Berserk is one of those anime series that manages to stand the test of time and to this day is often mentioned or featured in many ‘must watch’ anime lists despite being 21 years old this year. This is because in many aspects it was ahead of it’s time back in 1997 and at the time it was praised for its wonderful characters and story telling ability. Even though this original 25 episode series barely scratches the surface of the amount of content available in the manga, it still holds a special place in the hearts of fans and for many it was their first adventure into more mature anime.
Upon jumping into the series the first thing you’ll notice is that yes it does look dated by today’s super crisp, glossy anime standard. But there’s something special about hand drawn cell animation that we rarely see these days that makes this series and many others developed in the 90’s so great. The gritty tones and art style match the themes of the series perfectly. Please whatever you do, don’t overlook this anime just based on the premise of ‘it looks old’. It’s a classic for a reason and is classed as a very important piece of anime, shaping and inspiring many series we’re seeing today.
The story of Berserk opens with a story trope that I personally love. It begins in the future, introducing us to lead character Guts as an older, experienced warrior. Wielding his oversized blade and wrist mounted arrow launcher with expert precision as he protects the townspeople from bandits and sinister demons. We get just a glimpse of Guts’ future self before we’re taken back in time in episode 2 to witness his upbringing and how he developed into the character we saw in episode 1. Watching that first episode lead me to think that I was in for a completely different kind of show. Originally thinking it was going to be the same tonally as a Castlevania game. But while there are similarities between the two series, Berserk actually spends most of it’s time teaching us about it’s characters and showcasing The Band of the Hawk.
One of Berserk’s key highlights are in fact the characters. After a young Guts catches the eye of a resistance mercenary force leader know as Griffith, he is eventually enlisted to the Band of the Hawks. Eventually, because it wasn’t exactly a smooth acquisition for Griffith as you will see early on in the series. From here you begin to get to know and eventually become quite attached to Berserk’s strong cast of varied characters and their adventures as the Band of the Hawk. Even the ones that are initially quite annoying.
The thing that makes Berserk’s characters so great is that many of them have traits that make them feel like real people. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The three lead characters posses personalities that both complement each other but have traits that make them clash. Providing extra drama and stakes throughout the season. Lead character Guts has had a tough upbringing, leading him to toughen up, become stronger and become a mercenary for hire. Griffith is quite a precise, honourable and proud leader that prides himself on approaching battles strategically. Pulled together by Casca, a kickass powerful female warrior that has no issues pulling both Guts and Griffith into line when need be.
As mentioned in the opening this series only covers a tiny snippet of the content available in the original manga, which started back in 1989 and is still ongoing. Although you will likely want to jump into the manga afterwards to continue your adventure with Berserk, it doesn’t feel like a series that deliberately implemented an original ending, or didn’t end at all just to force you to go out and pick up the books. Fair warning though, the ending of the series really isn’t for everyone. While I thought they took quite a risk back in 1997 with the ending there will inevitably be some viewers that won’t like it as much and may be left scratching their heads during those closing credits.
Those of you that love listening to anime soundtracks, you’re in for a treat here. The music that features in Berserk is fantastic. The score pieces compliment the scenes, especially battle sequences so well. Since watching the series I have been listening to the music repeatedly. It’s an all-round quality soundtrack.
I watched the series in it’s English dub format and it too is incredibly well done remembering how long ago it was actually produced. There were a few notable lip sync issues and the odd line that was delivered a little off but for the most part it was a solid dubbing effort featuring quite a few actors that are still in the anime industry today.
This home release Blu-Ray contains all 25 episodes across 3 discs, available with both the English and Japanese voice track. There is also a decent amount of extra’s to keep you entertained even after finishing the series too with the standard clean opening and ending themes, Original Japanese opening and ending, Forces full version, Encore TV opening, a Paint it Berserk feature, Production sketches, Art gallery and even Outtakes. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of content in the extra’s.
Berserk is a must watch series for all fans of mature anime. Yes be aware before you go in that it does contain some very mature themes and is quite violent but if those theme’s don’t bother you, pick this up. Don’t let it’s dated appearance put you off. It’s great cast of characters and it’s story telling are some of the best and even many modern anime series can’t hold a candle to it. The Berserk The Complete Series Blur-Ray is the definitive way to watch the original Berserk series. It contains all 25 episodes presented in full HD and it’s extra’s will keep you entertained for hours.
A Blu-Ray review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment for the purpose our Berserk The Complete Series review. All images © NTV / VAP