Now that Game of Thrones' awaited penultimate episode Battle of the Bastards is over and with the season six finale only a few days away, any fan of the epic HBO fantasy TV series knows that the dreaded hiatus that's as hard as the story's feared winter is coming. With the next season confirmed to be released in roughly 12 month's time and with fewer episodes, fans who called the gorgeous but unforgiving lands of Westeros home are doomed to wander about aimlessly for almost a year while looking for something to fill the Iron Throne-shaped void in their lives.
When it comes to grand medieval fiction, Game of Thrones is on a level of its own and looking for a substitute isn't doing anyone favors since it's the same as choosing between a blockbuster movie and its shitty direct-to-DVD imitation from The Asylum. But for those who will have a hard time waiting for 2017 to bring more of George R. R. Martin's feudal intrigue, now might be the perfect time to explore other stories, which brings me to Berserk: the closest there is to an animated adaptation of Game of Thrones.
For the uninitiated, Berserk is an ongoing fantasy manga created by Kentaro Miura that is known for its disturbing take on the genre and long hiatuses between chapters. Berserk follows Guts, the feared "Black Swordsman," on his bloody warpath of vengeance that's set against the backdrop of Midland's feudal politics and interactions with Guts' extended family, the mercenary group called the Band of the Hawk.
After being published in 1990, the series was met with positive reception and great success, spawning two animated series, three animated films and a few video game tie-ins. Anime and Japanese media in general has its fair share of fantasy stories but to date, nothing has come close to eclipsing Berserk and it's something that Game of Thrones fans can appreciate if they give it a shot.
Their Dark, Twisted Fantasies
Both shows are set in fantasy worlds straight out of something like The Lord of the Rings but instead of telling yet another adventure about brave heroes on a quest to save the kingdom, Game of Thrones and Berserk aim to demolish every single element in the genre and show just how fucked things can get in a world of knights and wizards. Even if the points of view differ seen in how Game of Thrones focuses on Westoros' lords and royalty whereas Berserk follows a more blue collar cast of characters, both deliver the same message: trust no one. Manipulation and betrayal are key political elements of the two settings where one wrong move or allegiance can fuck everything up for those involved, leading to high tensions and intense drama from the characters. If Game of Thrones' feudal politics caught your eye, Berserk won't disappoint especially in how it delves into the complicated relationships between monarchs and regular people.
The fantasy genre is known for starring easily defined character archetypes in its stories and thankfully, Game of Thrones and Berserk subvert this by focusing on human beings caught in a situation that's bigger than they expected instead of casting another set of pre-made stereotypes who fight evil. Even if Game of Thrones doesn't have a specific central character to follow while Berserk has Guts in the center, both shows have a massive roster of named characters that range from supporting members to protagonist and all are people worth remembering. Each character is defined by their individual personalities, romances and motivations and while some of them may come off as stereotypical at first glance, believe me when I say that their respective shows go through great lengths to make every character death fuck viewers up.
During its initial season, Game of Thrones gained a reputation for being an unforgiving show that killed characters without giving a single f*ck and Berserk is no different. Both are dark stories where death is permanent and the presence of magic like necromancy or demonic summoning only makes things worse instead of providing a convenient life saving Deus Ex Machina. From torture to some of the most brutal depictions of war ever seen to perverse acts that give "sex crimes" a new disturbing meaning, it's a wonder that the demons and other magical creatures in these stories are actually the least of your worries. While both shows are incredibly violent and definitely not for anyone under the age of 18, they never become exploitative with their depictions of cruelty. The pain here is meant to disturb and drive a point home, not arouse or entertain. No one is safe in these bleak worlds and for those who love Game of Thrones' harsh tone, Berserk won't let anyone down because like Thrones, it somehow manages to make some of its more violent scenes look tame by the next episode.
The Other Kingdom
Game of Thrones is nearing its concluding chapters and no matter who ends up winning the titular game, the show will surely be missed and there isn't a better time time to branch out and look at stories of the same vein. As we wait for winter to finally come and bring an end to the turbulent political landscape of Westeros, perhaps the story of a scorned former mercenary who fights the fates and hell itself could help ease the hiatus' pain.
Personally, I prefer the original 26 episode anime series over the recent CGI movies but even if its age shows, the original 1997 series is a relatively forgotten and criminally underrated anime that should be checked out because it holds up better than many of the other anime released in the same period. All similarities aside, Berserk should be seen for its own merits because just like Thrones, there hasn't been anything like it before. If you're hesitant about watching anime, make this your first entry and see how far the medium can go when the rightfully ostracized perverts are ignored and left in the trash where they belong.