[Manga Mondays] Berserk
Author: Kentaro Miura (Story & Art)
Genres: Action-Adventure, Dark, Fantasy, Drama, Psychological, Seinen, Supernatural
Volumes: 39 [Incomplete – still being published]
Japanese Publisher: Monthly Animal House magazine [1989-1992] & Young Animal magazine [1992 – present] (original run); Hakusensha (tankoubon)
English Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Available to Purchase in English?: Yes (Amazon/Indigo)
[Caution/Trigger Warning: Given the graphic nature of this series there will be mention of very violent acts. If you’ve watched the original season of the anime, there should be no spoilers here. If you haven’t… well, then I guess this is your spoiler alert.]
I know I know, another Berserk post from me? Well hear me out, because next to the original anime and the movie trilogy known as “The Golden Age Arc”, the manga is the best thing about Berserk (IMHO).
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of blood, war and extreme violence. They are things I usually shy away from, not run towards. So why do I like Berserk so much? Well…
I discovered the Berserk anime a few years ago based upon the recommendation of a friend, and once I finished the series I started reading the manga. I must say that next to A Bride’s Story, Berserk is easily the most detailed manga I have ever read. If you read manga for the art style, Berserk is definitely a title to check out. However the art is possibly one reason why the manga is released at a snail’s pace and seems to go on hiatus at least once a year. ^^;;
Berserk centers around a young man named Guts, a mercenary with one hell of a reputation. Guts has a very violent past having lost his mother as a toddler, been sexually abused as a child by a mercenary, and was later forced to kill his adoptive father Gambino when he tried to kill Guts during a drunken rage.
Eventually after some time on his own, said intimidating reputation causes Guts to catch the attention of a white haired man named Griffith. Griffith is the young, handsome and charming leader of the Band of the Hawk. This group is a somewhat ragtag military group who function independently at the beginning of the series, but are later hired by the Kingdom of Midland to be part of its army. Griffith seems like an ordinary man but his eyes hide a deep madness, and what’s with that creepy red, egg-shaped pendant hanging around his neck?
The other most notable member of the Band of the Hawk is Griffith’s right hand, a young woman of color named Casca who initially hates Guts for getting so close to Griffith. Yet as the series progresses she eventually can no longer deny her attraction to Guts. Together Guts and Casca protect Griffith and the Band of the Hawk, and their brigade’s strong military prowess causes them to gain much fame in the Kingdom of Midland. Griffith is even made into a noble, an elevation which causes some friction amongst the other rich nobles of Midland.
Guts has no plans to ever leave the Band of the Hawk until one day he and Casca accidentally overhear Griffith telling Princess Charlotte (the king’s daughter and only child) that he considers a “true friend” someone who has their own dream, not a person who fights for another’s dream. Guts is floored; he had no idea that Griffith felt this way. After all, upon being more or less forced to join the Band of the Hawk Guts had been fighting for Griffith’s dream (to one day own his own kingdom). and Griffith had said jack all about these innermost thoughts. This secret conversation is what causes Guts to decide to leave the Band of the Hawk, and Griffith to lose some of his mental stability over Guts’ departure. The end result is that Griffith is thrown in jail due to a very stupid decision and the members of the Band of the Hawk are marked for death.
One year later Guts returns and together he, Casca, and the remaining members of the Band of the Hawk break what remains of Griffith out of jail. However there is a solar eclipse on this night, and Griffith’s weird necklace is activated…
What follows is one of the most gruesome, twisted scenes I’ve ever seen in an anime. Griffith and the entire Band of the Hawk are transported to another plane of existence, one where the sky is blood red, the ground is made up of screaming faces, and a quartet of archdemons tell Griffith they are looking for their final member. However in order to join their group (known as the God Hand) Griffith must sacrifice the entire Band of the Hawk. Griffith is so focused on achieving his dream, no matter what the cost, that he agrees. One by one the members of the Band of the Hawk are slaughtered by all manners of grotesque evil demons. Griffith transforms into a winged monster known as Femto and he rapes Casca in front of Guts, who is pinned to the ground in front of the duo by another demon. Guts loses part of his left arm and an eye in the Eclipse; Casca is so traumatized that she literally becomes insane and mute.
I apologize for the super long synopsis but given that Berserk has been in print for almost twenty years, it’s hard to given a small summary without feeling like I’m not doing the series justice. These events I’ve described make up the Golden Age Arc, and are covered by both the original season of anime and the Golden Age movie trilogy. The events of Berserk (2016) cover the Conviction arc of the manga (which follows the Golden Age arc), and Berserk (2017) adapts the first half of the Hawk of the Millenium Empire Arc. I did blog both of these seasons, but I highly encourage viewers to check out the manga as well.
I’ve already praised Berserk‘s amazing art style, but that isn’t really enough to explain why I’m drawn to this series. As I might’ve mentioned in my anime reviews, the main reason why I read Berserk because of the character development. Well, that and the philosophy and psychology ingrained in the casts’ relationships with each other. The series has gone on for so long that readers are able to see how Berserk‘s cast have grown and changed throughout the many arcs, and fans who are up to date on the most recent chapters of manga know that the series is FINALLY moving forward into something other than seemingly endless fighting. Could a final ending to the series be coming soon? I have no idea. But I have my fingers crossed that the ending, whenever it may come, will have some element of happiness in it if only for Guts’ sake. I mean the poor guy has been through so much. (┛◉Д◉)┛彡┻━┻
My Score: 8/10
Do I Recommend This Title?: Yes. I feel like the series struggles during its middle arcs and suffers from a Dragonball Z-like pattern of enemies (defeat a baddie, get stronger, meet a new bad guy, find a way to get stronger and defeat them. Rinse and repeat), but I can’t deny that Berserk is unlike anything else I have ever read. The fractured relationship between Guts and Casca, the broken relationship between Guts and Griffith – I could wax on about the psychology behind Berserk for a long time. Be forewarned that Berserk is EXTREMELY graphic, but if you can get past the blood and near constant fighting, you’ll find a series with a strong cast and unique plot. I mean, how many other series can boast the claim that they’ve been running for 30 years (as of August!)??