If you're a fan of Berserk, I want you to keep in mind that I DO happen to like the series. It's the anime adaptation that I have a problem with. If you're new to Berserk, I highly encourage you to read the manga instead for reasons I'll explain shortly.
You know... I like no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall action and I don't know anyone who doesn't. I also happen love stories of betrayal and revenge. Combine these two elements with a medieval setting and what you'll get is Berserk. So why then do I find myself grossly unsatisfied with this series? Well, it boils down to one simple problem, and that problem my dear friends is lacklustre animation. I'll just say this right now: I love the story, the characters are amazing, and with the exception of the OP/ED along with some minor issues the ADR crew overlooked when it came down to making the script fit the mouth movements, Berserk's audio is pretty damn good. However, all of that effort gets thrown to the wayside because the animation is just so bloody awful.
Let me get one thing clear: I do know that this series came out in the late 1990s, so obviously it's not going to be up-to-par with series like Hellsing Ultimate or even Claymore/Gantz. You know what? That's perfectly fine. What's more, the art direction is pretty damn ace to say the least and it really does capture the gritty atmosphere this show on the whole has. However, the actual animation of the programme is so bad that it makes Hellsing (2001) look like something straight out of Studio Ghibli. Any sort of battles that go on pretty much just show Guts, Kaska or whoever else just taking out their swords, slashing once, and then the enemy is down with just trail of blood spewing out of the area they just cut as they fall down. As for the major battles like with Zodd the Immortal, it's like the fight was literally taken out of the manga.
What do I mean? Well for any major battle, they don't even bother animating the entire fight and just show the final pose of each blow dealt. What also irritates me is whenever Guts or whoever else is in the middle of a major battle and they're about to attack, sometimes they'd just show that person launch an attack, and then it cuts to an absurdly detailed picture of that person making that attack which looks like it was extricated straight from the manga, except that it was in colour and blown up to a 4:3 resolution.
I don't know about you, but I'd like to see an actual fight being animated. You can pull the "it's from the 90s" card, but then I'll tell you that Evangelion had the budget of an LED signal because of Gainax's poor accounting practices and literally animated the final two episodes of the series in pencil. Yet somehow, the action sequences in Evangelion are bar none some of the most fluid and enthralling fights I've ever seen. It felt like I was watching Blade of the Immortal all over again but even then, Blade had Production I.G to back them up and actually step in every now and then to actually animate a fight properly. Berserk had no such luxury.
Another thing that I found rather irritating was the fact that the animation in the background was next to non-existent and there was a heavier emphasis on animating what was in the foreground. You know... in a drama context, the animation in the foreground is more important so I can let that shit slide. However, Berserk is primarily an ACTION series. Yes, there is a lot of talking and such, but the overall focus remains on the action. Whenever you're doing an action series, you need to animate the foreground AND the background.
Why? Well for one thing, you want to sell the illusion right? I mean, when you get right down to it... I'm sitting down in front of my computer screen for a few hours on end. When I watch an anime series, I want to forget that I'm doing just that. This is where the concept of immersion comes into play. I want to get sucked in, and in order for you to do that, you need to do a damn good job of making everything look "realistic."
However, there was this inherent detachment from "reality" as early as the first episode. In the first episode, Guts enters an unknown town and after some events I'd rather not get into, the entire town is lit ablaze... or so they'd like for you to think. First off, nothing in the foreground was on fire, except for maybe one or two collapsing buildings toward the end of the episode. The sky itself is just coloured varying shades of red, orange, and yellow with a little bit of black/grey thrown in to make it look like there was smoke. But the sky itself remains completely static throughout the entire segment.
Was it really necessary to go through all of the trouble JUST to make everything look like it's on fire if you're not even going to bother putting actual flame in the background? The expressions, body language, and even the actions of the characters also don't reflect the fact that the entire town is ablaze. Nobody was becoming short of breath due to the lack of oxygen and nobody was noticeably affected by the heat. Nobody was sweating, nobody was squinting their eyes to keep all the extra light out, etc. You're not doing a good job of selling the illusion, you know... and this is the first episode. This is Studio OLM putting their best foot forward. Lovely.
Don't even get me started on the lack of gore. All we ever really get is just a whole lot of blood spewing out of places that Guts, Kaska, Griffith, et al slashed at and maybe a severed limb or two if we're lucky. Despite how shitty Gantz's actual animation was, at least Gonzo had the sense to retain all of the gore and nudity so that they could keep our attention. But any time that a character would end up getting seriously mutilated, they'd just show it off-screen.
Maybe I've been spoiled by stuff like Hellsing Ultimate and Gantz, but then I remember that both NGE and End of Evangelion came out around the same time period as Berserk and had no shortage of blood and venereal horror. Let's not forget the exploding heads in Fist of the North Star, which came out like 10+ years before Berserk! So yeah... no excuse there, lads at OLM. For the record, I don't necessarily need blood and gore to keep my attention so long as the action is good. But I already established that the action here is pretty damn shit. If your action is pretty damn shit, you better have some way to make up for it, which they don't.
Now, if you want to know why I'm making such a big stink about the animation, well for one thing: this is an ANIME. The first four letters are the same first four letters in the word ANIMATION. I said this in my 5CM review: while the story and characters are the actual substance of whatever I'm watching, you still need something to portray that substance with. This is where the animation comes into play and if your animation is bad, your series won't be anywhere near as good as it could be (ref: Gantz, Hellsing 2001, Elfen Lied). I really wouldn't mind the bad animation though if the series was at least entertaining to watch like the three series I mentioned earlier.
However, I don't find myself satisfied by the action whatsoever. Despite how shit Elfen Lied and Gantz are when it comes down to an animation standpoint, at least I found myself entertained because they didn't censor any of the gore or nudity. Hellsing 2001 is TERRIBLE from a storytelling/characterisation standpoint, but at least I found myself entertained because it had some great music and a downright amazing English dub. That really wasn't the case at all with Berserk, and I really just found myself bored/disinterested with the show as a whole with the only entertainment value I ever got out of it being the interactions between Guts, Kaska, and Griffith. Just do yourself a favour and read the manga. It's infinitely better than the anime. read more