Genre: Action/Adventure, Medieval Fantasy, Drama
Episodes: 25 episodes
Notes: The manga is still on-going and the series is just one of the arcs from the manga.
Guts is an orphan born from a corpse. His life doesn't improve much after that. He is adopted by a mercenary and taught to fight at a very young age. After killing his adoptive father, he looks after only himself until one day he falls in with the Band of the Hawks, an elite mercenary group headed by a charismatic leader, Griffith. With Guts at his side, Griffith's group is undefeatable and they advance in power and in the King's esteem. Guts has little real ambition other than to use his huge sword to his best ability, but Griffith has his eye on the throne. Things go disastrously wrong once Guts decides to pursue his own dreams.
Animation is fine overall with some intense action scenes. There is a bit of cheating during the action scenes where they freeze for a more manga type illustrative still shot. Character designs are general simple and straightforward, not a whole lot of detail. The opening music has a grunge sound to it and is quite catchy while the end music is appropriately somber. Overall score is adequate. Voices in both the sub and dub are fine, though young Guts' voice is probably lower than it should be in both versions.
This is simply one of the darkest and best anime, but it's definitely not for the faint hearted. The series plays like a historical epic, 25 episodes of nonstop excitement and gore. Kingdoms are at war and the series doesn't flinch from showing bloody battles scenes with lots of maiming and blood. The story is basically a medieval fantasy and there's indication that the kingdoms at war are analogous to England and France. The battle strategies are realistic and intelligent and true to the period. Only slight negative is with a plot like this there can little humor, but once in a while there are some light touches. To prevent any confusion, note that the first episode is actually the last episode chronologically. The rest of the episodes explain Guts' past and how he became the Black Swordsman.
Griffith's rise to power, the politics involved, his Machiavellian actions, and the mystery of the weird talisman that he wears around his neck - the crimson behelit (or "egg of the king") and its part in his destiny - all interweave to form an intricate and absorbing story. In addition to the intelligent plotting, there is also good character development and relationships between the characters. The most obvious is the love triangle between Caska, the only female member of the Band of the Hawks, Griffith, and Guts. Caska is at first threatened by Guts' position in the mercenary band and by Griffin's appreciation for him. She sees him as nothing but an arrogant, selfish, killing machine undeserving of Griffin's praise. But as he saves her, Griffith, and his men, time and again he proves himself. As their relationship develops, so does Caska, from a tempestuous warrior to a woman with doubts and sensitivities. Guts who has no real goals in his life starts to question himself and his purpose. There's a lot of talk about dreams and fulfilling your destiny which could wear thin in a lesser series, but these discussions actually have real impact on the characters' ultimate decisions. The final scenes have such disturbing carnage that even hard core horror fans may flinch.
In addition to violence, there is also rape, homosexual and pedophilic implications. The ending has many fans complaining that the story is never resolved in the anime. This series cries out for a sequel! For those who can't wait, there is always the manga. But it is still a well written story prequel. Rated R for adults and older children. If you have the DVD with English dub, you have to see the hilarious "out takes" with Griffith singing Broadway show tunes!