Berserk by Tremolo

Kenfu Denki Berserk
Also Known As: Swordsmanship Romance Berserk
Genre: Action
Format: 25 Episodes
Allegiance: Oriental Light and Magic/VAP
Director: Naohito Takahashi
Vintage: 1997
Intelligence Agency Report by: Lady Sage
Guts’s only purpose in life was to fight and kill for money – it’s the only life he’s ever known. But then he is taken into the Band of the Hawk, the famed mercenary band led by the charismatic and power-hungry Griffith. Guts and his comrades are willing to do just about anything to help their esteemed leader, but what happens when things go too far?

Field Agent Report by: Tremolo
Overall 9.25
(not an average)
Berserk is a series famous for its violence. With someone being sliced in half with a ludicrously enormous sword in the very first episode, Berserk sets the tone for what is to come in style. Thankfully, what does come next isn’t just 25 episodes of non-stop gore, death and blood-letting on a scale that no other TV anime before or since has yet to match. There’s also a story, proper characters, and actual drama, and all those things are executed beautifully.Berserk follows the relatively well-trodden narrative style seen in so many gangster films over the decades. Anyone familiar with the standard “rise and fall” story will be fully aware of what sort of direction the series takes, but this isn’t 20th century America, this is a brutal medieval world called Midland. The storyline may follow a template, but it reaches heights you could never imagine or predict. The building in intensity is palpable, and the shocks, revelations and horror – both psychological and real – are so compelling, and handled with such skill and finesse that it leaves you gasping. Whilst its spiritual successor, 2003’s Gungrave, straight-up deals with both mafia and monsters, the world of Berserk is much deeper, darker and more fleshed-out.

In terms of the characters, Guts initially seems like he could be incredibly boring, but this is far from the case. Shaped by his truly traumatic past, Guts is a character forced to suffer as soon as he enters the world, and this creates a character that rises well above the standard big sword-wielding strongman. He is multi-layered, complex and driven. However, compared to Griffith, Guts is certainly not frighteningly ambitious. Griffith will do literally anything to fulfil his lofty dreams, and the depths these dreams take him are lower than you could ever imagine. Griffith may not be original in his outlook, but I guarantee you will never see such a charismatic and truly terrifying anime character like him ever again. It’s also interesting to watch Caska, the sole important female character of the series, develop from an annoying pain in the neck to a person you can’t help but care about by the end.

In terms of visuals, Berserk has a suitably raw, blood-soaked look to it, with mangaka Miura Kentaro’s memorable character designs replicated perfectly. Taking into account its low budget late-night cable TV origins, it’s surprising the series looks as good as it does, with the animation doing everything it needs to do. If you’re watching a lot of episodes in the row, the stylistic use of painting-like still frames during critical moments might start to grate, but it’s not a series-spoiling complaint. Hirasawa Susumu, easily the most underrated musician in anime today, turns in a score that fuses the medieval feel of the series with more electronic, bombastic influences to striking effect. This is music that really stays with you, and considering how nondescript most anime music is, this is a very good thing indeed.

Finally, Berserk’s ending is even more controversial than its many violent elements, and for good reason. There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to opinions about it, and it’s perfectly understandable as to why. What can’t be denied is the impact of the ending. It’s a punch in the gut of epic proportions, one that will simply leave you gasping and breathless and one you won’t ever forget. It’s also one of the main reasons why I can’t give this series a perfect score, even if other areas may not be completely perfect. I love the ending, but it leaves the series incomplete, forcing you to read the (admittedly wonderful) manga to find out what happens next.

Berserk is an important series. It’s proof that you can produce wonders with a modest budget, proof that slick animation isn’t necessary to tell a damn fine story with characters you really, genuinely care about and proof that massive swords will never, ever go out of fashion. Even if you are of the weak of heart and the faint of stomach, you need to see Berserk.