Inkling Anime Review: Berserk (1997)

“In this world, is the destiny of mankind controlled by some transcendental entity or law? Is it like the hand of God hovering above? At least it is true that man has no control; even over his own will.”

This is only one of many engrossing lines that you’ll hear throughout the course of Berserk. It originally started out as a manga (which is still currently ongoing) and was created by Kentaro Miura, and the directorial position was helmed by Takahashi Naohito. I’ve been really eager to share my thoughts on this adaptation for quite awhile. It was one of the anime shows that got me hooked on anime as a medium, and I still consider it to be a captivatingly brilliant piece to this day, despite having some shortcomings.

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One thing that some viewers might not know is that Berserk was handled by the same studio that made Pokémon, OLM (Oriental Light and Magic). Even taking into account that this show came out in 1997, the animation was sort of a mixed bag; it was far from bad, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily great either. The character designs, which are absolutely gorgeous in the manga, are somewhat garish and inconsistent in the anime. Their were moments where the faces appeared slightly out of proportion, or the facial expressions were a bit stiff. But I felt that the battle sequences were well-done for it’s time. Even though this anime uses plenty of still frames and off-screen dialogue as a cost-cutting maneuver, the staff really did a great job of encapsulating the brutally gratuitous and hardboiled nature of warfare; corruption and deceit is rampant in the world of Berserk.

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The OP “Tell Me Why” wasn’t necessarily bad, but it felt totally out of place in my opinion. The track sounded more like something you’d here in a gangster-themed anime show or from an indie garage band that’s continuously begging you to listen to their shoddy mixtape, not something you’d hear in the Medieval era. But then again, the laughingly corny lyrics such as -“Put your glasses on” did serve as a welcome respite since this anime can be oppressively bleak and disconcerting at times. The ED “Waiting so Long” was somewhat better since it does sound more reminiscent of the time period of this show, but it is still pretty forgettable as a whole.

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On the other hand, the background music by Hirasawa Susumu is thoroughly amazing, especially “Forces”. Despite having mostly ambient or electronic synthesizers as the primary soundscape, the BGM was nicely implemented since it does an exceptional job of accentuating and making you feel incredibly immersed in a scene that’s being presented. Even on it’s own, the soundtrack is a joy to listen to, which is something I rarely say for most anime shows. The voice acting was also a strong aspect of Berserk. Each voice actor (both in the English and Japanese Dubs) were really dialed in with their roles that they were playing, and they also captured each character’s unique persona and minute idiosyncrasies quite nicely.

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The story of Berserk starts out with a young man named, Guts. He carries a sword that looks like a giant slab of iron and is jumped by a collective of ruthless mercenaries. Guts is able to take down his ambushers and convincingly stand his ground without even breaking a sweat. But suddenly, a beguiling and enigmatic individual with long and white hair that billows in the wind, puts him in his place by beating him in a hard-fought duel. The winner of this fight was Griffith, and he views Guts with uncanny fascination. Rather than simply killing Guts where he stood, he decides to coercively have him join his army, the Band of the Hawk.

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Griffith, even though he isn’t the main character, is the one that I felt this show revolved around the most. He grew up in a poor and lower-class position in society, and had a dream that most would consider unattainable for a person of his social status. He wanted a vast infantry and kingdom under his control and influence. As the series progresses, tiny vignettes of Griffith’s backstory and ideology is slowly revealed to the viewer. Some questions that I feel like this show shares to the audience is, how far would you go to achieve your dream? and is a dream still worth fighting for if it comes at the cost of a loved one or even your own humanity? This is an anime that will instill some personal tension with you since it explores moral and philosophical questions that don’t really have easy answers.

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Guts, the main protagonist, is the character that receives the most development throughout this anime. Initially he starts out as a person with no ambitions or reasons for living. Guts was born from a dead corpse, and he did have a pretty rough upbringing that involved bloodshed and constant physical abuse from his caretaker, Gambino. His nihilistic worldview suddenly changed when he joined the Band of the Hawk. He learns the true value of companionship and begins to consider the feelings of other people besides himself. Eventually, he comes to the realization that Griffith never really viewed him as a friend, only as a cog in the machine of his lofty ambitions; he decides to part ways in search of his own dreams. This moment ended up being an irrevocable turning point not just for Guts, but for Griffith and his army as well.

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Casca, the commander and only female in the Band of the Hawk, has an unwavering sense of devotion and attachment towards Griffith after he saved her from a sexual assault from a nobleman during her childhood years. Even though she’s the most experienced and brash soldier in his army, she does exude innate femininity, even though she doesn’t really like showing this side of herself around the company of others. She was very shy and bashful when she had to dress up for a royal occasion, and she does develop fond and tender feelings for Guts despite hating him at first.

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Berserk has arguably one of the most divisive endings in the world of anime since it doesn’t really tie any loose ends or give any clear-cut explanations to a lot of questions that might arise as you are watching the series; it leaves a lot up to the imagination. It’s important to note though that this anime adaptation only covers the “Golden Age”story arc in the manga, (definitely a must-read!) which is only a tiny fraction of the ongoing narrative of Berserk, so the cliffhanger ending didn’t anger me personally.

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All in all, I highly recommend this show. It is without a doubt a timeless classic and one of the best works in the field of anime. While it can be a pretty morbid and disconcerting experience at times, Berserk is worth immersing yourself in as a viewer since it has a unique premise for it’s time, and it explores themes and internal struggles regarding the frailty of dreams and human nature; which are topics that most shows shy away from.

 

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