Story and Art – Kentarou Miura
Japanese Publisher – Hakusensha
Serialised In – Young Animal
English Publisher – Dark Horse
Released Date – 10/2003
Format – Right to Left
First Volume ISBN – 1-59307-020-9
Genre – Action, Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Age Rating – Mature
Berserk is a dark, grim manga originally set in and around the country of Midland in a world akin to Medieval Europe bereft of chivalry, honour and rife with corruption and perversion. Midland is a land infested with evil, where demons secretly lord over the human population and their corrupt leaders. It is a land ravaged by war, famine and misery crying out for a hero of destiny to free it… But a hero in one man’s eyes is a villain in the next and sometime destiny has nothing to do with anything.
Berserk was created by Kentarou Miura in 1989 and is his most famous work to date despite it still being incomplete at a massive 28 volumes. Berserk was the series that many though would never reach our shores; it is a tale of war, betrayal, nudity, violence and gore by the bucket load. But in 2003 Dark Horse announced that it would serialize the manga for English speaking audiences.
So has Dark Horse succeeded maintaining the quality and integrity of the series?
Well to be frank yes, published in right to left format and thankfully uncensored, Dark Horse’s translation is actually very good, especially when compared to some fan subs doing the rounds on the net. So that’s one feather they can proudly stick in their hat.
The Berserk story covers the adventures of Gutts – a one armed, one eyed, muscle bound harbinger of death on a quest of vengeance, not your average hero I must admit but Berserk is far from your average manga. Berserk is gritty and atmospheric, bold use of black and dark greys which are vital components of Kentarou Miura’s style make every page seem to ooze with decay, rot and an ubiquitous presence of evil and foreboding. Gutts’ character is aloof, cold and cruel he is driven by one thing and one thing alone, vengeance against the “Godhand”, the group of demon lords responsible for some unknown calamity which is explained and explored slowly throughout the series. On his quest Gutts is accompanied by a small elf named “Puck” who he rescued early in the first volume and is the nearest thing Gutts has to a friend, though Gutts would prefer if he were not around, preferring his solitude and silence to the incessant babble of the small flying creature and resenting the need to protect the elf in times of conflict. Together they embark on a series of bloody battles against the demons that control Midland and the surrounding world in an attempt to reach and finally destroy the “Godhand”, there by avenging himself and all those who died along the way.
No review of berserk would be complete with out this warning, Berserk is for a mature audience, in the first volume there is sex, nudity, violence and gore accompanied by mild swearing and scenes that are both disturbing as unsettling. Also Berserk is currently unfinished at 28 volumes, this meaning that if Dark Horse continues to release it Bi-monthly it will take four years and eight months to translate and release all the volumes that are available in Japanese now. However if you are mature and patient enough Berserk is one of the best mangas out there, it’s plot though plain and simple sounding actually grows into a titanic web of deceit, betrayal and loss with some truly colossal battles along the way.
Berserk is a gem amongst the action genre which stays far away from the clichés that so dog many titles and is more than worthy of its status as the foremost action/adventure epic, in my eyes at least even beating the mighty Lodoss Wars series.
Guts – the Black Swordsman, protagonist and anti-hero of Berserk and mortal enemy of the “God hand” and their demonic servants. Guts was born under an unlucky star, or so it seems. Born from a murdered mother and father and raised by a mercenary couple, his foster-mother died of the plague when he was very young leaving him in the care of his abusive foster-father who he eventually killed during one of his many drunken rages spurred on by the death of his partner. Guts is cursed in numerous ways haunted by dreams of his father and pursued by the malignant spirits of the dead because of the symbol branded onto his neck, he is a man marked for death by the “God Hand”, but continues to live on to avenge himself.
Guts body has been mutilated from years of fighting, he has one eye, one arm, numerous scars across is body and one across the bridge of his nose given to him by his foster-father during a round of excessive sword practice. He carries the mother of all swords, it is as large as himself and almost as wide, it is more like a slab of wrought iron than a sword which cuts through amour and flesh using sheer force and brute strength.
Some think Guts is an evil man; he is certainly not a good man. He kills indiscriminately and uses people to his own end and would have no qualms about cutting through an entire army to get to his target. Most of the time he seems mean and heartless, bereft of emotion almost, but during his adventure we slowly see that deep down the Black Swordsman has feelings, prevalently of regret, sorrow and hatred which at times threaten to overwhelm him.
In conclusion Guts is one of the most unusual protagonist I have ever come across, he is often difficult to like, emotionless and sometimes damn well sadistic but as the manga develops you will begin understand the man who chases the god hand.
Puck – is a small elf who was rescued by Guts from a gang of cut throats employed by the demon count of Koda castle. Pluck feels an obligation towards Guts for his rescue from certain death and has fascination about the man who saved him, as a result he follows Guts and serves him loyally despite Guts’ constant assertion that he should go away and his tendency to be very cruel to him both physically and mentally. Puck tries to act as Guts’ moral compass but is always superseded by Guts’ very unique version of morality; he also tries to offer comfort in times of hardship, but this too is rarely appreciated.
Despite all this Puck is the closest thing Guts has to a friend and also a brave and loyal companion.