This is a very strange anime to discuss. Not because of the story, which is mostly straight forward, but things outside of it. Mostly the fact that it’s incomplete. Not just the anime, but the manga itself. Starting in 1990, the manga is still running today, with a total of 37 volumes, so far. This is always been an annoyance for me, when mangas are animated long before they’re near completion. To combat this, creators either slow the pace of the show (painfully so), create filler episodes, or in this case, just stop.
Berserk is a very violent show, and even more violent manga. Much of violence has been edited in the animated version, mostly for time constraints. The show runs for 25 episodes, one short of the typical 26 episode run. The opening, and by extension the ending, differ wildly in setting and tone from the meat of the series. The first episode introduces us to the protagonist, Guts. A haunted, bitter man with only revenge in mind. His character design is in over the top Japanese fashion; blind in one eye, crossbow replacing his left hand, made entirely of muscles, and a very, very large sword. It’s hard to say who first brought the obnoxiously large sword into vogue, but Guts is certainly one of it’s forefathers.
The story opens with Guts, known only as the Black Swordsman, traveling to a town and killing the man holding it hostage; a man who can turn into a snake like monster. Then we see him sitting in the woods, alone, and a marking on his neck glows as voices call to him, driving him mad. Then we flashback to his youth. Eschewing the hard fantasy/horror backdrop set in the first episode, we see the world in an European medieval type setting. Guts was an orphan, raised and taught to fight by a hard man. Eventually he joins a group of mercenaries, called the Band of the Hawk. There he enters an interesting relationship with Griffith, the leader, and second in command, Casca.
The series continues developing their relationship, with only hint of demons and what not, mostly focusing on war and other political machinations. The last third of the series changes pace after Griffith is raised to a noble status, and sleeps with the princess. Before this happened, Guts decided to leave the Hawks, unaware that they were now branded outlaws, with Griffith imprisoned. Guts eventually returns, learns what happens, and he and Casca admit their love for each other. Guts, Casca, and other Hawks rescue Griffith from his year long imprisonment, only to find his tongue removed and tendons severed.
Here’s where things go crazy. The Crimson Behelit (some weird egg that Griffith was told would eventually make him a king), actives during an eclipse. It pulls the group into another dimension where Griffith is offered a choice to join a group of demons known as the God Hand, only if he sacrifices his soldiers, the very people that just saved him. They are slaughtered, save for Casca and Guts. Griffith is reborn as hawk-like demon named Femto. His first action is to brutally rape Casca. Guts loses his eye and cuts his hand off to save her. Then, that’s it.
This covers the first 13 volumes of the manga, which explains the abrupt, conclusionless ending. I didn’t understand this for years. Seeing how it was part of a larger story makes sense. Considering the rest of the series stays inline with the new tone set at the end of the series, the sudden inclusion of demons and such makes a little more sense. The anime, released in ’97, is finally seeing some sort of conclusion. Fifteen years later, movies have begun to release to adapt the rest of the series. The original voice actors for Casca, Griffith, and Guts reprised their roles. Also, taking place between volumes 22 and 23 of the mange, Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage (Engrish!), was released for the Sega Dreamcast. It was an action, QTE filled, bloody violent game.
I can’t speak to the overall tale as I haven’t read the manga, nor is it finished. While the tale told in the anime is good, it’s obviously part of a larger story, offering no conclusion. Taken as this slice, standing on it’s own, I can’t recommend this series. The ending seems too left field with no further explanations. Possibly the movies rectify this, but I can’t speak to that. This should stand on it’s own, but it doesn’t. If you’re curious, or willing to accept a possible lack of conclusion, check this out. Otherwise, don’t spend your time.
My love for you is like a truck BERSERKER!