Anime Review: Berserk

There will be spoilers for the old series of Berserk, though I’m not sure how necessary it is considering that the old series was aired nearly 20 years ago. I’ve only recently watched the old series so I could better understand and appreciate the plot of the series that is currently airing, as it is actually a sequel, and I was surprised at how enjoyable it was despite the lack of animation quality. It is, however, a gore filled series with some brief moments of animated nudity and sexuality and is definitely not recommended for a young audience. It is named Berserk for a reason. As a final note, the first episode of the old series should actually be watched, for continuity’s sake, at the very end of the series. It makes a whole lot more sense that way and is much less confusing, but that’s up to you.

Berserk at it’s core is actually an incredibly simple story. It revolves around a young man by the name of Guts who, as a youth, was incredibly strong and wielded a very large sword. He roamed around as a mercenary back in times of Knights, Kings, and Castles. After defeating a larger opponent with a massive weapon a group of mercenaries decide to try to take him on to prove he isn’t that strong and a few of them end up being killed. It attracts the attention of their leader and he sends a young woman, Casca, to beat him and even she struggles to take Guts on. After seeing this, Griffith, the leader decides to step in himself and defeats Guts with and overwhelming force of skill. Guts refuses to yield to him and as a wager for the duel, Griffith requires him to swear allegiance until Guts dies. At this point, Guts is introduced to Griffith’s “Band of the Hawk.”

Griffith is revered by the Band as being an amazing leader that values every one of his soldiers and they all treat each other like a family. Guts continues to train himself in the Band over the span of several years and eventually grows to respect him as a leader as well, though he constantly butts heads with Casca. They grow to be the second-in-commands for Griffith. Griffith shares his ambitions to have his own kingdom with them. With his skill as a strategic leader, he’s able to bring everyone else along with them. It was incredible to see the level of character development that happens throughout Berserk, despite how old it is, starting with these moments. They spend their free time drinking and goofing off just like any one their age would these days, but eventually grow into disciplined soldiers who search for their meaning and place in the world. All Guts has ever known was wielding his sword, ever since he was a young child he was basically a slave Now that he’s second in command he has time to try and find out what he wants in his life.  In the midst of the Band of the Hawk’s rise to success they come across a battle where there are whispers of a legendary warrior, with known appearances in battles spanning nearly 100 years, known as Zodd the Immortal. Guts rushes in to try and single-handedly fight the brute and single-handedly forces Zodd to reveal that he’s actually a demon. Reinforced by Griffith, several other Band of the Hawk members get destroyed in the fight but Griffith and Guts survive solely from Guts’ strength and Zodd discovering an amulet Griffith wears that he calls the Baleth of the King. This intrigues Zodd and he allows them to live to see how they play out in the future.

This horrible event actually helps cement the trust that Griffith places in Guts and starts a further developing rift between Casca and Guts for having Griffith risk his life to save Guts. The Hawk continues to rise in notoriety amongst the Kingdom and becomes hired on by a King, eventually to be knighted and further raised to Noble status. On the precipice of earning his Kingdom finally, Guts decides that he must seek his own way in life and leaves to find out what he needs and Griffith is destroyed by the loss.

To skip ahead a little bit, Griffith is arrested by the head Knights of the King and is tortured for months before Guts returns to Casca as she’s about to lead the Hawks to rescue him. The series takes a turn into pure insanity and demons come out from literally the sky and land to acknowledge Griffith as their Demon King. They distort his mind into betraying the Hawks and all of them end up getting branded to be fed to the demon minions and only Guts and Casca survive.

Through the entire adventure, the development of Guts as a character leads him from wandering around with no meaning as a young mercenary to having a purpose serving a man he could follow. This lead to him having a family in the Band of the Hawk and being happy with his life until coming to a realization that he wasn’t in any better situation than he was years before. He was still just serving another leader, but had at least known what it was like to have a family. He struggles with a need to find meaning and purpose beyond fighting and killing and aims to leave his life behind to find happiness. It comes full circle when he decides that he lived his life by his sword and while he didn’t see meaning in it before, he realized that he was actually happy being such an accomplished swordsman. To top off everything, he was finally able to win his freedom back from Griffith by repeating the duel from the first time they met, except Guts wins triumphantly with a single strike this time. He managed to beat the person that had mentored him all this time and lead him to victory.

That’s just my interpretation of Guts’ development though, and unfortunately it all comes loose in the end.

This leads us up to the new series, starting off with Guts still bearing the demon brand and being hunted by demons during night. He’s taken up the task of hunting down some demon lords that have been put into place around the world by the demons that aided in the corruption of Griffith. The newer show is no less violent, and has more nudity in it so I continue to stress that this is not a children’s show. It’s probably not necessary to watch the previous series from 1997 to understand the current series, but I still highly recommend the old series as it has aged pretty well. As someone who watches too much anime on a weekly basis, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see a show that is definitely targeting an older audience and isn’t afraid to show gore. Though the heavy sexual theme of one of the episodes so far is a bit out of my taste, I could still appreciate it’s purpose in the show.

Berserk is a dark series and there’s no rainbows or candy canes to be found here.

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