This is my 100th review for MAL! Before I start this review, I want to thank all my MAL friends and everyone who has ever said that they enjoyed one of my reviews, as well as those that gave me the constructive criticism I needed to become a better reviewer and a better writer in general.
Today I will be looking at one of the most critically acclaimed, lauded anime of the last 25 years. Berserk is difficult to review because so many critics that are far more articulate than I am have already looked at it. What can I possibly say that hasn't been said before? Probably not much, but I will try anyways. Fun fact: the words Berserker and Berserk come from the Norwegian poem Hrafnsmál, written by the Viking poet Þorbjörn Hornklofi in the 800s AD.
Oh and spoilers!!! Is it even possible someone hasn't seen Berserk?!
Before I dive into the story, I must first explain some background history. Berserk wasn't just another dark and moody medieval fantasy, it was in many ways rather revolutionary for fantasy as a genre! The Berserk manga came out during a time when much of fantasy was still trying to closely emulate Tolkien and Lewis. There were some darker fantasy authors like Zalazny that revelled in sinister schemes and dirty politics, but even he wasn't THAT dark in the end. In these fantasy novels there was good vs. evil and good always won in the end. There were evil men, but Mankind was unquestionably good as a whole. Berserk started as a manga in 1990, a full 6 years before the first Game of Thrones novel was released and made dark fantasy the norm, completely changing how the West writes fantasy novels. Berserk was a trend setter and a series with some serious balls!
Berserk is the tale of a badass, ruthless mercenary named Guts who wields a giant sword and slaughters everyone with his unstoppable rage and fury. The title Berserk is a reference to the medieval Berserkers on whom Guts was based. Guts was found under a corpse hanging from a tree and was brought up as a child soldier by a complete douchebag named Gambino! Gambino not only abuses Guts and forces him to fight to the death at age 9, he even sells Guts for a night to a Moorish warrior, who brutally rapes him. Fortunately, Guts later commits patricide and lives out 1/2 of the Freudian dream. Guts later joins a mercenary band called the Hawks after losing a duel to its fabulously gay leader Griffith. The Hawks do very well as a group and kick some serious ass before many are slaughtered fighting a giant demon that calls itself Zodd the Immortal! Zodd is one of the most badass characters in the history of anime. He gets his arm cut off and beats the shit out of Griffith with his own severed arm, as a sort of reverse Beowulf. Zodd is about to kill Guts and Griffith, but he notices Griffith's weird and freaky necklace and mysteriously buggers off. After the Hawks win the war that had been raging for 100 years, there is a fallout between Guts and Griffith and Guts leaves the Hawks. This really effects Griffith, who is heavily hinted to have romantic feelings for Guts. Griffith decides to channel his rage into banging the princess for no reason, even though this is a horrible idea and completely out of character for the cold, calculating Griffith. However, the writer needed the plot to advance. Griffith is captured by the king's guards, tortured, and kept in a dungeon for a year before the rest of the Hawks find Guts and get him to help them rescue Griffith. At first Griffith contemplates living life as a cripple with Casca looking after him, but he decides instead to use his magic necklace to summon 4 Arch-Demons and sacrifice all of his loyal followers in order to become the 5th Arch Demon and form the final “finger of the God Hand”. Griffith does this because…if you haven’t figured it out yet Griffith is a HUGE asshole! Griffith even celebrates the occasion by raping Casca in front of Guts while demons hold him down, simply because he knows Guts loves Casca and that would piss him off. The anime ends with a massive “fuck you” ending to the audience and fades to black with Guts screaming in agony. In the manga it explains how Guts and Casca escape Deus Ex Machina style with the help of the “Skull Knight” whom the author uses shamelessly whenever he has written himself into a corner.
Honestly, I felt the manga really goes downhill and becomes increasingly generic as the mangaka seems to give less of a shit every year. It has been going on for 20 years now and the chances of it ending with a satisfactory conclusion are virtually zero. The Eclipse ending at least completes Griffith’s transformation to evil and ends as a strong parable for the corrupting effects of power. Although the Godfather did this a bit better in my opinion because Michael started out likeable and wanted to NOT go into the family business. Griffith ALWAYS wanted to rule the world and was a complete sociopath from the time we met him. In a flashback from Casca, we are shown that at one time he cared about his men and was even willing to sell himself sexually to an old man in order to get war funds rather than risk his men in raids. However, apart from this one flashback in a single episode, Griffith is basically a complete douchebag and this lessens the impact that his turn to evil has on the audience.
The characters in Berserk are quite memorable and like the plot were HIGHLY influential on anime that followed. Let’s look at Guts character. He is an ex- child soldier with a highly abusive father figure that hates him because he blames Guts for the death of his wife and eventually tries to kill Guts. The impact of his own father trying to kill him makes Guts steel his heart to the point that he is physically repulsed by human contact. As stated by Griffith, “Guts kills simply to confirm his own existence and test the strength of his will”. All of these traits and the EXACT SAME backstory were used in Naruto for the character Gaara! Guts’ giant sword was also the main inspiration for Cloud’s giant sword in Final Fantasy 7. Griffith is one of the most famous anime antagonists of all time! He is up there with Char, Johan, Light, and a short list of legendary anime bad guys that everyone has at least heard of. Casca was a fairly strong female role that didn’t conform to anime stereotypes and was pretty badass. That is until after getting raped she loses her memory and becomes Nyuu from Elfen Lied, only worse. However, that is just the manga and I am reviewing the anime today. Other supporting characters include everyone’s favorite Judo, Pippin the strong man, and Corkas who is the comic relief asshole because this series really needed more assholes! Also Sir Adon was already the comic relief asshole, so I am really unsure why Corkas needed to exist. Overall, a strong and memorable character cast.
The art in Berserk is at least better than the god awful CGI in the first movie, but it is still honestly quite poor. The use of still frames and recycled animation is worse than DBZ and Berserk was made in 1997 with a decent budget and only 26 episodes. Eva was made 2 years earlier than Berserk and had WAY better animation…except for the last 2 episodes that is. At least the character designs for the main characters are solid, although extras tend to all have the same face.
A lot of people really like the Berserk OST, but unfortunately I am not one of them! I thought it was rather mediocre for the most part. It doesn’t have a lot of diversity and uses the same decent quality pieces over and over again like the track “Behilit”, which is played more often than “Rocky Top” at a UT Volunteers game!
Parts of the show are truly entertaining, while other sections can get a little slow in my opinion. Also the extremely pessimistic outlook of the series can get quite wearisome. There is a reason that most stories offer if not a happy ending, at least some kind of hope or bittersweet. Berserk is like a Greek Tragedy of old and this can be fairly hard to write. As mentioned before, the author really should have not done the present day stuff, scrapped Puck, and just had the Golden Age arc as a modern day Greek tragedy. That would have done much better in preserving the series artistic integrity and legacy in anime history.
Overall: 8/10: (10+10 +5+6+7)/5 = 7.6 rounding to 8
Many prominent anime critics including JesuOtaku and Bennet the Sage consider Berserk to be the single greatest anime of all time. I…am not one of those that think that. I highly respect Berserk and think it is a very good series, but it has some flaws and I can’t really consider it the greatest ever. In addition, Berserk doesn’t quite “hit the spot” for me as far as my personal tastes go. Overall though, I would HIGHLY recommend watching this series.