Oh!” And then just running to Schierke. And it’s like, “Okay.” I expected her to get stronger. I expected her to go in a different direction with her fighting. But I was super not expecting the magic.
AMELIA: No, I wasn’t expecting that either, although now it kind of makes sense and I’m not sure…On the one hand, I’m thinking, “Oh, this is kind of leaning towards ‘any women with power are powerful because of magic not because they actually fight through physical combat,'” but we have had Casca, who is a very acclaimed, respected warrior when she’s mentally okay. So, maybe that kind of balances it out. I don’t know. I don’t want all the female characters with power to be magical, I think.
KARA: I can understand that, but I think, also, with Schierke, we’ve seen these moments, especially in these most recent six episodes, where we see that just because it’s not “blood and guts and guts and blood,” to quote the songs, it’s not that kind of fighting…We see that she actually is very strong.
AMELIA: I’m not saying that magical power is inferior to physical combat prowess, just that I don’t want it to…In the same way as when you see female characters kind of typically given the healing role, and that doesn’t make it less powerful, but it does mean that they’re all kind of sidelined into that position.
KARA: As a Super Robot Wars player, yes, I do see that quite a bit. All the robots steered by women are healers. But no, I get what you’re saying. I do think–and I hope…What I’d like to see…I’d like to see Farnese be the meeting point between those two styles.
AMELIA: Yes. That would be perfect.
KARA: Because she does have combat ability, and I would like to see her supplementing it with magic. I did love Serpico’s reaction. [Laughter] “Oh, my lordy!” Just sort of “fainting couch”-type thing.
PETER: Yeah, Jason Thompson actually said something interesting in that regard, recently. He said often in fantasy settings there’s this clash between magic and science, but he thinks that it boils down to something closer to “rationality versus irrationality,” and when I thought about Farnese deciding to learn magic through that lens, it kind of made sense, since she transitioned from religious belief into using magic.
And Schierke, I think, is probably one of the most rational characters in the series, even when she’s having that emotional episode in the burning mansion, she kind of recognizes that she’s not in a mental state to be practicing magic. So, she’s able to step back and look at even herself through that lens.
So, I think that’s sort of Farnese’s…It’s part of her greater character journey of trying to understand the world rather than just listen to what other people are telling her about it and hoping for the best, as was her relationship with her religion.
KARA: And I think it’s also…It’s tough for us to judge the role of benevolent magic users in Berserk because we’re just now seeing benevolent magic users in Berserk, so, it’s like…I would love to say more about it and I would love to predict more, but this is so strange. You know? It’s completely welcome. I’m enjoying seeing that the supernatural, the unnatural, is not always the enemy. I’m liking that a lot because, as weird and cool as the…I love that little kilroy monster that popped out when they were first between dimensions, or in the Astral or whatever. It was kind of…I knew it was supposed to be scary, but it was cute. But, as wild and crazy and weird as the eldritch and the evil is, I love the benevolence. So, I think at the moment, I’m just happy that we have that at all, regardless of who exhibits it, because it’s such a refreshing change.
AMELIA: I think you’re right though, that Farnese is a bridge between the two, in the same way as Guts is kind of a bridge between the two. People are always saying, “How can a mere mortal stand up against these magical forces?” And now he’s got this Berserker armor, which allows him to really tap into the less-mortal side of himself, and to try and control it without being controlled by it.
And, so, he’s kind of a bridge character, and, I think, Peter, was it you who talked about Farnese and Guts being somewhat similar in certain ways? Was that right?
PETER: I agree with that sentiment. I think the only lifelong diatribe I’ve gone off on was how Nina as a disempowered Guts, previously. Although I do think he and Farnese share a lot of traits.
AMELIA: I had forgotten she existed, so thank you for the reminder.
KARA: We were doing so well. [Laughter]
AMELIA: Yeah. Farnese and Guts both as kind of “bridge” characters between the irrational and the rational. The magical and the non-magical. That would be such an amazing position for her to achieve. And Griffith, also, is one of those characters. He has a human side but he also has a very inhuman side. And we haven’t really seen as much, yet, I think as we’re going to of what that really means for him. But we’re building up this collection of characters who are stepping across those two worlds. And I think that’s absolutely fascinating.
KARA: Yeah, on the topic of the Berserker armor, which, by the way, I loved the introduction of that. I also love that it’s a…It’s kind of a visual shorthand for Guts’ character arc. Because we’re even seeing towards the middle of our watch that Guts was doing these things with Farnese’s “I wanna follow you” and instead of going, “Get lost,” he just goes, “I guess if you choose to, I can’t stop you,” and he’s letting Schierke hug him and he’s being…He’s not “not Guts,” which I think is important. He hasn’t suddenly not become Guts. But we’re seeing so much more of this…”taming” isn’t the right word. I don’t know what the right word is. But sort of this managing of himself, and this managing of who he is and his mentality, which we’ve been seeing through the entirety of these two series.
PETER: Letting go of his resentment.
KARA: Exactly. And so I liked seeing, in those moments of him in the Berserker armor, having to work out in his brain, “No, you have to control this. You have to maintain this. It can be a part of you as long as it is not you, because then you become it.” Which has sort of been his story in general, as I’ve been watching him, just not on quite an extreme level. We see it passively but not something he’s actively working on.
AMELIA: What I think is fascinating about his time in the armor is when Schierke says to him, “Remember why you’re doing this. What you’re doing right now has a purpose. Remember what that purpose is.” And Guts kind of gives the impression all the way along that his purpose is to…Oh, god, I can’t eve pin down his purpose. But, basically, it’s related to Griffith. He’s trying to get his revenge on Griffith or he’s trying to stop Griffith or whatever it is.
Berserk I’ve found to be a complicated story. I have genuinely struggled to follow it at times. But actually when he’s in the armor and he’s asked, “What is your purpose?” he goes straight to Casca. He goes straight to protecting someone. And that is something that we see repeated. We see…With Farnese, of course. She comes to herself when she realizes that she is fighting to protect Casca, or fighting to protect anyone. She has never been in the position of protecting someone weaker than herself before. And that was extremely powerful for her and that was the moment that led to her saying, “I want to learn about magic.”
And we see this with Schierke, as well. She doesn’t really have to be with them but she chooses to be, and she’s choosing to protect them. She’s currently kind of the heaviest hitter on the team, really. She’s helping them out an awful lot. And even Isidoro, he seems to be coming more to the idea of protecting the people around him and not just fighting for fighting’s sake or to be stronger or to be a better thief or whatever.
So, this seems to be kind of a character-defining experience for anyone who experiences it. Does that make sense?
KARA: Yeah, it makes total sense. Also because as they started grouping together, they did all have their own personal goals. “I want to be stronger.” “I want to know what your deal is.” “I’m here with her.” Whatever. But, as soon as they all start latching onto the idea of protecting, they work as a unit, and instead of watching a show about a bunch of people who are trying to coexist and maybe sort of have a similar goal on the way, by the end of the last episode, I felt like I was watching, practically, a family. You know?
AMELIA: Yes. Exactly. And they really played that up when they had that moment where Guts remembers being in the Band of the Hawk, and then he says, “I didn’t think I’d have this again.” And you see the group around him.
And, to my mind, that balances out any potential implications that, for example, Guts looking after Casca being quite paternal. It doesn’t come across that way in the context that everyone is looking after everyone else. Or Farnese looking after Casca being maternal. It doesn’t come across that they’re being pigeonholed into these roles, it comes across as they are…They’re characters are developing to the point where they’re able to prioritize other people more than themselves.
KARA: And they really are becoming very much a unit and instead of this circle where you have a couple lines drawn between a couple of characters, they’re all connected to each other, even though…even the ones who never hung out. You’re starting to …Yeah, you do have stronger bonds between some characters, but even the ones who are sort of separated in the first story, you’re seeing them come together, too. And maybe not with the same intensity, but they’re all sort of coming together, and I like that a lot.
AMELIA: And I think it contrasts with what we see on Griffith’s side of things, where he’s inspiring people to follow him as the leader. He is not building a band of equals. He’s calling it “Band of the Hawk,” but it is not like the Band of the Hawk that he used to lead at all. It is very much a group of people following their leader. I think that’s…Again, we talked about Guts and Griffith representing different types of masculinity, and Guts is almost leading by example, and by being vulnerable in front of them, he’s making himself an equal to them, even though he’s immensely powerful. Whereas Griffith seems to be just standing above, ahead of all of them. I think that’d be quite a different…We haven’t spent much time with Griffith in these six episodes, but I think that is quite a different dynamic.
Okay, can we talk about Casca for a second?
AMELIA: [Laughter] Go on.
KARA: No, that’s about all I got. It’s just…I had hopes, and, granted, it looks like whenever the next season starts, we’re gonna be going in that direction. I’d just like to get there. The tiniest thing I noticed that gave me the tiniest hope, and this was one of those little back-of-my-brain latch-on things…When Schierke was sending around the “Hey, there’s an ogre,” and all of a sudden you hear Casca verbalize “ogre.”
AMELIA: Yeah. Yes, she does.
KARA: They didn’t subtitle it, but I heard it. And I was like, “Okay. You throw her a thought, she gets it.”
AMELIA: That’s interesting, ’cause I kind of heard it, as you did, but I didn’t attach any significance to it. You’re right. She was actually forming actual words. That’s meaningful. Peter, do you know if that’s reflected in the manga in any way?
PETER: Honestly, I don’t think so. Something else happens with Casca that’s pretty interesting in regards to agency and protecting others.
AMELIA: Is this a spoiler?
PETER: Uh, I mean…not for in the series. I couldn’t even tell you when the next season is coming out. So, I…It happens in the next story. I mean, if you want me to, I’m more than happy to talk about it.
AMELIA: No, no, no, no. Let’s keep spoilers for particular sections so people can skip it if they want to. Let’s talk a little later.
Okay, so, Casca I found to be a very frustrating character this entire time because she is basically the tool for the development of other people’s characters. And that’s the role that she has. That’s the purpose she serves. And that’s a real shame.
I mean, it’s genuinely impossible for her to have more than very limited agency. So, we see that she does have some. We see that she starts baring her teeth at Guts after he attacks her, and, you know, fair enough. And she will not let him near her, even after he saves her repeatedly, she stands behind Farnese and she glares at him, and it is very clear that all is not forgotten or forgiven.
But that’s kind of the extent of it, I think.
KARA: I’m glad that someone finally got around to saying, “Hey, if we’re going to imagine fairyland, do you think maybe someone with all this great fairy magic could help her out some?” It’s like, you know…I’m glad the idea of maybe doing something about it finally occurred to somebody. I was waitin’ around, like, “Okay you’re talking to witches. All this other stuff. Maybe bring up this? No? Okay? We’re not gonna do that? Okay.”
And I do enjoy the fact that that was kind of addressed.
AMELIA: Yes. Yeah. Absolutely.
Okay, let’s talk about Schierke and Sonia. So, Schierke has been…I think we can all agree she’s been a great addition to the cast. She’s really brought a quality to the group that was not there in any other form. And she’s really balanced out with Casca, I think, something that was quite dark and tormented into something that is better rounded and has a very different kind of power in it. It’s not all just about who has the biggest, sharpest sword. That has, I think, been immensely valuable, and, of course, we can see this great story arc ahead of us where Schierke’s now training Farnese in magic.
But Schierke and Sonia was a really sweet moment, I thought, when they talk about Sonia’s position in the Band of the Hawk, where she’s been effectively sidelined for Princess Charlotte. And how she recognized something of herself and her loneliness in Schierke, who, as Peter said, she’s very rational. So, she’s not really talking about the fact that she’s just lost her home or the family that she’s known. All of her sense of structure and stability has been gone in an instant, and she’s dealt with it very well.
KARA: Yeah, she really has. And a lot of times when you see something like that happen with a character, it’s unrealistic. I’ve seen some movies and things where it’s like, “Oh, my house is burned down and all my family’s dead, but I’m good.”
But with her we see…One, we see the rationality upfront, so we know that she will bounce back. Two, she does grieve. She grieves quite a bit. And she’s still going to grieve when she encounters things that remind her of Flora. Like the thing with the hat. And that’s–coming from someone who knows–that’s realistic grief when you lose someone. You have your moments, then life goes on, but then something comes into your line of sight that reminds you. And everything comes out just out of nowhere. And that’s realistic grief. So, I loved seeing that.
AMELIA: Yeah, I thought it was really beautifully handled.
KARA: But with Sonia, yeah. That was a sweet scene. I love the quote-unquote ugly duckling story. The animation for that was darling, and the little forest owl and comparing Schierke to an owl, and everyone was some kind of bird. And then the seagulls just everywhere around them. It was a very honest moment, and with a character like Sonia, who just…you’re never quite sure what her deal is. Because it seems like she’s a very honest person, but, boy, she says some wild things sometimes and she does some wild things sometimes, and she just smiles all through it.
AMELIA: It seems like she has complete confidence in her convictions and acts on impulse as a result, which I think is a really interesting character trait.
KARA: Oh, yeah. And seeing her just sort of sit down for this baring-her-soul moment and getting Schierke to open up, too.
AMELIA: Exactly. I think within the group people aren’t going to spend a lot of time asking Schierke how she is. That’s not really the sort of group that it is. And they’ve all experienced grief. They’ve all experienced loss. They’ve all experienced loneliness. So, they’re not really gonna spend a lot of time connecting with her on that level. So, it’s really great that we got to see a little bit of that vulnerability. And a little bit of heart there between the two of them.
And I thought it was lovely that Sonia asked her to come along, actually. There was a moment there where I thought, “Is she gonna go? Is she gonna go and meet Griffith?” And that would have been really interesting.
KARA: That would’ve been wild, yeah.
AMELIA: But, of course, they’ve got this whole “She has a crush on Guts” thing. And I’m not sure if it’s people telling her she has a crush on Guts or if this is actually she has a crush on Guts and we’re just being led up to it.
KARA: The way I saw it–and, again, this is interpretation, largely–is she has just lost her mentor. She does not have…This is the first time in her life without a mentor and there is now this leader who is a very–I can’t believe I’m saying this about Guts–he’s a very warm and kind person. He’s…you know.
AMELIA: He’s become that, hasn’t he?
KARA: He’s become that.
AMELIA: Gave a lot of advice these past six episodes, and a lot of words of comfort.
KARA: Yeah. And you…I can see her as a young girl latching on…To me, it’s sort of the way that people accuse fellow students of having a crush on a teacher, when it’s not a literal romantic crush. It’s like a personality crush. It’s a “I really admire them so much. I just want to sit next to them and listen to them all the time” and that’s how I interpreted it. And, yeah, people are gonna call that a crush. Especially when it’s a little girl, ’cause–
AMELIA: I really didn’t appreciate that it came from the fairy. I was like, “You’re supposed to be her companion and her ally,” and it’s just…It’s not fair to tease her about this in front of Guts. That just felt really uncomfortable to me. I wish it’d have come from someone else.
KARA: Yeah. ‘Cause I could be wrong, and maybe as we get further along, I’ll see that I was wrong. The way I saw it is–like I said–a personality crush rather than a romantic crush, and, you know…And Guts doesn’t seem to care. He’s like, “Oh, okay. Okay, whatever. That’s nice.”
AMELIA: She’s a little girl to him and an ally. She’s somebody powerful who’s helping him out.
PETER: I think it’s more on the general side, ’cause, yeah, like we’ve been saying, she lost her mentor, and I don’t think she had a father figure. Flora’s basically raised her since she was extremely young. I don’t know. They don’t really cover how long she’s just been with her. And I think she got instruction from her a lot, but it was never in a setting where there was a lot of conflict. So, being in these situations where there’s really high stakes, and then, afterward, Guts kind of affirmed that she made a major contribution…And especially because she respects Guts as well…During the fight before she causes the flood, they each have a moment where she’s looking down at him fighting the troll going, “How is somebody doing that without magic?” and then she creates a Biblical flood, and he goes, “Oh, magic’s pretty crazy.”
And then afterward he says he was really impressed by her. And later on they had the scene at the beach where she was not feeling so great and he did the Guts thing where he is very strangely supportive. So I think it’s kind of like having a father for the first time and also having someone who she’s really grown to respect in a short amount of time also return that respect is a big deal to her as well.
AMELIA: And we see, I think, the final part of Guts’ growth that you, Peter, have been tracking this entire time, where it’s really Schierke’s fault that Casca gets lost, and he just says, “We don’t blame you at all. You did a great job.”
PETER: He tells her to relax and that the answers will come to her, and then it does.
AMELIA: Exactly. And he just…Yeah, he just takes that off her shoulders so that she can do what she needs to do. He could not have done that in the first six episodes. He was incapable, and he’s grown so much since that point.
So, I was very…It was really nice to see that wrap up. And I don’t think I would have picked up on that this time through, so I’m really glad that you pointed it out every single podcast, like, “We’ve got another example of him seeing Casca get lost and reacting slightly better each time.”
PETER: Yeah, I don’t think I noticed…I noticed there was a change in his character, but looking back with that awareness…I guess I’ve gone through the story arc three or four times now. You can see the specific moments that built up to that change in awareness.
AMELIA: I’d like to talk about this a little bit, because we spoke about it after the recording ended last time. You said that Miura, who wrote the manga, was 15 years old when he started?
PETER: I think. That’s when he did the conceptual drawings of Guts and he had a beginner chapter…I can’t remember what it was called. It was Berserk-something, where I think Guts’ tattoo was rounder and I think he had a katana, or something. But it was basically the first chapter of the original manga, and then I think that won an award and he got his publishing deal. And then he went on to write the actual manga a year or two later. So, yeah. All this was coming from a very, very young age. He started pretty young.
AMELIA: And what you said to me–I thought this was really interesting–is that it starts off as much more of a teenage boy power fantasy, where you’ve got Guts versus Griffith. You’ve got this traditional rivalry where they’re friends and they have their differences, have a clash. And then it turns into this story much more of found family. And the kind of maturity difference, I guess, between the very beginning of Berserk and where it ends up going is quite striking. And I’ve really felt that. Looking at this in six-episode chunks as well…I mean, how many years of manga does this represent?
PETER: A lot. It’s a monthly, so…
AMELIA: Yeah. So, it’s quite a few years that we’re covering here in his own personal growth. And I think you can absolutely see the difference between the first six episodes of this watchalong and the last six. It’s such a much more sophisticated, developed, mature story in these last six episodes.
KARA: I was gonna say, when you put it that way…’Cause I have so little connection with the manga. I’ve never even actually looked at it beyond character art. But when you put the timeline in those terms, everything makes so much more sense.
AMELIA: It does, doesn’t it?
KARA: I mean, it’s kind of like reading The Dark Tower. Where you’re starting with a 19-year-old Stephen King and then going to how he is now, and it’s like you can trace that huge change. But if you didn’t know that it was started by a teenager, and you didn’t know that it was happening over years, you’d be like, “What the heck is wrong with this guy? Was he having a bad week?”
But then with that context, I’m just…Does it make sense to say I’m actually even more impressed?
AMELIA: Yeah. Especially when you see the art that he was putting out in his teens. It’s incredible.
KARA: Yeah, and when you’re looking at his personal growth, and I guess…You know, and this I think would fall into his concept of people. How he sees people, how he sees characters, what he sees as okay to write. Because I do notice the tonal shift, to the point where it seemed like either a whole other person or an older person. And now it’s like, “Oh okay.” That really is someone who started young with a very sort of…When you said he was 15 years old, well, that explains so much about Guts. When you look at him, it’s like, “Guy with sword as big as him who just cleaves things,” yeah. Yeah. Back of a 15-year-old boy’s English notebook. [Laughter]
AMELIA: “It was too big to be called a sword. Much too thick and crude.” Yes. Yeah, it does make sense, doesn’t it?
PETER: Yeah. There’s, I think, a lot of components to that. Because he said in interviews that he based the original Band of the Hawk around his friend group The relationship between Guts and Griffith was him…he was very competitive with one of them. And he said at times each of them were Guts and Griffith. It wasn’t like he was one and the other guy was the other character. And I think there’s a lot of ways you can read into that, ’cause if he sort of separated from that friend group when he got into his career with manga, that could have resulted in the Eclipse and when you’re…I don’t know if something he’s re-created with his new group, if they’re supposed to fill the same roles. Because it doesn’t quite seem like all the same notes are there among the friend group, with the old and the new Band.
AMELIA: Not at all. I was gonna say, it also makes sense when you look at the gender balance. And the way female characters are handled. You look at early Casca, and even though–I mean, I really enjoyed Casca–but she was far from a perfect character, even when at her fighting best. And the way she was represented was far from as good as it could’ve been. And she was really the only one. That was her and Princess Charlotte, and that was about it. It was not a satisfying palette of female characters.
KARA: Yeah, it really was sort of: “You have Tough Girl. You have Princess. Those are two types of Girl in world.” You know?
AMELIA: And even “Tough Girl” is going to be introduced as a naked bed-warmer for the main character with his enormous sword, so…I think the fact that we now…Where we’ve ended up in episode 24, with this really textured, rich group of people with individual characters that really aren’t that connected to their genders, I think. Schierke would be essentially the same character whether she were male, female, nonbinary, whatever. And same for Farnese. Same for Serpico, even. These characters could swap gender or change gender and they would still be the same characters, effectively. And I think that’s…Whereas you couldn’t do that with early Casca. You couldn’t really do that with Guts ’cause of the way that he buys into so many masculinity tropes.
PETER: I think his whole character has become toxic masculinity becoming more healthy, more mature version of masculinity.
Through that lens, it’s hard to separate him from his maleness. Also, the big sword.
KARA: Yeah, the big sword.
AMELIA: The rage-dog thing and the Berserker armor, like you say, it’s like he’s learning to get control of his more toxic side, and that ties in with what we’ve seen with his responses of Casca being lost, and he’s just grown so much. And he’s ended up as a much more even-handed character, and a much more interesting character than he starts off being. He’s not just on this revenge trail, which is great.
KARA: It doesn’t feel like the show that I was watching in high school that was largely a meme because the characters were–I mean, we loved it, but we loved it because we could giggle about how one-note it was.
AMELIA: Yeah. This is not one-note, where we’ve ended up. This is far from one-note. It is a really interesting story. The characters are really unusual. Peter, you said something last week–again, after we stopped recording–about Serpico and I can’t remember what it was, but I said, “We have to talk about that next time.”
PETER: Well, Serpico’s a character…I don’t remember specifically what I said, but my general thoughts about Serpico are: he is actually one of the least-developed characters where the manga currently stands, I think. And I’m really wanting him to start getting some moments soon, because he’s…You’re seeing right now, he really wanted to help Farnese but he didn’t know how to do it. So, he ended up just sort of facilitating her continued isolation for a really long time. And at this point they’re in this really awkward relationship where I don’t think Farnese really trusts him. She had that moment where she sort of secured his loyalty again when they burned his mother at the stake, which is odd, but now she still doesn’t know why he rejected her, ’cause he’s never told her that he’s her brother.
So, at this point, I think she probably loved him and was rejected by him and that’s the first, maybe only time, she’s opened herself up to another person. And where it sits now, they’re still in this awkward place where he said no and she doesn’t understand why, and they’re friends but there’s still that distance between them. So, I want some development for him and specifically I hope it takes the form of him sitting her down to have a talk about the fact that they’re related.
AMELIA: Yeah, that was what I wanted to talk about. The fact that he’s kind of played this role of an enabler. Like you said, contributing to her continued isolation through caring for her, through letting her do basically whatever she wants. He’s never said to her, “This hurts me. This upsets me. This frustrates me.” Anything like that. He’s just let her continue to be who she is, and as a result she’s going through this identity crisis at the moment, where she feels quite torn up inside at how she’s treated him.
And I think it does a really good job, actually, of showing how harmful that can be, and of showing how that doesn’t actually help the other person at all. She’s in a much better position since people have said to her, “You have a responsibility here. You need to do it.” And held her accountable for her mistakes without treating her cruelly as she treated other people. I think he’s been a really…He’s served an interesting purpose, in that sense. In terms of him being a character, he’s intriguing, but he hasn’t really done much yet.
PETER: Yeah, he’s basically the off-fighter who uses speed instead of strength in their group right now.
AMELIA: I did love his fight with Guts though. That is one of my favorites.
PETER: They have another one, which is even better.
PETER: But, yeah. On that subject, I actually think that that’s the last thing I really noticed about how Miura’s writing style has changed over the 30 freaking years he’s been writing this is kind of how he approached…In the same sense where you have that male power fantasy, I think he also wrote a lot of characters’ backstories to be tragic, because that’s “cool,” but I think over the course, he’s had a growing awareness of how this really affects people, and he’s been treating that with much more respect. And actually focused on how people can overcome these pasts rather than kind of exist with this past torment making them cool anti-heroes.
‘Cause, I mean, I think the majority of characters in Berserk have suffered an extreme amount of abuse in their childhoods, and I think in its current iteration, he’s really focusing on how that has really deeply affected them in their modern life, and their efforts to try to change and find happiness.
KARA: Yeah, Schierke’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head who had a not-awful childhood, because she learned magic with her mentor and sat in the sun with her mentor and the golems, and things were pretty okay.
AMELIA: Until she saw it all burn down in front of her while still being a child.
KARA: Well, yeah. I mean, up until this happened, yes. [Laughter]
PETER: She has the support network in the now, right?
AMELIA: She does, but I would argue we’ve just seen her tragic past.
KARA: We’ve just seen her tragic past, but she had people with her, as opposed to, “It happened to me twenty years ago and then I shaved my head and got a bionic arm.”
AMELIA: Yeah. This is true.
KARA: But the other thing I wanted to mention about Flora, before I forget…I know it’s such a small thing, but I love her little conversations with Death. Those were so…They were very Discworld to me.
PETER: [Crosstalk] You mean the Skull Knight?
KARA: ‘Cause I love Discworld and I think of the witches and the way people talk to Death when they don’t…
AMELIA: Very matter-of-fact.
KARA: And the fact that, in that world, Death is not a villain. And here she calls him “old friend,” and they chat, and when it’s finally time for her to go, it’s not [like] he’s come in like some sort of home-breaker. She’s like, “Oh, okay.” And it’s…I don’t know. I…You don’t see it often in stories, and I love when it’s handled…Yeah, we saw death in a very extreme place in the first season that we watched, but here you saw him as a visitor and someone who is part of this very…He was treated very kindly. And very friendly. I loved seeing that, and I love seeing that handled well in stories.
AMELIA: Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
KARA: I know it’s so small and it’s not something that contributes to the overall plot, but it was such a pretty touch. And it was a major piece of character development for a character we don’t see much. And that we’re not gonna see much of.
AMELIA: I really enjoyed Flora’s character in general. It was nice to see somebody who has…who is calm, who has knowledge, who is able to offer some protection. It was really nice to see her in that position. It was nice to see anyone in that position, to be honest. But especially seeing an adult woman who is able to offer that. That was a nice kind of different change of tone.
KARA: Yeah, and I’ve read my hero journey, so in the middle I saw her, I was like, “Well, she’s gonna die.” I was like, “Yeah, Schierke can’t go any further without her dying, and that’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”
AMELIA: “It is what it is.” [Laughter] But I thought that was quite well-done as well, when she says she’s going to die, and we were all aware of this, but then when it actually comes to it, Schierke was like, “No, it wasn’t supposed to be violent. She was supposed to have a peaceful death.” That was kind of heartbreaking. That really got to me.
KARA: Yeah. Oh, definitely. It was…That whole section, all those scenes. That very last vision of Flora, which was very pretty…
AMELIA: Where she’s suddenly young? That was an interesting choice. Not reading anything into that.
Just looking back, Peter, is there anything that surprised you at any point in the discussion that we’ve had over these four watchalongs? Is there anything that you thought we would go into more detail on, or that we’d like more than we did, or anything like that?
PETER: Well, you definitely touched…You made it abundantly clear that all the points I thought you’d have trouble with, you had trouble with. [Laughter]
AMELIA: Which were?
PETER: Just, you know. All the horrible, horrible visuals that Miura kept putting into his show.
PETER: He put it in his manga, they put it in the show. Then there’s…I’m glad you liked Farnese, ’cause I thought that would be kind of the big hook character that would pull you in and get you interested. The introduction of Schierke, who I thought you’d also like.
I guess I thought there might be…I kind of expected…I didn’t know how it would go with Nina.
Nina, I think, is one character that’s generally disliked, so that wasn’t too surprising. We never really talked about Sonia too much, I think, although she hasn’t gotten too many moments yet. She becomes a pretty big character later on, but right now, I guess just the fact that she’s very starry-eyed and enamored with Griffith…Although I guess that’s something that pretty much every character is, so maybe when you think about it that way, it’s not very unusual. Although she certainly seems kind of obsessed with him.
AMELIA: ‘Cause she saw herself as being…her position being usurped by Princess Charlotte was quite interesting. So, did she think that she was gonna be romantically involved with him, or did she think that her relationship with him transcends romance? I wasn’t sure how she sees her relationship to him.
PETER: She definitely gets jealous of Charlotte later on, so…I don’t…When you say it that way, I don’t know if I have any evidence to think that she wants it to be a romantic relationship so much as she resents the fact that Charlotte takes up so much of his time. She wants to be the one that’s always standing next to Griffith.
KARA: “I’m the special one,” basically.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, she does have her own special power, which is something that no one else has, which makes her unique. And you don’t really know the foundation for those abilities either. It’s just something she was born with, I guess. Her…I guess telepathy or something like that.
But I think we pretty much hit all the points that I really wanted to. I mean, everything I kind of brought up at the end, I guess. I know the one big one was Guts’ masculinity and its portrayal, which we usually touched on during my portion. I guess you noticed it there at the end. So, I’m glad I brought that into the conversation.
AMELIA: Yeah, I’m really glad you did. It’s one of those things that I definitely wouldn’t have picked up on otherwise.
PETER: But, yeah. I’m glad you appreciated it when you got an awareness of it as well. But I think…Yeah. That’s basically all the stuff that attracted me to the series. And this kind of growth that we see from the first episode to now is like the trajectory, the quality of the manga goes on going forward. So, this increase in how good it becomes is a consistent thing that happens. These jumps in how he portrays characters, the narratives between them, characters arcs, that kind of thing.
AMELIA: And that’s quite important, because I suspect that…I’m not sure I’d recommend Berserk the anime to feminist fans. But I would be very interested to read the manga, and I would potentially recommend that to people over the anime. And I think that the…Like you said, the visuals…I think it’s almost worse when it goes through these layers of interpretation. Like: How do we animate this? How do we adapt the character design to move? How do we adapt it for TV censorship laws? You know? It’s–
PETER: How long should the camera stay on them?
AMELIA: Yeah. So there’s multiple layers that have to go through, to think through: “How are we presenting female characters onscreen? And how are we presenting, specifically, female characters while they’re being raped onscreen?” And it felt extremely uncomfortable for it to be in the anime. And I couldn’t skip through it because it showed up so often, and it was often just for a few seconds here or there. It wasn’t like you could skip a scene or anything like that. Whereas in the manga, obviously, you can just glance at the page and move on. You can turn the page very quickly. And it’s also just an image. It’s not a moving image, a moving in color.
PETER: Audible screams.
AMELIA: Yeah. I think that that does make a difference. I think it would make a difference to me. So, I would…I still don’t quite know if I’m going to carry on watching the anime, but I would absolutely read the manga. Absolutely.
Kara, how did you feel about whether or not to recommend it?
KARA: It’s…See, my thing is, when I recommend a show–when I judge a show–I subscribe to “Life’s too short.” You know?
AMELIA: [Laughter] Fair. Fair. There’s a lot of anime out there.
KARA: And this applies to live action shows, anything, where if someone tells me, “It gets really good after the first season,” I say “no.” Because I shouldn’t have to watch a whole season of bad to get to the good stuff. And I’m not saying that all the first season of Berserk was bad, but if it made people uncomfortable, then I don’t want to have to tell people, “Oh, there’s gonna be this amazing witch and there’s this soldier girl who learns magic, and there’s fairies, and this and this,” but you gotta go through 12 or 18 episodes of rape to get there. I mean, how do you sell that?
AMELIA: You absolutely don’t. Peter, how did you sell it to me? [Laughter]
PETER: I don’t know.
AMELIA: ‘Cause I know you kept mentioning it, saying, “You should really watch Berserk because…” I don’t remember what you picked up on. Looking back, it was probably Farnese. It was probably Schierke. You knew I would like those characters. Was that kind of the sum total?
PETER: I think when I recommend it I always do it with a massive caveat, but I do say…I mean, I honestly say that what attracts me to the show is primarily its female characters later on. So, I guess that…And just the fact that…The whole thing about Miura getting older and maybe moving away from all these problematic things that he was more inclined to write when he was younger, I think, is something that can be discussed. And just the fact that there’s very little feminist discourse around this series, despite the fact that it has so many strong female characters…probably specifically because a lot of female watchers are disinclined to watch it very rapidly.
AMELIA: And I don’t blame them.
KARA: YIf I look at my friend group now, my specific individual friends, and they asked me, “Should I watch Berserk?” I can think of four where I would just say, “No. No. You, specifically, should not watch this for very specific reasons.” But…’Cause, you know, there are specific people I would absolutely not recommend this to because it would bring up too many things for them, you know?
But if I were to get together with some of my friends, a certain subset of my friends, especially, say, writers, critics, people who are ready to watch something analytically and don’t have to deal with anything specific, I might say, “Watch it because you get to watch the creator evolve and you get to see him go from this to this.” And I probably would say upfront, “You probably will get very annoyed at the first season, but then you’ll start to see things change and you’ll get to watch this writer evolve as a writer and a human right in front of your eyes.”
AMELIA: “As a human.”
KARA: You know? Going from, “Hey, won’t it be fun to have demons assault all these women?” to “Hey, what if we had multiple women in this group? And what if they were–”
AMELIA: “What if they had agency? What if they had character arcs of their own?”
KARA: “And what if they did stuff other than getting their clothes ripped off and grabbed by strangers all the time?”
AMELIA: “…although that, too, sometimes!”
KARA: I mean, that…that’s not off the table, but, you know. I…My problem is not…I do have some content problems. My problem that I could not get past even my most open-minded friends is the animation, because I can probably tell people, “It’s interesting to look at, to analyze, to talk about,” and they’d go, “Does it look like that the whole time?” And I’d be like, “Well…yeah, except for occasionally two or three seconds when they had a ton of money to make someone look really sad.” And…You know the scenes I’m talking about, where all of a sudden it’s a closeup and it’s beautiful, and then it’s like, “No, back to the Playstation sprites.”
AMELIA: Yeah, we had…In these six episodes, we had that one moment where Guts walks away with the tiniest steps possible. That bit was turned into a gif and used to…I think it was used to promote The Canipa Effect. Alan, his article–was it an article?–on why the animation for Berserk was so bad this season. And it’s incredible. And you just see the gif. And I couldn’t stop laughing at the gif from the moment it showed up in the show. It was unfortunate, ’cause it’s this really emotionally resonant moment. It undermined itself quite badly by being just appalling animation.
KARA: It’s like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where he just doesn’t get closer and doesn’t get closer.
AMELIA: Yeah. [Laughter]
PETER: Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
AMELIA: Exactly. Exactly.
KARA: It’s a shame because I can see that they wanted to look like the manga. I can see the filter they’re putting on it.
AMELIA: Good luck with that. The manga’s beautiful.
KARA: Yeah. I can see what they’re going for, and it’s like, “I get you. It’s rough.” We had similar with Sailor Moon Crystal, where they were going, “It’s gonna look more like the manga.” Mmm…No it’s not.
AMELIA: This is the first and last time those two properties will ever be compared.
KARA: Berserk and Sailor Moon? Yeah. But, I mean, they do suffer from the “Let’s make it look exactly like the manga–oh wait, there’s a reason we never did that!”
AMELIA: Yeah. We physically can’t.
KARA: We physically can’t because it’s so pretty in a very specific way and making these characters move in three dimensions is gonna look terrible in some way. I mean…And again–
PETER: The movies did a great job.
AMELIA: I’ve not seen those. We talked about this. Maybe we’ll go away and watch the films.
PETER: The films are very good-looking. They have…They do use CG during a lot of the combat fights, but during the social scenes, it’s two-dimensional. But in both cases, the animation is superior, both 2D and 3D.
KARA: Nothing against 3D, against CG animation, because when it’s used well, it’s lovely. But…
AMELIA: This is not that.
KARA: This is not that. I’ve seen CG used to great effect in scenes in various anime where hand-drawing it would be possible but take two years, and if that were the case, if we were talking the massive fight scenes, if we were talking the very busy imagery, then that would be one thing. But when it’s just “video game cutscene from 2002 for 12 hours” then I just…That’s the…
AMELIA: It’s a hard sell.
KARA: Even when the story gets good, and usually I say, “Good story can forgive bad art, good art can’t forgive bad story,” but I found the exception that proves the rule, I think, where the story gets great, but I still just…I’m not…Straight up, as much as I love it and as much as, yes, I will continue watching, because now I have these characters I’m connected to, if I had not been doing this for a watchalong I probably would have stopped.
AMELIA: I absolutely would have stopped.
KARA: The only reason I kept watching for I would say the first season is because I was gonna be on the podcast. And then once we got on the second season, I was here for it. You know. It took a little bit of the second season, but then when things started rolling out, I was like, “Nah, I could have no podcast to go to and still be on board with this.” But it is a hard sell.
PETER: On the subject of continuing with the series, Dark Horse has released the entire manga digitally on their website.
AMELIA: I did see that. So it is possible, now, for you to read the whole thing. I’d very much like to. It would take quite a while to buy up all the volumes, I think.
PETER: I can probably figure out what chapter it left off on if you just want to read forward. ‘Cause honestly the next two arcs are pretty amazing.
AMELIA: You own it, don’t you?
AMELIA: Yeah, I’m coming to visit soon. I might just have a look.
I just…I don’t think it’s a very good adaptation, and I have a lot of respect for the art of adaptation when it’s done well. And I don’t think they did a good job of taking a manga story and making it anime. Now, I mentioned earlier that I found it…I struggled to keep up with it at times. And there have been times when I’ve come to the podcast and I’ve watched the episodes and I still don’t remember bits, because I think the way that it was crafted and the way that it was paced, it felt very “manga.” It didn’t feel very “anime.” And I think that’s a real shame because I think there were ways that they could go back and adapt it for anime in such a way that it would be easier to keep up with and follow and not feel like they’re making it up from week to–well, I guess from month to month as he was with the manga.
PETER: You mean pacing, not just visuals?
AMELIA: Yeah. I mean, the visuals are a lost cause, as you said.
PETER: They do touch them up in the Blu-Rays.
AMELIA: I’d like to see that very much then. But I can forgive bad visuals very easily. I have never been put off watching something because of the visuals. If I had been, it probably would have been for the rape, it wouldn’t have been for the bad CG. But the way that the story was laid out made it hard for me to follow, and meant that I struggled to stay invested. It struggled to hold my attention.
Again, the only reason I kept on with it was because of the podcast. But I actually think I would really like the story itself. The worldbuilding, I think, is really impressive. I really like the society they’ve built. I really like the character arcs they’ve given. I really like the dynamics between the groups. I really like where this is headed. But the thought of going through another 12 episodes to get a bit further in the story is…It doesn’t inspire me with enthusiasm.
KARA: I can see what you mean about the pacing and stuff. The problem with manga adaptations of older series, or long-running series, is–and I say this as someone who has worked on subtitling anime based on manga I’ve watched and watched it roll out. There seems to be this mentality that the greatest respect that you can give a manga series is to replicate it exactly.
AMELIA: And that is wrong.
KARA: And that is wrong. There’s a short list of series, a very, very short list of series, where I went, “Oh, that’s literally just the frames from the manga. That’s kinda cool.” You know? But those tend to be short form manga. One volume manga. You know? If you…Any show that can be adapted by just doing the manga, it’s gonna be one or two volumes long, tops. There is that sense of purity that I think fans of fans of the industry have, and they think they’re doing a service to Berserk by doing it exactly the same.
It’s like, “No. You can’t.” You can’t do a show that way, like you said. And I think it would have been a greater service to just make a show that looks pretty and paces well and that maybe whoever is adapting the script can go back and polish up any bits of continuity that will be affected later. You know?
AMELIA: Yes. Because I remember enjoying–actually enjoying–the experience of watching 1997 Berserk. Whereas this, I have very much just been keeping up with it. It’s not because of the animation difference for me, personally. I can overlook so much in the way of animation. But the way that the story was told, then, it felt like it had been designed for a 26-episode anime. That’s how it felt. Whereas this feels like…We split it into six episode chunks, but when you do that, it is so obvious how it doesn’t…it’s not the same consistent level of storytelling quality through the 12 episodes for each season. You feel it get better and better.
And that’s how it feels when you read a manga, because it keeps growing. It keeps developing. It shouldn’t feel that way in the anime. And I think something like Attack on Titan, for example, does this a lot better, where it addresses some of the creator’s weaker points and it shores them up in the anime. It changes the pacing around so that it suits viewers rather than readers. And I think that’s really important. And I think it’s unfortunately an art that we don’t get to see too much of. And it could’ve really strengthened Berserk as a whole.
One thing I’d like to ask, though: If we’re talking about ways they could have adapted it to make it more audience-friendly, do we think they could have reduced the amount of sexual violence or the way that sexual violence was represented to make it more palatable without sacrificing the kind of horror that they’re trying to evoke?
KARA: I think they could have. I don’t know if they would have.
AMELIA: Well, they absolutely wouldn’t have. They didn’t.
KARA: I can think of places where they could have cut things. For example, every single flashback of Casca when they had that one shot. Drop those, number one. There are other images you could have used. You could have used a closeup of her face. You could have…A lot of people–I am not averse to people going hog-wild with imagery if it suits the story, if it helps, if it actually serves a purpose. But a lot of things can be told by what you don’t see. And they’re like, “No, we’re just gonna show everything!” every single time.
And I’m very much a believer in what you show and what you hide are both important as a storyteller. And they did not play with that.
PETER: I think we already discussed how they effectively made it worse, both just because the medium prolongs scenes that you could otherwise flip through in the manga, and because they straight-up added problematic aspects to episode three.
AMELIA: Episode three, they just made up a load of sexual violence for no reason.
KARA: Just the…Ugh! Every time I think about it.
AMELIA: Yes. I second that sentiment wholeheartedly.
KARA: I read Junji Ito before bed. And this is me going, “Ugh!” So, that’s pretty bad.
AMELIA: It’s such a shame because, again, I really respect the art of a good adaptation. I really respect the way you can adapt even horrifying concepts to be more suitable for an animation, for putting something in color, in motion. There are ways that you can make things better. I think they did a decent job, actually, with some of the really horrific elements. I think that they made some of the eldritch things really unpleasant, really horrific, and I loved that.
KARA: [Crosstalk] Oh yeah, that was so cool.
AMELIA: But when they just–Yeah, absolutely. In the interstices, where he’s between worlds, when the worlds overlap, that was always…that had monsters in it that really got to me. These six episodes in particular, there were a couple things where I was like, “Ew, nightmare fuel.” It was really well-done.
PETER: Oh, those Kusanagi backgrounds? Those were really good, right?
AMELIA: Yeah. It was really well-done. But the fact that they went straight to…It felt lazy, almost, that they were saying, “Okay, naked women being tortured, ideally penetrated. Go.” That was how it felt. It was like box-ticking. It wasn’t actually trying to create a horrific atmosphere. It wasn’t trying to do anything remotely creepy. It was just, “Oh, this is a shortcut to the idea of horror. Let’s make naked women suffer in a sexual way because everybody knows there’s nothing more horrifying than being raped by something otherwordly.” Yeah, we get it. But you don’t have to…
KARA: There were so many better ways they could have done it and still have made it unsettling in a way that helped as opposed to unsettling in a way that just made me want to quit.
AMELIA: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Right. On that happy note, would you recommend Berserk to anyone, Kara?
KARA: I have a couple of friends who, again, they watched the original. And I would say, “I recommend watching it and getting forward in it knowing that this, this, and this happens.” I would spoil the bad stuff. I would say, “Episode three, here are the main plot points, now you can skip it.” I’d do things like that. But I would say, “If your life is short and you’re looking for a show you’re gonna like from episode one, you take that risk on your own, ’cause I can’t guarantee.”
I would recommend it provisionally, I think.
AMELIA: To a very select group of people.
KARA: And then there are specific people in my friend group that I would actually warn them against it, because they’re people who do not need to see that.
AMELIA: Yeah. I think that’s entirely fair. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to any woman. Anyone who I know to have experience of sexual assault, absolutely not. That really narrows it down. I’d probably be more likely to recommend it to male friends that I know are interested in the kind of swords-and-sorcery-type fantasy. And I think that’s who it was really, initially targeting, even though it does have a wider audience.
I was actually introduced to Berserk initially by a female friend of mine who absolutely loved the 1997 series. I haven’t asked her if she’s seen this version, and now I think I’m going to, and I think the answer will be, “no,” and I think I’ll say, “Fair enough. Good decision.”
Okay, finally, let’s talk spoilers. So, if you don’t want to be spoiled for anything that is coming up in the manga, now is the time to turn off. Thank you very much for listening so far. Please let us know your thoughts and comments. For everybody who has morbid curiosity about where the story’s going and if any of this stuff gets better…Peter, tell us what we would be looking forward to if we were to continue watching the anime? What’s the good stuff that happens? Make us feel better.
PETER: Any characters you want me to focus on in particular?
AMELIA: Let’s start with Casca.
KARA: Yeah. Oh, yes. Yes.
PETER: Well, some weird stuff happens with Casca. So, there’s this child that starts showing up that they call the “Moon Child,” because it only appears during a full moon, and I think the fandom’s pretty much in agreement that that child is Guts and Casca’s child. And if I had to get into the physics of it–the metaphysics, I should say–I think…’Cause Guts and Casca had sex directly before the Eclipse. I think basically she got pregnant from that and then Griffith raped her and that messed with…I don’t know. Bad stuff.
AMELIA: Wait, what?
PETER: What do you mean?
AMELIA: Two pregnancies at once? Have I missed something?
PETER: I think he “tainted” the baby or something like that.
AMELIA: Oh my god. [Laughter]
PETER: But there’s supposed to be a spiritual aspect to the child and a physical aspect to the child. The physical aspect is the one that was used…that Griffith used his material to create himself in our reality, and then the spiritual aspect is this Moon Child that can only appear…’Cause the full moon is a time when the planes are really close together, I guess. And it starts showing up and Casca is drawn to it in the same way that she was the weird fetus monster.
So, the child shows up a couple times, and each time, Casca’s very protective of it. There’s a couple scenes where the child kind of acts a lot like Casca, actually. Funny, that. But the…It gets in trouble a couple of times. She kind of protects it. And, in fact, I think that sort of improves her and Guts’ relationship because there’s a couple times where he saves that child as well, and I think she cares about this creature instinctually enough that I guess she values the fact that he’d protect it, or something like that. That’s where the implication comes from, I guess.
It’s a bit of agency that Casca gets, I think. But on the whole it’s more of the same. However! Miura just went on a six month hiatus, and we have spent the last ten or twelve chapters with Farnese and Schierke through some magic that they got in Elfheilm I think it is.
AMELIA: Elfheilm. I love it.
KARA: Elfheilm. [Laughter]
AMELIA: Isidro’s like, “Elf-helm?” No.
PETER: They’re kind of exploring her mental scape and trying to find out where she went inside of her mind, and as a result, they’ve kind of been piecing her back together with her memories. And the very last scene in the last panel before he went on his six month hiatus was they put this doll they found of Casca back together, which was being dragged in a coffin behind a wild dog, which I guess was supposed to be Guts. And they found this recreation of the Eclipse and in that scene is this Egg, and basically we know that Casca’s inside of it, but we don’t know what she’s like inside this egg. And basically they’re directly in front of this egg, and then Miura, the bastard, goes on a six-month hiatus.
AMELIA: That’s fair enough, if he’s been writing for 20, 30 years.
PETER: Oh, no, he takes hiatuses all the time. Him and Togashi are both known…They have these story arcs called “The hiatus” that they revisit continually. I don’t think Miura is as bad as Togashi. Togashi, I think, has taken as many hiatuses as he has on-weeks for Hunter x Hunter.
PETER: Miura has had quite a few hiatuses. Although typically it’s either to wind down after doing a particularly dark part of the story and working on Love Live, or it’s to…or he literally takes a really long hiatus to draw three panels that have 4,000 soldiers in period armor in them.
AMELIA: Yeah. I was gonna say if I wrote Berserk, I’d probably want a break every now and again.
PETER: Yeah. Sometimes, it’s mental health. Sometimes it’s the opposite of that, and he just drew the most ridiculously complex panel in history, so it’s 50/50.
KARA: I’m sorry. Who’s Miura’s favorite girl? [Laughter]
PETER: I dunno. I’m honestly not sure.
KARA: I have to look it up now.
PETER: Apparently that’s one of the things he [unintelligible.]
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] [Laughter] Okay, so things get better for Casca. Hopefully.
PETER: Fingers crossed she’ll be back within three chapters of…In what form, nobody knows.
AMELIA: And they did actually reference that in the anime when they talk about how–
PETER: “Will she be the same person?”
AMELIA: Yeah! They say something like, “What she hopes for may be not what you hope for” to Guts.
PETER: I’m wondering whether the Moon Child might play a part in her getting psychically recreated the same way Griffith was physically reconstructed, which might empower her in some way as well.
AMELIA: Oh, you mean, with kind of his charisma powers?
PETER: Well, I don’t know about the Moon Child. Maybe. But…I guess, ’cause I don’t know if the Moon Child is the actual spirit of the kid before Griffith ruined it, ’cause it seems very childlike and normal, past the fact that it’s essentially a ghost that can only appear during the full moon. But it’s kind of hard to say…I have no idea where he’s going with this. He’s made some pretty heavy implications both directions, so Casca could be pretty much anything when she comes out. I don’t think she’ll be a bad guy, but what she’ll do…I mean, who can say? She’s been gone for…I don’t know. It’s been 10-15 years, real time. So…
AMELIA: Wow. Does she still kind of keep Guts at arms’ length the way she does in these episodes?
PETER: For a long time. The Moon Child thing kind of mends a lot of that, I think. ‘Cause there’s this one scene where the Moon Child is playing at a windowsill and Guts is sharpening all of his throwing knives, and the kid falls off, he’s gonna land directly on the knives, and both of them catch the kid at the same time. They both end up holding the Moon Child together on the floor.
AMELIA: Oh. How symbolic.
PETER: That’s when people went, “Wait a minute.”
AMELIA: Yeah, ’cause, actually, we talked about bridge characters. And if Casca comes back with some extra magical capabilities or supernatural capabilities, that would make sense because otherwise she’s then the only one who’s kind of “earthed” with Isidro and Serpico. It would make sense for her to be kind of elevated and changed some way.
PETER: Yeah. I mean, at this point, something to level the playing field against the other guys.
AMELIA: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
PETER: We know she can still fight after the rape scene where she killed those guys, but…
AMELIA: Yeah. Yeah. Some muscle memory there.
PETER: Yeah. I wish Miura had done more with that, personally. It doesn’t really come up again. I guess that’s sort of a mixed blessing ’cause the only situation in which it might come up again is a repeat scenario, so that’s kind of good.
AMELIA: Yeah, although I do feel that there were ways that you could show that Casca was still Casca, and things like demonstrating some kind of muscle memory, fighting capability, that would have been one thing. Things like her forming words at particularly significant moments, that would have been another thing. And they didn’t really do that. And I think that’s a bit of a shame. That’s probably one thing that I would have wanted to see in an anime adaptation, to kind of keep us invested in the idea of Casca as opposed to writing her off as this empty character. But I don’t think we’re gonna see that.
PETER: For a lot more than two seasons. Four to six, maybe.
AMELIA: Oh my goodness. Alright. I’ll see you in my forties. How about Farnese?
PETER: So, we’re actually coming up on an interesting arc with Farnese. They need a boat and it turns out that one of the cities they’re going to is where her family’s house is. So–
AMELIA: Oh, is her family still alive?
PETER: Yes. Her family’s still alive.
KARA: Woo, boy.
PETER: So, she basically says, “I know how to get us a boat.” And she has to confront her father and basically demand that he use his immense wealth to get them a boat, despite the fact that nobody’s sending out ships at the moment because of all the war. So there’s this kind of extended scene where she has to confront her dad, and actually we also meet her mom. And she tries to get the group a ship and sailors and stuff to take them across the ocean, which I think goes pretty well.
I think it’s the same thing where she capitulates to her dad again, which is unfortunate. This also leads to another duel between Guts and Serpico, but yeah. In the end, Farnese has a conversation with her mother where her mother encourages her…Well, at first it reveals…I guess I’ll just go whole hog on this.
Her mom basically tells Farnese that Farnese had been just as much a problem for her father as her father was for her, ’cause as much as Farnese didn’t know how to say no to her dad, her dad also didn’t know how to control her. ‘Cause she didn’t say “no,” but then she set the house on fire afterward. So, the reason he was always so dictatorial around her is because he really didn’t know how else to act, because he had no idea how to control her and he got very nervous about it.
So, I mean, all of them are pretty messed up, but it really humanizes them, in a way, I guess. And despite the fact that her mom was absent, she went, “The only thing you can really do in life is what you believe in, so if you want to hang out with your friends and go across the ocean, then go do it, honey.” So, yeah. That’s kind of how that one turns out.
AMELIA: How about her magical training?
PETER: It goes…She…I was actually really happy with how it proceeded, ’cause
there’s been regular advancement. She practices astral projection with Schierke and learns how to do that protection spell she did in the church.
There’s one scene where they have to fight some…They’re near an island and they have to fight some stuff, but they also need to protect the boat, so Farnese puts up the shield around the boat while Schierke has started doing this thing with Guts where she has to jump in and make sure he doesn’t go Berserk when he’s using his armor. So, they kind of allocate duties that way.
AMELIA: That sounds fantastic.
KARA: That seems so cool.
AMELIA: That seems like…Oh, man. I think back to season one Berserk and like, “Why couldn’t you have been this show?”
PETER: When you were talking about where you wanted Granblue Fantasy to go…’Cause they share the powers between Gran and…I can’t remember her name. With her, it’s kind of like…[Schierke] does this thing where she’s literally riding on his back when he makes the Berserk armor go, her astral form gets pulled into it and she’s spiritually riding on his back and keeping him from going insane while he’s using that stuff. That, or she’s nuking people with her magic, ’cause she does that a lot, too.
AMELIA: Okay, that sounds amazing.
KARA: That sounds so cool.
PETER: There’s this scene where she summons the flaming wheel–like a water wheel on fire–and it runs down a street filled with orcs and destroys them all.
PETER: Yeah, her power is very elemental when she uses it that way, although it’s super dangerous. So her using it with Guts is the happiest medium since neither of them goes crazy. Both of them have this thing where if they tap into their power too much, she’ll get possessed by Elements and he’ll just become a raging monster, so when they work together, they control each other.
AMELIA: Almost Pacific Rim-style.
KARA: Oh, I love it.
AMELIA: Okay, I would definitely read on in the manga. These two seasons of anime…It’s almost like they had to get through them to get to the good stuff.
PETER: Yes. [Laughter] Unfortunately.
AMELIA: How about Isidro and Serpico? Do either of them get any major developments?
PETER: Serpico’s just recently got a scene where while the girls are handling stuff in Casca’s mind all the guys are kind of sitting around a fire.
AMELIA: The girls. [Laughter]
PETER: Well, yeah. The girl and the boys are sitting around the fire drinking, cracking open a cold one. And they have a scene where…They don’t have anything better to do, so they just drink a lot and then start talking about their feelings. [Laughter] And they keep using the excuse that they’re drunk and that must be why they’re being so open. Or something like that.
KARA: Yeah, sure, okay.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. But they talk a bit about their troubles and stuff like that. So, it’s a very good scene, where they’re kind of being very emotionally open while the girls are getting shit done. So.
AMELIA: I definitely wanna read that chapter.
PETER: Yeah, Isidro…Unfortunately, he hasn’t had too much in the way of character development. Some really good fights. I think probably his biggest development is the whole…He gets a fight against Guts and then just other cool stuff, ’cause he has a wind sword. But he’s still Serpico.
AMELIA: Isidro does have a great piece of development in the anime though. We’ve seen. We didn’t really talk about this in the main body so much, but he does get to a point where he is fighting without thinking. So, his training is actually kicking in, and he’s also learning humility as he goes, where he realizes the bluster doesn’t matter. That’s not what matters here. He needs to actually be strong, not just talk like he’s strong.
And his respect for Guts, as well, that seems to really deepen. It goes from, “Wow, you’re so cool!” to “I really respect you and want to be like you. You’re protecting everyone.” So, I think he actually does go through is his own little arc, even within the anime. And if they just build on that, I’d be quite happy. He’s very young. He’s got time.
PETER: Yeah. I think he definitely lays off of Schierke, and comes to respect her a lot more. Right now he’s got this interesting thing going on. He does get better at fighting. He’s got a couple fight scenes where it shows his regular growth. But he’s also got this weird relationship going on with one of the new people, Izma, who’s a mermaid, who they–
KARA: A what?
PETER: She’s a mermaid who can switch between fins and legs. And she’s around his age and also very excitable, like he is. But more spiritually aware. And they have this…She’s like the new crazy one, I guess. And now he’s having trouble taking…I don’t want to say “taking care of her,” ’cause she’s very self-sufficient, but keeping up with her. So, you know how Isidro’s always doing the crazy stuff and other people have to kind of tell him to knock it off?
AMELIA: When you say “crazy,” what do you mean?
PETER: Just the impulsivity. Kind of like Sonia, actually, I guess is a good category for what Izma’s like. She’s very inclined when they meet people to run up and talk to them, or something like that. He doesn’t think it’s a good idea a lot of the time, although, really, his concerns are not often well-founded, because she can take care of herself. So, I don’t know. It’s a weird thing going on. Maybe you’re supposed to like it or something. It’s a new interaction, so I’m not quite sure about it. But, yeah, Izma’s pretty interesting as well.
AMELIA: I appreciate if they don’t just jump straight to romance. It doesn’t really suit Berserk.
PETER: I don’t think she’s interested at all, if that’s the case.
AMELIA: I don’t blame her.
PETER: She’s just chilling with the crew. There’s her and this sailor guy.
AMELIA: He’s still pretty obnoxious, right?
PETER: The sailor guy is pretty interesting. Is it Farnese’s brother that’s along with them too?
AMELIA: What? She has a brother?
KARA: Another brother?
AMELIA: Apart from Serpcio, another brother?
PETER: Yeah. So, the deal she makes with her Dad is: he says, “I’m gonna marry you off to this guy who also happens to own a bunch of ships, and in exchange, he said he’d fly one of these ships,” and she goes, “Okay, I guess I’ll do that.”
So, a lot of stuff happens, and that ends up…she basically says, “I’m not gonna marry you,” and the guy goes, “Okay, do you still want to ship out? ‘Cause I’m still down. Sounds fun.” So, he’s this new guy. He’s kind of a swashbuckler type. So, he just…He’s a sailor, so he didn’t really like being moored in the city. So I think he uses this as an excuse to get out, since her dad went through all the rights of getting it out anyway. And then it’s her brother, who’s kind of this money-grubbing guy who’s very economically-minded, who cannot handle the situation that is going on.
So, both of them don’t end up coming along. I think he was trying to scheme with the sailor guy, but the sailor guy was actually just being completely honest about marrying Farnese ’cause he liked her, so the brother just gets scared shitless all the time and tries to hide, and this new sailor guy has…he’s a good swordfighter, but mostly he’s a good sailor who’s managing the ship a lot of the time. He’s one of the dudes in the fireside chat they have.
But, yeah, it doesn’t seem like he’s specifically following them for Farnese, or anything. He just actually thinks what they’re doing is interesting and maybe important, so he’s on board. Literally. And he’s capable with a ship and all that. I can’t remember his name for the life of me, though.
AMELIA: Oh, it doesn’t matter. We will see when we read through. Going back, though, to original characters. Griffith and also Rickert. Do we see Rickert anymore?
PETER: Oh, yeah. So, Rickert is becoming the Arya Stark of Berserk.
KARA: Oh boy.
PETER: I don’t know how else to describe it. So, he and–what’s the little girl’s name? Elaine?
AMELIA: It’s not “Marie” or something like that, is it?
PETER: Maybe “Emma” or “Elaine.” I think it’s an “E” name.
PETER: Erika. That’s it. Yeah. So, they have to leave, I guess because monsters are showing up everywhere. They kind of go over how magic has come back to the world. So, Griffith founds a city, Falconia, and they decide it’s supposed to be safe, so they head over there. When Rickert’s there, he’s like, “Well, I might as well hit up Griffith.”
AMELIA: “Might as well.” [Laughter]
PETER: Yeah, he requests an audience and they all know who Rickert is, so he gets it. And there’s a scene where he’s standing in front of Griffith–very dramatic, on a bridge or something–and then he slaps him in the face. Which is pretty nice. I’ve got that panel saved in a couple places. [Laughter] But then he hooks up with the weirdest group ever after that. He hooks up with Luca and the gang, who have become blacksmiths–
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] Yes!
KARA: [Crosstalk] Oh!
PETER: –slash are running a stable in Falconia. They all headed there because it’s safe. And the Kushan assassin guy who uses the daggers.
KARA: Oh my god.
PETER: I don’t know any way how I could explain how all of them end up in the same place at the same time without taking up two or three hours.
AMELIA: Yeah, no, that’s fine. [Laughter]
PETER: Yeah. The situation in Falconia gets pretty dangerous, so that guy becomes aware that Rickert has a background with Griffith and wants information, and I think…They basically take him back to Kushan to their assassins’ castle or whatever, where their clan’s from. Which just happened. So, I don’t know if Rickert’s gonna be trained in the way of Kushan assassins or what. But they’ve kind of got this interesting traveling relationship going on with those guys. It’s so bizarre.
AMELIA: That sounds amazing. I’m so glad Luca comes back. I’m so glad Nina doesn’t. Nina doesn’t, right?
PETER: No, you don’t see Nina.
AMELIA: Yes! Okay. That’s all fine then. If it’s Luca, that’s all good.
PETER: So, Luca’s gang is all there, but not Nina.
AMELIA: That sounds incredible.
PETER: I think what’s-his-face is there, too. Jerome? So he’s living a humble life along with them as well.
AMELIA: And do we have any more moments where Guts is kind of rape-y with anyone? ‘Cause that moment with Casca was horrible. I don’t really want to see anything like that again.
PETER: Uh…no. He gets much more introspective. I think you guys were actually talking earlier about how he…what does he want, right? And it seems like he wants revenge against Griffith. I think his priorities have really changed to just be: “Get Casca back and see how I feel about things or see what she’s like,” or basically, “See if I can rebuild my life from there.” He’s trying to let go of this concept of revenge because what’s it gonna get him at the end of the day?
‘Cause Griffith, he’s not a good guy, but he’s also stopping an invading army and stuff like that, so if he kills Griffith, is he making the world worse? And he’s just very focused on finding his own happiness in the world. And I think he becomes very introspective about a lot of this kind of stuff. He gets a lot of thinking scenes. And also his new powers are very destructive to his own body as well, the Berserker armor. So, there’s no scenes where…None of the rape scenes or anything like that. And with the new thing that he’s got with Schierke…I guess the whole dog thing is kind of existent within the armor now, so since Schierke’s around to help him control that, it just doesn’t come up.
AMELIA: Perfect. Thank you so much for making us feel good. Spoiler moment over, I think, anyone who skipped that section and has come ahead, let’s just say they’re saving the good stuff. I think it’s gonna be what we’ve seen in the last six episodes, or really the last four or five episodes, ’cause there was that moment, but that’s more representative of what we’re going to see in Berserk going forward. And that is very exciting. I would love to see that series. So, maybe I’ll pick up with it in another full season and hopefully see some really positive movement for all the characters.
I think that’s it. That wraps us up. So, thank you so much to both of you. That’s been…I found that a really tough watchalong in many ways. I found that a real challenge to stay invested and to keep watching it and to stick with it through some really awful moments. I really appreciate you both being there. And it’s ended up in a really good place. I think it was worth getting to for me, personally, but…Yeah, it was a rocky journey.
PETER: You somewhat enjoyed it?
AMELIA: Yes. Yeah. It took a little while, but yeah, I think at this point, based on what you’ve told us happens in the manga, I would continue watching, I think. But we shouldn’t need to spoil people to get them to continue watching stuff. That’s the unfortunate side.
Kara, I hope you feel like you’ve overall benefited from watching it rather than…
KARA: I mean, like I said, if it hadn’t been for the podcast, I probably would have given it up, but then I wouldn’t have gotten to see Schierke, I wouldn’t have gotten to see Farnese wanting to learn magic, I wouldn’t have gotten to see Guts evolve the way he did. So, yeah, the front side wasn’t that great, but I am glad that I stuck it out.
AMELIA: Yeah, and thank you as well for sticking it out today, ’cause we’ve run very much over. Hopefully people won’t mind. Anyone who made it this far through Berserk definitely has some patience, so that’s a good sign that they’ll make it through to this point.
But a little bit of housekeeping. This podcast is available on iTunes and Stitcher. We’re currently hosted by SoundCloud. We will be moving. Thank you to everyone who brought that to our attention. We’re hosted on www.animefeminist.com. You can find all of our work there. We’re on Twitter. We are on Facebook. We have a Tumblr, and we have a Patreon, which is what we use to pay everyone who works for Anime Feminist.
We pay all the editors and the writers and that’s at patreon.com/animefeminist. We’re now over $1,000 in income. That’s why we have weekly podcasts. And our next funding goal is to be able to pay all of our writing editors when they edit a contributor’s work. So, we’re really close to that now. If you can spare a dollar a month, it really does add up. If you can spend $5 a month, we’ll give you access to our private server on Discord, so you can chat with the team and each other, have the space to discuss things through a feminist lens as we’ve used in these watchalongs like Berserk.
So, if you can send us a dollar a month to continue our work that would be very much appreciated. Patreon.com/animefeminist. Thank you so much to Kara and Peter, and let us know what you’d like as a watchalong next.