Spurred by the flame raging in his heart, the Black Swordsman Guts continues his seemingly endless quest for revenge. Standing in his path are heinous outlaws, delusional evil spirits, and a devout child of god.Even as it chips away at his life, Guts continues to fight his enemies, who wield repulsive and inhumane power, with nary but his body and sword—his strength as a human. What lies at the end of his travels? The answer is shrouded in the “night.” Strain your eyes and stare into the dark!
Guts was once a wandering mercenary taken in by the mercenary group known as the Band of the Hawk and he fought alongside them before their mutilated leader, Griffith, sacrificed his followers to become one of the God Hand and continue his dream of ruling a kingdom of his own. Only Guts and his lover Casca, who lost her sanity and memory from the horrors she saw and endured, escaped the “Eclipse” ritual, though they were branded with marks that attract evil, restless spirits and other similar entities. And so Guts set off to hunt down the God Hand’s Apostles to find and kill Griffith in a quest for vengeance. And this is where the first season anime begins.
We first meet the wandering and mysterious swordsman Guts when he walks into a tavern and sees a caged elf being tortured by a group of men and intervenes. Grateful and curious, the creature introduces itself to Guts as ‘Puck’. The elf somewhat cramps his dark, brooding style but Guts allows Puck to accompany him on his travels. He soon comes into contact with the Holy Iron Chain Knights, a fanatically religious group of mercenaries led by the Lady Farnese that intend to capture Guts and take him to their Holy See in order to atone for his sins. However, Guts is not so easily detained and he continues his search for Casca.
Berserk really isn’t an anime that I’m automatically drawn to. I’ve heard of it plenty of times and new that it was based off a dark and epic manga and that the one currently on Crunchyroll is actually a remastered version. I’d watched the PV and wasn’t instantly drawn to the over-dark, boldly-shaded art style and the slightly dodgy CGI visuals that I know are a bugbear for real Berserk fans. But it’s dark, medieval setting and that certain level of fantasy gore is something that intrigued me and is definitely something that is missing off my anime list this season (excluding that of Attack on Titan, of course).
However, the art style for Berserk really suits the story. It’s dark, gritty, detailed and doesn’t shy away from blood, which is imperative when working on an anime with a history in horror and violence. The characters are rather realistic-looking (with the exception of Puck, of course) and tend to behave accordingly with their expressions and reactions never progressing into anime over-the-top-ness.
Some of the best scenes in Berserk are when Guts gets out his massive sword (not a euphemism) and starts swinging it around. The fight scenes occasionally use a bit of CGI (used sparingly) to make the dead and the monsters just a little bit more scary and the sound effects are sometimes so harsh and realistic that they make me flinch sometimes. We are also subjected to some rather disturbing scenes that follow the Holt Iron Chain Knights and their constant travels to seek out a torture and kill those that they deem to be sinful heretics, so I wouldn’t suggest this one if you were just looking for an anime about a travelling swordsman, but Berserk does a great job at drawing viewers in and immersing them in the dark world of its characters. Despite some of the scenes being rather difficult to watch, you can’t help but continue.
Through his journey of battling demons and seeking out Casca, Guts unconsciously ends up collecting allies such as the streetwise urchin Isidoro and Luca, the whore with a heart of gold. At the same time, Farnese’s early encounter with Guts and the life that he lives has made her second-guess her usefulness as a Holy Iron Chain Knight and questioning the piety and divine judgement of the Holy See Mozgus as she begins to realise that there are far more evil and frightening things in this world than prospective heretics.
Berserk has a lot of focus on how appearances can be deceiving. Guts himself is known as ‘The Black Swordsman’ and while Mozgus claims to be righteous and a direct extension of god’s will, he does unspeakable things to innocent people who were caught merely disagreeing with his ideals. Casca’s bandaged face makes people thing she is riddled with disease when in face she is beautiful; and those she may appear to be innocent, she has a cursed brand just like Guts’ that attracts monsters and demons.
Berserk is definitely not an anime for the faint-hearted. Many scenes are shocking and gory but this isn’t just a blood-and-fighting anime. It knows when to pull back the violence and let the story and the characters take centre stage. I have been waiting since the very beginning for Guts to confront Mozgus and the battled have been stacked well to be shown that the ante is always being raised. A wonderfully gritty and edgy anime with compellingly flawed characters with back stories that propel them forwards.