Okay, here’s the proper weekend review, with even my intended preface!

This time around I’m going for a review of the hyperviolent fantasy anime “Berserk!” The show has been around for a  while, and the series has gotten a bit of a following in anime circles, enough for Dark Horse Comics to license the Manga, which is still running. Having listened to enough people tell me how good it is, I figured I might as well check it out and pass along my thoughts. So, having gotten the preface out of the way…

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Nobutoshi Hayashi as Guts
Toshiyuki Morikawa as Griffith
Yuko Miyamura as Casca
Akiko Yajima as Rickert
Akira Ishida as Judou
Masuo Amada as Pippin
Tomohiro Nishimura as Corkus

Directed by Naohito Takahashi
Animation by Oriental Light and Magic

Premise

Guts is a wandering swordsman working for basically whatever lord or general who will pay his wages, but always refusing to commit for any longer than one battle or siege – refusing to commit to any one company. That is until he meets the Band of the Hawk, led by the charismatic Griffith. Guts finds himself getting semi-shanghaied (there’s more to it than that) and finds himself part of this company as they fight on the side of the kingdom of Midland, and slowly earn respect and prestige – and the resentment of the nobility.

High Point

The characters are very well written. In particular, Guts character grows a great deal throughout the series from the sullen
withdrawn mercenary to the more outgoing and gregarious individual we see just before the end of the series – other characters get similar development as well. This is why it’s such a punch in the gut when they all end up dead or worse by the end of the show.

The animation is very nicely done, both in the character design, in the action scenes, and the landscapes – castles in particular are very realistically designed, armor is practically designed. Also, surprisingly, the crossbow sees a lot of use here, both in the standard form and in the form of a repeating crossbow employed by Guts in the flash forward, as opposed to the short and longbows common to fantasy, which is a nice change. The animators didn’t quite get the whole “shield” thing though – but I can kind of forgive that.

Low Point

Casca starts out as your standard Tough Woman, and while she gets some excellent character development, as they develop her character, and give her depth, her character loses a great deal of her strength and toughness. This remains until the last arc of the story, where she *ahem* demonstrates the ovarian fortitude her male colleagues are lacking in their respective anatomical parts, rallies the Band Of The Hawk to victory, and the rescue of Griffith… and then gets drop-kicked in the refrigerator shortly after the rest
of the Band of the Hawk gets massacred.

Also, there is no denouement to speak of in this show. It just ends, quite abruptly, leaving the manga (which the series has some changes from) to pick up where it left off.

Nudity and Violence

There is a great deal of bloody violence in the series, but no gore, mercifully. There is a moderate amount of nudity, but for the first half of the series it’s almost tasteful. However, as Casca gets closer and closer to the fridge in the latter half of the series, she gets repeatedly near-raped. The rape itself doesn’t actually occur, but she ends up getting topless until she (or someone else) kills her near-rapists. With the notable exception of when she gets raped at the very end of the series. Frankly, though I normally avoid saying what you should or shouldn’t show your kids – children just shouldn’t be watching this show for any reason.

The Scores

Originality: Frankly, if you took the flash forward and the very end of the series out of the equation entirely, you’d basically get (with the exception of one character) a straight “fantasy” anime – which is only “fantasy” because it’s not set on Earth. It is an adaptation, but of a series that is fairly original in it’s own right – 4 out of 6

Animation: The animation here is excellently done, enough to be a high point. My only beef here is with the employment of brief still art frames (in the sense of the Still Frame Space Battle I was complaining about in my Gunbuster review) but done to put emphasis on a single blow, or an arrow shot, or something similar, or, on rare occasions, to sell a massive battle. 4 out of 6

Story: The story has a great deal of character development for most of the main characters – Guts, Casca & Griffith. The rest of the Band of the Hawk gets limited development but they do get you to like the character. The story is interesting, though towards the middle of the series, the plot becomes “What Devious Cunning Plan will that Magnificent Bastard Griffith pull off next?” It doesn’t stay that way for long though. 3 out of 6

Voice Acting: The voice acting is alright. It’s not horrible, but it’s not spectacular either. 3 out of 6

Emotional Response: They basically tell you how the show will end at the beginning, due to the fast forward – the whole story is (to a large extent) how Guts state, and the state of the setting, ends up that way. However, even though you know its coming, the conclusion of the series is still a punch in the gut. 5 out of 6

Production: Overall, aside from the animation, which is great, and the voice acting, which is okay – the episode score is alright and appropriately period, while the the ending and opening themes don’t seem to fit with the series, and are also absolutely loaded with Engrish. The sound design is alright, though it falls victim to the problem that fantasy anime that depicts western swords runs into often – that they rattle and clank around like a katana does (with the slightly loose hilt). I understand sound designers do like their character noise to be, well, noisy (they get paid to have their characters be audible, rather then being silent), but really – rustling chain mail would have worked so much better for the characters (though admittedly I have no idea how much it would cost to get chain mail in Japan). 3 out of 6

Overall: Berserk is a good series, in terms of its story, and animation, I’m probably not going to be picking up the soundtrack. 3 out of 6

In total, Berserk! receives a 25 out of 42.

NOTE: I’ve made a few corrections to the review while cleaning up the formatting problems with the shift. I’ve added some information to the Parental advisory section that would definitely be a spoiler, though I have spoiler-guarded it.