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Anime fans fornever

Survive, you shit!

There’s no denying that I adore survivalist fiction. For example, I love Romero’s zombie films because they are all about surviving (and inevitably failing in) an impossible situation: a world overrun with violent madness. In terms of anime, I’ve often talked up Blue Gender, but there’s also Gantz, Infinite Ryvius and Highschool of the Dead: none of them perfect, but all four intense and absorbing. Recently, I blogged about Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. This I now regret because the series wasn’t good at all, but those first two episodes nailed that old weakness of mine all the same. What I’m trying to say is, I’m a slave to this genre and therefore, I’m a slave to Btooom!.

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A missed opportunity: Jormungand

I really wanted to like Jormungand. It’s a series about illegal arms dealers and child soldiers, which is not exactly typical fare for anime and sounds interesting. Comparisons to 2006’s fantastic Black Lagoon abound, then, but after 3 episodes, I’m giving up.

I realised I had to stop half-way through episode 3, when child soldier Jonah runs straight at a couple of renowned assassins without cover. Both sides fire at each other from point-blank range, yet manage to miss. Seconds later, the same assassins hit some generic snipers perched on the roof of a building. That’s the kind of thing I expect to see in a Bee Train anime; I could even take it in Black Lagoon, but for Jormungand, it was the final straw.

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Because you need a little violence in your life: Dr. Mohiro Kitoh’s fabulous depression

One thing we may deduce about author Mohiro Kitoh from Bokurano and Narutaru is that he probably had a few bad experiences growing up.

It’s otherwise very difficult to understand why his stories about children are quite so fucked-up. Case in post, Narutaru, of which I just finished watching the anime adaptation.

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Blood-C: one long descent into chaos

Series like Blood-C catch my eye. At some point during its airing, I got the impression it was bad: the weekly reviews at Sea Slugs and Moe Sucks say as much and more, but since finishing, I’ve also read takes at chaostangent and S01E01 that say the opposite. Having now seen it for myself over the last week, I agree more with the latter blogs. Like all series that seem to require a little patience, Blood-C has ended up being quite underrated.

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Black Lagoon II: Judgment Day

Black Lagoon’s original run impressed me. The  show was beautifully animated, included an interesting cast, and had enough violent gun battles to give a child nightmares.  I also think it had the best crew of any recent show.  What it lacked was length.  Its 24 original episodes, stretched over two seasons, were fun to watch but the ending of the series did not provide enough closure.  It felt more like a season finale than an episode meant to wrap up an entire series.  Luckily a new OVA (a straight to DVD released) named Roberta’s Blood Trail was released in 2010.  The OVA starts slow but if you liked Black Lagoon’s first run and can forgive the OVA’s lack of an interesting story you get a treat.
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Horrible fun / Exhuming Ga-Rei -Zero-

If just because there’s something exciting about proving yourself wrong every now and then, I’m trying to watch a bunch of recent series that I’ve snubbed or otherwise ignored in past. This all started when, on a whim, I began watching the kendo anime Bamboo Blade and felt stupid for ignoring it for so long.

Ga-Rei -Zero- is another amongst those I’d passed over in recent years, and, well, it’s a violent story about monsters and stuff, too! If nothing else, I knew I’d get to see some weird creatures breathing fire and crushing people underfoot!

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Eden in name only

Hiroki Endo calling his manga ‘Eden‘ is a hint. Eden is supposed to be a paradise on Earth, but Endo‘s version is more like Hell. It’s sarcasm on his part, I think, because this is a contrary and brutal series, where anything that’s good is crushed and anything that’s innocent is (often literally) raped. For the last few days I’ve hardly been able to believe my eyes whilst reading this; everyone keeps dying, and even those who do survive, do so minus their humanity, or, even worse, minus their eye-balls. (more…)

Trying to get back into anime movies / Sword of the Stranger

Action from Sword of the Stranger

Writing this now is probably a bit old hat, but I finally got around to watching Sword of the Stranger at the weekend!

Why the delay? I’ve developed a strained relationship with anime movies; having become so used to watching anime in the 20-min TV format, the mere suggestion of watching anything even slightly longer than normal isn’t attractive at all! I might have been institutionalized by TV!

As such, I’ve avoided many of the most important releases of recent years. I still haven’t seen Mind Game, The Sky Crawlers and Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t seen Paprika, either.

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Until I kill you, I’ll even eat mud to survive! Hokuto no Ken

Rei of Nanto Seiken.

When I finished watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes late last year, I felt like I’d had my fill of sprawling eighties anime series for a fair old time to come, but fate, it seems, has long been conspiring against me.

My destiny had seven scars on his chest. A mere swipe of his hand could (and invariably, will) render his enemies violently exploded! His name is Kenshiro, Fist of the North Star!

Firstly, I must admit, catching up with Hokuto no Ken has always been a secret ambition of mine. The 1986 “manga video” was a tangible part of my early years as an anime fan and exploring this whole, bloody story for the first time is akin to understanding that cliche feeling of a ‘child-like sense of wonder’.

Let’s face it, there’s no point in even trying to be objective about this, Hokuto no Ken is far, far, far from perfect. The story is predictable, the characters’ motivations are laughably ‘basic’ (‘without wit’ may be a better description) and the aesthetic is like some inbred, mutant offspring of Viking culture and Mad Max 2. So far, so flippin’ weird, but that’s why I love it, too!

People often forget anime; time always has the last word, but it seems many still remember Hokuto no Ken, which is ironic, as it’s probably the antithesis of what many fans would today describe as good anime; the manly ying to the moe yang, perhaps.

A subtle, beautiful and moving observation of life; Kenshiro’s journey is none of these things.

In 199X, the world is decimated by nuclear war. In-lieu of modern civilization, the strongest warriors have risen up to build vast armies of mohawked thugs and conquer the world. One of the few men brave enough to retain his honor and decency in this harsh new world (as evidenced by the fact that he wears denim jeans) is our hero Kenshiro, successor to the deadly martial arts style of Hokuto Shinken. He faces many fierce adversaries on his road to nowhere, including none other than his best friend, the blonde bombshell Shin.

Before abducting Ken’s fiancee Yuria, dragging her off to his castle and basically destroying Ken’s entire life up until that point, Shin was a good old boy, really. He just had some bad ideas about love, is all, but that will hardly stop Ken from sweeping across thousands of miles of broken cities and bitter deserts in search of delicious revenge.

The thing is, Kenshiro is a vigilante. He and his friends rarely live to fight another day; each battle is to the death and the so-called hero of this story could aptly be described as a mass-murderer too, which is, I think, why Hokuto no Ken has managed to retain its edge to this very day. It’s such an extreme and morally irresponsible show that one gets a giddy, visceral thrill from watching episode after episode of brutal, bloody death. That, and I think the art (particularly the character design) is great fun.

There are many square jawed, horse riding, really tall, massively fat and fundamentally odd-looking people in this. The facial expressions are often very funny and the voice acting is so melodramatic that I can’t help but be swept away by the sheer enthusiasm of it all. Logic be damned, then, I’m really enjoying Hokuto no Ken.

When eternal love goes wrong [Kurozuka]

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I had high hopes for Kurozuka, because it is a genre of anime I tend to enjoy, that being stylish, far-fetched, visually-intoxicating science fiction.

It is a beautifully drawn journey, in-which 1,000 years of vampiric romance sweeps across the Heian period of Japan to the bombing of Japanese cities during World War 2 to a post-apocalyptic future, but as the constant streams of action rush over the despairing atmosphere of the first half, it’s just a shame that the story’s poignancy seems to fade. That is not to say that Kurozuka isn’t good, because it is; it has some moments, and they are great.

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Particularly disquieting is the image of Kuromitsu’s naked body wrapped around her lover Kuro’s severed head. Tortured by his eternal life, he wants to die, but loathe to be alone, she won’t ever allow it. Kuro’s life has been utterly consumed by Kuromitsu; forever trapped within her serpentine embrace, subjected to her every whim. One can only conclude that if love is a scary thing, then eternal love is positively chilling.

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I also want to note that the first half has a particularly industrial and dystopian feel. Much like the quiet wanderings in Texhnolyze, Ergo Proxy and Blame!, Kuro’s many urban sojourns are quiet and contemplative affairs. The cities of the future have fallen into decay. Neon lights, concrete bricks and rusting steel grids scythe through murky buildings and even murkier corners. Their peoples are starved of hope, laying the streets, waiting to die. In such a scene, one can observe every tiny little detail of the city and sample the deep-fried life that courses through its veins.

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There is a style to Kurozuka, an unabashedly violent streak, a harsh, cold beauty, that I admire. Most of all, it is a visual experience, and there’s not much else to it than that, but I’ve always found it enough to see something beautiful, or something provocative, twisted and weird, and wonder.

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Delighted with some devilishly delicious horror

Never one to refuse an opportunity to read some delicious horror manga, I’ve whiled away these last couple of weeks plunging my eyes into the many dark crevasses of the internet, hoping in vain to uncover another crawling Enigma of Japanese terror. Forget about all this torture porn nonsense, forget about reality, for me, Halloween is about monsters and ghosts; weird, gross, malevolent abominations of nature inconceivably twisted by a mysterious ill-intent. Until last night, this hunt was rapidly failing. I had resigned myself to a Halloween of ghastly nothingness, but alas, at this most hopeless of hours, my damned savoir and his demented smile lurked forth from the shadows. His name was none other than Go Nagai and his bloody offering was Devilman. And it was perfect. Perfectly and utterly disturbing.

I mean that. When I’d finally finished reading Devilman, I was left in a state of genuine unease. This 5 volume manga series begins in a relatively innocuous fashion when, much like Batman, our anti-hero Akira Fudo agrees to merge his body with a super-powered demon in order to prevent those very same beasts from feasting on the powerless herds of mankind. This half of the story is typically episodic, with him fighting off any number of ghoulish imps. It’s certainly not scary, but contains a strange charm; monsters aren’t supposed to have feelings, they aren’t supposed to love each other, and yet, in Devilman, they do, and for their mystical, twisted romances, they will sacrifice everything.

A brutal devil, a frightening devil. However, a form that should have been ugly and frightening, was beautiful to me. Unspeakably beautiful.

What happens next can only be described as Armageddon.

After being profoundly frightened by an invasion of horrible demons, the world’s human populace is sent crawling back into the dark ages. Fearful of the monsters hiding amongst them, cowardly, heartless people incite impromptu witch-hunts and the executions of those randomly suspected to be the enemy, including Devilman and his friends. In this purge, no-one is spared; women, children, even babies are slaughtered. Every time you expect someone to be saved, it doesn’t happen. Everyone dies.

Early into the last volume, this ever spiraling sense of hopelessness deeply affected me. There is no escape from such chilling logic and these last two volumes contain some of the most shocking horror I’ve ever read. Go Nagai refuses to compromise on any level and forges ahead, determined to capture man’s self-inflicted and shameful end.

After everything that has happened, after Devilman has lost all that was dear to him, he understandably realizes that the human race isn’t worth saving, but he fights Satan anyway. The outcome is sad but that is fine, for this is real horror. It has monsters, violence, mythology, and, just as important, it has a point, a blunt, painful, affecting stab to the heart.

Basking in the inferno of Cloverfield, remembering Blue Gender

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Head-spinning, stomach-turning and mind-racing are a few of the adjectives I’d choose to describe how I felt when I stumbled out of the cinema last night, having just suffered through Cloverfield. To say I’d been looking forward to this film would be an understatement, and even though I’d only discovered its baffling trailer in early January, the anxious wait until February the 1st (its official UK release) was incredibly frustrating. I mean, considering its earlier premiere in the US and the relative secrecy surrounding the central “creature” itself, I just desperately wanted to see this film for myself, and now that I have, here I am.

I loved Cloverfield, motion sickness and all! Even before setting foot at the cinema, I knew I’d love it. Giant monsters, ambiguous origins, unfathomable means. It’s all good. The complete destruction of New York City, depicted in an ultra-realistic style; seeing the Big Apple’s sky-scrapers gradually tumble like a pack of dominos in an inferno of reverberating, twisted metal. Suffice to say, it’s an awesome spectacle, but I digress, this is an anime blog. Must talk about anime.

When one thinks of monster flicks, Godzilla, Japan’s bastion of pop culture, is a behemoth of the genre and yet, for every man-in-a-suit movie, there’s few traditional giant monster/disaster stories in anime. Sure, we have the likes of Evangelion, but even then, that’s much more of a character study than anything else. What I’m thinking of is a pulpy, survival-based story in which humanity is pushed to its very limits of endurance and forced to fend off the constant attacks of an unknown enemy. Having wracked my memory for hours, one TV series crawls to mind; 1999’s Blue Gender.

blue_gender_blog_2.jpgWhen Yuji Kaido, Blue Gender’s young protagonist, is diagnosed with a baffling new illness, he is shelved in cryogenic stasis for an indefinite period of time, comforted only by the promise that he’ll be woken the very moment doctors develop a cure, something that’s currently beyond medical science. Years, maybe even decades, later, Yuji stirs from his great long slumber, though the world he wakes in isn’t exactly the modern paradise he left behind. Earth’s been overrun with giant insect-like creatures called the “Blue”, and of course, they feed on humans. Any semblance of government and army has withdrawn to “Second Earth”; a large space station housing the last remnants of modern civilisation. The few people remaining on Earth, starving and hiding in the rubble of destroyed cities, are being picked off, one by one, by the man-eating monsters, as humanity formulates its last shot at survival.

Blue Gender, much like Cloverfield, doesn’t take prisoners. Life is cheap and of the dozen or so soldiers who come to rescue Yuji from his “forever dream”, only one survives to see him safely back to “Second Earth”. In this series, man’s absolutely lost his place at the top of the food chain and he’s left, like the rest of nature, to live in the constant fear of being hunted. One of the things I loved about the first half of Blue Gender was this strong sense of hopelessness clinging to the characters as they travel across barren wastelands and empty cities, not knowing how or when the next attack will commence. It makes for riveting viewing because, in this world, there is no sentiment, no rules about who dies or when, everyone is constantly haunted by the spectre of death, almost driven insane with fear, no doubt imaging just how it’ll be when their time comes. I first watched Blue Gender on the Sci-Fi channel around about 2001/2; I still remember how, every Thursday evening at mid-night, there it was, another episode to devour. We never missed an episode (much to lament of our father, who’d rather be watching fishing programs) and that’s a tribute to the quality of this series and indeed, some day, I’m hoping to see it again (preferably not dubbed this time). It’s most definitely horror in the vein of “Aliens“, but if you loved Cloverfield, I’m quite certain you’ll find yourself hooked on Blue Gender too. I mean, everyone loves an apocalypse every now and then, right?

Immortals and non-Immortals both Enjoy Life Equally, so says Baccano!

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It bothers me to say I took a while to realize the quality of "Baccano!". Aside from boasting no less than 18 main characters, the Pulp Fiction-esque narrative would constantly fracture and leap back and forth in time. I didn’t like that I had to make an effort to constantly focus and be forced to remember so many names and faces; three episodes in, I was feeling frustrated and close to losing interest. Something needed to be done and in a last ditch attempt to salvage the series, it became clear I’d have to wait it out, build up the fansubs and spend a long weekend working my way through each episode; allowing time to fully immerse myself in the story. And now that weekend is past; the end result is? What the hell did you expect? Awesome!

Many desire immortality, yet the key to eternal life has forever eluded man. The story of "Baccano!" begins in 1711 when a group of sea-faring alchemists capture this most desired of gifts. Nearly all of them become immortal there and then, yet, as fate would have it; only one is granted the knowledge to recreate the potion. Of course, he quickly decides not to tell, wisely realising the folly in allowing such power to leak out into the public domain, but his brave decision quickly incites murder and ultimately, a struggle that’s raged for over 200 years. We join the story as it reaches its climax during prohibition-era North America; this was the absolute height of organised crime in the US, a violent and cruel time to live, or indeed, die.

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Despite its frequent lapses into light comedy, squeamish readers should be warned that this is a deceptively violent (and often, sadistic) series. Without going into too much detail, lets just say that bones break, arms get sliced, faces explode and children are tortured. Of course, this refreshing lack of moral compunction inevitably climaxes in some breath-taking and unpredictable action scenes, including several sequences of beautifully animated hand-to-hand combat, fought on the windy carriage-roofs of a moving train. Just so you know, it turns out that knives, guns, grenades and even flame-throwers aren’t much of a match for blood-thirsty gymnasts. "Baccano!" is a lot like "Black Lagoon"; it has that same delirious hunger for gruesome carnage.

On its own, the action wouldn’t be enough, but as I’ve already mentioned, this is hardly a conventional series. Aside from the fact that the narrative will regularly interchange years and events in a matter of seconds, many of the characters provoke empathy and romance despite having splattered the brains of an adversary all over the wall minutes earlier. I loved the playful dialogue, and the character interactions are remarkably fun and natural; you believe in their fear, sadness or anger. You can see a love affair unfolding and it’s almost heart-breaking. By the end I was completely riveted by the story, lost in the characters.

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There is so much to say about "Baccano!" but I’m afraid I’ll lose your concentration if I keep going. I’ve already had to completely scrap the first version of this review since it degenerated into a bloated rant. Obviously, I absolutely loved this series, and if I ever get around to writing a review of 2007, it will easily make my top 3 of the year. The best decision I made was to push through it over a quiet weekend; as expected, the jumbled jigsaw of a plot and all those unique characters are so much easier to remember this way. The only problem is that now I’m having trouble letting go, I’m still stuck in the world of immortals and trying to fathom out the few remaining mysteries. Hints are made at characters and storylines beyond the anime narrative and quite frankly, I’d die for a sequel. If you’re yet to watch "Baccano!"; I envy you.

Sex, violence and samurai; introducing Shigurui

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of “fluffy” anime; series with heart-rending love stories and elegant ballet dancing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but from time to time, I like to taste the other extreme too; I mean a bit of the old “ultra violence”. It’s natural, then, that Shigurui fits the bill; the kind of anime many of us like to pretend doesn’t exist. So, before going any further, please note this post is heavy on images of an “adult nature”; though I understand many of you might be unsettled by such blunt depictions of sex and violence, the truth of Shigurui lies not in words alone, but its unrelenting presentation of old Japan’s institutional depravity. Basically, you’ve been warned. (more…)

Hokuto no Ken: The Legend of Raoh – Demonic fist of the devil

Along with Ninja Scroll, I grew up watching the Fist of the North Star movie. I was attracted by the unapologetic gore but this was no mere action flick – set in a post apocalyptic world ravaged by nuclear holocaust, I felt in awe of the endlessly barren landscapes, the grandiose struggle for power between armies populated in their thousands and the colourful ways in which Kenshiro would inevitably dispatch his ever demented enemies; his battles were at once intensely personal crusades and vitally important victories for a shattered, weak civilisation. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken) – The Legend of Raoh: Martyred Love Arc (Raoh Den Jun-ai no Shō) is a return to those days; unpretentious, violent, fun and absurdly operatic, I absolutely loved every moment of this movie – and understand, the presentation is amazing too – Hokuto no Ken has never looked as gigantic and over the top; pyramids touch the clouds and knives of lightning rip through the star lit night as the muscle-mountains Kenshiro and Souther duke it out for the future of mankind.

This film is the first in a "pentalogy" of upcoming Hokuto no Ken features — re-animating and re-telling the cult 80s TV series. "The Legend of Raoh: Martyred Love Arc" begins by introducing us to the Hokuto universe – showing Kenshiro (as a berserk young kid) fighting in the "Nanto Temple for a test of his worthiness". Ken must defeat 10 warriors or face execution, and being a kid and all, he eventually loses to a far superior fighter by the name of ShÅ«.

Recognising in Ken the potential of a great hero, ShÅ« (Man of Jin-sei (benevolence star)) elects to rip out his own eyes, essentially ending his life as a martial artist, to save the kid. That’s the kind of world this is, a culture where brave warriors would feel honoured to die for a worthy cause.

Ken and his brothers grow up; Raoh, the eldest, is apparently the subject of this movie. Raoh is a conquer on a quest to rid the world of violence by force — he sits atop a massive horse while his army sweeps through countries, destroying whatever stands in its way. He is a fearsome man, but in his own way, is trying to make things better for all. The movie charts his attempts to end the evil reign of emperor Souther, but as fate would have it, Kenshiro is still the undoubted hero of the piece.

There is no point in approaching Fist of the North Star if you are looking for a completely serious, dead pan action movie. It has always been so over the top, melodramatic and unashamedly macho. Imagine a bastard child spawned from the collective talents of Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mad Max. If you spurn that pretension of sophistication, you will love this film; a beautifully stupid, deliciously melodramatic and action packed romp through war torn countries where the heroes are sometimes as bad as the villains.

Berserk – 3 – The Hawk that soars ever higher

The moustache twiddling decadence caused by extended aristocracy is an issue central to the narrative of Berserk. Regardless of social standing, we all like to dream that we are destined for greatness, to achieve something worthwhile. Aristocracy exists to elongate wealth and protect respect no matter what the cost, and that often includes suppressing the common mans talent to protect one’s position.

The beauty of Berserk, and especially the Band of the Hawk, is that these are classic underdogs who dare to have ideas above their stations, chasing their dreams, doing something important with their lives. The truth, as Berserk is clearly documenting, is that anyone can do anything with their lives provided the right amount of skill and desire. It’s such a romantic concept.

Griffith, the symbolic wings of the Band’s hawk, is talented and has an unquenchable desire to conquer. Despite his peasant roots, he is the future, he is brave enough to fight for his dreams, and others are attracted to that, feel inspired by it or fear it. Most are just content to jump on his back and enjoy the flight; the Hawk that soars ever higher, the view from up there is beautiful, but Guts is different, even now it’s clear that he is a punk, and like Griffith, can never be tamed.

Guts and Griffith are at once the same and totally different, they enjoy true social freedom and unerring self belief, but Guts is a blood thirsty warrior, only looking at what stands in front of his sword, while the elegant Griffith conducts his army like one would a game of chess, his mind calculating ten moves ahead. The early fight in episode 3 between these two is particularly revealing, especially in Guts case – he is completely direct, willing to throw mud, bite, kick and punch his way to victory. He refuses to give up, and in the end Griffith is forced to dislocate Guts shoulder to win the fight, Guts could have surrendered, but replies “Go to hell”. Win or bust.

Episode three marks the end of the beginning, Guts finally joins the Hawks and we are treated to their comradery. The Band of Hawk isn’t simply a group of mercenaries looking for a quick buck; they are friends fighting for each other, dreaming of a better future, this all comes across really well in episode three. As does Susumu Hirasawa’s excellent score, combining his surreal industrial style with authentic medieval instruments and chants – the tracks “Forces”, “Guts” and “Earth” are all used during the episode, and all are essentially brilliant tunes, ever complimenting the poignancy of experiencing the journey of a lifetime.

Berserk – 2 – Sparks fly as the wheels of fate spin

Episode two introduces us to the important characters that make up the “Band Of The Hawk” – in other words, the personalities that dominate the rest of Berserk. The dark-skinned Casca is an exceptionally talented swordsman who just so happens to be a woman. That she commands so much respect amongst her comrades suggests that her power is second to only one man. The white haired Griffith is the leader of the Hawks and a lethal warrior; his strength and ability with a sword matched only by his elegance and charisma. Men follow Griffith because they can see he is destined for greatness, he shines so brightly – the Hawk is a legend waiting to happen.

Between Casca, Griffith and Guts, you will discover the soul of Berserk, the way they talk to each other, the tense body language and variable facial expressions; it all makes for such riveting viewing. Even during this early episode, sparks are flying between Casca and Guts. I should point out that Casca is deeply in love, bordering on obsessed with Griffith – she cannot stand to see his attentions elsewhere, and every second Griffith spends talking with Guts is like another small tear ripping through her heart. She hates Guts because Griffith likes him; basically, she is jealous.

It’s obvious that Griffith is special. During his exchanges with Guts, he talks like an ageless poet. There is no doubt in his voice, no fear, just the unrelenting calm of a man who could be very well be cradling the fate of the world in his palms. Most people are in awe of Griffith, but Guts would happily spit in his face. That’s what fascinates Griffith and infuriates Casca. Guts is an enigma and uncontrollable, a man who only feels alive in the heat of battle. Nothing else matters to him. And as it turns out, nothing else matters to Griffith either, but in Guts he finds a kindred spirit.

I’ve harped on about character relationships in this post but I don’t want anyone to think Berserk is just some boring period soap opera. It can be extremely gory and exciting, as the amount of severed limbs will attest. My favourite berserk moment in this episode comes right at the beginning as the young warrior Guts stands facing a bear-like beast of a man called Basuzo, who is wielding an axe and boasting about having killed 30 people in one battle; Basuzo stands a few yards in front of Guts, mocking him about being young, small and weak. Guts simply straps on his helmet, puts his head down and smiles. It is the grin of a man filling with excitement, starring death in the face, and running head first straight into it. That is Guts and that is Berserk.

Berserk – 1 – An introduction to obsession

I’m just going to come right out and say it — Berserk is my favourite anime of all time. I became an anime fan because of Naruto, but Berserk and its alluring quantities of bloody violence, epic action and tragic friendship immediately captured my heart and held onto it ever since. I still remember having to contain my enthusiasm when first watching it, sometime in 2002 — I so desperately wanted to marathon through it all right there and then, but deep down knew I had to take time to savour it, to consider and enjoy every new episode; I knew that feeling wouldn’t last forever. That’s how much I enjoyed watching Berserk and now, as an on-going (and quite selfish) tribute, I intend to blog-review my way through the entire show. Please enjoy my thoroughly biased perspective.

Having said all that, the first episode very nearly killed my interest before it began. As is the style of Kentarou Miura’s fantastic manga, Berserk confusingly begins half way through the story; there are no proper introductions to the characters, there is no explanation as to what is happening; we are just thrown head first into Guts’ (only known in this episode as the "Black Swordsman") violent medieval world. He is a heartless bad ass, a mountain of muscle covered in armour; he has one arm and one eye, carries a giant sword (capable of cutting through horses) and fires an automatic cross bow — simply put, he is a one man war machine hell bent on revenge.

Guts shows no sign of humanity and no sympathy for his victims; all he desires is to hunt the cannibalistic demons that have presumably ruined his life. Nothing or no one else matters – the only time we see him smile; a hellish grin, is when he is firing arrow after arrow into the butchered face of said demon.

It’s established then that Guts is seriously pissed off about something; right at the end of the episode we flash back to Guts’ past and see him as an energetic younger man (teenager, no doubt). The rest of this anime is now dedicated to discovering the reasons behind Guts’ fall into such haunted monstrosity. And at this moment we are hooked.