Berserk Vol. #1 (also w/Box) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A+
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Media Blasters
  • MSRP: 29.95/44.95
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Berserk

Berserk Vol. #1 (also w/Box)

By Chris Beveridge     May 27, 2002
Release Date: May 28, 2002

Berserk Vol. #1 (also w/Box)
© Media Blasters

What They Say
In the castle town of Midland, a new king has come to power through treachery and violence. His demonic agents victimize the citizens unchecked, until the night when a battle weary soldier approaches the city.

Covered in a slew of weapons and countless jagged scars, he calls himself the Black Swordsman. The sword he carries is the size of his grudge against the king, and he hunts the servants of evil with unrelenting fury.

The Review!
Berserk is one of those series that upon seeing it a few years ago, it revitalized my interest in anime. It did it enough so that I even picked up the box set only release in Japan last year and simply enjoyed it raw for its visual quality. Thankfully it?s now being released in region 1 and a lot of people can now get a chance to see one really good series that doesn?t pull any punches.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. Though only a few years old, the series has a pretty basic stereo mix that?s done fairly well. There?s some directionality across the forward soundstage throughout the episodes but nothing sent to the rear speakers. Dialogue is nice and clear and music makes good use of both stereo channels.

The release was initially delayed briefly due to the acquisition of better masters and it really shows here. The transfer here appears as close to identical to the region 2 box set as can be and I?m finding myself extremely pleased with how this looks, especially considering the budget of the show. There?s the usual grain that?s inherent in the film and it adds a lot to the quality and feel of things, giving it a much darker and almost film-like feel at times. Colors look great, blacks are nice and solid and there?s no visible bleeding. Cross coloration appears non-existent here and there?s hardly any noticeable aliasing as well.

Packaged in a red keepcase, this is a great looking release utilizing the gorgeous illustration work available from the Japanese box set. The cover insert is a mix of blacks and browns for a background with the illustration placed in the center below the English logo and the Japanese version of the logo. The volume number even appears on the front cover, a general rarity these days. The back cover provides a collage of animation shots from the opening episodes and a brief summary of the show and the number of episodes. The discs features are clearly listed and we?ve got the return of the info bar at the bottom providing the technical information, something I?m very much for. The insert provided has the two logos and lists the chapter stops for each of the episodes.

Also released with the single disc release was the single disc with the box to hold all of the discs. This is a great looking box that?s very different from other ones so far. The material used is thicker than typical lightweight boxes but not as heavy as the boxes that can?t be broken down, more of a good middle ground for what they?re doing here. The box opens from the side and pulls apart to reveal three illustrations inside. It?s hard to explain, but it?s a great looking box that really fits the series. And for anyone crying spoilers about the illustrations, it?s only a spoiler if you?ve seen the entire series. The artwork on the front of the box features some raised pieces while the side image is a slick looking version of the darker illustrations. The back of the box features a very brief piece on the show itself, but avoids providing any technical aspects or anything else beyond the show itself.

The menu layout is really nice, using the hanging bodies from the tree as the background while music and animation plays. Selections are laid out across the tombstones. Access times between menus are nice and fast and the general look and feel of all of them is good. Definitely a menu we liked.

The extras on the first volume are a bit limited, but still have some good points to them. The outtakes has some of the usual slip ups you find early on, a few amusing and a few not. Checking these out made me decide not to check out the dub at all though. The art gallery is one of the few that lives up to its name by providing some gorgeous looking illustrations. The production sketch gallery also works well in providing some good looking designs from the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Berserk is one of those series that starts off later in the series and then goes back to tell its tale. The series opens with us following the older and more world weary Guts, aka the Black Swordsman. Guts falls into the tall, dark and extremely dangerous category. His main entrance plays out with him coming into a local tavern where a group of thugs, which turn out to be castle guards of all things, are having their way with a couple of girls they?ve taken recently. Guts simply walks in and begins to use his wrist mounted crossbow to kill all but one of them, telling him to tell his master that he?s arrived. Add in a moment of him using a massive sword that?s longer than he is tall, and it?s a fast, bloody and very cold sequence.

While things move within the castle as politics come into play and agendas shift, we start to get a feel for Guts as he waits outside in the forest. Along his neck is a sigil that begins to glow, and we get introduced to the supernatural side of the show, where we learn that he?s given over his form to these creatures for some reason, becoming their tool for killing and destroying. This all leads into a confrontation with the castle lord, a demon himself we come to learn. The story plays out as a simple tale, something that?s almost filler, except that it?s to show you the end result of what we?re going to see. The final sequence flashes back a number of years to a much younger but not necessarily green Guts.

This is where the story really begins, as we see the first battle as a mercenary group Guts belongs to where he becomes known by taking on the feared warrior of the opposing side of a castle siege. Guts has spent most of his life learning swordplay so it?s not that he?s green here, it?s just that this is a battle where his skill comes to notice of others, most notably that of Griffith, leader of the Band of the Hawk, the mercenary group that was defending the castle.

With his money in hand, and knowing that the battle is over for this group, he moves on in search of a new fight to take on. One of Griffith?s men decides to take him on with a small group, only to end up with one dead and the other seriously wounded. Griffith sends his second, the young but serious woman named Caska, and she ends up being backed into a corner by him. It?s finally Griffith who comes in and takes him down, nearly killing him with one blow. Griffith has him brought with them as they move out, and a few days later Guts finds himself being asked to join the Band.

From this we have the obligatory duel between the two as they?re both strong personalities, but it?s once we get past this that things really get going, as Guts becomes a full member of the group. His abilities combined with those of the other members and Griffith?s planning helps bring major attention to an already reputable group. But again, the show isn?t content to follow the daily adventures and the show leaps forward another three years, with everyone becoming stronger and more deadly. And it?s along here that we begin to learn of Griffith?s plans, the way of the world and the war going on between a kingdom and an empire.

Berserk?s animation style is one of the kinds that falls into the gritty feel, with a lot happening at night and a lot happening in places where you don?t generally get extreme colors. It?s got a subdued color palette to begin with, but when the vibrancy hits, it really shines, especially the blood. In the end, this is one of those shows that?s definitely served well by the choices in color that were made. The character designs for the show are also pretty rough, and again, it fits since it?s primarily about big strong men in life and death battles against each other. Only Griffith offers up the softer side of things, and you know it?s a mask of sorts that?s being used for his greater purposes.

The music for the show is also something that grabbed me the first time I saw it, causing me to import the soundtrack as fast as I could. A lot of people are probably not going to like the opening and ending songs in all their English nonsensical glory, but I find them to be great. The opening song makes absolutely no sense but just flows well with the visuals. The ending song works out better, but it?s really the in-show music that really takes the cake. A favorite for most people is going to be the actual combat music during the larger battles. But even the more simpler and softer songs add a lot, such as the sequence where we see in episode five with Guts practicing with his sword.

Over the past few years, a lot of the shows brought to the US that get the big attention have been lighter fair, such as the shows with maids, mascots and cute animals. I love a great deal of these shows, but getting something that is just plain violent ? but with a purpose and story ? is a real treat and change of pace. Something that doesn?t pull away from the darker side of combat in a fantasy setting. I?m extremely excited about Berserk finally hitting here and hope it does well, because it?s a series that just grabbed me and made me watch in fascination.

I love Berserk. Highly recommended.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Outtakes,Production Sketches,Art Gallery

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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