Berserk's getting less grim. The first few 2017 episodes are as gruesome and bleak as ever, but then after that it goes into more explicit fantasy with trolls, witches, ogres, kelpies, undines and fairies. Guts makes friends (yes!) and ends up assembling a surprisingly big party. What's more, this isn't like the old days, when everyone was clearly following Griffith into hell and you just wanted them to crawl into a hole and never come out. This lot are nice. You trust them, or at least you believe they'll act honestly by their lights and to be what they claim to be. It's pleasant to be with them. The show's actually enjoyable, which is a word I'd never previously associated with Berserk. "Ultra-violent", yes. "Soul-destroying", "brutal" and "gruelling" also spring to mind.
I'm not denying that it's good, but whew.
This season, though, has:
1. GUTS, but even he realises that he's acting out of character. Normally he'd reject anyone trying to travel with him. However he's still a single-minded killing machine with a sword as big as a canoe. He's not stupid. He's capable of being clever, e.g. when talking around that pastor in ep.18. However he lives to kill, he has absolutely no sense of humour and he's the kind of man who'll wear demonic berserker armour. This vampiric entity will let you ignore pain and fight like a maniac even when all your bones are broken and your blood is gushing from your own armour, which is kind of gross to watch even for Berserk. (That's in ep.22.) If it makes him stronger in battle, Guts can live with the downsides (e.g. potential loss of humanity, sanity, etc.)
2. PUCK, a flying comedy fairy. The author's deliberately lightening the tone, basically.
3. ISHIDORO, a brash brat who's often likened to a monkey. He's comedically obnoxious, but his goal is to become a great swordsman and he's a surprisingly useful party member. Capable of real heroism, but done in an unheroic way.
4. SPOILER and SPOILER. They grow a lot, to put it mildly. SPOILER used to be flat-out sick and her childhood is among the darkest things in this season, but there's some mind-boggling irony to come with their decisions later.
5. SCHIERKE and IVALERA, an eleven-year-old witch and her flying fairy. Shierke's the season's second-nicest character, but also repeatedly proves herself capable of keeping everyone else alive single-handedly with some serious magic. Ivalera's basically another Puck.
It's quite an enjoyable season, once you're past the first few episodes and assuming you can take the occasional horrific return to darkness. (What the trolls do to human women in ep.20 is censorable and a bit like 'Alien'. The same episode later has a topless medusa-haired demon giant made of troll guts. More seriously, though, ep.14 shows us a child getting addicted to burning heretics at the stake and ends with what may or may not have been a demonically possessed rape between two of the show's most important characters. That's a difficult story element, to put it mildly.) Most of the season, though, is far lighter than that. It's not oppressive. People are nice! The show's focus shifts from medieval witch-burning to actual fantasy witches, who prove to be spiritual ladies who have lots of power but have used it to be benevolent and in touch with nature. Think "wicca". Guts finds two incredibly powerful and benevolent allies, in an elderly witch and a skull-headed demon king.
On the downside, though, I'm not sure this season's themes are as strong. I'm not sure if it's still really about anything. These episodes aren't examining religious faith in the horrific way of 2016, although there are still remnants of that in the bigoted-but-sincere village pastor. Even his viewpoint evolves, though.
It's still Berserk, of course. The original manga started in 1989 and is still going, with 39 volumes so far. Guts's ultimate enemy is still waiting for him and the story will surely be getting horrific again when he finally shows up. Right now, though, Guts's life isn't actually that bad. He only has (counts on fingers) three or four things in his life that would destroy a normal man's sanity.