Born from the corpse of his mother, a young mercenary known only as Guts, embraces the battlefield as his only means of survival. Day in and day out, putting his life on the line just to make enough to get by, he moves from one bloodshed to the next.
After a run-in with the Band of the Hawk, a formidable troop of mercenaries, Guts is recruited by their charismatic leader Griffith, nicknamed the "White Hawk." As he quickly climbed the ranks in order to become the head of the offensive faction, Guts proves to be a mighty addition to Griffith's force, taking Midland by storm. However, while the band's quest for recognition continues, Guts slowly realizes that the world is not as black-and-white as he once assumed.
Set in the medieval era, Berserk is a dark, gritty tale that follows one man's struggle to find his own path, while supporting another's lust for power, and the unimaginable tragedy that begins to turn the wheels of fate.
Berserk is the first anime adaptation of the long-running, ongoing seinen manga series published in the bi-weekly magazine Young Animal created by Kentaro Miura in 1989. While the story in the anime is fairly loyal to the source material, heavy modifications were made to exclude some of the more graphic depictions of violence, as well as characters and other content that could not be covered within the length of the anime’s running time. These changes were approved by the series creator himself.
I'm one of those guys who usually read the manga before watching the anime. You can imagine, then, what my sentiments were like when I began watching a 25-episode-anime of which I'd read 300+ chapters of manga. To clarify, I was preparing for a completely unripe anime-draft of a manga praised to the heavens that'd actually been worth it, and then some. To my pleasant surprise I discovered the anime adaptation of Berserk lost to its original version in nothing but length and detail.
But the main elements, the magic that made the epic manga what it is are all present in the animated version. Guts,
The Black Swordsman, is still the hapless avenger wandering in search for revenge and peace of mind. The world in which the story is set is still that medieval realm right down to the brilliant castles with their greedy landlords, the disadvantaged common folk, and the never-ending wars. And, perhaps most importantly along with the characters, the story is still the same tragedy of fate, friendship and love.
Perhaps one point of criticism for some could be the outdated artstyle. Having aired more than ten years ago, the art and animation will inevitably seem rough and simple for those (like me) who've discovered anime rather recently, through recent shows with more high-tech appearance. Upon closer look, however, I'd say that instead of a shortcoming, Berserk's old-school animation works exactly in the shows favor. The story is, after all, rough by nature and set in an age long gone, in which case the ancient animation actually accentuates the overall mood quite nicely. I wonder if the series's impact would've been the same had it been done in the 2000s, closer to this day. I dare doubt it.
An avid listener of music though I am, I rarely pay much attention to the tunes played in anime. But whereas most shows fail to catch my admiration with their musical score, Berserk did so in spades. Far more than once I found myself being chilled to the bone as the horror scenes rolled in, aided by terrifyingly fitting ominous sounds without which the anime's horror elements would've lacked greatly. In comparison, the joyful tunes of bonfire festivals, the musical elegance of the upper class's dances, and the emotional pieces of the more waffy scenes all help to highlight the sentiment of each situation. 10/10 score for this department; a true rarity given by me.
One might wonder why I've so far mostly talked about aspects many would consider minor in comparison to an anime's story and characters. Well for one, both animation and music contribute so much to the show's overall score that there's nothing minor about them in this instance. As for the other reason, if I'd start to go on detailing bit by bit what makes the story and characters of Berserk so unfathomably excellent, we'd all soon be looking at a review of more than 10,000 words. And since reading all of it would be that much more away from your Berserk-watching (or reading) time, I'm going to keep it simple. Just imagine a story so compelling and layered you'll truly find yourself gasping at times, a cast of characters so real you actually start to care for them though they don't even exist, and a high-fantasy medieval world so immersing you can almost feel the reality around you blur away.
But an adaptation from a manga as this is, there's no way to escape the shadow of the original work. An no matter how excellent an anime this is even forgetting the manga, fact of the matter is that Berserk is the greatest MANGA ever made, and the anime is just a colorful side-kick next to it. At the beginning of my review I said the anime loses to the manga in nothing but length and detail. True. But ponder on this: the anime is one of 25 normal length (a bit over 20 minutes) episodes. The manga is one of over 300 and still going on chapters. The conclusion being, Berserk anime loses A LOT to the manga in length and detail. I didn't even care to count all the scenes an details of the original work that didn't exist in the anime, and now as I'm doing so for the sake of writing this review, I can't help but note that, again, A LOT is lost when such a number of details that helped understanding the characters in the manga, for example, are nowhere to be seen in the anime. To refrain from writing a novel-length review, again, let's just say that even though Berserk manga had nothing but text and black and white drawings to reach me, I never felt nearly as immersed by the anime as I did by the original.
Be that as it may, Berserk is truly one to deserve the title "epic" in the history of anime. It is an obligatory watch for anyone who likes Japanese animation. It is a classic right there among Evangelion, Miyazaki's works, or any other anime one might deem ageless and undying. It is right there among them, shining in their midst as the bloodiest gem of them all.
What are you living for? This is the question posed by Berserk, pitting humanistic free will against nihilistic predestination. More intimately, this is the battle of human suffering in the wake of divine fate and the ambition of one's fellow man. Set in a medieval world of strife, vast green lands and blue skies obscure the supernatural demonic powers lurking in unseen shadows. One man named Griffith, graceful leader of the notorious mercenary group Band of the Hawk, stakes everything on a fate he means to forge for himself at any cost, and as he shines ever brighter the shadows nearby
grow ever darker. Ultimately, this is the story of those who are caught up in his conquest—the conquest of their hearts, of the kingdom of Midland, and of his own destiny.
One of those people is a young man called Guts, who we find introduced as The Black Swordsman. Along the way we'll find out how he came to be a warrior more powerful than any other human, with death more than just nipping at his heels from his very birth. He isn't merely your average war-torn soul—he embodies the desire to live on the battlefield, choosing to relentlessly face his fate head on and swinging a sword that might as well be a tombstone as tall as a man. His dogged ferocity endears Griffith, compelling him to draw Guts into the Band of the Hawk. Here he also meets Caska, a dark and fiery-tempered woman second only to Griffith in terms of skill and leadership; second to none in terms of honor and loyalty. And thus our tale truly begins.
It is a story about a world full of evil and brutality, of dreams and despair, where people struggle to find themselves in the midst of it all and define the meaning of their existence. Friendship and love are slow to come, but when it's there it'll bring tears to your eyes, for the relationships forged in Berserk are more meaningful than almost any you'll find in anime.
You will soon learn that there are no limits to Griffith's ambition, nor to his charisma. A leader that seems to grace his era as if stepped right out of a painting, his Band of the Hawk serves him faithfully, offering their own hopes and aspirations to his "bonfire of dreams"—for simply being near him seems to promise glory. He is also in possession of a strange relic—an egg-like pendant bearing ominous notions...
Berserk is not for the faint of heart (or the very young), brimming with violent battles and head-to-head confrontations resulting in dismemberment, bodies sliced entirely in two, blood and entrails by the bucketload, and some very intense sexuality including rape and molestation.
The quality of the animation here varies somewhat from time to time, but it is always good enough, and frankly needs no real mention because it is so overshadowed by every other quality here. That said, there are some pretty stunning moments of gorgeous animation—particularly during the action scenes—but most will likely think it looks somewhat bland by today's standards. I urge you not to let this deter you.
I'll make note of the music, since that is certainly one of the most enjoyable things about Berserk. Some viewers might recognize Hirasawa Susumu's very distinguished sound from other anime like Paranoia Agent and Paprika, and it is all extremely memorable. You will find yourself whistling along when "Forces" chimes in, and various other tunes are used to delightful effect, heightening the emotional impact of already emotional scenes.
Berserk's finale is one of the most notoriously shocking cliffhanger endings in anime history. The story arc covered by the anime is known as the "Golden Age" of Miura's manga, encompassed by volumes 4-13. One might even advise a newcomer to skip the first episode (a flash-forward that takes place beyond the ending) and save it to watch after the 25th, but this might not even be necessary—anyone who is truly drawn into this tale will feel compelled to read the manga afterward. This is such a layered and powerful story, filled with so much ugliness and beauty, that you will almost inevitably be drawn in. Berserk is a true classic.
Story: 10/10 Did you get the meat for my dog, boy!?
Berserk is an amazing anime. Although I heavily disagree with starting the first episode in a time line after the last episode in the series as it has discouraged more then a few people who I have had to set strait. After you get to the meat of the story, and the relationships between Guts, and the other members of The Band of the Hawk you will find yourself in a late night cram session feeding your brain with episode after episode of Berserk. All in all this anime has everything I wanted. Friendship, love,
betrayal, and a lot of blood and gore to set the pace. All set in a very adult, and mature tone. The best part is it's is all done correctly.
Dark, gritty, detailed, and a lot of mis-placed body parts. Could you ask for more? The character animation is superb to say the least. It's more like a coalition of different styles. Makes all the main characters seem unique, and sets the world up with a more realistic feeling.
Only reason I didn't rank this a 10 is because of the opening, and ending theme songs. Which are pure crap. In no way do they fit the world, and the feel behind this anime. Not to mention they are terrible to begin with. However my DVD remote has a very useful skip button on it. Anyways the music that plays during the the show was truly a work of genius. It sets the tone for The Band of the Hawk and their rise to glory, and makes the whole project seem epic in nature.
Character: 10/10 Get in tha choppa!
Most of the characters' past development is heavily focused on Guts, while the other main characters get only a few spot lights on their history. However the feel that Berserk provides with all of the characters during their present life as mercenaries is very amazing. Facial expression, past experiences you see from watching it, and monologues mix well together to give you a true insight into everyone's mind, and current thoughts.
Overall it is something great to experience and if you enjoy a more adult themed setting there is no way you can let this one pass you by. I bought on DVD to check it out, and after I finished it I went directly back to the store, and bought the rest. You won't be disappointed, and if you do buy the DVDs you get one of the greatest bonus' ever. Outtakes of the voice actors are all absolutely hilarious.
There are three major themes that mark this series: (1) MEDIEVAL, (2) GORE, and (3) PHILOSOPHY.
This is why I think this is a great series: this combination of themes, which is already rare in anime, are very well incorporated together as a complete story.
The (1) MEDIEVAL theme brings the setting of the story. creating an atmosphere where the gore and philosophy can develop together. This also sets the pace of the story based on the technological circumstances of medieval culture. The slow nature of this large-scale medieval story allows enough time to unravel the deep characters.
The (2) GORE
theme accents the philosophy, reinforcing characters and foreshadowing the character progression by their behaviour in battle. This is a real treat to see the battle behaviour contrasting with the respective characters you've watched develop (Most notably the main protagonist).
The (3) PHILOSOPHY theme is a major feature to the characterization in the main characters. The characters and their actions are defined by their varied internal philosophies. With a very distinct difference in character philosophies and a heavy story focus on them, central story events are marked by relationships between these philosophies.
SOUND: At first glance, the soundtrack seems to be lacking with only 11 songs (Including intro and outro). However, the placement and feeling (And sometimes repetition) of these soundtracks is well done, giving the story great fluidity and emotional propulsion. Voice acting and sound effects are well done, even on dub. Voice acting most notably reflects the characters well, save for some of the demons.
ART: A rough art technique is used in this series, with unique design. Both of these accent the themes by reinforcing and elevating the serious nature of this anime (As opposed to the chibi art design). At times there is an over usage of scrolling single pictures in place of animation, which works as both an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage: it is reflective of the pacing of the anime. The disadvantage: it can be too slow (Especially in the beginning when the story is slower).
STORY, CHARACTER: Probably the greatest strength of this anime are it's story and characters. The story and characters grow simultaneously making the world of Berserk very lively. Most of the typical anime cliches are steered clear of here (with the exception of one blatant one), which really improved the effectiveness of the story and characters. With a unique and lively world, Berserk captures a lot of realism for an anime.
OVERALL, ENJOYMENT: This is definitely not a lighthearted anime. It can be embraced to the extreme of obsession (Like me) because of the interesting, deep perspectives that operate in the story. The good development quality only makes it further enjoyable. But this anime is truly for a certain crowd because of its extremely deep nature and depictions of extreme brutality. This is going to be a 'hate it or love it' sort of anime.
(Updated August 2008: Touched everything up a bit; explanations should be clearer now. =] Thanks for all the positive feedback.)
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