Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Berserk 1997 is one of the greats of anime - Otaku Thoughts #59


I originally wrote this on this very blog, but then turned it into a post on the Berserk subreddit and edited it a lot more. It got a lot of recognition on the Berserk subreddit and sparked lots of discussion, which made me very happy. Here's the Reddit post, but if you happen to be here, then just read the one on this blog, as it's the same but the pictures and videos are embedded into the post (and I added more pictures and captions)! Then check out the comments on the Reddit post because they're very intriguing!

Major spoilers for the Golden Age arc of Berserk (end of vol. 3 - beginning of vol. 14 of manga; the entirety of Berserk 97; the entirety of the film trilogy).
Note: I will be discussing everything except for episode 1. I do believe that was a good episode, but this post is referring to the Golden Age arc, which is the majority of the 1997 anime.
Another Note: All in all I want to spread appreciation for Berserk 97. I compare it to the manga a bit, but I do not intend to demean the manga in anyway. There are some things Berserk 97 does better than the manga's Golden Age arc, but obviously, as a whole, the manga is the definitive Berserk story and is a true epic masterpiece.
What I'm really claiming in this post, is that Berserk 97 is great when compared to other anime.
So, on with the post. Skip to the next bolded part if you want to skip the introduction.
There's something pretty mind-boggling that I learned recently (well, a month ago when I began to write this; I've been busy and had this archived on my blog), and that is that the Berserk subreddit community does not like the Berserk 97 anime (which I may refer to as simply "the Berserk anime" in this post from time to time), nor do they like people who are fans of the Berserk anime, because my post sharing my opinion that I believe the Berserk anime is good and that I was disappointed that Berserk didn't even make it onto NHK's top 400 anime list was downvoted into oblivion (if you want to see the post, here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Berserk/comments/693uyh/on_a_top_400_anime_poll_by_popular_japanese/).
So, those particular Berserk fans on the Berserk subreddit do not think the Berserk anime is any good, and they reasoned that it wasn't even surprising that Berserk did not make it onto the list because the anime is not as great as the 400 other anime on the list. One person even went as far as to say that they would be scared in anime fans' tastes, if Berserk made it onto the list at all.
First of all, they must have hardly looked at the list, because a lot of the titles are generally perceived by the anime community as being mediocre. I mean, Pokemon Giratina and the Sky Warrior was number 50 something, let that sink in for a second. I might be elitist right here, but to reason that Pokemon Giratina and the Sky Warrior deserves that spot more than Berserk 97? Yeah, okay, people have differing opinions-- but why is it wrong to feel disappointed that this amazing anime, Berserk 97, is not being as appreciated by others who are viewers of one of the largest, if not the largest network of all of Japan? I want to spread that Berserk 97 is awesome, I want more people to see it, and the Berserk subreddit vehemently disagrees with me for some reason.
Secondly though, I've got news for you, Berserk subreddit: one of the top anime sites on earth, MyAnimeList, actually does consider Berserk 97 as one of the best anime of all time, from both a rating and popularity standpoint. I say it's one of the top anime sites, but that's not saying much because a lot of anime fans don't use it, plain and simple, but lots of dedicated, experienced anime fans do, so that's why I think this holds some inkling of a bit of relevance of Berserk's quality.

Berserk 97 is in the top 200 in both categories of popularity and overall score on MAL.
Not to mention how, like, the top 6 reviews are 10/10. That hardly ever happens.
I'm part of the MyAnimeList community who believes that Berserk is great, and I will do my best to show the Berserk subreddit community that I love Berserk, and I want everyone else to be able to appreciate a damn good anime that is based on the greatest manga of all time. I want to prove that Berserk 97 not only holds up on its own even if someone hasn't read the manga, but that it is also one of the greats of anime.
So, why is the Berserk anime great? Well, allow me to ask another question: why is the Golden Age arc great? I think a lot of us know why, so if we consider Golden Age to be the pinnacle of manga storytelling, then what exactly is the fault of Berserk 97's story? Because, Berserk 97 tells the Golden Age arc exceptionally well; the story is the same. All that they cut out, is foreshadowing to later events of the Conviction Arc and onwards, such as Skull Knight. But that only further tightens the narrative for Berserk 97; with Skull Knight omitted, Berserk 97 can stand on its own.
Stories do not need a pretty ribbon to tie up the ending. Open endings leave more mystery to be had, and mystery is crucial to the ominous atmosphere that Berserk 97 holds. It's difficult to think of many anime that had such feeling of ominousness, than Berserk 97. The only anime I think outdoes it in that regard is Serial Experiments Lain. Even if you think this is only petty justification, even if Berserk's ending IS shit-- I am not GRArkada, and endings are not paramount. The journey, not the destination, plays a huge role in Berserk 97 being amazing. Because it can be valid to criticize Berserk's ending for not explaining or providing clear evidence of how Guts ended up as the Black Swordsman, and that it is not a well executed open ending, to which I could agree. I do still believe that its openness does help give the feeling of dread and mystery, but sure, I'll give you that the ending isn't great. So if you're not sold that endings aren't paramount, let me ask another question: out of an entire show, why leave the ending, the last part of the show, to dictate the quality of the remaining entirety of the anime? Berserk 97 is great because of everything else; it has flaws, I'm not claiming it's perfect but other than the ending and dated animation... it doesn't have many other flaws. In fact, it has so many virtuous aspects that twenty years later, it is still remembered as a classic... outside of Japan and the Berserk subreddit, apparently.
The magical soundtrack by the brilliant mind of Susumu Hirasawa is something I don't even need to explain, so I'll move onto the art. The art, while not as detailed as Miura’s, is still great. In fact, I’d argue that the proportions of the anime were of higher quality than Miura’s; Miura’s art wasn’t as masterclass back when he was drawing Golden Age. Here, lemme give some examples: Compare Griffith with the Behelit from the anime; he looks like a charming guy. Now, compare that to the manga: holy crap, he looks like a disproportionate anime girl.

Berserk 97 Griffith
Manga Griffith

Now, look at Casca—


Oh, wait. That isn’t Casca. That’s Guts. Yeah, there were times in the manga where Guts looked like Casca; that’s how 'amateurish' the drawings could be at times (amateurish is in quotes because the art is still pretty damn good, and once the manga hits Lost Children Miura's art is easily better than Berserk 97's. I mean no disrespect to Miura by calling his Golden Age art amateurish, either. He has grown so much as an artist and he is the pinnacle of great mangaka/manga artists. The man is an absolute genius with godlike artistic and narrative talent.).

Honestly though, Casca was beautiful in the 1997 anime.
Aside from the last episode, the quality of the story in 97 was top notch.
There was one scene I think was ruined: the scene where Guts kills Adonis. He kills Adonis while realizing it was a little kid he was killing. Also, he brought his oversized sword to an assassination, which is beyond stupid— granted, he does the same in the manga. The movie trilogy did this scene best; he brings a typical longsword so that it won't be obvious who the killer is, and he surprise-attacks the person behind the door without knowing who it was, and much to his horror, he stabbed a little boy. But I digress.
Aside from that ONE scene, I can’t think of anything else that was particularly frustrating about Berserk 97— aside from the last episode, of course.
Y'see, by trying to be fair, I'm naming a lot of negatives about 97 and am probably hurting my point... but, those are the only negatives I can think of. There are so many great scenes that are played out just as well as the manga, but brought to life in animated form. Unlike the film trilogy-- a fantastic film series, albeit for different reasons-- Berserk 97 actually cares about character development. You get to know Judeau, Rickert, Pippin, Corkus (well, you grow to 'love to hate' Corkus), and hell, even Gaston you end up getting attached to. And especially Griffith; you see a lot more of Griffith's vulnerable emotional state. How broken of a man he was.
The Band of the Hawk was amazingly developed. The romance development between Guts and Casca, the relationship dynamic between Guts/Griffith/Casca, it was all exceptionally managed.
Berserk 97 makes sure to express its theme on dreams. This anime has such beautiful and thought-provoking elements of philosophy that is rare to find in anime, and the scenes that it adapts from the manga are so close to the original source, with Susumu Hirasawa's breathtaking OST to give a serene atmosphere... I mean, watch this clip of “The Bonfire of Dreams”.


I get goosebumps from it. The dialogue is just as poetic and meaningful as the manga... I cannot understand how you couldn't love this!
On a side note, props to the English dub, which was fantastic for a 90’s dub, and which, imo, had the definitive voices for Guts (Marc Diraison), Griffith (Kevin T Collins), and Casca (Carrie Keranen). While the delivery of their lines sounded rather forced in 97, when they returned for the film trilogy, they truly perfected the voices of these characters.
One more amazing clip is the encounter with Zodd: the feeling of dread is immense. The silence make the scene more eery, then Hirasawa's track "Monster" starts playing in order to kick the dread up a notch.


Notice how even though the animation is limited, all of the scenes are perfectly shot, and it only resorts to still frames at just the right moments; while it was done as a budget shortcut, the effect it gives is rather dramatic and I like it. The artist knew how to make these paintings look eye-popping and terrifying, and these shots don't overstay their welcome; people call Berserk 97 a 'slideshow', but these images are few, and only last for mere seconds, so calling it a 'literal slideshow' is hyperbolic, to say the least.
The only story element that was removed in Berserk 97, aside from Skull Knight (some unneeded foreshadowing for this particular anime was removed, not a big deal-- Skull Knight is important for the overall story of the manga, of course, but as I think I have established, Berserk 97 stands quite well as a standalone anime)-- so, as I was saying before I got into a side tangent, the only story element that was removed was Wyald. And, even though the Wyald encounter was friggin brutal and disgusting and I loved it, it was more filler than anything, and removing it made Griffith’s rescue feel less dragged out.
I have conflicted feelings as to whether removing the whole Wyald plot was a good decision or not-- on one hand, Wyald was important to make the Eclipse feel less out-of-place, as without Wyald, the only Apostle/monster/demon that appears in Golden Age was Zodd near the beginning, but to be honest, Wyald appears so late in the story that his appearance felt out of place in and of itself. The other reason I'm conflicted is, as I mentioned, I love the Wyald subplot, and I'm a sucker for edgy scenes. And Wyald's entire character was one of the edgiest things in Berserk. However, I think that critically, removing him and the Black Dog Knights was a good decision, and made Berserk 97's pacing stronger. Plus, some of the fight scenes against the Black Dog Knights were pretty ridiculous-- cutting off Wyald's cock, for example.
EDIT: I just remembered from a comment by Azukola (https://www.reddit.com/r/Berserk/comments/6fws71/well_shit/dim7efk/) that Berserk 97 also removes Guts getting raped by Donovan and changes the Guts and Casca sex scene of Guts remembering Gambino selling him to Donovan. That is something that I can't really defend Berserk 97 removing. And not only that, but they removed Shisu and a 3-year-old Guts witnessing her dying of an awful plague. A toddler witnessing his mother dying, as he holds her hand... that's powerful stuff. (Poor Shisu, nobody ever remembers her.)
When it comes down to it, Berserk 97 excelled in nearly every aspect. Its story was overall very faithful to the manga; all of the character development was there, and the only things that were removed were a 'filler' subplot and some foreshadowing (Skull Knight's exclusion). The dated animation still looks pretty decent; you can tell it's old, but it doesn't hinder the experience. At least, it hasn't hindered my, nor any of my friends', experiences. It looks fine. And the art looks great. The character designs were more human than the manga's were at the time.
The only flaw I can really acknowledge as a 'real flaw' is its open-ending, and even that can be argued against.
Apparently, these relatively minute flaws make Berserk 97 unwatchable, and not worth the spot on a great anime list.
No. I believe that Berserk 97 is worthy of being called great.



**If you read this, thanks so much. I made this far too long, but hell, I love Berserk so much that this was worth it.
The manga gets the love it deserves from the community, but Berserk 97 is generally regarded as mediocre by this subreddit, and I had to defend it.
Maybe I should do another post about Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage :P That game is also severely underrated.**

~HikariJake~

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