Berserk: The Best Anime You May Not Have Seen
Reviewed by Jon Minners
With 25 episodes released on DVD via Media Blasters, a series of manga novels and a video game that deserved much more attention for both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 systems, you would think that a lot more people would know about Berserk. But the problem is, in a world saturated with anime, for some reason, Berserk is virtually unheard of.
The reason is quite simple; Berserk is too good for television. You may never see this dramatic and violent anime title on American TV in this lifetime, but you will be doing yourself a major disservice if you donít go out and buy yourself each episode of this action packed series. True anime fans should not let Berserk slip through their fingers.
Berserk started as a manga series created by Kentarou Miura and was serialized bi-monthly in Young Animal Magazine. There are over 20 tankoubons or volumes of the Berserk series, which is only slightly different from the anime series that ended its run in Japan in 1998. Slight alterations in the minor storyline and omissions of certain events and characters were seen in the anime adaptation, with some violent scenes and nudity removed for Japanese audiences, but for the most part, the manga and the anime are the same. The anime is considered to be one of the best of our time and the manga receives its fair share of accolades as well, recently being translated and released for American audiences, sometime after the anime hit our shores in video and DVD formats.
Berserk is a gothic tale set in the Middle Ages, following the life of Guts, a grizzled and highly skilled swordsman who had to learn early how to wield his mighty weapon (a seven foot sword known as the Dragon Slayer). Born from the womb of a dead woman, Guts is raised by another skilled fighter named Gambino, who trains the young child before turning on him, wrongly believing Guts to be a demon that killed his own mother. Gambino ends up dead in the altercation and Guts must flee from his home, an outcast accused of the murder.
The story opens with Guts, older in age and a true loner, hell bent on fighting anyone associated with Godís Hand, the ones who have killed everyone that Guts has truly cared for. The tale begins with Guts slaying a demon before the story shifts to Guts at a younger age, where much of the series takes place, telling the stories that led to Guts becoming that loner we see at the taleís beginning. Guts carries a sword bigger than himself and wields it well, defeating a menacing knight with relative ease and catching the eye of Griffith, the leader of a mercenary band of soldiers, The Hawks. Guts encounters members of The Hawks, defeating them with relative ease, but finally meets his match in Griffith, a man who oozes charisma and eventually convinces Guts to join his cause after defeating him in battle.
With Guts now on their side, The Hawks have become unstoppable, helping countries defend themselves and capturing the attention of the King of Midland, who decides to use The Hawks to supplement his forces. Griffithís charisma earns him the respect of the king and the resentment of others who despise the upstartsí quick rise into the Kingís favor. Although a commoner, Griffith has dreams of becoming a king himself and plays the political game better than most soldiers could. His ambitions and a strange good luck charm around his neck cause for some hellish trials and tribulations for Griffith, Guts and The Hawks. By the end of the tale, nothing will ever be the same as a demon world emerges with Guts left as the only man who can stop the carnage. The ending will leave viewers speechless.
Berserk is a suspenseful tale that will leave you in anticipation from beginning to end. You will not be disappointed and like a good novel, you may find it hard to put this series down. This tale drags you in and never lets you go!
The animation is gritty; very dark and violent with characters moving very fluidly during scenes of battle. You will notice the facial expressions right away, which really give off the emotions of the characters, making the voice actorís job that much easier. Much better than titles where the characters are left stationary and the voice actor must do all the work to display their emotional state. Berserk gets it right in all regards and the animation really makes the story stand out. Despite the unrealistic spraying of blood when someone is killed, Berserk gives off that same gritty, almost realistic feel that I felt when watching Vampire Hunter D and Fists of the North Star.
The story itself would make for a great live action movie! There are just some really complex moments and deep themes that truly flesh out the characters in the tale. Gutsí relationship with Griffith, one of true bond, friendship and brotherhood, is tested to the limits. Griffith, the perfect soldier whose perfection is really a cover for his imperfect ways is an ideal companion and antagonist to Guts, whose limitations are actually his strengths.
Their bond drives this tale, but there is really another bond that gives the series its heart. Caska, the woman who is Griffithís second in command, is antisocial and despite a close relationship with Griffith that has been tested over the years, never really gets close to anyone. Suddenly, although unknowingly and without wanting to, Caska, the strong woman, lets her guard down at times with Guts and becomes closer to him as the tale goes on. Because of the tension that certainly exists between the two characters, you really want to see the two get together.
These plots along with the theme of taking oneís own destiny, and not listening to fate, run throughout the shows, even as the series takes a more demonic turn. Everything that happens does so for a reason and each conflict, its resolution and further conflict flows smoothly from one episode to the next until we get to a cliffhanger of a final episode that will leave your mouth open-mouthed, angered at no true resolution and at the same time, imprinting the series into your mind, never to be forgotten, one day hoping for a true resolution.
True anime fans should have Berserk in their collections. A second series is rumored, but until then, many unanswered questions could be answered in the most unlikely of places a video game.
Sword of the Berserk: Gutís Rage came out for the now defunct Sega Dreamcast from Eidos and there is a version of the game for the PS2. The game seems to follow the storyline from the series and could be a nice continuation if a second series is never realized. Guts and Caska are now together, but while Guts loves the woman who once tested his patience, he is basically alone in his constant search for his true destiny and a cure for Caskaís sudden insanity. Scarred by events from the anime series, Caska is no longer the feared and respected leader she used to be. Timid and fearful of those around her, Caska is a shell of her former self and Guts does all the work against Godís Handís forces. Guts has also changed, branded with a mark that acts like a radar to the minions of Godís Hand, he also has a berserker rage that is triggered by the mark at certain times in battle. This comes in handy when the odds seem stacked up against him.
Guts and Caska travel to a region ravaged by years of war and famine and discover a plague is sweeping the land, turning ordinary people into demonic beasts. Guts is embroiled in this latest conquest that may provide him with the answers he needs about Caska and possibly Griffith as well.
This is an awesome game with some of the best cinematic scenes ever used at the time. In fact, at over an hourís worth of cinema, it feels as if there is more movie than gameplay, but you do have your share of the fun, hacking and slicing your way through beasts and armies with a seven foot blade in hand. Never have I had so much fun killing people (except for Grand Theft Auto). The game is really not much of a masterpiece in gameplay, really just a hack and slash battle from one level to the next, but it is a lot of fun, really nice to look at and not withstanding some graphical setbacks, is one of the best games for the system and a great way to keep the outstanding series alive.
While some people may not exactly know what Berserk is, once you read watch the anime and play the video game, Berserk will be one of the most memorable titles you have ever seen.