Manga: Berserk

"Dragons are dragons because humans can't beat 'em. So, what's a man who beats dragons?"Pictured 

"In this world, is the destiny of mankind controlled by some transcendental entity or law? Is it like the hand of God hovering above? At least it is true that man has no control, even over his own will."

The Black Swordsman walks the land, a brooding, blood-stained figure. His name is Guts, and wherever he goes, the demons from Hell follow. Guts bears the cursed Brand of Sacrifice on the back of his neck, which draws the demons to him — but he is also one of the strongest men in the world and carries a very big sword, and when the demons find him, their deaths aren't pretty.

Guts is a warrior haunted by his past; namely, the events of his life that ended in the loss of his hand, his eye, and everyone he cared about. He walks the Earth seeking only one thing: revenge against Griffith, once his best friend, who became the fifth member of the supreme council of demonic angels called the God Hand by betraying him and their comrades to be human sacrifices in the evil ceremony known as the Eclipse. The egg-shaped Artifact of Doom that Griffith used to make this sacrifice, the crimson Behelit, was only the unique version of the common behelits that continue to find their way into the hands of desperate souls, who sacrifice their humanity and closest loved one in order to serve the God Hand as monstrous human-eating Apostles. Since he is going against a being with the absolute power of a god who has legions of Apostles at his command, Guts' quest for vengeance will not be an easy one.

Guts is up to the challenge, though, since he grew up on battlefields. Born from the womb of a hanged woman and raised as a Child Soldier by a cruel mercenary foster father, he has spent his whole life defying death through his own strength, skill, and ferocity in combat. He wears fearsome armor, has a cannon where his left forearm used to be, and carries the Dragon Slayer sword on his back wherever he goes. Accompanied only by the diminutive elf Puck, who tries with limited success to prevent him from becoming as big a monster as the ones he's fighting, he follows the God Hand while leaving a trail of enemy corpses in his wake.

The Black Swordsman wants revenge, and if he has to cut his way through every demon in Hell to get it... well, that's just a bonus, right?

Not to be confused with the classic arcade game Berzerk or with the 1960's B horror movie of the same name, Berserk — also known as Kenpuu Denki Berserk (Sword Wind Chronicle Berserk) in Japan — is an ongoing seinen manga series by Kentaro Miura set in a grim Medieval European Fantasy world. Beginning the action In Medias Res with the first three volumes establishing Guts, the setting, and the Godhand, the story then goes into a twelve-volumes-long flashback called the Golden Age arc which explains How We Got Here and reveals Guts' tragic backstory. It starts with the horrific childhood which led him to become a vagrant sell-sword, and narrates how he was conscripted into the Band of the Hawk, a company of mercenaries led by the ambitious visionary Griffith in the service of the Kingdom of Midland. By turning the tide of a hundred year war they become the most celebrated force in Midland and seem poised to get everything they fought for — but since this series is far on the "cynical" end of the Sliding Scale, the success doesn't last.

Aside from Griffith, the Golden Age arc sets up the other major characters of the series: Casca, Griffith's serious and capable female second-in-command who evolves into Guts' Love Interest after they work out their Belligerent Sexual Tension; Nosferatu Zodd, a demonic but honorable Blood Knight who cements the reality of demons to both Guts and Griffith; and the Skull Knight, an enigmatic rider in skeletal armor who opposes the Godhand, collects defeated Apostles' behelits, and gives Guts ominous warnings about the trials he faces.

When Guts and Griffith's luck finally turns, the Golden Age arc ends messily, and the series returns to the present day to show the deep-rooted effects of everything that happened in the previous arc. After some further volumes following his demon hunt, Guts has an epiphany about his skewed priorities and embarks a new quest to save the irreplaceable person whom he had abandoned during his pursuit of revenge. He encounters non-demonic supernatural creatures, gathers a new, smaller group of companions, and acquires new tools and weapons to defeat his adversaries—including one whose power comes at the price of mortifying his flesh and bones while threatening to unleash the rabid beast inside him that he has to struggle constantly to control. At the same time, in the midst of an existential threat to Midland and the surrounding countries, Griffith has returned in reincarnated form and begun to spread his influence across the world at the head of a triumphant army combining humans and monsters. Even as the people embrace Griffith as the savior revealed to them in a dream, the few individuals who see through his dazzling image must race to uncover his real plans.

The manga was adapted into a twenty-five episode anime that ran from 1997-1998 and covered the Golden Age Arc, using the opening chapter and the forging of Guts' sword as Book Ends to start and end the narrative. It is well-regarded in the fandom as being quite faithful to the manga, offering a rich exploration of its characters, and for having a memorable soundtrack by Susumu Hirasawa. Viewers should be warned that it is also known for having a Gainax Ending that abruptly stops at the single most depressing point in the manga thus far while omitting any explanation of what happens next, but apart from this defect it is a good entry point to the series for newcomers who are not used to reading manga.

In response to the series' popularity, Japanese game developer Yuke's created two licensed videogames based on the manga. The first, titled Berserk Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Flowers of Oblivion, came out on the Sega Dreamcast in 1999; the game's English localization by Eidos Interactive, Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, had its North American release in 2000. Although its status as canon is uncertain, Kentaro Miura co-wrote the original scenario and it would have taken place between volumes 22 and 23 of the manga. The second, titled Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō (Berserk: Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc Chapter of the Holy Demon War), came out on the Playstation 2 on October 7, 2004 but regrettably wasn't released overseas. As the title suggests it adapts volumes 22 to 27 of the manga, but adds an original sub-plot where a pair of child Apostles force Guts to confront and fight apparitions of his fallen comrades.

In 2011, a new anime film trilogy based on the manga's Golden Age Arc and produced by Studio 4C was announced — and it was the first part of a project with the ambition of fully adapting the manga's story. The first of the three movies, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King, was released on February 4th, 2012. The second, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II - The Battle of Doldrey, was released on June 23rd, 2012; and the third movie, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III - Advent, was released on February 1st, 2013. Unfortunately, the films were a disappointment to hardcore fans who had been looking forward to a big screen adaptation, and their reception was mixed at best. On the positive side, they gave an epic cinematic treatment of the series' fights, supernatural horrors, and highly detailed setting, while restoring some material left out of the anime that was important for the resolution of the ending and potential to continue the story. On the negative side, the films received criticism for their heavy use of Conspicuous CG for character animation, and for changing or cutting a large number of scenes that developed the characters' personalities and relationships. Studio 4C co-founder Eiko Tanaka expressed a desire in 2012 to follow the trilogy by adapting the manga's Lost Children arc, but any plans for continuing the movie series appear to be grounded for the foreseeable future.

WARNING: Do not read the spoilers if you have only watched the anime or the movie trilogy, unless you are prepared to risk ruining your enjoyment of the manga; from here on out, spoilers will also include information about the most recent chapters. In addition, we cannot guarantee that all potential spoilers will be in spoiler tags. Read at your own risk.

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Alternative Title(s):

Kenpuu Denki Berserk