Berserk is truly what anime is all about. Great character development, a fantastic story, and great voice acting...everything that makes you want to come back for more!
Berserk is the anime series that started it all for me (got me into anime big time). Before ever seeing the first season of Berserk I played the Dreamcast game (Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage) not even knowing it was a separate manga/anime series.
Story: The story of Berserk takes place in a ficticious Midevil era Europe during wartime between the two countries of Midland and Juda. The main character is a rouge mercenary warrior by the name of Gatsu (Guts for short). Guts is an extremely skilled warrior and fights with a sword which is taller than he is, making him quite a formidable opponent. Eventually, Guts comes in contact with a group of mercenaries led by a man named Griffith. Griffith defeats Guts in a duel and takes Guts in to become part of his army. We are also introduced to a few other major characters at the beginning including: Caska (the only female warrior in Griffith's army), Pippin, Judeu, Corkus, and a few others. Note: The first episode of the series is actually after the main story of this season and can even be watched after the last episode since it will make more sense...
Berserk isn't your typical "monster of the week" type anime series, but it is a very violent one. In fact, this is an extremely gory series, complete with dismemberment and killing left and right; definately not for the faint of heart. Yet, all this bloodshed is done very well and stylistically enough not to be just there for show. Underneath the violent overtones of the show, however, there is a fluid, flowing storyline containing extremely detailed character development, flashbacks, emotion, and foreshadowing. These aspects of the show are what draws you in most.
Starting out as a simple war story, Berserk, slowly transforms into a whirlwind of deceit, mysticism, and vivid mental projections from the three main characters: Guts, Griffith, and Caska. It is almost a violent soap opera of sorts, yet much more entertaining and unpredictable. The story will draw you in and you'll quickly find all your free time gone as you pop in each dvd, one after the other But as a word of warning, the ending is very dramatic and does not answer all your questions.... not only that, but it will leave you with a "what the fudge is going on!" thought... we will all have to wait for season 2 for those answers....
Animation: The animation in Berserk has a very "gritty" look to it, consisting of mostly dark tones (which show a lot of the film transfer flaws unfortunately) and dull colors (except for the blood of course). It premiered on Japanese television in 1998, so the series is about five years old now, yet I think that the animation holds up well enough today, even though it looks a bit rushed at times.
After watching the series 2 1/2 times thorough, it seems to be very accurate in their artistic consistency; with arrows staying where they were shot, broken swords staying broken, and cuts and wounds where they should be. It's not perfect and some scenes seem sloppily done (a lot of scenes are done in still action frames to save time and energy on the animatiors), but the effort is exerted where it is needed and in the end comes off very professionally done with a style I quite enjoy.
Voices/Music: The voices for Berserk IMO are extremely well done for an anime series. Both the Japanese and English language tracks are very enjoyable and expertly executed. The lips line up nearly perfect on the English dub, and the translation into English was phenominally done, and very emotional at times. Voices are distinguisable from one another, which helps add to the character's personality and impact on the viewer. The only negative on the voices I have a problem with is the low mix of the voice into the video and background noises, which makes it hard to hear if you don't have the volume up very loud. Also, notable are the extremely hilarious outtakes for the English voice actors. These alone are worth a watch, and show how devoted many of the voice actors were to this project.
The music of Berserk is very "mystical" in sound and even eerie at times. Though, most of the musical tracks are very appropriate to the scene though not particularly memorable (except for the track played on the menu screen) and are overall very well done. The opening and closing songs, however, are two of the WORST songs I think I have ever heard. The opening song in particular doesn't even seem to fit in with the theme of the series and is just plain annoying (thankfully there is a skip button on dvd players ). The closing song fits in a little better with the series, yet the song itself is trash. Two, minor quibbles, that get the quick press of a button at the beginning and end of an episode. It's just too bad they didn't choose better opening and closing songs, but oh well....
Overall: I thoroughly enjoy watching Berserk. It is one of those memorable series that grabs onto you and won't let go. I could probably watch this show multiple times through and catch new things each time. Berserk has a lot to offer the viewer. It doesn't have your typical anime story or style. There is little Japanese humor and what there is of it, is short lived. A truly dark/gloomy series which changes moods constantly from hate, love, sorrow, pain, trust, separation, hopelessness, and bewilderment throughout. You'll never know what to expect next, and there will even be those "that didn't just happen!" moments that will blow you away. A highly recommended series for those who enjoy fantasy/midevil themed animes with a twist, and those who enjoy deep, sometimes touching, stories.