Berserk raises the bar for anime storytelling, and is certainly one of my favorites. There are no magical girls, high school hijinxs, or teenaged melodrama in this anime. On the contrary, Berserk explores both the qualities in humanity that should be lauded, and those that should be condemned. A very dark, violent, and graphic anime, Berserk is not for the faint of heart.
The story begins, oddly enough, at the end of the tale - a technique also used in Gungrave to great effect. The entire anime is designed to tell the tale of how the characters arrived at the bleak and desperate circumstances depicted in the first episode. By the end, the viewer has come full circle with the characters, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
Set in medieval Europe, a mercenary named Guts meets a budding leader named Griffth. In Griffith, Guts finds a cause worth of his blade, a leader who encourages him to pursue his own dreams, and a company of soldiers that become as precious as family. This mercenary who wandered aimlessly, lending his sword to whomever could fill his palm with coin, gains everything his heart could want in life - only to lose it through betrayal.
Berserk is truly an epic tale; the characters are superbly developed, and one cannot help developing strong attachments, which only serves to heighten the sense of loss as the tragedy that befalls them unfolds. And it is worse than anything you could possibly imagine. Very few writers have the courage to take a story into the abyss, to fully explore the darkness that lives in the human soul, but Berserk does just that.
Unfortunately, Berserk is not a completed tale. When originally produced in 1997, the anime was billed as "season one", but over a decade of waiting has failed to produce a season two. The ending, while a nice conclusion to a first season, still leaves the rest of the tale untold, and anyone interested in the further adventures of Guts must turn to the manga for answers. Be forewarned; the manga is just as dark and graphic as the anime.
If you are searching for happy endings, you will not find them here. If, however, like me, you are constantly looking for exceptional storytelling, then give Berserk a try. You will not be disappointed. And when it is over, and you feel as if you have just been pummeled by an emotional sledgehammer, take some extra time and watch the outtakes. They are some of the funniest I have ever seen, and after all the drama, you will need a few laughs.