Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rewind: Berserk

I've debated featuring Berserk for several weeks now. Each time, I backed down before I could even type the title. Why? If I'm completely honest with myself, I realize it's shame. I watched something I shouldn't have.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I shouldn't have watched Berserk just because I'm a Christian. Yes, it's explicit, but sometimes, truths can be shown better in something rated TV-MA than TV-G. Nor am I passing any other sort of judgement on Berserk, good or bad... partially because it's been too long since I watched it. I'm just relating my experience, take it or leave it.

I was around seventeen years old, and I'd been watching anime for a year and a half. My parents sheltered me when I was younger, but by this point, they trusted me to make my own TV and book choices. For the most part, they were right to trust me. Still, there were times I wasn't as savvy as I'd have liked to be when I chose what to watch.

This particular choice came after I watched Gungrave for the first time. As you might know, from the beginning. Naturally, I wanted more, so I browsed the recommendations on Anime-Planet, searching for another serious, action-packed, non-shounen series. Berserk was the top recommendation. Sothis herself thought that fans of one would like the other, and dozens of users agreed with her.

I noted the "Explicit Content" tag on Berserk's , but I figured it was probably there just for blood and violence. It's not like that stuff gives me nightmares. Worst case scenario, I'd have to look away for a moment, right?

So I typed "Berserk episode 1" or some such thing into Google and found the first episode. This was before I decided to stick exclusively to Hulu, Crunchyroll, and other official streaming websites to provide my next anime fix. The user-uploaded anime sites don't even have the minimal warnings that Crunchyroll has. Not that I would have listened - those warnings don't usually explain why we should be careful, only that we should.

This is my reaction, as written on my the night I finished:

I just finished Berserk. Yep, once again I stayed up too late in order to finish a series. Too late to say much but, here's a few things about the anime: - It gets decent six, seven, or so episodes in, great at episode 20 or so, then disturbing at about episode 23.- I enjoyed most of the action. Gutz is a pretty amazing fighter.- Berserk contains too much explicit content for me, and for that reason, I wished I hadn't watched it. For the less sensitive, it might be fine, but between some nudity, gore (and I've handled gore before, in Baccano), and other stuff, I've concluded that I won't watch Berserk again, or recommend it. Whenever I watch an anime with this content, I try to mention it so other viewers come in knowing. The nudity and gore is worst in the last episode or two.- I might, however, watch the first episode one more time, since it makes sense after watching the final episode.- The storyline was far from cheerful (in fact, I'd say the storyline is in a different galaxy than cheerful), but it was intriguing and well done. Now, even though it's really late, I think I'll go watch an episode of light-hearted, innocent shojo or even shounen. Something along the lines of Saiunkoto Monogatari or Kenichi History's Strongest Disciple.The "other stuff" I mentioned included a rape. I averted my eyes, of course, but it stuck in my mind. I did my best not think about it. I tried to replace it with cheerful scenes from Working!, Bible verses and stories, or whatever pleasant things my imagination could conjure. As I write this, I'm relieved to report that the memory has faded, and I no longer have to shove it down or avoid it.

Meet Gutz. He's pretty good with a sword.

Like I wrote on Anime-Planet, the last couple episodes of Berserk had the most explicit content (including gore and that rape). But the first twenty episodes weren't exactly filled with rainbows and ponies. The director had a dark story to tell, and he didn't whitewash it. I saw the signs. But I kept watching. I thought, "they can't possibly make every episode this bad. Surely the next one will be better." Of course, each episode was usually at least as dark as the one before it.

I should have stopped. So why didn't I? I don't have much to add to what's quoted above, except that I really enjoyed Gutz's character (or Gatts or Guts... there doesn't seem to be a consensus among fans). I think I even used a screenshot of him as my desktop background for a while.

Lots of people loved Berserk. They gave it high reviews, praising the story and characters. The ending frustrated them, and they recommended reading the manga to get the rest of the story. But other than that, all signs pointed to it being a great addition to my "watched" list.

In many ways, I agreed with the reviews and recommendations. But I wish I hadn't watched it. The explicit parts stuck with me more than the actual story or themes, which is yet another sign that Berserk wasn't good for me. Maybe I'd be able to handle it better now, but I don't plan to re-watch it anytime soon.
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