Writer/Art: Kentaro Miura
Rating: (Very) Mature
Publisher/Localisation: Dark Horse
Since 1990, Kentaro Miura’s defining work Berserk has captured our hearts and grossed out our minds. With rumors that Miura will release a new manga volume this year after a long hiatus I thought it would be a good idea to look back on the series so far.
To maybe give anyone who hasn’t read Berserk or seen it’s animated adaptions, Berserk is probably one of the most influential fantasy series to come from Japan, especially in the realm of video games; Dark Souls figurehead Hidetaka Miyazaki is noted for his extensive homage/borderline plagiarism of Miura’s designs and subject matter. The mix of brutal violence, medieval fantasy and unfettered sexual imagery is enough to make Heavy Metal fans blush a little. Before looking into this series I can’t recommend enough that you be an adult; this is dark stuff by anyone’s standards. especially in the earlier volumes where the cast were light on comic relief and heavy on brutal action. The violence on show is unflinching in its gore and graphic nature. An infamous massacre scene which i will spoil no further almost put me off the series altogether after I had read it. I genuinely felt my heart racing as I moved from page to page. It has certainly been a long time since I read anything in comic form that has affected me as much as Berserk continues to do so.
Now, To focus entirely on Berserk‘s violence and sex I feel would actually be a disservice. They are very important to its making, but they don’t make it the powerhouse it is today. It’s true that some only really read it for how explicit it is which is fine if that is your thing. Mine though is how Berserk mixes all the horrors of war, mankind and its demonic demigod antagonists with some truly great character moments. The main crux of much of the series is protagonist Gut’s battle against Demons known as the Apostles. The Apostles are all former humans who gave great sacrifices in order to gain power and longevity. They were all offered a deal near death- give up their souls and loved ones in exchange for demonic powers. Despite hideous appearances and unending bloodlust, all of the antagonists are very human; full of flaws, dreams and regrets. Every single enemy is given a backstory and a reason behind their evil acts. They may be repulsive but you understand why many of them became the way they were. This is very apparent in later issues but Miura had sowed the seeds of this idea all the way back in the early nineties. The series’ future is up in the air at the moment but it is worth saying that as it went along, we begin to care more and more about these fantastical characters, and that is saying something in a manga with a protagonist who carries around a giant slab of a sword and whose arm is actually a cannon.
That being said, there are some cracks forming in the fandom of Berserk; the later issues have undoubtedly grown more hopeful and light in tone (though that isn’t saying much.) The cast has grown also to include more child characters and characters who act childish. It has transitioned more and more away from horror into fantasy. I can understand if some feel the series has lost its “bite” in doing so. Personally I like the change, though I await the day where it all goes horribly wrong again. Either way the original few volumes are a different beast to the current ones, which are more introspective and slow-paced (again not saying much compared to rapid pace older issues) with some derision aimed at an extended sea-based arc. Artwise while it has been mostly consistent in its 20+ year run, many battle scenes are annoyingly hard to follow thanks to rampant use of blurry vision and bloodspray. I still have to gripe at times with Manga and black and white comics that try to depict blood in general being not great at the job. Still though, I am a massive fan for the time being and am hooked to it no matter what happens.
Reviewer Verdict: 6-10 for various issues. The Golden Age Arc is considered popularly as the series standout and later arcs are among my personal favorites. Your mileage with the series as a whole may vary. It’s lows are troughs but its highs are stratospheric.