This is the anime that many of us think of when crossing fantasy and anime. Berserk is an epic fantasy anime and manga series which is very popular in both Japan and western countries and has sold over 31 million copies around the world. Even fourteen years after its initial series release Berserk is now being adapted into multiple animated films throughout the next few years. The fourth film to be released in this series will finally take us past the plot of the original anime and into the core revenge plot of the manga.
There is not enough that can be said about this anime. It’s dark and gritty but with a set of memorable characters that makes the story somewhat addicting. It follows the character Gutz, who begins as a mercenary for hire, wielding a sword almost as big as he is. After trying to steal the reward he received from killing a famous berserker in battle, he joins up with the thieves titled the ‘Band of the Hawk’. Like him the Band starts out as a mercenary group; each of the key members with their own tale and individual attitude towards him. The leader of the band is a charismatic man called Griffith with the pathos that he will one day rule his own kingdom and, after first resisting his offers, Gutz eventually comes to befriend and respect him. After helping the Kingdom of Midland the Band is knighted with the promise of becoming noblemen but then everything goes wrong. Griffith is caught sleeping with Princess Charlotte of the Midland Kingdom and is sent to be tortured while the Band are placed into a trap that they are barely able to escape from with their lives.
It is at this point of the story that the real depth of the relationship between Gutz and Griffith is revealed. Just after befriending Griffith, Gutz overhears a discussion from him stating that the only person he could be friends with would be someone he would see as an equal. Hearing this Gutz decides to leave straight after the war is over and it is because of this that, through his depression of losing his friend, Griffith makes the grievous mistake of sleeping with the princess. It is also because of this that Gutz is not there when the Band is attacked, having left them to find his own purpose in life to rival Griffith’s. But it is not until he returns that he learns the consequences of his actions. For without him Griffith fell apart and without Griffith the Band fell apart. This turn of events leads Gutz evaluate his own self-worth and come to realize what kind of person he is. Even after retrieving Griffith’s barely living remains from the dungeons and seeing the futility of him being their leader, many of the Band members look to Gutz for leadership. But once again here is where things take a drastic change as Griffith, feeling betrayed and abandoned by his friend and comrades, decides then to sacrifice them to ‘The God Hand’ in order to achieve his dream. The rest of the story is Gutz’s brilliant quest for revenge against the friend who sold out his comrades.
There are a few differences between the manga and the anime, missing scenes that to adapt would bring a harsher rating to the series. The main changes were at the beginning of the anime film that starts off in what is essentially a giant flash back in the manga. For me this seemed to make sense as it follows the story chronologically. Despite the original anime series starting the flashback at episode 2 to introduce the premise of the ‘The God Hand’, the general consensus is that the flash back is where it should have started. This was remedied in the first film The Egg of the King. Another change that many felt was annoying was the abrupt ending to the original series where plot wise the manga kept on going. However the anime was only signed on for twenty six episodes and ended on somewhat of a cliff hanger. Once again they plan to remedy this mistake with the third of the four new films, carrying on past the original series and onto the next arc of the story.
The amount of raw emotion and action in this series is epic, the main character himself ends up killing over one hundred men in one of the battles and by his exhaustion alone it makes it feel realistic. Despite how well developed and likable the characters are don’t get too connected to them as the series likes to kill off major characters in very gory and dramatic ways. In the English dub the voices are very good and, although the animation of the original series is a bit aged, the new animated films coming out more than make up for it with almost 3D looking cell-shaded graphics.
Summary: No more needs to be said about the story than what is already mentioned but I will say that this one is not for the faint of heart; there is a lot of animated violence, a fair bit of blood and even a few sex scenes. All in all this is one of my favorite series and I couldn’t recommend either the anime, manga or film series enough to anyone looking for a good epic fantasy story, though I’d recommend starting with the first film now that it has been nicely dubbed.
Just on the side note this is a really well done AMV someone made by animating the Berserk Manga (that’s right, not the anime but the manga).