Games of Thrones is certainly one of your favorite series and if you are also a fan of manga (or not), Berserk is also a profound, violent and merciless story in a dark and fantastic universe.
Berserk, What is it?
If we’ve to use only one word to define this artwork, it would be visceral. Indeed, Berserk grasp us from within and stirs what is the deepest in us, the good as well as the bad. It is an intense experience, mixes feelings of nostalgia, hope, disgust and the darkest hatred
This Manga has been imagined and illustrated by Kentaro Miura, who decides rather quickly to name the main character of this saga Guts (pronounced Gattsu in Japanese), name that suits the protagonist perfectly.
You probably know the expression « having guts » and quite rightly Guts has some, and if we’ve to make a ranking of the most badass heroes of all time and all artworks combined, he would certainly figure in the top 3.
What is this about?
Berserk is an epic of Dark Fantasy marked by fights in Dantesque proportions and following the vengeful and bloody quest of a character who fights against the monstrosity that’s slumbering in the heart of men including in his own. All this may sound a little «pompous» but Berserk is precisely a challenging artwork that plunges its roots both in ancient tragedies and in the most cruel folk tales.
So far, we’ve mostly talked about rather dark themes but in Berserk we also find a great depth and nuance in the characters’s motivations. Further, the world depicted contains a lot of richness and many esoteric mysteries.
The Manga was adapted in 25 episodes in 1997. A trilogy of animated films was released in 2012 and 2013. A new animated adaptation was released between July 2016 and June 2017. However, the paper manga remains the indispensable medium, the bible for all the fans.
If only for his graphic art. Yes, Berserk is art, there is no doubt about that and even better, the quality of the illustrations improves as the volumes progress. Each board shows impressive attention to details. It’s for this reason that the manga’s author, Kentaro Miura, has only produced 40 volumes in 30 years which is much less than most of the other mangaka.
A timeless artwork
The publication of Berserk has begun 30 years ago and yet this work remains free, foward-looking and powerful. Moreover, we must admit that the passions and torments of the human soul are timeless subjects.
To describe the graphic style of Berserk, one must imagine the spawning born of a passionate encounter between the most phantasmagorical illustrations of Gustave Doré and the style of the the manga’s hero Hokuto No Ken. According to Kentaro Miura himself, his sources of inspiration are numerous, from Akira to Guin Saga including Devilman.
It was only after many years of study and hard work that Kentaro has become a respected great master throughout the world with such richness in his drawing stroke and in his composition.
If the prosthesis Guts has on his left arm can recall Cobra’s cannon, we are far from science-basedfiction since the technological level of the Berserk’s world is getting closer to the period of the war of 100 years in the real world.
It would be artificial to distinguish the visual from the scenario itself. Berserk is an inseparable whole, a complete, fascinating artwork full of energy and cruelty.
For all public?
Berserk falls into the category of Seinen mangas and is therefore reserved for an informed public without targeting only adults, since sensitivity and maturity can vary from one person to another.
It must be said that Berserk is at least as raw as « Game of Thrones » but by pushing the visual much further as well in horror, in violence but also in sex since Kentaro’s drawing gives no limit to his imagination.
However, It would be ridiculous to label Berserk as a brutal, low-ceiling Shonen or to say that this manga would only indulge in perversion. Blood is flowing, perversion is everywhere but it’s there in order to repulse us and to sometimes remind us of the fascination of the horror that lurks in us and it also serves to the hero’s revenge who’s feeding himself with this unbearable horror.
The sensation of power
What one can appreciate in the Miura’s drawing stroke is the sense of movement and the power of impacts. Guts is a very calm and withdrawn character who expresses himself fully only in fights and death with unprecedented precision and power.
One of Guts’ characteristics is his giant sword, Dragonslayer, that he alone can handle. Thus, the latter regularly cuts his opponents in half, piercing armor, muscles, bones and sometimes a mount or a column having the misfortune to be in its trajectory.
A superhuman force
Guts obtained such a strength only through his natural predispositions and above all a lifetime dedicated to the training with swords always bigger than him. What stands particularly out in Berserk is the opposition of a powerless man against creatures who are used to slaughtering and terrorizing humans. Fight after fight, one feels the exaltation of the impossible act which eprouved the one who transcends the limits of the human being only by the strength of his body and his mind.
Totally out of the norm, the boards composing the manga are perfectly legible with a sense of dramaturgy simply prodigious.
At the visual level, Kentaro Miura is particularly good at portraying the monstrous and unspeakable in his drawings. He’s also at ease to depict all the sumptuousness of a reception room in a palace or to detailing the terrible tortures inflicted on the tortured and especially to stage grotesque and abominable creatures in a very organic style.
The facial characteristics of the manga’s human characters are very varied and especially interesting in their psychological construction and the relationships woven between them.
Griffith and his army of Apostles
An ambiguous and vicious love triangle
At the center of this triangle we find Guts whose arrival will totally modify the balance put in place within a mercenaries’ band, we discover in the manga from Volume 3. This band, called « The Band of the Hawk », is totally dependent on Griffith, its inspiring and charismatic leader whose ambition and talent know no bounds.
His second is Casca, a woman who devote a boundless admiration for her leader. It’s in this context that Guts comes, a mad, violent and furious dog who has never really thought beyond survival until the next fight. Berserk’s story will even go much further than this initial situation but it’s there that we will find the foundations of a story that will pick you up with a whole range of emotions.
Religion and Beliefs in Berserk
Berserk has a very personal and pointed approach to the notions of beliefs, religions and to this sometimes thin porous boundary between good and evil.
Throughout his pages Kentaro Miura denounces the devastations of religious fanaticism but he goes even further by questioning us on the notion of divinity. By going even further, the author questions the eternal search for meaning that defines humanity which is absolutely seeking an explanation for the universe. He also evokes levels of reality that are totally beyond human comprehension with a confusing visual mastery.
The flaws of Berserk
One could say that the main flaw of Berserk is its very slow publication scheme, i.e. an average of 1 volume per year, which could frustrate many fans. Moreover, like many powerful works, one must keep in mind that this manga will not please everyone. Indeed, one must have a certain strength or at least a sufficient ability to withdraw from all that physical and moral violence.
If reading all these lines has not put you off, I can only advise you to throw yourself on this essential manga. It will leave a mark in your heart and offer you a unique experience.
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