Guts decides to rejoin the Band of the Hawk before they decide to embark on a daring attempt to rescue Griffith. What follows should be a joyful reunion but instead becomes something nobody could have predicted however, as the nature of the fate that binds them together finally reveals itself in the most dramatic and tragic way possible.
I admit it: I’ve become a huge admirer of this series during the course of these six volumes. It’s brutal, uncompromising but utterly absorbing; if you are reading this far I assume you’ve already watched the previous five discs and in all probability become as hooked as I have. Everything that has happened so far, every little feud or confrontation or declaration of loyalty, was a build-up to the final act that explains the blood-soaked madness that provided the story’s opener. The final moments are indeed one of the most notoriously inconclusive anime endings in recent memory: the story doesn’t really end in the conventional sense as come back full circle, which I suppose is the next best thing when, even now at the time of writing, the original manga is still ongoing. Mind-boggling, huh?
What I found to be the most chilling is how Griffith went from being an admirable hero to a tortured and terrifying villain: was this because he felt betrayed by Guts’ departure, or was it an inevitability thanks to Griffith’s ownership of the Egg of the King? Is, as is suggested in the pre-credit narration sequence, all this due to the fact that nobody is in control of their own destiny? Or did Griffith choose his own path, willingly destroying everything he valued for the sake of his own ambition?
The events of this volume take the story from a (relatively) realistic portrayal of a medieval world to a more fantastical one, with grotesque demons and nightmarish imagery; personally I’m not keen on monster-filled fantasy fare and preferred the politics and dialogue interspersed with adrenalin-pumping yet true-to-life combat. Nevertheless, these bizarre-looking scenes are the stage upon which the final betrayal takes place.
I was going through a variety of emotions at seeing the Hawks, and Griffith and Guts in particular of course, reaching the end of their journey and paying the price for one man’s dream. How could they possibly have known it would come to this? Given the suffering that Griffith endured prior to his rescue, is his feeling of despair and abandonment justified? If so, does this justify his reaction, especially considering the consequences it has on his comrades? Did even he know where the path they took would lead, let alone Guts, Caska and the others?
I suppose it’s impossible to review the final act of Berserk without considering that ending. It is indeed open – to the point where you want to visit your local bookshop the very next day and track down the manga to find out what happens next – but it brings things around to explain the state of affairs at the beginning. I found it to be an annoyance for sure but it hardly ruins the series as a whole; while there’s no telling where the story might go from here, it effectively explains how two close friends can become bitter enemies. Berserk wasn’t just about the endpoint, after all: that was shown right at the first episode. Berserk was about the journey, the colourful characters we meet along the way and the world they live in.
The anime adaptation of Berserk feels like one part – albeit a significant one – of a greater whole; Guts’ adventure isn’t over, and I’m sure many will feel disappointed that the second season has never materialised. It presents us with a sizeable cast of characters too, but unlike all too many longer series (both inside and outside the anime medium I might add), time is taken to show their individual personalities, hopes and fears which makes all the difference because it puts their lives in context with the bigger picture. Around the overwhelming presence of Griffith and the ambition that will eventually destroy them all, each and every one of them will linger on in your memory because they have personalities and dreams of their own.
The final act of Berserk will leave your eyes glued to the screen, as the seeds sown over twenty-four episodes bear bitter fruit in the final outing. Personally I didn’t find the lack of overall resolution as detrimental as I’d feared, but chances are you’ll be crying out for more when it’s over; if only because the meticulously-crafted storytelling does what it sets out to do so well.
What’s more to say? Unless you are squeamish or have a particular dislike for deliberately-paced medieval drama and swordplay, you have no excuse: Berserk is one of the all-time must-see titles. I’m struggling to think of an anime series that can match it in terms of characterisation or storytelling – it is so solid in these critical areas that the dated aesthetic and notorious ending are little more than minor criticisms. Granted, you do have to get past the misleading opening episode and the gradual build-up requires a fair amount of patience; on the latter point, patience ceases to be an issue after a while.
What I found, much to my surprise, is that the story and its characters work their way into whatever region of your mind is labelled ‘entertainment appreciation’ without your realising it: by the time you realise how it’s grown on you, it’s too late. You have to see it through to the end, even though you know it’ll be devastating to watch these people’s fall from grace. Curiosity as to exactly how the inevitable happens, and most importantly attachment to these characters, ensure that it’s the televisual equivalent of the book you can’t put down. I ought to warn you how potentially detrimental this might be to the amount of spare time you have after pressing the ‘play’ button for the first time, but I still say you really, really, ought to watch it.