In light of Miura’s recent passing, I decided to revisit the 1997 anime for the first time in almost 20 years. Would it hold up?
Well, let’s start with the obvious: the action in Berserk looks like ass, which is not great for a show with a lot of action. The biggest problem with the animation is that there isn’t any. Battles frequently turn into a slide show, with rapid zooms that are meant to suggest motion but instead just make it look uglier and harder to follow. While there are some fight scenes with decent animation, they’re few and far between.
Of course, with source material renowned for its detailed artwork, it’s impossible for any anime adaptation to really do it justice. But it’s still disappointing just how far short both the 1997 and 2016 versions fall. Even outside of the action scenes, Berserk merely looks passable. That the sheer horror of the Eclipse doesn’t really come through is no real surprise, but even in regular talking scenes it all feels a little dry, like it’s just going through the motions.
But at least there’s the story, and the story is still good, right? Well, kind of. I don’t think it’s an unpopular opinion that the beginning of the manga is not very good. The writing was still rough, as Miura hadn’t found his footing yet. But it’s not just the beginning. Berserk takes a long time to get going. and some of the dialogue in the first half of the anime isn’t great (I really thought Zodd’s introduction was better than it was). It doesn’t help either that there’s some anime-original filler that doesn’t contribute anything to the overall story.
The anime really picks up at the halfway point, around the time Guts earns his hundred-man-slayer title. This is when Guts and Casca finally start getting much-needed development.
But I wouldn’t say that it ever becomes great. Again, this is partly just the adaptation’s fault. There are definitely some highlights in the Golden Age arc. But while the arc is vital to the story, I think I just prefer the later parts of Berserk. Watching Guts push himself to the limit to defeat an otherwordly horror is more appealing than seeing him cut down a group of hapless soldiers for the nth time. The core story of the Golden Age is good, but it doesn’t feel like there was enough material for 25 episodes (at least, not with all the chapters that were cut).
Also, even though sexual violence has always been a part of Berserk, it was still kind of disturbing seeing Casca subjected to it at basically every possible opportunity. She deserved better.
So, at the end of the day, the Berserk anime is not as good as I thought it was, even with tempered expectations. It’s fine, but not something I would recommend even if you’re interested in Berserk, unless you’ve already read the manga and just want to see it in another form. But at least it’s still better than the 2016 anime.