The story of Berserk is as much of a tale of friendship and adventure, as it is of tragedy and survival. Written and Illustrated by the talented Kentaro Miura, the Berserk manga won the Tezuka Osamu Award for Excellence in 2002. Coming back to watch the original animated series from 1997 has been a real joy. Not only because I am a fan, but starting from the beginning enhances the experience of reading more recent manga chapters. If you haven’t been dragged in yet, Berserk is a fantastic seinen(adult) series that is rich in character and world development melted into a solid plot line.
Where the characters are currently in the manga, the animated series feels like such a long time ago in comparison. The first episode gives us a glimpse into a man named Guts, hunting and killing monsters in a medieval style world. This is a peek into the Black Swordsman Arc. It is a dark, violent, miserable place and acts as intrigue as to how he got where he is. After a quick introduction, we are thrown back several years to Guts as a teen, where he is fighting his way across Midland for money. With his oversized sword, he barely wins against a much larger and experienced soldier. Guts catches the attention of Griffith, the founder and Captain of the Band of the Hawks. Mercenaries for hire, they are earning a good reputation in Midland as they have a high success rate in missions.
After losing a one-on-one against Griffith, Guts becomes part of The Band of the Hawks. He plays a major role in their future endeavors, and his brute strength and endurance saves his life many many times. The Golden Arc takes up the majority of the series, and follows the Band of the Hawk as they crawl their way up the ranks in society. Joining guts on the battlefield is Caska, Judeau, Pippin, Corkus, Rickert and an array of lesser characters. After a time skip, Guts is now a captain of his own division and taking the front lines with Griffith and Caska.
Griffiths almost impossible dream of having his own Kingdom makes his relationship with Guts and Caska one of friendship and necessity. He is intelligent, handsome, cunning, charismatic and skilled with the sword, the perfect battlefield hero. Guts is almost the polar opposite, his thought pattern is basic, he’s a bit unfriendly and visually frightening to a lot of people. Griffiths fascination with Guts instills a streak of jealousy in Caska. She reprimands and argues with Guts if he strays out of formation, mostly because she does not want Griffith endangered or his reputation soiled. Her feelings towards Griffith are a complicated mash of loyalty, love and almost worship. Towards the end of the series, Caska slowly softens and opens up to Guts without even realising herself. Miura took great care in developing their relationship over time, keeping it true to their lives and personalities.
Throughout Berserk we are shown glimpses into the past of Griffith and Caska, as well as Guts when he was with Gambino. Building the characters relationships together and their mutual admiration of Griffith makes the last few episodes of the series a tough watch. Griffiths despair activates the Red Behilit, and the Gods Hand apostles decent and offer him a new life among them. From plain battlefield violence, it is a swift jump to bloody horror as the Band of the Hawks remaining members scatter to survive the madness. Griffiths final act of betrayal was to violate Caska in front of Guts, and in his desperate attempt to save her ends in his eye gouged and arm amputated. The last we see of Guts, is him leaving the Blacksmith Godo with his newly forged sword Dragonslayer. He managed to survive somehow, and the fate of Caska and Rickert is unknown.
There is so much to Berserk, I can’t possibly discuss it all and it’s only the first arc. The supernatural theme doesn’t really come out until the last few episodes, other than their encounter with Zodd early on. I think this sets the last scene in the Eclipse to be as shocking for the audience as it is for the Band of the Hawk. The animation has aged a bit, noticeably with the characters suffering from crooked eyes, awkward silences in the music and some overly simple backgrounds. There are quite a few things missing from the manga, like the deeper trauma Guts suffered while with Gambino, which he takes out on Casksa during their love scene. It is a delicate issue, but not completely essential to the overall story. There are a couple of lesser characters missing but overall it covers the important points well.
The Berserk Bluray box set is a great addition to any fans shelf. Madman have outdone themselves with a linen printed cover, and a three DVD fold case adorned with the artworks or Miura. Several artwork collectable cards are also included. Japanese and English language is available in 2.0. I watched it all those years ago in English, so watched this time in Japanese for something fresh. There is an array of excellent Extras from the standard textless themes to TV Spots, Art Gallery, Production Sketches and my all time favourite Outtakes. You will feel a bit down once you finish the last episode, so don’t hesitate to jump into the outtakes as they will give you a good laugh. I could ramble on forever about this series, but I gotta wrap this up. Berserk is a series that gives as much to the viewer as possible through a journey full of adventure, character building and tragedy. If you enjoy the likes of Gantz, Drifters and Claymore this will be right up your alley.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.