What does anyone make out of a title called "Berserk?" I figured it's definitely shounen, and I was right when I surfed the net and saw the screenshots. It also gave me the impression that the anime is *old,* with the washed-out color and the extremely flat artwork. Compare it to Fushigi Yuugi's Eikuden and it gave me an idea that this was created way before Y2K.
Berserk was first created as a manga (as is the trend) by Kentaro Miura and was aired as an anime in Japanese television sometime in 1997. As the title implies, Berserk is a gloomy story. So gloomy even the characters went "berserk" in the end ^_^
As a mercenary group, the Hawks are hired by the kingdom that has the highest bidding. In the war between the Kingdom of Midland and Tuda, the Hawks fight for the Kingdom of Midland. Griffith's cunning in battle, added to his charisma, later made him knight, then count. His ambition to become a supreme ruler did not stop him from playing dirty, including having Gatts assassinate the nobles of Midland jealous of Griffith's achievements. His talisman, a round, red, prune-like pendant called Egg of the Kings, also has a role in protecting his life from potential murderers (two of them the king of Midland's brother and the queen of Midland). Griffith's interest in Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the king of Midland, too, gave him the assurance that he would easily secure the throne, but little did he know that it would bring him his downfall.
Gatts, for his part, is slowly forging his relationship with Griffith, who considers him a valuable member of the Hawks, if not a friend. Caska, resentful of him being Griffith's favorite, made no secret of her dislike towards Gatts, although she would later realize that she herself is falling for him. However Gatts, despite creating a niche for himself in the Band of the Hawks, is dissatisfied with his life and wanted to have great dreams like Griffith. After three years with the Hawks, he left the band against Griffith's wishes (and after another duel which resulted to Griffith's sword being broken in two by Gatts's).
Griffith, depressed with Gatts's departure, sought respite by seducing Charlotte. Unfortunately he was caught, accused of high treason, and imprisoned in the dankest and lowest dungeons of the castle where he was tortured beyond human limits. Gatts, who after a year found out that the Hawks are on the run from the Midland army with sketchy plans to save Griffith, reunited with the band. They were able to save a wasted Griffith; Griffith however felt betrayed with Gatts's departure from the band a year ago and his flourishing relationship with Caska. He tried to kill himself, failed, and as if fated, found his talisman that was torn from him while he was being tortured. A solar eclipse ensued, and the talisman transformed to a human face just as the landscape around them changed to a terrain of crimson human faces. Demons of the "God Hand" appear, and Griffith, the holder of the Egg of the King, happens to be one of them. He is told that he will fulfill his ambition to become king--if he makes the Hawks his human sacrifices.
At first I wasn't interested when I watched the first episode of Berserk. The artwork didn't help. Then I watched the second episode, then the third, and I was hooked! The first episode is actually the ending, and the flashbacks started coming in the second episode. So, for people who judge an anime by watching the first episode alone, I suggest you start on the second episode, and watch the first episode last.
The tone and backdrop of Berserk is like Braveheart, with all the medieval angst and drama. Even the costumes hint of an Elizabethan era (the queen of Midland's ruffle-necklined gown puts to mind a portrait of Elizabeth I that I've seen in a textbook). Since the central characters are a mercenary group, expect to see a lot of swordfights here. That said, I have to point out that there are lots of violence in Berserk, but if you've been watching other bloody animes (like Weiss Kreuz), you'll be desensitized with all the gore here. There are also moral issues involved, like pedophilia (Caska), rape, and homosexuality (Griffith *gasp*). But don't be put out with the depressing nature of the story. Berserk is tempered with tender moments too, like Gatts's and Caska's love-hate relationship. And Griffith is definitely an eye-candy (ohh-lala!). I was just too depressed when he suddenly turned to a bad guy. The twist stunned me, because it was hard *not* to like Griffith. He's the quintessential hottie, and I was half wishing that he'd later turn to a new leaf, fall in love (ummm, Charlotte is passable), and settle down ^_^
Which brings us to the cast. I especially like the way the characters were developed, and gee, are there lots of them. Not only were Griffith, Gatts, and Caska given much focus (which are the principal characters of the story), but even the lesser known members of the Hawks (Corkus, Rickert, Judeau, Pippin) were protrayed as to make them memorable. Corkus particularly lightens the mood of the story, which as I've said is mostly dark throughout.
Of course Berserk is far from perfect. As usual, I have my gripes: ^_^
One thing I'd like to gripe about the plot is the involvement of the supernatural, like Zodd the Immortal, one of Tuda's hired warriors who transforms to a Balrog-like (think LotR Fellowship of the Ring) creature with wings, or the demons of God Hand that convert Griffith to a similar creature. Personally, the story would have stood alone without the mystical angle. The thing about the Egg of the King, while flawlessly integrated into the story, becomes incongruous when the demons and monsters appear.
Another gripe is the ending, which might be considered as cool by some people, but only made me scratch my head. I was thinking "Huh?" when I watched the 25th episode. Then I watched the first episode again, and it still left things unanswered. Like where the heck is Griffith? Is he the snake baron that Gatts had killed in the first episode? How come Gatts still has two arms, when in the 25th episode he had hacked off his one arm? Granted, the ending allows the viewers to conclude what had happened, but it only left me confused and unable to formulate a coherent ending by myself. So for clueless people like me, better consult the manga for clarity.
The artwork, as I've mentioned, is all washed out in color as is the case with earlier anime, but with the engrossing story, I forgot how drab everything looked. The background music is acceptable (lots of yodelling and bagpipes I would have thought Midland is somewhere in Scotland). The opening theme "Tell Me Why" however is a different story; the discordant electric guitar music with the English lyrics (if you're able to understand the lyrics at all) make me cringe. The ending theme is no better, which is also in English although for the life of me they could have been singing in another foreign language. It's pretty obvious that English is not the singers' mother tongue. They really should have stuck to the standard Japanese lyrics.
In fairness, I enjoyed watching Berserk. Even with the gore, it has a riveting plot fit to be turned to a Hollywood motion picture (minus the supernatural elements), moderately fast pacing (except for battle scenes that sometimes gets tedious in their length), and memorable characters.