Berserk

Arguably considered by many manga aficionados, myself included, to be one of the best conceived.

Berserk takes place in a medieval-fantasy world and follows the exploits of the mercenary Guts, or as he is more infamously known to the rest of his world, “The Black Swordsman.” Guts travels the world in search of The Apostles, a group comprising people of varying degrees of power, wealth, that serve as a powerful extra-planar quintet known as The God Hand. The first two arcs of the manga, “The Black Swordsman” and “The Golden Age,” explain the reason for his hunt for the apostles and explore Gut’s past life as a member of the mercenary group, the Band of the Hawk.

Much of the early thematic material comprises things like sense of duty, isolation and exile, and companionship but soon explores some darker ideas like whether humanity is good or evil and humanity’s need for the existence of a higher power. Guts is a perfect example, as he is cynical, viewed as an outcast, suffers from a troubled past, and is, sometimes, self-destructive. In contrast, Griffith starts off as more of a romantic hero, possessing traits like intelligence, charismatic charm, and a tendency to be introspective. The contrasts between characters conveyed with Guts and Griffith providing an example of this as soon as they meet. Griffith, with a crystal-clear appearance of a superior warrior who looks down upon everyone else, always presented above the ground to keep his control and superiority. Meanwhile, Guts often seen standing his ground among the filth, blood and gore. This all comes full circle once we learn their backgrounds and reinforce the fact that while the two are very similar – their fates could not be any less different. The rest of the expanded cast provide a variety of powerful personalities and serving as significant sources of dynamic development.

The behelit hanging around Griffith’s neck not only saves him during an attempted murder, but it reinforces how fateful this eventual moment is for him — Guts in the meantime, he continuously goes against the path laid out before him, fighting against all odds to keep a source of hope without giving in. Griffith believes in the ends justifying the means, willingly sacrificing what is necessary for his own benefit, while Guts puts duty over power and protects those important to him. Over the course of his journey, Guts encounters a myriad of foes ranging from humans, creatures of myth and folklore, demonic entities, and even some Demi-gods. Many of the creature designs are reminiscent of those found in works by artists like H. R. Giger and authors like H. P. Lovecraft.

Besides being the best written manga out there, Berserk also holds the distinction of being one of the most artistically engrossing manga ever. Miura uses more realistic character models and designs, forgoing many of the typical anatomical features and stylistic elements typically found in manga. The creature designs can be both incredibly gorgeous and disturbing. Heavy use of black can sometimes make the action in panels difficult to discern but an aesthetic pleasure to view. The manga features plenty of sex, violence, betrayal, war, pain, death and disturbing revelations, which can sometimes be a shock to some. But the themes of Berserk are universally recognisable and significant to current day issues, the most impactful and memorable of these themes is the fact that not only did Miura persist with Berserk after so many years, but how he successfully captured a sense of the strength of humanity in Guts.

He keeps on striving to make his life worth living. He self-reflects to improve himself, and in a world full of monsters and demons, Guts is a human character who reminds the audience that our own growth and potential is whatever we make it out to be; we determine it for ourselves.

Where the series falls apart is the animation.

As opposed to a standard 2D design, the series’ production studio GEMBA went with a 3D modeling version which cuts to 2D the closer the camera pans to characters. It’s a novel idea that, unfortunately, handled terribly. 3D character models are static and sloppy, robbing many characters of their expressions and emotions. Key scenes at the height of their climax felt boring because of characters with unchanging eyes and poorly synced mouths. Action scenes are passable, but lack the motion and impact which could have made them exciting. Character models wobble on screen like they were being rotated by a mouse. Incorrect layers given motion effects and pulse unnaturally while the object that should move remains still. Camera angles that distort the flow of movement and take viewers out of the experience frequently used. The animation was a crucial moment where most studios would go all out, but this – this single-handedly brought down the experience, and left fans with bitter taste in their mouths. Berserk 2016/2017 isn’t unwatchable, but it is unfortunate. It gives fans what they’ve waited and wanted for over the past two decades, but only in the most minimal way possible. The series deserved far better.

Miura is unmatched, with his artwork being wildly imaginative, haunting and unforgettable. He once said in an interview that he found the drawing stage the most difficult to work on. The amount of jaw-dropping detail within each panel is exquisite, and somehow continuously improves with each volume despite it always having been commendable. With an overall message of finding your place in the world and surrounding yourself with those who support and love you because the journey through life is short and hard, Guts’ story is as much our own story. We just need to keep going and living to the best of our capabilities knowing that there is always someone not as well off as yourself, even when you’re enduring the most difficult of times.

Dedicating a worthy amount of time, effort and words to the incredible legacy Kentaro Miura left behind had to be done after I attempted drawing Guts.

We will remember him fondly.

RIP🖤

“He Died Doing What He Wanted, No Matter What, Right? I Bet He Was Happy,” -Guts