I finished Berserk a few months ago and was inspired to write a review for it. However, I felt like I couldn't do it justice. In fact, I'm still unsure that this review will convey how remarkable this show is.
After finishing Berserk, I had to take a moment and reflect on what I had just experienced. To put it bluntly, this series is deep and complex, which is something that surprised me. I didn't expect that at all going into it. I suppose I wasn't sure what I expected. But subtle layers with timeless messages?
Let me break this down.
On the surface, Berserk should be little more than a bloody action anime. And one can't spit anywhere in Japanese film/literature without hitting a character possessed by or making a deal with demons. But for Berserk, the demons are merely a vehicle for its actual goal: showing us simultaneously the beauty and fragility of humanity.
Technically, Berserk is an origin story of the protagonist, an imposing warrior named Guts. But that description alone robs Berserk of what it truly is: a classic tragedy, presented to the audience as such right from the start. We are informed that our hero is a broken man, that something happened to bring him to this point, and now we (the audience) will be shown why.
Without offering spoilers, the method in which this tragic tale is unfolded is itself a testament to storytelling. It is executed carefully and methodically, as is the development of the characters, whose motivations are easily real enough to draw empathy from any viewer. In fact, that's probably the aspect that astounded me the most; each character had solid reasoning for who they were and that made the tragedy's finality all the more sobering.
And it may have been the characters that affected me the most. It is often quite difficult to showcase the deep respect and love that two men can have for one another without it devolving into cliche' romance. In storytelling, it is very easy to run to intimacy, but conveying how men can mean a great deal to one another without involving such obvious platitudes is rare indeed. Yet Berserk pulls this off seemlessly, and then asks us questions of what love is, of what it means to have hope, of whether it's the devil or a devil disguised as an angel whispering to us.
Every relationship in the story, in fact, is amazingly well done. They are nuanced like real people and their ties to one another feel both explored and legitimate. It makes the finality of the series all that more meaningful.
I'd like to add how phenomenally well directed (Naohito Takahashi) and written/adapted (Yasuhiro Imagawa) this anime was. The manga - as with most manga - is chalk full of extra information; however, the true meaning behind Berserk, and the beautiful, timeless and tragic story that it embodied was delivered flawlessly. The production team truly understood the source material. It's impressive to say the least.
I could see an argument being stated for Berserk being "ugly" - it does, perhaps, lack fine detail, but the art used is stylistic and many of the stills evoke a grand design, like a fascinating painting. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it's difficult for me to definitively state Berserk as visually impressive, but I did find the settings to often be engrossing and, at times, quite haunting.
I would state that soundtrack is somewhat forgettable, except for a couple tracks that stand out: the opening song sounds as if it was recorded in a basement by a bunch of guys who drank too much and wanted to see if they could emulate the sound of a 70s punk band.
If you're hoping to watch Berserk to experience copious amounts of gore, you're missing the point. This is a story with a message. In fact, several messages. And the messages are as poignant as they are sobering.
tl;dr - Berserk is one of the best anime series ever made.