Utena and Berserk are easily two of the best anime series of the 90s. They both have a fairly simple premise in being a journey of self discovery however it is their execution that sets them apart from the rest.
Utena uses sumptuous symbolism and characterisation to captivate you, Berserk uses raw passion and clever storytelling. I have immense respect for both these titles for they manage to create a world of their own where you cannot help but surrender yourself in awe.
What makes Berserk so good is that it is not afraid to borrow great aspects of animes that preceed it and create something completely enthralling and original with these. The drama parts play like a shounen take on Rose of Versailles and the fighting scenes have the same passion that made Saint Seiya a hit in the 80s. With these influences, there was not really a chance it could fail in delivering.
The animation is wonderful for a series of 1997. Like in Utena, the artwork here is excellent and draws you in almost instantly. Berserk's raw depiction of warfare resonates with you as its unwillingness to compromise its vision just makes these scenes richer in style and substance. While watching this, I did not feel that any scene was wasted through the quieter times or the darker mood as they capture the characters' emotions and flaws head on.
The character design is something else that suits the themes of rage, courage, hatred, love and self as the characters age and grow along with the piece. The drawing style is very sucessful as it gives the characters the versatility they need to express emotions through their body language, eyes and face.
The medieval settings are also beautiful here as you get beautifully detailed forests and military posts as well as defined artworks on the castles and weapons. The weight of Guts/Gatts' sword is well depicted here as you feel its mass when it is used on enemies.
The sound comes with an intro and outro that are just average tracks but the main meat is definitely Forces, which gets used in some of the most intense battles throughout the series. The background tracks are also amazing in their depiction of battles as they have the vivid energy that catches your attention. There are also some very good compositions used during the dramatic parts of the series which show Griffith ascension into nobility.
The voice actors are really wonderful all around here as they depict the characters they play exquisitely. Guts' seiyuu is wonderful in portraying his raw emotions while keeping a sense of humanity within the rage and the passion. Griffith, Judeau and Caska also receive great portrayal from this cast as they affect you in ways characters of this genre rarely do.
The story as mentioned above is quite simple at its core, with it being about Guts' journey through loneliness to finding friendship and later love through battle. What makes the story so good is that it employs a similar device used in award-winning movie American Beauty. Like in American Beauty, Berserk reveals its end at the start. This works here as it allows the viewer to see how things got to that point and are freed from guessing how this could possibly end. The journey thus becomes more important than where the story ends. This also works wonderfully as a metaphoric parallel for the leading character, Guts.
The way the story is told is what another one of this series' great aspects. Although the main focus is on Guts, the story sometimes focuses on Griffith and Caska and adds another layer to their character. As we progress with the story, cliffhangers are used to have you salivating for more and the series hits yet another peak when it looks at Griffith's and his army's ascension in ranks.
The only reason I am not giving story a full score is because the series ends at an awkward place. It feels finished with a lot of the important stories but it ends where the bigger plot is revealed, which is a bit of a disappointment. I've been told that this is where reading the manga helps, so if you want more information - you know where to get it.
The characters throughout are amazing. You get to feel Guts slowly getting closer to the Band of the Hawks and start to realise that they are the family he has been yearning for. His relationship with Griffith and his guilt over what happens are palpable because they are so well depicted. Griffith comes across as one of the most successful characters as although he seems detached, you actually feel (and see) the lengths he will go to in his devotion to his army. He is also an interesting villain (like Akio was in Utena) as he rarely comes across as one.
Caska's slow detachment of Griffith and her growing attraction to Guts also ring true here as none of these things are rushed through to fill the timeframe, but rather are given their time to occur at the right pace.
This series has been one of the most enjoyable I have sat through in a very long time. I felt that I was becoming jaded after watching Utena but this one is often just as good. It does not hold any punches to get its messages of self-worth across and that can only be commended.
Shows like Elfen Lied and Gantz have tried to use the same level of gore to affect the viewer. But without this passion Berserk has that can transform the blood into a source of all emotions, there was no way they were going to come close to its success. A high recommendation from me.
overall score: 9.3/10
overall score: 8/10
overall score: 8/10
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