Release Year: 1997
Genre: Action, Dark fantasy, Horror, Tragedy
Rating: R for violence and nudity
Duration: 23 minutes/ Episode
Plot Summary: A brave young warrior named Guts fights for his fortune as a mercenary on the front lines. A fated encounter unites Guts with a charismatic and deadly young man named Griffith. Leading the rogue soldiers known as the Band of the Hawk, Griffith wields his formidable force like no other. Driven by a quest for status, the Hawks exert military and social prowess the likes of which have never been seen before. The armies of Midland will quake with fear as Griffith and Guts set off on a path that will bring the world to its knees.
You know when you’re absolutely smitten with a show that you finish all 25 episodes in 3 days even though it’s so unlike you? Or that you immediately pick up its manga even though you NEVER read manga? That’s what happened with me and Berserk. I stumbled upon this anime when I read somewhere on Youtube that it is very similar to Game of Thrones. At a glance, I thought that Berserk will be your typical action anime; packed with repetitive violence and over the top characters. But then I thought: This anime had one season that ended in the late 90’s, but its love is still going strong. I should probably give it a try. So I did.
Frankly, I had a really hard time writing this piece, namely because I was afraid of not doing this show justice and because I didn’t know where to start. I don’t know how to describe it, I mean the plot is simple enough to understand, but the characters and the complex relationships that bind them are what make this show stand out.
The plot follows Guts, a brash mercenary living each day at a time, until fate throws him at the ambitious and charismatic Griffith. Griffith, who grew up as an orphaned peasant, dreams of ruling his own kingdom. He leads a band of mercenaries known as the Band of the Hawk. Together, they fight war after war, slowly rising in status. Griffith’s dream seems a grasp away, until in a moment of weakness, everything comes crashing down and all hell breaks loose.
The anime covers one arc, known as the Golden Age arc, of the manga. It’s basically a flashback arc that explains how the current events in the manga came to be. Like any self-respecting dark fantasy anime, it is drawn with violence and painted with insanity. But it’s not mindless violence done for the sake of shock-value; it’s set in a brutal world that’s built on very fragile morals. I thought that the first episode had a slow pacing, but once the actual story started, I could not devour the episodes fast enough. The show plays with themes of human ambition, fate, free will and how they guide the characters and their actions.
For such a violent show, the imageries it uses are quite poetic. One scene that sticks to my mind is when Caska and Guts are sitting atop a tree hill observing the bonfires beneath. They compare the little flames to people’s individual dreams, all brought together to join the great bonfire that is Griffith’s dream.
My interpretation of the characters will be based on my understanding of the anime alone. I am planning on reading the manga and will probably make an updated review once I catch up with it.
The thing with Berserk is that it does not have a hero; all of its characters (some more than others) do questionable things. But I think that that is part of the attraction. It’s always interesting to see things from a villain’s or anti-hero’s perspective, because while you might not agree with their actions, you can understand, and sometimes even sympathize with them. As you get immersed in the show, you’ll forget that the characters are essentially mercenaries, and you’ll feel connected to them and to their little Hawk family. These same mercenaries, who kill thousands on the battlefield, decided that they won’t leave Griffith, their former leader, behind after his downfall.
God I feel like tearing up just remembering those final episodes.
Okay, here goes:
Guts: Although Guts is the main character in this show, I was not drawn to him like I was to Griffith, but I will get to that later. Having known nothing but violence and pain all his life, Guts understands that if he wants to survive in his harsh world, then he’ll have to be as brutal as it is. On the battlefield, he is a raging storm of anger and power, but off it, he’s a very thoughtful and observing person. And while he has no problem killing people on the battlefield, accidently killing a child devastates him, which unveils the complex layers that lie within him.
He looks up to Griffith, but when he accidently hears him describe the Band of the Hawk as his subordinates rather than his friends, he decides to leave to carve out his own path, hoping to become worthy of Griffith’s friendship. Not realizing that Griffith did in fact see him as a friend, and that by leaving he broke him down, Guts, although unaware, sets in motion the catastrophic events that ensued. His story discusses the eternal conflict between fate and free will.
Griffith: Although I will never get over what he did, Griffith has found a place in my list of favorite fictional characters of all time (Hear me out). I am thinking of writing an analysis piece dedicated to him but it might have to wait until I finish the manga. There is nothing I love more than a complex villain with a tragic backstory. Griffith hovers over a thin line separating angels and Satan himself. On the outside, he’s the perfect romantic hero: Calm, handsome, intelligent and charismatic. But a subtle insanity lingers in his eyes, only coming to the surface in small doses.
Ever since his childhood, he had always believed that he’s the messiah coming to save the masses. His character’s storyline discusses ambition, fate and whether the end justifies the means. The turning point in his story is when Guts decides to leave him. Although he spent most of his life shutting away his emotions and telling himself that he feels nothing towards his soldiers, his breakdown when Guts leaves says otherwise. Fans of the show despise him, understandably so given what he does at the end, but I also think that his rise to glory and subsequent fall is one of the most tragic things I’ve seen in a long time.
Now that I think about it, it might be hard to analyze him. I’ve never seen a character that’s so hard to be placed in a box. I’ve been trying to dissect his actions and words ever since I finished the anime and I’ve yet to come to a definite answer. He’s too complex, too contradicting and too layered, which of course makes for a great villain.
Caska: This is a man’s world. But it would be nothing, nothing.Without a woman or a girl. Caska spends most of her life paying the price for being born a girl in a medieval period. She is almost raped by a rich nobleman as a child, only to be saved by Griffith. He throws her a sword and asks her to defend herself. From that day onwards, she vows to become Griffith’s sword and right hand. She rightfully earns a high rank position within the Band of the Hawk and the respect of her comrades; however, she still has to endure the sexualized taunting of her enemies. Just like the other two, Caska had to grow up before her time and despite keeping a stern façade, she’s actually a very sweet and sensitive soul. Although she starts out hating Guts because he stole Griffith’s attention, she slowly comes to love him and the two begin a relationship.
This anime was made in 1997, so naturally the animation isn’t as fabulous as what you’d see nowadays. However, you shouldn’t let that stop you from watching this masterpiece. I am personally one of the few people who don’t mind (and sometimes prefer) the old animation style. I watched the Berserk movies that came out recently, and I must say that Griffith’s deranged glare looks more terrifying in the 1997 version. Trust me.
A lot of fans seem to hate the show’s opening song but I personally liked it, it’s not a fancy song but it gets the job done, which I thought fit Guts perfectly.
It’s so so so SAD
Extremely complex relationships, thought-provoking character choices, and a tragic ending. A word of advice, don’t let the first episode fool you, this is a masterpiece.
I leave you with this AMV that I absolutely love. It may not exactly describe Griffith and Guts’s relationship, but it perfectly captures the tragic essence of it.