Berserk (1997), also known as Sword Wind Chronicle Berserk (剣風伝奇ベルセルク, Kenpuu Denki Beruseruku), is a 25 episode anime adaptation of the seminal Dark Fantasy manga Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Directed by Naohito Takahashi, with series composition by Yasuhiro Imagawa and animation production by Oriental Light and Magic, the series aired from October 7, 1997 to March 31, 1998 and opened the door for all the other Berserk adaptations that followed.
The story opens on a town crushed under the heel of the monstrous Baron of Koka Castle, who extracts tribute in gold and prisoners with the help of his thugs, and dines on human flesh. Into this picture strides Guts, a ruthless black-clad wandering swordsman with a metal hand and a weapon too big to be called a sword. After Guts defeats the Baron in fiery combat, the story flashes back to the manga's Golden Age Arc to show how Guts came to be branded as a sacrifice for demons by the man he once fought alongside as a brother.
This series is well-loved in the fandom as a Pragmatic Adaptation that preserves the spirit of the original work, takes its time focusing on Character Development, uses good editing and art direction to make a lot out of a shoestring production with Limited Animation, and features a memorable soundtrack by Susumu Hirasawa. This version notably has a Gainax Ending that abruptly leaves Guts hanging and rolls the end credits at the bleakest moment in the Eclipse, a shocking conclusion to the series that deliberately denies closure to the viewer and leaves them feeling the same sense of rage and grief that Guts does. This approach admittedly introduces an Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole concerning how Guts is still alive in The Stinger when he girds on the Dragon Slayer and embarks on the Roaring Rampage of Revenge depicted in the first episode, and avoids dealing with some important things that happen in the immediate aftermath. Still, it is a great way for newcomers who are not used to reading manga to get hooked on the series, and the cliffhanger ending ensures that once invested in the story and characters, one will feel compelled to pick up the manga and read up on the rest.
When I look out there, it's like...A bonfire of tropes:
- The Abridged Series: Berserk Abridged.
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
- The manga shows Guts Hates Being Touched because he got raped as a child, and there are three later scenes showing how much he doesn't enjoy it: first when being clasped on the shoulder by a general, second when he mutters in his sleep while Casca is warming him, and third when Pippin picks him up for the lulz. These same three scenes show up in this anime, only it's never explained why Guts hates being touched because the flashback to Guts' childhood leaves out Donovan.
- In the manga, the Queen agreed to lead the conspiracy instigated by Minister Foss because she and Julius had been lovers, and Foss helped her figure out that Griffith was responsible. This connection between her and Julius is never shown in the anime, and she only thinks about the importance of preserving Midland's royal bloodline, which doesn't give her as much of a reason to hate Griffith personally even if it's still a sufficient explanation for her participation in the conspiracy.
- In the manga, Guts fights during the eclipse without armor, because he used the armor as a decoy against Wyald, and with his sword broken, the blade left stuck in Wyald's neck. In this version, Guts is actually wearing his armor when everything happens, but he seemingly leaves his sword in camp in his haste to go after Griffith. Not completely inconcievable, but given how Guts is normally so keen on keeping his sword with him at all times, it seems a bit odd that he wasn't wearing it, especially since he hadn't even bothered to take his armor off.
- Adapted Out:
- Puck the elf, Guts' Fairy Companion from the Black Swordsman Arc onward, is not included in episode 1, nor does he make his cameo appearance in the Golden Age Arc.
- Donovan, a mercenary who raped Guts as a child, is cut out despite a significant flashback being devoted to Guts' childhood.
- The Skull Knight makes no appearance, leaving a bit of a hole in the story.
- Silat is not introduced, and the tournament scene happens without him.
- Wyald and the Black Dog Knights fail to make the cut, as do the King of Midland's Bakiraka assassins.
- Adaptation Distillation:
- The first episode is a loose adaptation of the manga's first chapter with a few elements of the other seven chapters of the Black Swordsman arc: Guts' encounter with a female Apostle is skipped, though she still appears during the Eclipse. Puck is cut because, despite being a major character, he had no role in the Golden Age Arc except for a brief cameo; In the Black Swordsman Arc, Puck was introduced being tormented in a tavern by the Snake Baron's thugs, but in the anime they are shown abusing a girl and her father (here, her grandfather) who originally appeared in the manga's second chapter. Instead of getting a Behelit from the Count, Guts gets one from the Snake Baron. Instead of encountering the Godhand in person, Guts sees them in his dream and Griffith is mentioned by two villagers.
- Instead of opening the Golden Age Arc with Guts' infancy and proceeding chronologically from there, like the manga did, this anime jumps into the Golden Age starting with Guts defeating Bazuso, and waits until a battle scene to show flashbacks of Guts' childhood. It's at the end of that same battle scene where they insert a scene with Griffith that appeared in the manga's Guardians of Desire story, in which Griffith talks about how some people are chosen by fate to rise above class as determined by man.
- While significant time is spent showing Guts' childhood and the abuse he got from Gambino, the mercenary Donovan and Guts' traumatic experience of being raped by him as a boy are left out. Guts' Freak Out during his first time with Casca is not included either.
- The tail end of the Golden Age Arc before the Eclipse is significantly cut down: The tournament that Guts participates in before hearing news of the Band of the Hawk's plight is shortened and Silat is never introduced. The operation to rescue Griffith is much shorter, leaving out the fights with the King's squad of Bakiraka assassins and Wyald's Black Dog Knights. Most critically, the Skull Knight and his scenes are cut out entirely, leaving no explanation at all for how Guts or Casca escaped the Eclipse at the anime's end.
- Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Without the Skull Knight, the anime is left with no explanation for how Guts ever escaped from the Eclipse.
- Adjective Noun Fred: Sword Wind (Adjective) Chronicle (Noun) Berserk (Fred).
- Annoying Arrows: In this version of the Hundred Man Fight, Guts even deflects some incoming arrows by a mere swish of his cape: "And now, just in case you had any faith left in humanity...know that someone, somewhere, thought that THIS made sense".
- The Bad Guy Wins: The show ends with the God Hand achieving their goal of corrupting Griffith, and Griffith getting away with sacrficing all his followers in order to become a god-like being. The manga story doesn't end here, but that's as far as this show covers.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: The males are drawn without nipples, and genitals are either hidden with a Censor Shadow or simply not drawn in. The Berserk Abridged series parodies this with Guts' complaints about his lack of genitals, for which he beats up the character designer.
- Bowdlerise: Downplayed. This anime significantly tones down on the violence, nudity, and sex compared to the manga, at least until the Finale when it shows the Eclipse about as graphically as the standards of the time allowed. We're talking about Berserk here, so even after this treatment it's still pretty gnarly.
- Breather Episode: Episode 20 offers a bit of a break after the previous Wham Episode and before the endgame by showing Guts living with Godo and Erica while training himself and thinking about what he wants to do, though by the end of the episode he's back in action with the Hawks.
- Chekhov's Gun: We already know how important the Behelit is in the manga, but in the anime Griffith shows it to Guts early on, and we aren't shown its significance until the climax.
- Cliffhanger: The anime ends on a weird but nonetheless climatic cliffhanger, leaving us wondering how Guts escaped the Eclipse, what happened to Casca, and what Guts is going to do from now on.
- Composite Character: This is done on a larger scale in the final arc. In the manga, Wyald's Black Dog Knights work independently of the Midland soldiers as they chase the Band of the Hawk. The two groups are combined in the anime, and Wyald is replaced with a nameless Mook.
- Downer Ending: The Golden Age Arc comes to a totally depressing ending. Griffith, who is completely broken from a year of being put to the torture and who has pretty much lost everything worth living for, uses his Crimson Behelit to call forth the Godhand on the day of the Eclipse, resulting in Guts and all of his friends being transported to Hell. There, the Godhand, the Big Bads of the setting, reveal the true nature of demons and persuade Griffith to sacrifice the Hawks in exchange for becoming their fifth member. Griffith accepts their Deal with the Devil, everyone gets marked with the Brand of Sacrifice, and carnage ensues as everyone is picked off one by one by a whole mess of things out of pure nightmare until only Guts and Casca are left. Then Guts' left arm gets caught in a demon's jaws as he tries to save Casca from the demons, and as he tries to free himself, Griffith is reborn as a demonic god known as Femto, who begins to rape Casca in front of Guts. Guts is forced to chisel off his arm with what's left of his sword in order to save her, only to be trapped again by more monsters and is forced to watch as Femto rapes Casca right in front of him as his right eye is clawed out. Guts somehow survives, but everybody he cares about is gone. Compared to the manga—and to some extent the movies—which leave some hope for the future as the story will continue, the way the anime leaves off is particularly stark because of its abruptness and lack of closure.
- Dress Hits Floor: "Cape Hits Floor" in this slightly more censored anime, where after their second Intimate Healing encounter, Casca starts fighting with Guts after he insulted her... in nothing but his cape... This can count as a funny moment depending on how you look at it.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Guts infiltrates a fort commanded by Adon by disguising as a Tudor soldier and then takeing the gatehouse, allowing the rest to stream in.
- Evil Overlooker: Zodd looms threatening over all the other characters in the cover art.
- Eye Scream: Casca stabs one of her would-be rapists in the eye with a stick during the Hundred Man Fight, and then the same guy gets his remaining eye gouged by one of Judeau's knives a moment later. The guy had it coming, but it'll still give you the shudders.
- Foregone Conclusion: The series lets you know from the get go that Guts' relationship with Griffith will not end well by having the first episode take place after the rest of the series, showing that Guts hates Griffith and that Griffith has become something beyond human. The rest of the series is just about how they got to that point.
- Gainax Ending: The ending of this anime is like a big ball of No Ending, Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole, Cliffhanger, various unresolved loose ends, and the Foregone Conclusion that opened the animated series in the first place, all wrapped in a Downer Ending package.
- Gambit Roulette: Just like in the manga, Griffith's plan to capture Doldrey involves a legitimate Batman Gambit, but it also works flawlessly in spite of a factor that could have ruined the plan that Griffith simply left up to chance. After Griffith lures Gennon's forces away from the castle, Casca and her group simply ride in through the castle's front gate which has been left wide open despite a battle being in progress. While this stroke of luck was caused by the idiocy of whoever was in charge of the castle's defense (Adon Corbowitz, we're looking at you), Griffith did not even know that this would happen and was not shown to have had a plan for Casca getting past the gate if it had been closed. Presumably, any half-competent castellan would have closed the gates as soon as the troops had sallied forth. It could not have been because he knew from spies or other sources that Adon had an ill-conceived plan to let the attackers in and ambush them, because the ambush came as a complete surprise to Casca, who surely would have been told by Griffith if he knew. What makes it even weirder is that this anime has Dressing as the Enemy used effectively to gain entry to a castle in one of the preceding filler plots, as if to introduce getting into a castle through trickery as Chekhov's Skill for the Band of the Hawk, but when it comes time for the Battle of Doldrey they use the same unconvincing maneuver as in the manga.
- Gecko Ending: Averted by this anime which, instead of creating a new ending to tie up the loose ends created by the unfinished original, abruptly stops at the single most depressing part of the manga with no explanation of how Guts and Casca escape the Eclipse or what happens to Rickert, and simply shows Guts leaving on his demon hunt as a stinger after the credits.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Occasionally the show cuts away from gore and leaves it to your imagination, such as in the second episode when Guts kills Bazuzo. The original manga, and later ''Berserk: The Golden Age Arc, explicitly show Guts chopping Bazuso's head in two with such force that an eyeball pops out!
- Gratuitous English: The opening theme Tell Me Why by the Penpals and the closing theme Waiting So Long by the Silver Fins are both performed by Japanese groups for a Japanese audience in heavily accented and ungrammatical English. Most of the Anglophone fandom likes them either in spite of or because of this.
- High-Pressure Blood: The show uses copious high pressure blood as a stylistic flair. When Guts cuts Count Julius in episode 10, the blood shoots out everywhere like a fire hydrant and continues for almost eight seconds!
- How We Got Here: The first episode depicts Guts' battle with the Baron of Koka Castle, and then the rest of the show is about the backstory that led Guts to that point.
- Kill Em All: Ends with all of the Hawks except Guts and Griffith (as Femto) dying in the Eclipse, while Casca and Rickert are somehow left unaccounted for.
- Left Hanging: For those of you who haven't read the manga and have only watched this series, you're probably wondering how Guts got back from the Vortex and whether or not Casca survived her ordeal during the Eclipse, since the anime ends on one of the weirdest - but nonetheless tragic - notes possible. Also, you're probably wondering what happened to Rickert in episode 22.
- Leitmotif: Guts' recurring leitmotif is the track "Guts" by Susumu Hirasawa, a slow, contemplative piano and synthesizer piece with soulful non-lexical vocals. It's not so much a tune exclusive to Guts himself, as it is the music that plays when Guts is being introspective about himself or experiencing a strong emotional connection with another person. It plays when Griffith asks him to join the Band of the Hawk, after Casca stops Corkus' men from killing him in his sleep, when he overhears Griffith's speech to Charlotte about what a dream is, when Casca tells him about why Griffith's dream is so important to her, when he's talking to Casca about the bonfire of dreams, when he and Casca are talking at the victory ball, when Casca calls out his name as he leaves the band of the Hawk, the night when he and Casca make love for the first time, and the morning after when he tells Casca to come with him.
- Lighter and Softer: Downplayed, since this it retains the original's grim tone and even arguably ends on a bleaker note emotionally, but it substantially tones down the original's gore and sexual violence, to the point where the presence of assaults was roughly cut in half. And Casca's on-screen rape in the last episode is shown in less graphic detail, even as it preserves the traumatic impact.
- Limited Animation: Lacking the kind of production resources necessary to create a lot of fancy movement, the show relies heavily on good old animation-saving tricks like the Pastel-Chalked Freeze Frame, Stock Footage, and editing that minimizes the need for in-betweens. Even by late nineties standards it's pretty bare-bones, and they clearly couldn't attempt to match the manga's mind-blowing detail, but skillful directing and the beautiful hand-painted freeze frames and backgrounds of Shichiro Kobayashi manage to make a lot out of a little.
- Narrator All Along: Near the end of the show we find out that The Narrator, previously assumed to have no part in the story, was actually the character Void.
- No Ending: For some reason, this version didn't leave itself enough time to resolve the ending plot threads in a graceful manner. We never find out what happens to Rickert or Casca, or how Guts escaped from the Eclipse. In fairness, the most recent volume published at the time was 15—which was only up to the Lost Children Chapter—so they couldn't really have had any idea where the manga was going past that point, or which plot threads were going to be important later on.
- On the Next: While the previews displayed clips for the show's next episode, the narration seldom ever referenced what exactly was going to happen in them story-wise and instead consisted of a speech waxing very grim and fatalistic philosophy. It's revealed at the end that Void was the Narrator All Along.
- Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: In a bit of appropriately surreal imagery during Guts' nightmare in episode 2, Gambino accuses Guts of killing him, and a wound appears on his body which gushes forth blood like a fire hydrant; as Guts is pinned down by a giant hand and surrounded by taunting skeletons, Gambino's continuously gushing wound is literally producing a rainstorm over everything!
- Pastel-Chalked Freeze Frame: The show often relies on heavily stylized still frames at a dramatic moment to compensate for its Limited Animation. This is not always to the show's detriment, as certain scenes use this trope with startling effectiveness, an example of which being the scene where Casca and Guts establish their relationship as lovers.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: This anime tones down some of the more graphic violence and sexual content for the sake of a TV audience, and focuses more on the themes of ambition and friendship instead of on the series-wide themes of causality and the supernatural. This, combined with slightly fewer slapstick gags, helps to give much of the series a dark, serious, and realistic atmosphere. Despite all the changes from the manga, including of the plot holes and lack of explanation for some scenes, the fans were pretty accepting of these changes because the reinterpretation still preserved the essence of what they love about Berserk.
- Repeat Cut: The anime uses repeat cuts to great effect for emphasizing mighty blows, almost always repeating the action three times. For example, when Guts takes his crucial swing at Bazuso, he zooms across the frame in Limited Animation three times, they swing simultaneously in slow motion, and when Guts' strike connects it cuts to a Pastel-Chalked Freeze Frame, in which the camera starts out zoomed in on the point of impact and the zoom out is repeated three times, the first two times rapidly and the third time slowly enough to take it in.
- Slow-Motion Pass-By: Griffith and Guts pass each other in slow motion on horseback during a battle. This actually foreshadows that they end up as enemies, but Berserk Abridged has another, hilarious take on it, flashing "Totally straight moment!!!" as they pass.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- Having to hear the Solemn Ending Theme "Waiting so Long" right after seeing Guts in utter physical and emotional agony from having to watch Casca get raped to insanity is REALLY unsettling.
- The upbeat melody of "Tell me Why" by Penpals sharply contrasts with the dark and violent plot of the show, especially in the final episode.
- The Stinger: After the final episode end credits roll, Guts is shown picking up the Dragon Slayer from Godo and embarking on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Surreal Theme Tune: Ladies and gentlemen, we present the opening theme "Tell Me Why" by the Penpals. It's an upbeat-sounding rock song, extremely catchy, and the lyrics are mispronounced and seemingly nonsensical Gratuitous English. We'd be hard-pressed to tell you what it means:Feel no shame about shape
Weather changes their phrase
Even mother will show you another way
So put your glasses on
Nothing will be wrong
There's no blame, there's no fame
It's up to you
The first words should be finded
Whatever hold you back
I can, I can get it off
- Too Long; Didn't Dub: In the English dub, the names of Adon's techniques are left untranslated from the Japanese, such as "ganzansenpuu" which means "rock-cutting whirlwind". Perhaps the localization team thought they would sound awkward if translated literally, but to have a character in a Medieval European Fantasy using Japanese words and phrases in an English dub without explanation sounds pretty weird.
- Weapon Stomp: When the Baron gets Scaled Up and gives Guts such a devastating beatdown that he can hardly move, Guts desperately reaches for the Dragon Slayer lying on the ground several feet away, only for the Baron thwart him by crushing his outstretched arm with his tail.
- Wham Episode:
- Episode 19 covers the parts where Guts leaves the Hawks, followed by Griffith taking Charlotte's virginity and being arrested by the royal guards.
- Episodes 23, 24, and 25 are one wham after another. 23 has everyone plunged into the Eclipse; 24 has Griffith speak the fatal words "I sacrifice"; and episode 25 kills off most of the main cast followed by Femto's rape of Casca, the loss of Guts' arm and eye, and the abrupt No Ending that turns the whole thing into a Gainax Ending.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The lack of the Skull Knight's presence in the anime means that when Rickert's unit is attacked by the Count and Rosine, the scene just ends with him staring at the Count in horror. Rickert's never seen again, even in the beginning when Guts is shown with all his new gear. It also means there's no explanation for how Guts got out of the Eclipse alive or what became of Casca.
- In a World...:
- The In this world... Opening Narration introduces a setting in which no one is in control of their own fate, which is manipulated by mysterious powers beyond their comprehension.
- Naturally, this is parodied by the Hilarious Outtakes: "In a world of tiny red objects, one man held one for a very long, long time."