I am just going to say right off the bat that I write this review as someone who has read the manga first.
AKA: Kenpu Denki Beruseruku, Beruseruku
TV, 25 episodes
1997-8, by Oriental Light & Magic, VAP
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Horror
The series begins by introducing Guts, The Black Swordsman. A man with one eye, an iron forearm, dozens of battle scars and wielder of a massive slab of iron which could be called a sword, he is also marked with The Brand, a scar which relentlessly summons a legion of evil spirits and Demons to him as their sacrifice. Guts is hellbent on vengeance to the one who gave it to him. In the first episode, he hunts down a blood-thirsty demon masquerading as a baron - who slaughters an entire city on a whim. Guts rampages through the demon's personal army, and kills him in a very sadistic, gruesome, and slow manner. Following the first episode, the remainder of the series is an elaborate flashback showing the most prominent events of his past life leading up to his grim present life.
The anime takes most of the important story elements from the manga intact, and still manages to tell a deep story despite how much was cut from it's source material. Throughout the series, we see how a young Guts joined the mercenary group: The Band of the Hawk, and his developing relationships within. Beneath the gallons of blood spilled, there are strong undertones of friendship under impossible odds, and the effects (and prices) of blind ambition. While the anime does take understandable liberties in what is told and what is not - especially considering that the manga was (and still IS) in production while the anime was being made - there is one thing that the anime grievously failed in doing: the ending. Of all the endings that I have ever seen in any media, I have never been so thoroughly disappointed as I have by this one. It wasn't even an ending! The series just faded out in the middle of a critical story point, without any hint of a resolution, or even showing what became of certain characters! Anyways, were it not for the absolutely terrible ending, I would have rated this higher.
For all of the cuts the anime made from it's source material, the characters still retain much of the depth they had when they were first drawn. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to find a series with such 3-dimensional characters as this. Just about every character shown is given some exposure detailing their personalities, dreams, and relations. Their depths are shown largely from their exchanges of lengthy, philosophical dialogue. Some of the most realistic, believable characters in any media.
Given that, at the time of this writing, the anime is almost 9 years old, the animation seems understandably archaic compared to some of the more contemporary series. Despite this, the animation still gets the job done well enough. What really deserves mention is the quality of the art style, which, at times, remains astonishingly close to the original manga. Griffith as an example, is particularly well done. He is drawn to appropriately appear feminine, masculine, kind and pure-evil - sometimes simultaneously! Of course, I still have to dock some points because, even for how old it is, at times, the animation does stumble; there are also still somerepeated animations used which I cannot ignore.
Voice Acting/Music: 9/10
Wow. This one was pretty difficult to rate. This is largely due to the fact that music was used VERY sparsely in this series. It was such that, at times, I even questioned whether the media I was watching it on was working correctly. But, yes, there is some pretty good music in Berserk - once you actually hear any. Of particular note is a track which plays throughout the first half of the final episode: Murder. This track portrays the feeling of terror and absolute despair which resonates throughout that episode so perfectly. Of course this same praise cannot be given to the series' opening 'Tell Me Why'. Of all of the openings that they could have used, I can only wonder what the director was smoking when this one was chosen. It just does not fit the tone of Berserk at all! Not to mention it has some of the worst Engrish I have ever heard. As for the voice acting, I would say that I have no real problems with any of it. Many of the characters sound very true to their personalities, especially Griffith. I do have one small gripe about Guts' voice actor, though. While his voice does fit his character well in episodes 2-25 (The flashback), I personally didn't think he sounded intense enough to accurately portray Guts' harsh, relentlessly unforgiving present lifestyle in episode 1.
After reading this review, this score may come a something of an anomaly. I refer you to my opening statement that I had seen the anime after reading the manga upon which it was based. In my opinion, the Berserk manga is, without hyperbole, the absolute greatest manga ever conceived by mortal hands, and would easily qualify for a perfect 10/10 in all categories. So, I understandably had some pretty lofty expectations for this anime. Unfortunately, those expectations were not well met, in my eyes. Bottom line is, if you have already read the manga, give this anime a miss. By no means am I suggesting that the anime is not worth your time at all. If you have not read the manga, and are planning on watching, do so, by all means. Just remember, though, once you finish episode 25, that's it. There is no more after that, and you will undoubtedly want to find out what happens after the anime "finishes", and inevitably go to the manga (which is still going today).