The second installment of our anime rewatch series focuses on Berserk, a dark fantasy that takes place in a feudal society where kingdoms are constantly at war. The main character, Guts, is a mercenary who finds himself in the service of Griffith, a young man with a dream of molding the world in his own noble image. This series began as a manga which was released in 1989 and is still ongoing, as the creator has taken several lengthy breaks during its creation.
The general story follows Guts as he travels with Griffith and his Band of the Hawk, an elite mercenary group that has never lost a battle. As the group gains notoriety, it also allows for Griffith to advance his dream of ruling the kingdom. The plot development comes throughout this journey, as characters question their own motives and loyalties, as well as what Griffith’s dream truly means. Over the course of three arcs, we explore Guts’ background, how he came to fight with Griffith, and the motives behind his personality. Finally we see the Band of the Hawk at its peak, on the cusp of achieving its ultimate goal. The subject matter of the anime is quite mature in terms of language, gore, and adult situations, as well as a dark tone overall. However, this also allows the plot to develop in interesting ways regarding a character’s relationships with another, as well as an almost philosophical outlook on human nature and the inevitability of fate.
The story is the star of this series, and over the course of the 25 episodes I felt myself connected to characters in ways that other anime had not been able to hook me. The series does end rather abruptly, as it had caught up with the manga at the end of its original run. However, the story is continuing with a second series that is currently airing, complete with updated CG and modern graphics. If, like me, you enjoy a darker, more mature story with a conflicted antihero, then you may want to check out Berserk.
Despite the outstanding story, Berserk is mostly remembered for its awful animation. This opinion is one that is deserved, as environment assets and music are reused to the point that you can predict what is coming. The animation itself is quite bland, and colors are dull even when they do branch out from the seemingly omnipresent black and brown. The series has a dubbed version, but I would recommend that viewers avoid it, as the acting is cheesy and over exaggerated. The fight scenes, which should be the anime’s bread and butter, are often lackluster and quite short. Another knock on the series was that it cut key aspects from the manga, and failed to tell a complete story. This was remedied somewhat by the film series The Golden Age Arc, which adapted the arcs of the anime into three feature length animated films. This allowed for a little more detail, as well as slightly better CG. These features are available on Netflix, and are probably an easier alternative than trying to find a watchable version of the original TV run. In regards to the incomplete story, 2016 saw the release of a new, modern Berserk that continued the story from the conclusion of the original TV run. This series is still ongoing, and I have not yet checked it out, so watch at your own discretion.
Berserk is an interesting case when it comes to making a final decision. On the one hand, it has an outstanding story that is more complex than your run of the mill shonen anime, and was one of the few series that actually prompted me to read the manga afterwards because I felt the need for closure for the characters. On the other hand, it is poorly animated and acted, even for an older show. In my opinion, the deciding factor is the ongoing second series. The biggest issue I faced was whether or not it was worth it to subject myself to a below average visual experience for a strong story, but this mindset changed with the advent of the new show. I personally value story over visual experience, and I have a soft spot for a good antihero. With those factors considered, re-watching the original series was a good time investment for me personally, but in the end, I would not recommend that everyone do so.
FINAL VERDICT: CONDITIONAL (Rewatch if you are a story buff and/or plan on watching the second series as well.)