Hi there, I am typicallydia and welcome to Reanimation, episode 6, on the dead as hell horror podcast. today we are going to descend into hell with Berserk. Because this is such a sprawling and involved franchise, i am going to kind of blend my review and concern the series and ovas as one body of work to save time.
The original series ran from October 1997 to march 1998. The OVAs, known as Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I, II, and III is a retelling of that series. The Egg of the King came out in February 2012, followed by The Battle for Doldrey in June 2012, and The Advent, which I will certainly focus on since that is the most horrific of the group, came out in February 2013. They were done by Studio 4 degrees celsius, or studio 4c, who you may know from Steamboy, some Batman: Gotham Knight, and Detroit Metal City. Due to a clash of taste between purists and style fans, there is a lot of criticism of the animation and cg styles used in the recent feature length series, but really, it doesn’t look to bad. Characters having robotic features is the main complaint, but there are way worse examples of this in many other anime. It is not hitting motion comic levels of static cells, so i can’t complain.
the animation of the original series is smooth as could be attained at the time. colours are medium, neither too bright or too muted, and very pleasing overall. the level of detail is middling as well. These were done by Oriental Light and Magic, famed for the Pokemon series as well as the Wedding Peach and a Guyver installation. All those are very indicative of their anime style.
At 25 episodes it is a good marathon watch and while not streaming officially, you can check YouTube or Viz or order the “Box of War” boxed set from AnimeWorks.
Berserk reminds me of the kind of 80s animation that would give me a wicked headache in grade school. as rough as the title song is, I loved it, as again it reminds me of the garage bands that gave me headaches in the 80s too, that would be ‘tell me why’ by the penpals. The closing theme ‘waiting so long’ by silver Fins, is much better with a slow calm acoustic dirge coupled with swelling cellos. beautiful stuff that serves as a balm for the violence you’ve just been given over too. exactly what an end theme is supposed to do!
I can’t recall the songs from the OVA, but they were not as oddly remarkable as the music used to the original series. However, the sound design for the contemporary feature length installations is far better.
the first episode is a good introduction to the main character, Guts, a rogue mercenary. it works well to plunge you into the mystery surrounding Guts, his skills as well as his alliances. it also takes away from the relative yawn of the first half of the second episode which serves to build back story and shows us a young Guts operating in much the same way as the older Guts we first met with only shorter hair on top, and a much smaller sword.
the second bit of the second episode contains some classic underworld and horrific imagery with Guts being pinned in a pile of skulls.
Basically, the whole anime arc opens with Guts having a really really big sword made and donning the armour of the Black Swordsman he has become, then we fall into the story of how he came to be the black Swordsman.
As a young sword fighter, he was noticed by the leader of the Band of the Hawks, Griffith. Within time, he came to serve Griffith and was paired up with his commander Cazca. This is the basic love-hate triangle of the story, if there is one to be had.
Guts becomes Griffiths right hand and as he climbs the social ladder, he pisses off pretty much anyone that comes in contact with him, from demons to the monarchy. After he and the Hawks have reached their pinnacle of success – i.e killing anyone they come across – Guts leaves the band. He’s helped Griffith is whatever way he felt he owed them and his service tenure is closed, simple as that. After a bit of pissing and moaning, he leaves.
Griffith finally pisses of everyone that is left alive and is thrown in prison and tortured impossibly for what seems like eternity. He is stuck in a kind of Chateau D’If place goverened by a Martin Lomax type guy, so fans of the Count of Monte Cristo and Human Centipede 2 can have those worlds collide. Meanwhile, Guts has it out with Cazca in some of the strangest fugitive naked cave dwelling shit ever. He then not only returns to rescue Griffith, but returns to restore the Hawks to the former glory as an army.
This all backfired horribly as not only has Griffiths mind deteriorated terribly under torture, he’s always been a complete snake anyway – not to mention, he is imbued with supernatural powers of The God Hand. These are five angel demon types that make up the Hand of God, but once the series ends up in hell proper, you see there is no god there as we know it.
I found it wasn’t made entirely clear in the anime nor in the OVA and i suspect, like some anime, they rely on the success of the manga to filling the blanks.
from the Berserk wiki, we have the cheat sheet of the God Hand
“God Hand are a powerful group of five reality warping angels (or demons), each corresponding to a finger or thumb, directly below the Idea of Evil in power and authority. All of them were originally humans who were chosen by the Idea of Evil to serve its purpose of giving reason for humanity’s suffering. They each possessed and used a Crimson Behelit like the one Griffith used (The Egg of the Emperor) in order to transcend their humanity. It is unknown whether there are five Crimson Behelits or whether the same one came to each of them in turn.
The God Hand using corpses to manifest into the world during the Incarnation Ceremony
The God Hand can’t take corporeal form in the mortal plane. If they do appear there, it is a construct, formed by whatever is at hand. They can also appear when summoned by a Behelit for the purpose of creating Apostles or during the Eclipse which happens only once every 216 years and marks the birth of a new God Hand, wherein there is an area that acts as a junction in between the astral realm and the human realm. After the World Transformation they can now manifest in the physical plane without the need of a constructed avatar.“
For what purpose? Destroying the world I suppose. Having Hell On Earth. Gathering souls and carcasses with which to construct face mountains and more god hands maybe, i’m not that sure.
Having the five angels summoned by amulets is similar to Lamarchand’s box. the entrance of the cenobites is pale in comparison to the entrance of the God Hand, The God Hand however, relies on astrophysical occurrences, involves an eclipse, and a massive inescapable rift between hell and reality. The Cenobites are free agents in comparison. There are many Clive Barker type comparisons, Hellraiser, Tortured Souls, In the Hills The Cities, and more if you watch close.
this series is a good example of how horror elements can exist in action, sci fi and drama. just like other modes of delivery, film, comic, games and books, horror fans can look in the dark alley of any genre and find a little grue to grind on. this is the sword and religious action anime angle of that. if you can enjoy that sort of story you will enjoy Berserk. while not horror at all, it does have some occult, supernatural angels. guts and glory with emphasis on the guts.
if you were to fast forward to the final episode for the visual payoff alone it’s worth it. scenes of hell straight from an Escher and Clive Barker inspired land of wall to wall death and blood serve as a backdrop for desperation that our heroes have succumbed to. amazing monsters and a slick kind of perfection to the end of this story works waiting through 25 episodes… though you’d have to be pretty into the story.
it is steeped in male warriors fighting, it’s not fueled on 100 per cent sausage power. apparently the rapes and disemboweling were tame when compared to the manga, and I wish it hadn’t been, as that should have been more interesting than the control triangle happening between the three main characters, Guts, Griffith and Cazca. while Berserk may of not enjoyed such a wide appreciation, it would have been another entry for horror fans of action such as Fist of the North Star and Ninja Scroll.
Now the movies set out to do it all over again but in the shorter delivery with less censorship constraints. The third installation is really the siren song for horror fans.
Berserk: Golden Age Arc III: The Advent The third act of the third ova is where it all gets really really good. Griffith has a moment that sparks a cataclysmic eclipse and plunges his estranged army including Guts and Cazca into hell.
Comparing it to the original run, it’s hard to pick a favourite as the original vision of hell, while not a visual or visceral, held a deeper terror. one contained in the mind and unseen, where everything in the OVA is spattered on screen. Some of the highlights of the OVA are the vast amounts of blood. It’s really over the top and i loved every minute of that. The vision of Guts falling down a cliffside made of the gore drenched faces of the souls of the damned was kind of amazing, then he stabs in with his blade to slow his descent much like a pirate riding down a sail from the crows nest. ripping through face after face as he goes – and not too long after he takes another knife ride down the face hill, splitting thousands of them in half all over again. so gory. You get to see more of that in the OVAs than you do in the series as the fight scenes are on a much larger scale and the amount of blood spilled, limbs and torsos flying increased tenfold.
even from the beginning of The Descent, images of the emaciated and nearly dead Griffith are the stuff of nightmares. If you are creeped out by Zelda in Pet Semetery or the starved man in se7en you will get squicked out by Griffith.
Once Griffith is imbued with the power of the Hand of God, he changes back into the strong, rapey, vicious type, hell-bent of destroying Guts mind then his body. Jealous rage much? Guts’ sword has always been bigger. There is even a scene of a naked Guts holding his massive sword like a giant cock in case you didn’t quite get the parallel.
All in all, while not horror proper, Berserk is a classic hell ride. In between an epic saga with huge morally driven battles, you get rapey vile back-stories, then blood blood and more blood. I make it sound alright, but honestly, I had to really reach to enjoy this entirely. Just not my thing. the story was just too rich yet the characters were not very compelling. Guts is too gruff, Cazca is too girly and Griffith… well, i liked Griffith.
If this sounds like your thing, start with the anime which lets the story really sit with you as it unravels. If you would rather get straight to the spatter, skip off to the third OVA and let it fly.
If there is something bloodier out there you think i should watch, let me know on twitter at typicallydia, or tumblr, reddit, instagram, wherever you hang out online. This has been reanimation, where we have such sights to show you.