Thoughts on... Falcon of the Millennium Empire Arc Part 1 (Spoilers)
I've been re-reading Berserk for the second time this year, slowly reliving the various story arcs, oftentimes returning to my favourite moments in each one. When I first read the manga two years ago, I was swept in a crazed whirlwind and rushed through the whole thing desperately in a matter of days. The experience was exhilarating and new; the last time I had binged a series so excitedly was several years before with Fullmetal Alchemist, still one of my favourite manga series to date, and closely followed by Shingeki no Kyojin which I stumbled across roughly five years ago (how time flies). With this re-read, I wanted to savour it a bit more, understand the changes the story goes through, all the new characters, the romances and the deaths. I've just finished the Falcon of the Millennium Empire arc and have a few thoughts on it. Before that, I think I can finally rank my favourites:
- Golden Age
- Millennium Falcon
- Fantasia (current)
- Black Swordsman
Millennium Falcon runs from chapters 177-307 in the manga.
Before I get into individual chapters and highlights, let's look at a few general things:
Things I love
The changing landscape, backdrop of the Kushan War, the early premonitions of something earth-shattering leaves for a great setting. Conviction ended with Griffith's return, and now we know he's in the world again, up to something, but not quite sure where he is. The supernatural ocurrences increase and we're eased into the world-changes slowly; after all, we have experiences of apostles, the dark creatures that haunt Guts at night, and we know all about Zodd, so even though it's still a lot for the characters to take in, the trolls and other creatures seem like an oddly natural progression.
The new party. During my first read, I wasn't really convinced by this: Schierke, Farnese, Serpico and Isidro, followed by the elves and a whole host of comical side characters, was just too weird a motely crew for me to enjoy. I much preferred the set up of Guts, Puck and Casca; I liked the atmosphere of the lone swordsman battling against apostles and struggling against his own mind. But now, I've come to like all the individual characters, all their developments, and how they've become new companions for Guts, in turn helping him to change, to care about and trust others, and to start opening up again following the trauma of the eclipse.
Guts v Zodd moments. The first battle on the hill of swords is a constant re-read moment. Even now that I'm on the fantasia arc, I keep going back to this battle. You can see Guts's experience, his anger, his new skills on show; Zodd's appraisals are as great as ever, and the choreography is done so well. I'm basically Rickert whenever I read it. And again, when they're fighting Ganishka, they're hilarious, and you can see more of the strange, mutual respect they have for each other coming into play. I wish that they were friends, to be honest. Zodd is far too docile and domesticated when Griffith's around; he acts like a lap dog. Guts is more his speed.
Things I'm not a fan of
Puck. I know this is a common criticism, and a lot of seasoned Berserk veterans hate when newer fans bemoan Puck's changes, but I really do miss the elf from Black Swordsman and Conviction. I'd love for him to have more lines and more focus instead of being Isidro's sidekick, and only ever showing up for visual gags. When Guts was alone, Puck was a great conscience, and he provided a means to show the storms unfolding in Guts's mind. Now that Gut's is slowly healing from these wounds, and has subdued his anger somewhat, he has no need for chastisement. And now that there's a group, and not a lone swordsman, Puck doesn't need to be constantly hovering over his shoulder I guess... but I just feel's there's too many moments of him and Isidro being silly. I would like to see him having more focus again in Fantasia. I still like his character, because he's amazing, but not a fan of the changes.
This is the arc where I long for old Casca the most. At the start of Conviction, she was barely present, and then the chapters as Elaine had a lot going on to really notice the extent of her injuries, but it does get taxing seeing such an awesome heroine reduced to a mumbling child. I think this is a criticism I have of Berserk as a whole, but it is a shame that the only female character who can fight and give the men a run for their money is practically a childish shadow for the majority of the series. I hoped, several times, that she would get better during the boat journey (or at least, start being warmer towards Guts), and there was one moment when she falls into the sea that I thought was going to be the start of her restoration, but I was wrong... and even Farnese gets upset with her (hahaha). She's wary of Guts for very real, very understandable reasons so I'm not holding that against her character, but it's sad to see her in this way. If it was Golden Age Casca, she would have been fighting all these demons and monsters alongside Guts, the two of them back-to-back. I'm looking forward for such a scene like that in Fantasia, now that her mind has returned. I really hope Miura gives us one (imagine everyone's faces when they see just how gifted a swordsman she is, and then seeing Guts look at everyone like "you guys ain't seen a thing yet").
The Berserker armour. I know, sacrilege. I actually like the armour, I just miss Guts being 100 per cent human. His whole appeal was his extreme fighting spirit, a rage that non-humans looked on with awe. I also liked that here was an angry man, fighting and killing apostles with only his own power and emotions--it also made his fights with Zodd all the more impressive. Let's not forget, on the hill of swords, he was going toe-to-toe with pre-transformed Zodd; that's a big deal. And then again during the Lost Children chapter, we could hear Guts's thought processes, his fears, his emotions as he was fighting Rosine, we saw all his crazy and imaginative (and repulsive) methods. The scene in the birthing chamber is so gruesome but so Guts. Rosine's horror at his madness made it all worthwhile, too. Now, with the armour, we don't get that; just a mindless black shadow slicing and dicing through enemies like nothing; we see no danger, no fear from him, we don't even see his face. And it makes the fights look too supernatural; I prefer Guts being flesh and blood, instead of shrouded in some enhanced outfit. I'm hoping that as he gains control of his consciousness whilst in the armour, we'll get more of that, as opposed to mindless slicing and then Schierke's inevitable interventions.
Aside from those things, I would give the Arc a solid 7/10. Part 2: chapter highlights coming soon.