Original Run: October 8, 1997 - April 1, 1998
Number of Episodes: 25
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Based on the Series Created By: Kentarou Miura
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Berserk. Reader discretion is advised.***
For many years, horrifying demons have ravished the land with violence and suffering. Peaceful existence is now a long-forgotten dream. At any moment, death could strike, and few have the will, or the power, to stop it.
But there is one.
Roaming from town to town, fighting the armies of evil, is a warrior in black who wields a massive broadsword. Capable of cleaving several men in half in a single swing, he can even fill the monsters of hell with dread. His name is Guts (voiced by Nobutoshi Canna), and he is searching to destroy the demon once known as Griffith (voiced by Toshiyuki Morikawa).
However, things were not always this way. Once, wars were fought only between men, and many a mercenary made their living hopping from battle to battle. These were the circumstances for Guts when he was a commander in the famed Band of the Hawk.
The small, but highly effective army was led by the charismatic genius, close friend, and future nemesis of Guts, Griffith. These two forged a deep trust between one another, and the bond they shared was thought to be unbreakable.
This is the story of how it broke.
I want to start this review with a warning. Given the fact the Berserk anime is now over twenty years old, I will write under the assumption that most of you are familiar with the story. Don’t worry; I won’t mention crucial details or resolutions to major plot points. However, I intend to be less vague with my words than usual because there is a lot to unpack with this series.
First off, does blood and violence make you uncomfortable? If it does, good luck with this show. Berserk is easily one of the most brutal anime ever released. For myself, though, I would argue that the sheer amount of blood seen throughout this series was well past the level of cartoonish (in a positive way). Berserk is also mostly filled with red than it is with gore. Yeah, people did die in fantastically horrifying ways, but no one’s insides were ever strewn across the floor.
Berserk’s brutality didn’t come so much from the manner of death. Instead, it came from the number of deaths. One of the most famous scenes of the series, and the event that solidified the status of one of the most insane swordfighters in all anime, Guts took on one hundred armed soldiers by himself – AND WON. While you could say any show set during wartime would have an inherently high body count, the amount of kills individuals made with their own hands in this series as rarely been surpassed.
And by the way, this was before the inclusion of demons.
Now, I won’t call Berserk a full-on horror series. Don’t get me wrong; there was some terrifying imagery throughout this story, and it was well on its way to becoming pure demonic horror (more on that later). Still, other than a few – granted, very crucial – episodes, this show was a medieval action tale with knights, castles, and kingdoms. And, like, a really good one.
We could talk about all the outstanding battle sequences littered throughout Berserk, such as the Band of the Hawk’s assault on the Fortress of Doldrey and the already mention one-hundred-man slaughter. To focus on that, though, wouldn’t be doing this series justice. Although the action was epic, what made this show exciting was its characters, specifically Guts and Griffith.
Before going over those two, I want to make sure that I, at least, mention Casca (voiced by Yuko Miyamura), and I wish I had more to say about her. What I can talk about is that like Guts and Griffith, Casca had plenty of moments that demonstrated her own badassery. She wasn’t the tokin girl-character. Casca was amongst the best swordfighters of the Hawk, below only Guts and Griffith, as well as a highly competent military commander. Considering that many members of the Hawk were open womanizers, it was no small feat that none of them dared attempt a move on Casca or belittle her status as a raid leader. Because if they did, they would be dead.
I had to single Casca out as I did because I don’t intend to highlight either Guts or Griffith as individuals. It was their relationship with each other that made Berserk much more than a highly entertaining action series. These two demonstrated that this story was far deeper. Thanks to them, this show is, unquestionably, an anime classic.
As this series progressed, it became clearer that Guts and Griffith were two halves of the same coin. Guts was more brutish who could inspire awe and fear through his great might. Griffith was equally inspiring, and although he was an immensely capable fighter, he preferred to use his words and charisma to instill loyalty in others, including Guts. And that was the tragedy of this story.
Guts came to believe in Griffith’s will. He wanted nothing more than for Griffith to consider him an equal, and in Griffith’s own words, a true friend. Guts, taking that message to heart, made the difficult decision to leave Griffith’s side to go out and find his own dream. Therefore, Guts was doing precisely what Griffith claimed to value the most. The problem was, Griffith was the one who didn’t believe what he had said.
The day Guts left was also the day that threw Griffith’s world into chaos. It wasn’t the act of Guts going but rather the fact Griffith couldn’t stop it. And the very idea that there was something he couldn’t do blindsided Griffith and shook him to his core. For a brief moment, Griffith was lost, and that was just long enough to burn everything to the ground.
Naturally, I can’t adequately convey in a single paragraph what this series masterfully did over twenty episodes. The sense of utter dread this show conveyed was so real. Mind you, this was added on top of the already existing terror, sadness, and excitement. I can’t think of another series with such a heartwrenching ending that was also epic as f@#$.
But now that I think about it, that was the very hallmark of Berserk.
I say this knowing full well that 2016 Berserk exists.
This series, the 1997 one, felt like a prequel. The worst thing about this show was it just suddenly ended.
Granted, I am more upset with the first episode of Berserk than I am with the last. To start this series off, we were introduced to a Guts that had already become this ultimate demon slayer. Plus, he had a freaking crossbow for an arm. “Boy,” I said to my self the first time I watched this show, “I sure can’t wait to see this guy in action. But I guess a quick backstory couldn’t hurt.”
Well, luckily, the backstory didn’t hurt and was awesome as all hell. However, what of the Guts from the beginning? Forgive me for going down this road, but I can’t think of a more apt metaphor.
Imagine you’re having, like, really good sex, and right as your about to climax, your partner suddenly stops, leaves, and then you don’t see them for a few decades. That f@#$ing blue-balling bull s@#$ was what Berserk did.
I am aware of the 2016 series’ less than favorable reputation, but I haven’t seen it for myself, so I can’t comment on its validity. When I eventually get to it, and I will, I do hope it is some sort of continuation. But assuming it is, that won’t make up for the twenty-year gap between the two shows.
I think Berserk is one of the best anime ever to exist. That doesn’t change how bitter I am about this. As a reminder, this was not the first time I watched this series. I knew this ending was coming, and still, it felt like being sucker-punched in the stomach.
For a series to still be as entertaining and influential twenty-years after its release, something must have worked. In the case of this show, trust me, many things worked.
The animation, the music, the atmosphere, the action, the violence, the characters, the story, it all came together into a perfect storm of epicness. No way in hell was twenty-five episodes good enough to say everything that needed saying. However, in that short amount of time, a legacy was born nonetheless.
Berserk has earned a recommendation.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Berserk? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.