How odd. I actually found it quite watchable. I spent the 1997 series basically waiting for betrayal, as Guts discovered friendship in the Band of the Hawk. This scared me. I was nervous and unhappy pretty much throughout its 25-episode running time. This is Berserk, so happiness will be crushed, the blood of innocents will thunder past in rivers and of course anyone you love will be tortured, raped and murdered. (The manga and anime are both notoriously dark.)
However that was an adaptation of the manga's Golden Age arc. This is the Conviction arc, which doesn't hang swords over your head in the same way. This time, you won't have the entire cast putting their lives and trust in the hands of an ice-cold bishounen mass-murderer. Instead, we have:
1. Guts hunting demons and trying to recapture Casca.
2. Eventually two smart-arse characters following him around for light relief. They do an important job rather well. They're cocky and smug enough that you wouldn't mind if they got killed, but they're also cheerful, self-reliant and capable of being genuinely useful. They lighten the tone.
3. Religious loonies of various persuasions, including noble knights, human-sacrificing heretics and devout Inquisition sadists. These people all deserve to die, pretty much, although this is counterbalanced by the show's ability to make you empathise with some of them.
This is horrible, but less oppressive than the Golden Age arc. Ghastly things are unquestionably about to happen, but at least your stomach won't be tied in painful knots as you wait for them. It's fine. It's entertaining. I might even call it fun. It's still Berserk, mind you, i.e. ultra-violent people in a ultra-violent world. We have the torture chambers of the Inquisition, an unsympathetic look at medieval religion and a girl whose mind broke when she got gang-raped by demons. Good luck finding someone nice who's not a prostitute. The show has quite a lot to say about human nature, which is, um, not very positive.
None of that's why the show's infamous, though. Berserk (2016) is a once-in-a-decade train wreck, in that special way that couldn't have happened without CGI. It was the talk of the anime industry. It's all-CGI, you see, and this went so badly wrong that you can read lengthy analyses of its production process failures. The anime industry will still be talking about this show in thirty years time. All that I knew. I didn't mind it. I thought it looked okay. The faces have life, you see. No one has creepy dead fish eyes. Yes, the shading is distracting, but I could engage with the character animation and believe in everyone as people far better than with, say, Knights of Sidonia.
There's lots of nudity, by the way, although no nipples unless you're watching the Blu-ray version. As ever with this series, the circumstances make it as arousing as roadkill.
There's a lot of meat in this season's treatment of religion. You could probably make the American Bible Belt declare war on Japan by showing them this anime. Guts in particular is unsympathetic towards faith. More specifically, he has opinions on prayer and what happens when people start believing in it, to the point of declaring in ep.12 that the faithful are forfeiting the right to live. (That's an extreme position, yes, but he's expressing it in extreme circumstances.) This is a universe where there are supernatural entities, you see, and Guts has acquired a direct attitude towards them. (This usually involves killing them with swords.) There might be angels. There are heretics and the priests who know what to do with them. Do you know what it meant to be broken on the wheel? I think there might have been various versions of it, but good grief, it's stomach-turning. One of the season's main characters was being made to burn witches at the stake when she was a little girl.
I think it's the debaters' identities that give this debate its force. It's one thing to discuss religion, but another to hear the same arguments coming from devils, naked dancing devil-worshippers, angels, self-scourging Crusader knights and a man who smashes his own knees to pulp every day in praise of God.
Berserk's historical accuracy is still worth noting. It's a fantasy setting, obviously, but it's surprisingly specific in its portrayal of different medieval cultures. You'll see plague doctors, for instance, although these ones wear their masks for a different reason.
It's strong stuff, but they've dialled it back to "extreme" rather than "gruelling". It's entertaining. It's good. You can see why it's famous. It feels like a proper sequel to the 1997 series, thanks to the source material, although technically it's a sequel to the 2012-13 movies that adapted the same story arc. I watched this back-to-back with the twenty-year-old episodes and the transition was seamless. To my surprise, I'm quite looking forward to the 2017 continuation.