Berserk – 1 – An introduction to obsession

I’m just going to come right out and say it — Berserk is my favourite anime of all time. I became an anime fan because of Naruto, but Berserk and its alluring quantities of bloody violence, epic action and tragic friendship immediately captured my heart and held onto it ever since. I still remember having to contain my enthusiasm when first watching it, sometime in 2002 — I so desperately wanted to marathon through it all right there and then, but deep down knew I had to take time to savour it, to consider and enjoy every new episode; I knew that feeling wouldn’t last forever. That’s how much I enjoyed watching Berserk and now, as an on-going (and quite selfish) tribute, I intend to blog-review my way through the entire show. Please enjoy my thoroughly biased perspective.
Having said all that, the first episode very nearly killed my interest before it began. As is the style of Kentarou Miura’s fantastic manga, Berserk confusingly begins half way through the story; there are no proper introductions to the characters, there is no explanation as to what is happening; we are just thrown head first into Guts’ (only known in this episode as the "Black Swordsman") violent medieval world. He is a heartless bad ass, a mountain of muscle covered in armour; he has one arm and one eye, carries a giant sword (capable of cutting through horses) and fires an automatic cross bow — simply put, he is a one man war machine hell bent on revenge.
Guts shows no sign of humanity and no sympathy for his victims; all he desires is to hunt the cannibalistic demons that have presumably ruined his life. Nothing or no one else matters – the only time we see him smile; a hellish grin, is when he is firing arrow after arrow into the butchered face of said demon.
It’s established then that Guts is seriously pissed off about something; right at the end of the episode we flash back to Guts’ past and see him as an energetic younger man (teenager, no doubt). The rest of this anime is now dedicated to discovering the reasons behind Guts’ fall into such haunted monstrosity. And at this moment we are hooked.

10 replies on “Berserk – 1 – An introduction to obsession”

I still think the Berserk anime should be redone like Hellsing. Make it an OVA and actually follow the manga. Of course, if might be a lot of money since Berserk is going to be quite a long running manga series, but could probably win it all back in sales off the DVD’s.
I could be wrong though, maybe they just made the anime to get people into Berserk, experience what its like, etc. Milk it to read the manga in the end, 😛

I’ll be interested to see if you’re going to do any comparison between the manga and the anime– or atleast, what your opinion is of the show, as an adaptation. Berserk is also one of my all time favorite shows (have the "Box of War" and everydthing), and I love the manga too. I’m one of those weird souls that actually prefers (in some ways) the retelling the anime gives for the portion of the manga it covers. The earlier volumes are the weakest of the series, and despite the background they give, I never really missed them– one of the great things about the anime show is how it cuts to the chase, and in just 2 eps gets to Griffith and the Band of the Hawk.
Anyways, I’m eager to have you review the show– I love it too!! The music is great as well. I love Susumu Hirasawa– and this show made me a fan of his non-anime music.
BTW– I love the fact that you blog things like YKK, Berserk, Mushishi, and Kemonozume, and that you dig Black Lagoon. These are all some of my favorite shows, and I didn’t even discover them here… Coming here is like finding kindred anime fans!! Fun! ;P
I’m surprised you haven’t reviewed Mindgame yet– you’ve seen Comedy and Princess Arete and Kemonozume already. Mindgame is the best of the bunch, IMO.

I’m also one of the few who prefer the anime of Berserk to the manga. The manga may have had its good points but quickly deteriorated into senseless orgies of sex, violence and both. Not to mention the total lack of story – despite not liking it, I still check the manga once every half a year, to see if it’s going anywhere… and it’s not, not really. At least the anime told its story and managed to avoid most of the gratuitious violence and fanservice… (Plus, I think the end of Berserk the anime is actually almost perfect.)

Overall I must admit I do prefer the anime to the manga too; kuromitsu has very much hit the nail on the head with regards to the extreme sexual nature of the manga, it does somewhat taint the general quality of Miura’s writing. With that said- I still consider the man a genius for given us deeply conflicted characters like Guts, Griffith and Caska, and not forgetting his wonderful art too.
So yeah, I think they made the right decision in omitting the more extreme material from earlier in the manga. My only real complaint is that they removed Guts being raped by Donovan. It’s an extremely unpleasant scene, but also explains his nightmares and absolute fear of being touched by anyone.
And it’s hard to imagine Berserk without Susumu Hirasawa’s amazing score. "Forces", "Earth", "Behelit" and "Guts" are tracks so suited to the world of Berserk and imply so much emotion and philosophy. I wouldn’t like to see the Berserk anime re-made unless they reunited the whole creative staff who worked on this original series.
> Questmark:
Thanks for the compliments! As for Mindgame – I’ve downloaded it before but never got around to watching it… for shame. I will get around to it ASAP, since I totally adored the unique style of Kemonozume.

What an amazing breath of fresh air to find a few like minded people re: Berserk!!
I love both the manga (in its continuing form) and the anime, but I’ve long held the opinion that Miura’s strengths (as a writer, not an artist) really lie in the moral ambiguity of his characters, not in the world building or horror aspects of the story (that’s where I feel he really stands out as an artist). I’m often amazed at how he crafts situations that don’t inherently judge them. I might like Guts and Casca more, but honestly, to me, Griffth is really the greatest testament to his abilities a writer– he’s amazingly well fleshed out, believable, and his decision making process has its own true logic.
I agree about Donovan, and I would have liked to have seen Skullknight included, but those are relatively small bones for me to pick, compared to how they appropriately streamline the story in the manga– I never missed Wyald, nor the King’s assassins in the tunnels, nor the Count in the first few volumes (although I found him more interesting than the Snake Apostle). The anime really sticks with the heart of the story– the characters, and their changing dynamics. Perhaps this’ll get me to watch the show over again as well?? 🙂
As for the manga– I still follow it, and there have been some very interesting points after the end of the anime show, for sure, but the pacing is definitely much slower. However, the introduction of "the Beast", and the Moonchild, etc. have added a lot. Still– I feel like the most interesting bits have really been about how Guts is working and changing internally– rather than inter-character dynamics (although they occur too, from time to time), and I miss that sense of the push and pull between people that I got from the portion of the story that was animated.

>> … but I’ve long held the opinion that Miura’s strengths (as a writer, not an artist) really lie in the moral ambiguity of his characters, not in the world building or horror aspects of the story (that’s where I feel he really stands out as an artist) …
I couldn’t agree more – even Guts, the so-called "hero", could easily come off as a despicable bastard. This is perhaps best emphasized when he is asked by Griffith to assassinate a noble and ends up having to kill the noble’s little boy too. That scene totally shell shocked me first time around, it’s just such a totally heartless thing to do; to kill such a young boy, but Guts had to do it. It would be easy for Miura to avoid that scene, but I guess it’s there to suggest to the viewer that Guts is neither good nor evil; simply human, he can smile and succeed, but can still make mistakes and feel full of regret and doubt. Incidentally, this episode also contains Griffith’s famous speech about his ambitions and how he regards the Hawks – all in all perhaps the best episode of the series?
As for the current state of the manga – I think its getting back on track too. I doubt it will ever again reach the heights of the Hawks arc, but I’m still enjoying it. And thank god they didn’t include the whole "Wyald" thing in the anime – he was the most needlessly disgusting, sexually charged character up until that point in the story.
Thinking of these omissions, I think they do better acclimatise the reader to forthcoming events in the eclipse. In the anime, it’s almost purely realistic medieval action and drama, so when things suddenly take a turn for the hellish, we’re left very much with a WTF? feeling. Obviously it’s an important moment for Griffith’s state of mind, but it could have used a little more foreshadowing. It’s easy to forget that Zodd showed up early on.

Your point about the ommissions "acclimatizing" the audience to the eclipse is a good thought, and part of why I would have liked to see Skullknight included, for the heavy forshadowing, but still– I agree, of all the apostles that stuff with Wyald wasn’t to my tastes. Of course, there was some character development in it– but as before, my real test for these types of adaptations is often "if you can take it out and not miss it, you probably don’t need it"…. much like with Tom Bombadil in the LotR trilogy. And really, how many times do I need to see Casca almost get raped, etc?? Ugh.
What amazes me is that there are people who are just unable to accept any type of intelligent criticism re: Miura as a writer, as if he were some sort of god who’s never made mistakes. He’s great, for sure, but to me– real respect for a work involves intelligent critique of its faults and strengths. The anime isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it answers what I thought were some of the faults from those first 13 volumes of the manga.
Re: Susumu Hirasawa, have you listened to any of his non-anime stuff?? I have an album or two of his, and they’re very good, and in a similar vein to Berserk. There was a mulit gigabyte torrent of his work going around at one point (which is full of much that I don’t care for), and it was well worth the time to download, for those few albums of his that I think are awesome.
Re: current manga– there’s been some great sections, the second eclipse, the rebirth, the fight on the Hill of Swords, the introduction of the Berserker armor, but so far, I tend to agree with you. I’m very very curious to see what they do with Casca– I think that will really change things, when the time comes. I didn’t care for the magic stuff too much at first, but he’s using it for character development more as time continues, and he’s creating a whole world for it– religously and philosophically– that I find interesting, and that’s really carried me along for a while. Do you frequent Great board.
I’ll be popping in the show myself the next few days, to watch the first few eps. again. Hope to hear what you’ve got to say. Your posts are always insightful and well written.
Happy New Year!! 🙂

I can understand people over protecting Miura’s work, it is special, and some will always prefer the original manga to the anime no matter what. Aside from the glaring problems we’ve highlighted above, I just find it a lot easier to empathize with animated characters with real voices. I can’t really escape into manga like I can anime, and I suppose there are people the other way around too.
It’s interesting you should mention Susumu Hirasawa – just over the last month I’ve started getting into more of his work outside of Berserk. I haven’t heard much of his non-anime material but his theme for Paprika is probably his best work yet. The track is "The girl in Byakkoya" and he has released it for free on his website (; a wonderful song. I’ve also dipped into his work for Paranoia Agent and always seem to gravitate back to his live performance of "Forces 1.5" on YouTube:
The guy is a legend!
I haven’t visited before but it looks quite cool. I last read volume 30 of the manga and my favourite bit was when Guts bumped into the guy that recognized him from his Hawks days, and then the whole group started talking about his reputation for killing 100 men in just that one small battle. Very nostalgic moment, and Guts just denied it all 🙂
When I revisited this first episode again I was so close to just watching the next couple as well… Once you start on the series again, you won’t be able to stop! Glad to hear I’ve reinfected you with the Berserk bug though!
Happy new year to you too! 🙂

I do not believe that describing the manga as "descending into orgies of sex and violence" is fair.
Berserk from the start was an orgy of violence, if anything the manga has lessened to some extent from the extreme gore. Esspecially with the introduction of heavier fantasy elements from volume 14 onwards.
And sex? WTF? You are seriously saying that you can sum up the 30 volumes of the manga as, amongst other things, "an orgy of sex"? Umm, no. We had a few sex scenes (I believe the only misplaced sex scene was in volume one, boy was that stupid) but they drove the story forward and didn’t distract at all from the characters and situations and going by any pornographic standard, what was on show could be fair to be described as mild at best (or worse depending).

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