Friday, May 25, 2007
Berserk; animated fantasy horror series, Japan, 1997; D: Naohito Takahashi, S: Nobutoshi Hayashi, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Yuko Miyamura, Akiko Yajima, Akira Ishida
The kingdom of Midland is fighting an endless war with another kingdom. Guts, an invincible swordsman, is being assaulted by a member of the mercenary band the Hawks and injured when he in self-defence attacks Caska. The leader of the Hawks, Griffith, wins in a duel with him and convinces him to join his group. As years pass by, Griffith and Guts fight numerous battles for Midland and win every one of them. At the same time, Griffith reveals his dream is to rule the world, and with time he gets the sympathy from the king. The Hawks become the strongest mercenaries and advance to aristocrats, winning in the war. After a peace agreement, Guts decides to leave the Hawks. Griffith is devastated and arrested when he sneaked in to spend the night with princess Charlotte. After a year, Guts hears the Hawks are now outlawed by the king so he returns to help them save Griffith from jail and falls in love with Caska. As they save the mutilated Griffith, his magic Behelit summons the forces of evil that suck in the Hawks. Griffith is chosen to become demon lord and rule the world, offering everyone as sacrifice, even Guts and Caska.
Serious critics were never impressed by splatter/ action/ fight animes, and rightfully so, since most of them seem like pure trash. Legendary anime „Berserk“ truly starts like one of those trash contributions – with its primitive style it seems more like some Medieval Steven Segal film than something remotely good, and one would not blame people who would simply give up on it after seeing only 2 episodes. But, by some unexplainable reason, „Berserk“ actually starts improving, even putting some emotions into its story, and from episode 7, the first one without any violence at all, it transforms into something good, a real drama about dreams and fate with epic feel that is reminiscent of „Conan the Barbarian“ and „Excalibur“. Even from there on, blood splashes through the screen in almost every episode, but it also has secret dramatic touches – in one episode, Caska is not able to fight right in the middle of a major battle because she has her period, and falls from a cliff. But Guts is able to save her, spots her menstruating and warms her with her body in a cave. Of course, when she wakes up the next day, she is furious, but later on she figures he saved her life. She even reveals her trauma from childhood, in one of the most radical and dramatic things ever to be directly shown in anime: when she was still a 10-year old child, a pedophile count bought her from her parents and tried to rape her in the field. In one scene her ripped clothes are shown, that gave direct view into her underdeveloped breasts, which is highly disturbing, but also uncompromising. Luckily, she was saved by Griffith, another multi-layered character. It is revealed he is ready to sacrifice everything for his dream – in one scene he voluntarily sleeps with a rich, gay, old lord as a semi-prostitute for money, in order to finance his army. But another twist happens in the story that gives this subplot another spark – years later, Griffith is fighting a siege of a castle held by the same old lord, getting in direct confrontation with his old „lover“.
Just because a story is adult and shows violence and blood, it does not mean it is also mature. Actually, some „children’s“ achievements are sometimes more mature than adult animes or mangas. „Berserk“ is sometimes art, but also sometimes trash. Or to be precise, it starts as an ugly duckling, turns into an beautiful swan, only to again turn into an ugly duckling at the end. In one scene Griffith is contemplating after a battle and says: „I want to know who I am“. In another, he spots a dead boy who dreamed about becoming a knight and says: „The thing that killed him might have been my dream“. Not quite a dialogue one can find in ordinary action story, is it? There is a lot of strategy insight but the story has flaws – dry style, unmemorable and sloppy dialogues, the cliche formula about the invincible hero (Guts meets numerous „unbeatable“ warriors who - yes, you guessed it - childishly say he does not stand a chance, but he wins every time). Also, it contains dumbing violence, glorifies hate and presents violence as the only way to solve a problem, which reduces its wisdom. After 25 episodes, „Berserk“ ends on a cliffhanger, with an open ending, which is also disappointing and inconclusive. Still, whether one will love or hate the ending, the finale simply has to be seen – it is indescribable. Just when you thought the story will end this way, it ends in a completely different way. It is one of the most bizarre, unusual things of all time, and one has got to see at least the last 3 episodes simply for the madness of it, which is beyond human mind. On the surface, „Berserk“ is about fighting, but is actually secretly about fate and dreams. The second season will probably never be made, but since the authors needed 8 hours only to get the story started, maybe it is even better that way.