Reviews: Berserk

The best fantasy manga.

Berserk is a series that is close to my heart. I read it at probably the best time I could have possibly done so; I had never read something so violent, horrific and relentless, but also had barely read anything that also had the depth and substance to back that up and make all that edge mean something. I'd probably have been more judging of it but still found it good had I read the series now, but as it stands, I can fully understand why people have become so invested in the series and hail it as a great story regardless of the medium.

Guts, by himself, could carry the entire series on his back and frequently does so anyways. He's one of the best manga and anime protagonists of all time, without question. He is a rare breed, a person we see grow from boy to man, a legitimately complex character with many different traits and emotions, who is always changing and growing, there is never a lull in his development for long. We first see him as a grimdark Nineties Anti-Hero, but unlike most of those characters he isn't just a cardboard cutout meant to be superficially cool, we actually get to see the meticulous development of WHY he becomes that person and see that there are so many more layers to him than it first seems, he completely transcends any archetype associated with him.

Fortunately, Guts does not have to carry the story on his own. Many of the other characters, while obviously not quite as complex, are still firmly above-average and merit your investment, especially Griffith (before certain events in the story), Caska, and some of Guts' new companions later in the story like Farnese and Serpico.

The series does have some flaws, to be sure; while I don't especially mind the "edgy" content as I feel the series is partly horror anyways, I feel that sometimes a bit more restraint might have served the story better. Certain characters I feel have regressed or just feel unnecessary (Puck and Evarella mostly). And of course, Miura frequently takes breaks which is probably because he's been working on the story for like over 2 decades and is trying to stave off burnout.

Which brings me to the other big part of the manga that had me entranced and invested, the art. While it doesn't start off excellent you can see a lot of ambition and promise in Miura's early art, even if it is a bit rough and 80's. But with every single volume, he pushes the level of craftsmanship further and further, with more detail, more ambitious panels, and a continuous refinement of the characters' designs. Today he is probably one of the most skilled mangaka in Japan and the art is on a level that you rarely see in any comic east or west.

When you combine that with the good story it becomes a great reading experience. If you can stomach the edge, the experience is well worth it. Even if it's never over, the experience I got from reading Berserk was meaningful enough that I wouldn't regret reading it or getting invested.

A depressing, ultraviolent, and surprisingly mature masterpiece.

I was recommended the Berserk manga series by a friend of mine. I'm typically not the biggest fan of manga or anime in general so I went in with low expectations.

It's probably not saying much to say that this series blew my expectations clear out of the water, considering they were low to begin with, but what is saying something is that personally, I think this is one of, if not the very best examples of the dark fantasy genre. Up there with the Song of Ice and Fire and Witcher book series'.

Let me get this out of the way early. I think Berserk is a masterpiece. I would not, however recommend it to just anyone. This series gets pretty disturbing at times and anyone with a weak constitution should stay far, far away from Berserk. Putting it bluntly, I'm not easily shaken by things. But Berserk is the only work of fiction to ever be a direct cause of a nightmare for me. If that's okay with you, then read on. That out of the way? Great.

When praising Berserk, there are many, many aspects that can be highlighted. The gorgeous art, the near flawless blend of realistic and fantasy elements, the incredibly layered and well written characters, or the boobs! Lot's of boobies in Berserk... But the thing that stands out most to me are the characters. Our main hero, Guts (Yes, that's literally his name. "Guts.") is a tragic, but sympathetic badass who can be argued to be the most deadly thing on two legs.

I won't go too much into the story and characters beyond saying that they're amazing but I will say that... remember when I said "those with a weak constitution should stay away from Berserk?" Well, there's a point in this story, that if you're not prepared for, can leave even the most seasoned readers devastated. This part is around the middle to the end of the manga's 12th volume, the last episode of the anime, or the end of the 3rd movie. Prepare yourself. It get's DARK.

Speaking of, there is a 25 episode anime series, another one coming in early July of 2016, and 3 movies for Berserk, but, in my opinion, they just don't stack up to the manga series. If you really hate reading manga that much, the anime and movies are serviceable but not quite on the same level as the manga.

In summary, if you're caught up on Game of Thrones, finished The Witcher 3 and Dark Souls 3, and are still hankering for some good old dark fantasy, Berserk is exactly what you're looking for. The going is a little rough in the first 3 volumes, as Guts does some things very out of character and the art is a little rough compared to later volumes, but don't let that deter you. Berserk is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. Read it.

Like watching a car crash

Morbidly fascinated, but at the same time giving me the desire to cry and curl up and curse that world and this one and evil... Well hello there idealist please leave those preconceived notion of humanity and good by the door. Humanity isn't at its base good, neither is it evil. There.

I can't say much, just read it or watch it and don't turn off your brain (though I wouldn't blame you if you want to during many of the gory scenes).

Berserk will make you appreciate this world, regardless its wars and darkness, all the more. Comparing what is read to your life you'll say thank you for not being as unfortunate as being part of that world.

The definitive Seinen

I must admit that this series never ceases to impress me, especially with the quality of the artwork.

As said in the main entry, Berserk possesses by far the best art of the industry hands down. Miura also pans out his plot by playing with Heroic Fantasy and Shonen clichés only for subversion and deconstruction purposes. Guts himself subverts some tropes of the expected heroism of a protagonist. Hence the characterization is almost flawless. This gray morality each and every character display makes them even more realistic and easy to relate to. In fact, I personally don't remember finding a "bad" character, except when said "badness" is done on purpose.

The story line itself hardly ever flounders and "filler" arcs are pretty scarce, which makes the rhythm steady. Plot twists are sufficient to keep us hanging on and the whole story brims with philosophical undertones, yet anvils are never dropped. The tone of the series is always very dark, almost depressing due to its position on the scale and a happy ending is anything but certain . Extremely graphic violence, rape, sleazy sex, sadism, graphic torture, betrayal, hurt... All of these negative themes simply highlight the more happy, peaceful moments that are so rare they immediately stand out. The short-lived anime is pretty worthy by itself but doesn't feature some of the goriest moments of the manga for obvious censorship reasons. Hence it stops dead upon the Eclipse but a new anime is on its way as of late 2010.

The only thing that I (and many fans) find pretty annoying about Berserk is the sloppy release of each issues. But then again, Miura works the old-fashioned way and never uses CG for his drawings so we can't really blame him.

Bottomline, the series flows and goes around naturally, never out of surprising twists, never out of fuel, despite the sometimes awkward first 3 volumes. However, it is not intended for children and even less for Moral Guardians since the graphic violence and uncensored sex scenes might give their squeamish little hearts a stroke.

Constant source of morbid fascination

Recently, a friend advised me to watch this series without knowing that it had a manga associated with it. The anime in and of itself was interesting and dramatic but like any good anime, left you hungry for more after it ended.

The manga has the two main qualities that I need in the fiction is immerse myself in: -Excellent characters -Gripping storyline

I read chapters 1 to 300 within 3 days. Berserk prevents itself from falling into a repetitive pattern of Monster/Villain-of-the-week fights. In fact, in close to 316 chapters, the protagonist, Guts, has had perhaps 6 or 7 major fights. What I really appreciated about this series was how it took the time to build up its villains, giving many of them elaborate back-stories and actual lives outside villainy. While the back-stories don't really make them more sympathetic, it does make the battles more memorable. Up until the 250th chapter or so, the plot maintain great pace, with a steady stream of characterization, world building and plot advancement. However, I feel that some of that momentum was lost at around this point and what I really like about these characters (their cold-bloodness, their anger/hatred) was lost and replaced with a (relative) candy coating.

The series can really fall under different genres at different points in time - at the beginning, it was generally a dark fantasy manga. Then for 10 volumes it read almost like a historical battle/war manga with some hints of romance. Since then its back to dark fantasy and action. Worth a read for sure, but not for the sensitive.
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