This show is fantastic. In fact, there’s only one thing that would prevent me from calling this a truly great show. That, dear readers, is one of the most annoying endings to a series I’ve ever seen. Everything about this show is great – the characters, story, music, animation, bloody violence, character relationships. But then the show ends on what is hard to call anything other than a cliffhanger. It stops, mid-story, and in fact, mid-battle. It’s easy to assume that the creators of the anime planned to continue with another season, and there were talks of such a thing, but it never happened. For a show that’s over a decade old, it isn’t likely there ever will be another season. However! Don’t let this discourage you! You won’t regret sitting down to watch this, despite the bizarre ending. And if you’re really into it, you can also read the manga from where the anime leaves off.

Berserk is a down-and-dirty violent fantasy series. It’s about war, purpose, ambition, life and death, love, and friendship. The show opens with a man known as the Black Swordsman, who wields an enormous deadly sword that cuts down anyone in his way. During a gruesome battle, something reminds him of a man he once knew, and the series quickly goes back in time to a much younger version of the swordsman, a scrappy orphan named Guts. The rest of the series will follow Guts from his training under the mercenary leader Gambino, to his meeting with legendary mercenary leader Griffith and his Band of the Hawk, and the life changing events that result.

When he first meets Griffith, Guts is single-handedly taking on the Band of the Hawk. After watching for a while, Griffith steps in and insists that Guts fight him one-on-one. His terms are only that if he wins, Guts must join his mercenaries (basically, that Griffith will “own” him). Miraculously, Griffith’s impeccable skill with his sabre manages to beat Guts’s immense (but undisciplined) strength and great sword. Not everyone is pleased with this new addition, and many become jealous of the attention Guts receives from Griffith. Guts becomes Griffith’s other half, taking on the most dangerous missions, and eventually becoming the leader of his own division. Griffith trusts him completely, and Guts becomes the foundation upon which Griffith’s ambitions are built. Griffith has long harbored great dreams, believing himself to have a greater destiny than some nameless mercenary, wanting even his own kingdom to rule. With Guts at his side, this goal slowly but surely comes closer and closer to fruition.

Yet while Griffith’s dreams are coming true, Guts is only along for the ride. He eventually realizes that his entire life has been helping Griffith accomplish his goals, rather than accomplishing any goals of his own. The result of his own desires manifesting, separately from Griffith’s, causes a cataclysmic event no one could have foreseen. A fortune teller once told them that their fates were bound together, which is a big theme of the series. The opening dialog of each show asks the viewers if there is a guiding force, and states, “At least it is true, that man has no control, even over his own will.” All of the characters struggle with or against their fates. Or get caught in the fates of others, like the Band of the Hawk’s only female member, Casca. Behind only Griffith and Guts in terms of skill, this woman commands her own division, and takes over the entire band in the future. She struggles with her feelings of love for both great men, and gets wrapped up in their destinies in some truly brutal ways.

The show is about as well animated as other shows of its time, which is to say, that it looks like a show from the ’90s. But it’s well designed, well animated, has an excellent soundtrack, and there’s plenty of blood spewing all over the screen to satisfy any action fan. The opening and closing themes are fantastic, especially the opening song “Tell Me Why” by Penpals, which is accompanied by a terrific animation sequence (check it out here, and here’s a video of the ending theme for those interested).

The English translation is kind of goofy on occasion (like Guts yelling out, during an internal struggle, “Anything to get rid of the voices!”), but mostly it’s fairly solid. The core voice actors are pretty good, especially since a show like this could easily get really cheesy and out of hand. Though some of these guys do seem to be having a bit too much fun sometimes, especially when performing an evil laugh. For the interested, Guts is voiced by Marc Diraison, Griffith by Kevin T. Collins, and Casca by Carolyn Keranen.

Really, this one was far better than I had been expecting when I rented it via Netflix, but I’m very happy I went for it. It should appeal to fans of shows like Record of Lodoss War (the first series) and Claymore. There are some nice DVD extras too, like art galleries, interviews, production sketches, clean credits, and English VA outtakes. There are 25 episodes, and you can get the entire collection in a thinpak set for about $45 (licensed by Media Blasters). It's bloody fantasy. Lots of spewing blood, slicing off of limbs, rampaging demons, rape, sex, nudity, various adult themes…. It’s an adult show from start to finish, so don’t let your kiddies watch it.

Originally posted at ComicAttack.net on January 25, 2010.

Sorry for a lack of updates here. Been very busy with CA and manga reviews. And anyway, I haven't watched a ton of anime this year. I finished Gun x Sword last week, which was...OK. May talk about that later. About to start Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play. Not real impressed with the new season of anime, other than Nodame Cantabile's finale. Still waiting on some upcoming live action shows, like Skip Beat...and there was another I was looking forward to which I unfortunately can't recall right now. Kuroshitsuji is getting another season later this year...with a new cast of characters. Not super interested in that, but I'm willing to give it a shot given the previous series's (which I loved) production value.