Anime Notebook: Berserk

April 8, 2006 on 12:07 am | In Berserk, Notebook | 5 Comments

I thought it might be interesting if I exposed the contents of my notebook, a collection of papers that provides deep insight into the intricacies and mechanisms that hold many of our favourite anime. I normally put in key words or sentences and quotes to “help me along” although to be honest I barely use these notes in the composition of any of my writings.

The first installment of this potential series is Berserk episode 25, the final in that fine series.
Spoilers within

Continue reading Anime Notebook: Berserk…

Berserk – episodes 14 to 25

May 1, 2005 on 3:53 pm | In Berserk | 3 Comments

The final stretch of Berserk is excellent … but then there is the matter of the ending.
It can not be denied that the characters and situations in Berserk are excellently realised; I have got a fair bit of mileage from regaling my friends with stories of the exploits of the series, so rich and colourful that people react in all the right spots (“This guy’s a bastard!”). This is the sort of anime you could steal and adapt it to tell by the firelight at a hunting lodge or smithy deep in the mountains.

From the battlefield. where Guts and Caska reach an understanding, Berserk bleeds right into court drama. Moreso than on the battlefield, the nature of Griffith can be understood in this context. Griffith is not a nice person; his dream, as Guts realises, takes precedence over all else. One can understand Griffith’s charisma, but the audience can see his determined eyes: they are huge and cold; piercing, like a hawk.

Guts, on the other hand, is not as cold as one might think: some of the best moments in this series are the conversations between Guts and Caska. Here it is revealed how well he knows his fellow band members, and that he genuinely cares for them. Guts may be gruff, and uncomfortable in fancy regalia, but he is very human indeed.

So, to the last two episodes: they deliver exactly what is promised in the first. What we get is Supernatural Berserk, which I did not really find enjoyable. Most of the program had nice moments, but the conclusion is completely bleak; it is from these two episodes that Berserk receives its reputation.
The change of gear is not the major issue, however: Berserk ends on the biggest cliffhange ever! Almost never has there been a louder shout from the director of “buy the manga!” than Berserk episode 25. This is very edgy indeed.

While the final episodes may produce nail-biting moments of tension, Berserk was wonderful at what it aimed to be: an account of Guts’ life in the Band of the Hawk.

Berserk – episodes 1 to 13

April 3, 2005 on 10:35 am | In Berserk | 5 Comments

It is a sad fact that many anime fans go on first impressions. If you were to do that with Berserk, you would be hit by a first episode that is entirely unrepresentative of the whole, and quite uninteresting at that.

In a medieval land, war constantly rages between the Midland folk and the Chuders. The Midland armies have a trump card: a group of mercenaries known as the Band of the Hawk. After three years working under the Midland monarchy, the Band of the Hawk are granted official regiment status and their leader, Griffith, is knighted.
This political context is that which surrounds the three main characters: Guts, a man forced into the Band of the Hawk; Caska, a woman who has spurred herself to victory by rejecting stoicism; and Griffith himself, ruthlessly in pursuit of his dream.
When the series begins, and you would be hard pressed to remember this, Griffith appears to have become the King of Midland, and Guts, going by the name “The Black Swordsman” is out to get him; Caska’s whereabouts is unknown. The first episode cuts, in the last thirty seconds, to the distant past and chronicles Guts’ entry into the Band of the Hawk and the band’s subsequent rise to official status.
Dark glimpses of Griffith’s mysterious “Egg of the King” pendant give suggestion to the future that awaits.

The first episode of Berserk is likely designed to give the viewer a feel for Guts’ “bad ass” nature and the extreme violence that the series promises; it does not. The action in this episode is largely confined to Guts charging people, and the results of his violence are displayed as still images with animated blood spraying from them. This is hardly inspiring.
Repeat viewings, when one understands what is going on, might make the first episode a better prospect; as an introduction to the world of Berserk, it fails.

The strength of Berserk is in its characters; there is a political undercurrent, but for once it plays in the background to the development of the tricky relationships between Guts, Caska and Griffith. The characters take the story with them, rather than the story carrying them along – at least, from the second episode onwards.
While Griffith holds them together, it seems that on the whole this is about Guts and Caska’s relationship. Caska is both jealous as a warrior and a woman; Griffith gives all of his praise and attention to Guts, and shows an interest in the princess of Midland. Caska’s past led to her being a highly strung woman in the first place,
The only real criticism that can be levelled here is the writers’ reliance on the “female warrior fails because she is on her period” device – firstly because Caska seems never to have had this problem in more than ten years of battling, and secondly because it is a contrived way to suggest that women have no place in melees and need Guts to look after them.
Around the pivot of Caska, the series is turning.

The casting is generally right on, but the Guts of three years’ before the “modern past” period of the story is not suited to Hayashi Nobutoshi’s voice; it may have worked better if there had been three different Guts actors for each stage of his development.
The highlight is Miyamura Yuko’s turn as Caska, which gives her a chance to play her usual angry self but with a dramatic edge; she is definitely nice to watch.

On the other end of the production scale, the OP and ED are laughable. From the beginning of “Tell Me Why”, the viewer is struck by the hilariously untuned instruments. Then the nonsensical lyrics kick in. There’s a certain charm to the song that means one can keep going back to it and laughing. “Waiting So Long”, on the other hand, is not actually very good at all. What does “spending my glass” even mean?
This is all a pity, because the song used for the next episode previews is excellent. “Forces” is reminiscent of the powerful music of Millennium Actress. This sort of music is very modern but manages to transcend ages; it is an inspirational battle song.

Berserk is less bleak than one might imagine; at times it has just the lightest touch of comedy while maintaining the characters’ horrific pasts. Worth watching for the characters, and because every anime fan should listen to these superlative OP and ED at least once in their career.

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