Berserk Anime Review
Kenpuu Denki Beruseruku
Sword-wind Chronicles Berserk
US Release By
25 27-minute episodes
1997-10-07 - 1998-03-31
Ever since birth his Guts' life has been one of death and sorrow. After all his years of hardships he continues to wander the land , seemingly always in battle, for that is all he knows and all he has ever done.
After the first episode Guts flashes back to his youthful days as a member of the Hawks, a rag tag group of mercenaries who, under the leadership of Griffen Guts and Caska, would go because the most famous warriors in Midland and would play a decisive role in the country's war with the rivaling nation of Chuda. And the proceeding events that would lead to Guts' terrible destiny.
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Poorly written, badly executed and ugly, Berserk is anime at its worst. The plot is cheesy, predictable, and almost non-existent. The characters have no personality whatsoever. The background art is ugly and devoid of detail, and while the character animation is decent, the action scenes are sloppy. Even the soundtrack is disappointing. The worst of it, though, is the battles--they consist entirely of lumbering brute Guts and "brilliant" swordsman Griffen plowing through legions of faceless, talentless baddies without the slightest bit of effort or even skill evident. It's repetitive, boring, and all-around rather stupid unless your thing is watching bad guys get fed into a meat grinder.
I don't think there is anything that could have saved this disaster of a TV series. In every aspect, Berserk is as bad as anime gets. If you love one-sided fights, you might want to give it a look, but otherwise you should probably stay well clear of it. Even as a rental, it's a complete waste of time and money.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Poorly written, badly executed and ugly, Berserk is anime at its worst. There is not a single positive thing I could find about it in all 25 episodes. As soon as the series starts, things begin to slide downhill and never stop.
The first episode begins in a tavern where a helpless young girl is being terrorized be evil bullies. Of course, no one tries to intervene except for her frail old grandfather who receives a predictable beating for his efforts. Then all of a sudden a stranger (Guts) walks in and kills all the villains with absurdly implausible weapons and then leaves to go fight more evil, having just given Berserk one of the most unoriginal openings I've ever seen in a TV series. And it never gets much better for Guts or Berserk. In fact, it gets worse. From that point on the entire series is just one big downward spiral with so many obvious and unforgivable flaws that it's hard to know where to even begin bashing it.
I guess I'll start with the plot. The plot is cheesy, predictable, and almost non-existent. The whole thing seemed like one big excuse to allow the main characters to kill more people than John Wayne, Nicolas Cage and Mel Gibson in all of their movies combined! It does have a lot of mature and realistic themes that you don't normally see in a fantasy story, like rape and pedophilia. But the plot is too awful for them to be relevant; most are only used to create degrading situations for Caska, and the rest go nowhere. A lot of episodes have no story development at all and do nothing to advance what little plot there is.
There are a lot of detailed character backstories and unexpected events that initially look interesting, but end up having no bearing on the series. One example is an episode where Guts is hired to kill a nobleman. Like every other job Guts does in Berserk, he accomplishes this perfectly with no problems. But on the way out he is spotted and he instinctively kills the person to prevent him from alerting anyone else. But then he discovers the person he just killed was the nobleman's innocent child. Sound like an interesting twist doesn't it? But it turns out that event has absolutely no effect on Guts or the rest of the series. Pointless events like that are all too common in Berserk and further cripple what little plot Berserk has.
Another thing that greatly contributes to the downfall of the story is the characters. There are only three characters in the entire series that get sufficient focus and attention: Guts, Griffen and Caska. Guts is easily one of the most detestable lead characters in all anime. He's just another invincible killer with no depth and very little intelligence. Nearly every episode has him tearing through entire armies of opponents with no trouble at all. But unlike most other invincible anime killers, he does this without displaying any skill. His fighting style is just basic swings and slashes that any bonehead with rudimentary sword training can do. And he swings his huge sword around with one hand so easily that it's obvious that the Hawks should start testing their members for steroid abuse. Whenever he is not in battle, he is usually rambling about how he has to keep fighting and can never stop. In general, most of his dialogue between battles is illogical, boring, and, like almost everything else he does that does not involve killing, completely irrelevant.
Griffen, the leader of the Hawks, is not much better. His displays almost as much godlike invincibility in combat as Guts even though he uses a small fencing sword that looks like it could not penetrate heavy armor. But Griffen rips through the thickest plate mail as if his opponents were wearing nothing at all. Literally everything he does--from battle plans, to assassinations and political strategies--works perfectly with no problems or setbacks. For most of the series he does not display a single human flaw. Eventually we get to see a darker side of him, but this does not result in anything significant until the last few episodes and by then it's too little, too late.
Caska, a commander in the Hawks, is initially billed as a sort of love interest for Guts and Griffen. But actually, her main role into Berserk seems to be getting into degrading situations.
A few other members of the Hawks get minor supporting roles, but don't do anything important. The only other character in Berserk worth mentioning is a stupid evil commander who always spends several minutes before (and sometimes during) a battle explaining to everyone around him that his fighting skill/battle plan/castle/champion/whatever he has is unstoppable and no one can beat him, and then always ends up losing. Just about everyone in the entire series besides the members of the Hawks (and some of them too) act like mindless pawns who get easily manipulated and/or killed both on and off the battlefield, making the entire concept of Berserk very hard to accept.
But the worst aspect of Berserk is the battles. Nearly every episode has a battle in it, which would be fine if they were any good. They're not. Pretty much every battle in Berserk is just a mindless, nonsensical display of the main characters' superhuman combat prowess and invincibility against massively superior numbers. Almost all we see in the battle scenes are wave after wave of brainless drone enemies running up to the main characters and getting promptly obliterated with no trouble or effort. And the combat skills displayed by everyone--including the main characters--are pathetic. Most of the battles are preceded by a war council in which the king of Midland or highest ranking officer in the room says something like "We need to take this enemy castle, but have been trying to do so for months and have failed every time." And then Griffen responds with something like "Don't worry, my guys will take it by ourselves with no problems at all". Even though this always turns out to be true, most of the people at the council object to this and are always overruled. Then Griffen and the Hawks ride off to battle and easily win.
There are only two fights in the entire series that I found even remotely interesting. The first is a duel between Guts and Griffen that was decent, but nothing special. The other is a fight against a demon called "Zodd the Immortal." Zodd is invincible and can kill hundreds of guys at once (which he does) so it's not really much of a fight at all. Even so, he can't kill Guts and Griffen. He does badly wound both of them and then flies away. This led me to believe he would play a major role in Berserk, but he doesn't--they don't fight him again and he only shows up briefly later on. And, as soon as the fight ends, Guts and Griffen instantly regain their "untouchable god" status. Back at the home castle in the next episode, Guts tosses a few guards out of his way like they are rag dolls (that's how almost all of his foes are depicted). Which I might buy, except he's limping around on crutches!
And, unlike most similar anime, the battles get progressively worse as the series moves along. The best example is a battle near the end when an enemy commander surrounded by his crossbow-wielding troops takes Griffen hostage and orders the Hawks to drop their weapons. Guts, of course, just runs up to the commander and kills him without the crossbow guys doing anything. Then instead of pumping Guts and Griffen full of crossbow bolts, the enemy troops pull out their swords and run up to Guts, who easily kills them all.
Now, I know every anime fight is unrealistic and all medieval fantasy stories, anime or otherwise, require some suspension of disbelief, but Berserk goes way too far. Not even James bond overcomes impossible odds as easily or often as the main characters in Berserk. In every battle you can just feel your IQ plummeting. In addition to being stupid, the battles in Berserk are completely devoid of substance and/or visual appeal. Unless you absolutely love watching one person slaughtering dozens of guys without any problems and don't mind bad animation and bad combat skills I don't see how anyone could like them.
Apparently the creators of Berserk were smart enough to see that good animation and music would not be enough to save it, because it looks like they didn't even bother trying. Some of the character animation is decent, but the background artwork is terrible. Every environment, from castles and war camps to battlegrounds and forests, is poorly drawn, devoid of detail, and just plain ugly. This is especially damaging to the already horrible battle scenes. The battlegrounds are so badly animated that most of the time you can't even see anyone fighting besides the main characters and even their combat is badly done. As expected, the amount of blood is absurdly high and has the typical anime "red paint" look.
The soundtrack is even more disappointing. Berserk has very little music in it, and most of what it does have is mundane and repetitive. There is one excellent song that the production team was smart enough to use in the trailer and post-episode previews, but it's almost never used in the series itself. It should have been the opening theme; instead they used a terrible alternative rock beat that is completely out of place in the fantasy setting.
But, like I said, good animation and music would not have been enough to salvage Berserk. I don't think there is anything that could have saved this disaster of a TV series. In every aspect, Berserk is as bad as anime gets. If you love one-sided fights and battles, you might want to give it a look, but otherwise you should probably stay well clear of it. Even as a rental, it's a complete waste of time and money.
for a contrasting viewpoint, reader Angelo Zampogna had a very different second opinion.
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Bastard is a relatively humorous, but still violent and mature-theme-heavy fantasy series; Ninja Resurrection isn't any good, but is a ninja show with about as much violence and mature content as you can fit into such a thing; and Fist of the North Star is, of course, the post-apocalyptic splatterfest classic.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a 1991 manga series by Kentaro Miura, some of which are available in English from Dark Horse.
US DVD Review
The six DVDs contain a selection of outtakes, art galleries, and trailers. The first disc is available either alone, or with the artbox that the complete box set comes in.
16-up on account of extreme violence and a lot of mature themes.
Violence: 4 - Not a lot of detailed gore, but still a very high blood and body count.
Nudity: 3 - Especially in the later episodes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 4 - A lot of degrading situations for Caska.
Language: 3 - Profanity.