Epic storytelling comes in different forms to guarantee that it can achieve its goal of telling an intriguing story filled with plenty of mythology around it. In the realm of high fantasy, there are enough to go around these days. However, it does not happen often to come across a series that wants to create an intriguing tragic tale of betrayal and fate, but also tries to appeal to the action crowd with blood inducing carnage. In which case, Berserk fits perfectly with this description in with good precision.
Like I mentioned before, the main themes that surround Berserk is how humanity cannot control its own fate and the consequences of betrayal of one’s own brethren. We follow our main protagonist, Guts, and follow his own dark history from the past to the present where he joined a group of mercenaries to help with their conquests. The story emphasizes in great detail with the development of Guts as a strong character and also to the main people of his mercenary group. His leader, Griffith is portrayed wonderfully as a tragic figure who reveled in leadership and power only to be sunk to the bottom after a broken relationship. There are no words to describe the absolute jaw-dropping climax near the end. It encapsulates the sadness and tragedy that makes you think of how this came up to be over one significant event. All of which are written solidly enough to make it worthy of being a prime example of tragedy done right.
Another character worthy of being praised is Casca. Her entire character is of a very robust woman in stature and thankfully her role is handled in a mature manner. Her relationship with Guts has a really nice build up to their eventual romantic relationship, which feels incredibly poignant to the narrative and realistic to its core. Although Casca is the definite highlight of Berserk’s supporting cast, the rest don’t reach her higher standard of quality. It almost feels as though some of the people in the Hawks were just there to fill up the roster and nothing else. None of which seem to have much of an impression whenever they are on-screen. It is quite possible that because Guta, Griffith, and Casca have so much charismatic presence in their roles that the rest seem like cardboard cut-outs. That can’t really be a good excuse to at least try make them somewhat noticeable or likable as our main heroes.
Most of what you hear about Berserk is the fact that it is heavy on the violence and gore. What ultimately saves it from being just a one-note gorehound show is how it feels right with the tone. There is no unnecessary level of gore that all of the sudden sprouts up, it keeps it to where it can be perceived without any sign of problematic tonal shifts. Battle sequences put off so much blood that it practically blocks most of the screen on impact. They serve a purpose to capture the gritty nature and medieval fantasy lore that lives and reeks of danger.
Eventually this leads off to the discussion of Berserk’s animation. While certainly not bad by any means, the animation does not put enough flair or style to the epic landscape and battles. Obviously the budget for the show was not up to snuff what the creative studio, Oriental Light and Magic, wanted in order to construct the art and animation. Several moments that involve odd and quirky animation movements in the action sequences and the character models look underdeveloped in certain animated sequences. The art design does, however, capture the great detail of the original manga’s gritty artwork. Showing the characters’ emotions look extremely dynamic and alive from how the art details anguish and despair so haunting from the story’s imminent climax.
In spite of the average animation budget, what is the opposite side of quality in the technical spectrum is the dramatic orchestral score. This being done by the acclaimed composer, Susumu Hirasawa, a man who has not composed much, but has been significant for composing the music for Paprika, Millennium Actress, and Paranoia Agent; all of which are directed by Satoshi Kon. I would not hesitate to compare Hirasawa to Yoko Kanna, who composed the music for Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell, in that they both love to experiment with different types of styles to their scores. For Berserk, Hirasawa manages to combine elements of soothing guitars tuned to a more ambient soundscape with standard orchestral music. Combining them to make one hell of an ear full to take in, especially Guts’s Theme, which is one of the best highlights.
One controversial matter that pertains to the story of Berserk is the final episode. Without spoiling anything about what goes on in the ending itself, the way to describe the troubles that inflict comes from one simple reason: To make people read the manga. The ending itself just peters out at the very end and comes off as really anti-climatic. Considering the events that were leading up to the ending were some of the most grueling and unsettling moments in the entire show, it just seemed like a cheap way to end a scenario of that magnitude. However, it is best not to sway the ending too much on the quality of the show and only mention it as a minor flaw to the narrative structure.
Berserk stands on the top of anime that could’ve had the intensity and power to become more of a masterpiece than it already was. There are many ideas that come with the story and its progression through each separate idea play off each other very well. Despite this, it only comes down on that dream by only a light step down. What is left is nothing short of an honorable effort that, while not magnificent, can be admired for the absolutely brilliant character development and the story that goes with it. Yes, it is a pain that we have to read the manga in order to continue the story, but no one said life was fair.