While I would have liked to begin with a witty, intellectual line about how great Berserk is, I just couldn't find the right words to do it. For some reason, Berserk defies any attempts at clever analysis, meaning that I'm left with no option but to say it how I feel: Berserk is hands down one of the best anime around. It may not turn out to be one of your top favourites; it may put you off with its dated appearance; and heck, its final episode is likely to leave you royally pissed. Regardless, I'll bet you any amount you name that it will still knock your socks off.
As unfair as it seems in hindsight, Berserk's opening scenario of innocent tavern girls getting bullied and monsters terrorising villages reminded me too much of some of the demon hentai I've come across. Needless to say, my expectations of Berserk thereafter hit rock bottom; by the end of the first episode, however, I had changed my mind all over again. What I discovered was that while the setting looked like a shit idea, the character and plot developments were something else altogether. Gatts' encounter with the demon lord in the first episode instantly raises the question of how a man could be so remorseless, and the subsequent flashback begins the epic story that provides the answer.
What is surprising about Berserk's plot is how well its various elements come together: take the story of a man who wants greatness at all cost; add a corresponding tale of a man who thinks of nothing but fighting his next battle; stir vigorously with demons and gore; sprinkle some ingenious military-political manoeuvres on top, and what you get is a potent blend of fantasy action. Moreover, Berserk has a knack for pacing and structure; just when I think the messianic plot themes and cataclysmic battles couldn't be more melodramatic, Berserk presents a touching flashback during which the characters reveal something interesting about their pasts. I'm not usually a fan of flashbacks since they interrupt the flow of a story, but in Berserk's case, they feel more like a vital part of the experience than a convenient plot device. For example, the story of Caska's first encounter with Griffith had me glued to the screen as intently as any of the scenes of clashing armies and monster fights. In fact, Berserk had me so engrossed that every episode felt like it ended ten minutes too early.
This only leaves one glaring problem, namely the fact that it doesn't end. I can't emphasise this strongly enough, but Berserk comes to the kind of screeching halt that could feed a rant for pages and pages. The anime covers perhaps a quarter of the manga's plot, and to make things worse, it stops halfway through an arc! Even pre-warned I still wasn't prepared for just how abrupt the ending turned out to be. For many, the disappointment will be acute; and for that kind of pain, I can only recommend the manga as a cure, which continues with the same (if not better) level of quality.
Apart from the extravagant monster designs, Berserk's concept looks lifted straight out of some generic high fantasy novel; with knights in full armour, moats and castles, shining fairies, and swords aplenty, there is really nothing too exceptional about Berserk's European universe.
At its worst, Berserk suffers from an impoverished budget, which is evident considering the frequent use of still shots and the low number of frames in some of the action scenes. I have never been particularly bothered by either of these flaws if the story is good enough, and in that regard, Berserk more than compensates.
Problems aside, some of the character concepts are pleasantly surprising; Griffith's icy appearance, Caska's unusually dark skin, and Gatts' rippling build and oversized sword are instantly eye-catching. Also, while the action sequences may not be much more than adequate when compared to more recent anime, I do like their gritty approach to violence.
Berserk's soundtrack is not particularly varied; almost all of the intense scenes with a score use only a slight variation of the same theme. However, the little there is makes for a pleasant listening experience and never gets old despite the repetition. Besides, the lack of variety is probably due to the fact that Berserk relies far more on natural background noise to create tension.
Although faced with a script that is occasionally laden with cheese, Berserk's Japanese voice actors still manage to deliver some truly emotional dialogue. For instance, the villains issue macho threats and chuckle with nefarious delight, but the protagonists tend to have serious tones which are full of subtle nuances. Notably, Griffith has a softer voice than I expected, although it fits his cool, intelligent demeanour like a glove and even makes him seem doubly sinister on occasion. Predictably, the American cast are only half as good; I could only stomach a few episodes of their daytime drama acting. If possible, avoid them at all cost.
What is impressive about Berserk is that it has no weak cast members to speak of; not one of them falls short of delivering a convincing performance. Granted, the stock characters such as Princess Charlotte remain far less developed than the protagonists, but they still manage to fit the story to a tee. As for the central characters, they are unexpectedly complex and emotionally engaging on every level:
Gatts is a traditional tortured hero type who carries the burdens of a dubious origin and a disturbed past. What makes him a great lead character despite being a stereotype on the surface is that he embodies, in the bluntest way, what makes a person likeable; he has a raw, honest personality which, despite his reticence, still comes across as touchingly vulnerable. Besides, he may not be people-friendly, but he kicks a lot of arse and he saves people, and he does it all with a sword twice his size.
Griffith, as far as the anime is concerned, is probably Berserk's strongest standalone element (in the manga, Gatts is definitely more interesting). He is beautiful like an angel and radiates the kind of charisma that moves armies and topples kingdoms; what's more, he is inhumanly cunning and generally the kind of character you can fall for over and over again. However, the guy is also undeniably fucked up. As Griffith leads the Band of the Hawk to glory and wins hearts as well as minds, there is always an element of doubt concerning his true intentions; of course, this only serves to make him all the more engaging.
As the only female to have a significant role, Caska exceeded my initial expectations; she doesn't have big tits or bare long legs, and she has both common sense and superb fighting skills. Intelligent, a leader within the Hawks, and harbouring an intense loyalty to Griffith, she is a character with a distinct purpose. Caska's only downfall is that, as the series progresses, she gets forced back into a predictably misogynistic role.
With regards to the supporting cast, the members of the Band of the Hawk are easily the most memorable, with Judeau ranking as my favourite; whilst he may be young and have relatively little screen time, his wisdom and perceptiveness when it comes to his comrades is refreshing. Corkus, on the other hand, is another great character whose relentless dislike of Gatts provides for some much-needed comedy; I also like the fact that he adds a more pessimistic nuance to the Band of the Hawk dynamic. All in all, these are the kinds of characters for which I harbour deep nostalgic feelings; their strong personalities and intricate development makes them difficult to forget.
The villains can be cheesy; almost every scene involves someone getting gutted or having their limbs chopped off; and the demons tend to eat people just for the heck of it. All of this would usually result in an anime that is mediocre at best and probably doomed to obscurity. However, Berserk's superb character development and uniquely messianic plot makes it not just an accomplished piece of fiction that somehow survives its terrible ending, but an undeniable masterpiece at that.
Oh there are plenty of flaws that can be found within the king of dark fantasy anime. The animation is far from awe-inspiring even when it isn't using cheap tricks to stretch out the budget. The sound is mediocre on the whole. The ending has a strong claim to being the worst cliffhanger in anime history. But the journey there still manages to be enjoyable for those who need a regular fix of swords, blood, and monsters (like me).
Ignoring the elephant in the room- the ultimate 'read the manga' ending- the story manages to be entertaining if fairly straightforward. The Hawks face a challenge, secondary characters explain just how difficult it will be to succeed, Griffith pulls some billiant plan out of nowhere, the Hawks gain glory and move on to the next even more impossible challenge. This unbroken string of wins should get boring, especially considering how none of Griffith's plans will seem particularly original to well-travelled fantasy fans, but is permissable here. The focus here is on how the rest of the Band of the Hawk views Griffith and his abilty to succeed seemingly without even breaking a sweat. But what happens when the man you worship as a hero finds himself defeated for the first time in his life, and is forced to choose between his ambitions and his friends, and proves just how mortal he is? 'Berserk' establishes the central conflict excellently... if only it had been able to take that conflict to some form of conclusion.
Now I love the look of older animation- the colors, the designs, the less polished feel compared to modern digital animation- but it's not without its downsides, which could be glaring if the anime had a less than top-tier budget. There's very little actual motion in 'Berserk', still images are badly overused and even scenes with motion often have very few moving parts. The animation has aged badly, but I still feel I should cut it a bit of slack due to that age. We can't all have 'Akira' budgets.
The sound is fairly minimal as well, although this manages to work in 'Berserk's favor at points. The OP should be annoying but has a way of growing on you. The ED is grungy and brooding, which fits the overall tone of the series better, but I wouldn't call it a masterpiece. During the individual episodes little music is used in favor of ambient sounds- the only only trick that will really stick out is 'Gut's Theme', which plays when the show wants to make completely sure you realize "THIS IS AN EMOTIONAL MOMENT!!!" Before I give my opinion of the English dub, I should inform you I'm generally very forgiving of English dubs and will almost always watch that version so long as it's passable. So without further ado: I find the English version passable. There are certainly some misses- Ricket's high pitched shrill gets on my nerves, Princess Charolette could get annoying as well though I found her voice still fit her character decently, some background actors were clearly overused, and I will never be able to hear a character voiced by Beau Billingslea without hearing Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop. But Guts, Griffith are strong performances with the rest being decent to pretty good. So the voices are good in the critical parts with the most lines.
This is what made the difference for Berserk, the critical aspect that catapulted it from low budget fantasy schlock to memorable. (Well, that and the boobs and gore) Guts, a skillful lone mercenary who finds himself willfully following another person for the first time in his life only to experience the deepest depths of betrayal. Griffith, a seemingly invincible leader who finds himself fascinated by the one man he cannot truly control. Casca, who finds her own dreams being destroyed by a man with no ambition beyond swinging his sword. Judeau, the insightful one who knows and accepts that he's been caught up in someone else's dreams and one of the most genuinely likable characters in anime. Corcus, the cynical one, perhaps trying to keep himself from realizing that's he's blindly following the man whose ambitions effortlessly swallowed up and ended his own. Now there are still misses here- many antagonists are one-dimensional and some of the protagonists like Ricket and Pippin are practically non-entities as far as the plot is concerned. But where it's good it's good.
If I had to compile a list of flawed masterpieces, this would be one of the most flawed. 'Berserk' is undeniably weak in many areas, but manages to excel in a couple critical ones. That's enough to make this series a must-watch for fantasy fans and recommended viewing for those looking to get a broader view of anime through the decades.
fuck that ending was retarded
what makes this anime so great is the subtleness of the characters and their character development
anime felt slow at times but the pacing overall was solid
characters don't have to spout philosophical convoluted crap to show the depth of their own personalities
animation was mehh
characters are complexing yet the makers never tried too hard to make them what makes them so great
hope to god berserk sequel 2016 will be as good if not better
too lazy to read manga
how they made guts slowly blend in and form solid relationships with the members of the band of the hawks was pretty well done
so was caska going from hating guts to loving him dearly
griffith is a fucking asshole
Despite the ending, I greatly enjoyed Berserk. The constant struggle that all the characters face really drew me into the story. The music was great, and so was the storyline which had me binge-watch the 25 episodes in a weekend. :D
However I did feel the ending left me feeling rather empty.....
Re-watching episode 1 did clear a few things up :/
I absolutely loved this from start to (almost) finish :P The 100 year war, France, was a great setting for this story; allowing for a dark and gruesome plot.
Definately recommend :) Have a great day
I'm off to read the manga....
(Warning: not a native english speaker XD)
This is my first review and i felt that this show deserved it. Despite all the previous reviews saying that there's a deep plot behind Berserk I have not found it anywhere in this show (I ignore if the manga is better). Berserk is a massive loop of the main character killing people with very bad animation and unjustified pseudohentai scenes.
The characters are predictable, the relationships that are developed between them are predictable and the ending of the show was very predictable (I figured out in the 2-3 episode). I don't know how i managed to watch the entire show (maybe because I had nothing better to do) but I'm starting to realize that the so called epitome of anime (evangelion and a long etc) could have been written by my 5-year old sister.
Predictable and dull.
I kinda like it.
-Ohh, I want to become the king of the world... Uhh