The first chapter of Kentaro Miura’s magnum opus in an ongoing weekly column here on Fandom Post!
Artist/Writer: Kentaro Miura
What They Say:
His name is Guts, the Black Swordsman, a feared warrior spoken of only in whispers. Bearer of a gigantic sword, an iron hand, and the scars of countless battles and tortures, his flesh is also indelibly marked with The Brand, an unholy symbol that draws the forces of darkness to him and dooms him as their sacrifice. But Guts won’t take his fate lying down; he’ll cut a crimson swath of carnage through the ranks of the damned — and anyone else foolish enough to oppose him! Accompanied by Puck the Elf, more an annoyance than a companion, Guts relentlessly follows a dark, bloodstained path that leads only to death…or vengeance. Created by Kenturo Miura, Berserk is manga mayhem to the extreme — violent, horrifying, and mercilessly funny — and the wellspring for the internationally popular anime series. Not for the squeamish or the easily offended, Berserk asks for no quarter — and offers none!
Berserk is one of the most noteworthy and exciting manga to be released in recent memory. In a world of high school love stories, giant robots, and magical girls, creator Kentaro Miura brings a dark, gritty, and unrelenting story of blood, sacrifice, horror, and death. Set in a low fantasy medieval world, the story of Berserk follows Guts. Wielding a sword that more closely resembles a massive piece of wrought iron and a mechanical arm, Guts is more than a force of nature in the world than he is a man anymore.
Guts is introduced savagely murdering a number of rough bandits in a tavern, which eventually incurs the wrath of the ruler of the area. Guts continues carving a bloody and corpse-ridden path in short order before confronting this self-established ruler, and we discover he is a demon who eats the flesh of people – specific women and children. With the aid of a small elf named Puck (whom Guts is not a fan of) Guts dispatches the demon that holds rule over this village, and he moves on almost immediately, but leaves a pile of bodies, blood, and death in his wake.
If this sounds gruesome and grotesque, that’s because it is. This series is packed with everything you can think of – entrails, blood, and bodies. And it’s all drawn in the stark and detailed style that sets Kentaro Mirua apart from most other manga artists. In this first issue he promises his audience that the violence and the gore will be a hallmark part of the story of Berserk. When they say “that looks like it cleave a man and a horse clean in half” – they’re not kidding. You see that happen more than once, and it’s graphic and disturbing every single time without feeling like a cheap trick for shock value or a lack of imagination about how a massive sword can cleave people in half.
We learn quickly that Guts appears to bear a mark, called only The Brand, which seems to dictate that his destiny is the hounded and hunted by all the dark and evil things that haunt this world until his spirt and body are fully broken. Why Guts was the misfortune of bearing this mark is a mystery that will be told over the course of the series, but it’s very clearly led to him living a very hard and violent existence. Plagued by nightmares, having to fight tooth and nail at every turn, Guts manages to prevail in his quest to find the five members of The Godhand, which we can only assume is somehow tied to the Brand he wears upon his neck.
Guts initially appears to fall into the somewhat cliché “too cool for school” category that anti-heroes are often filed under. He doesn’t care about killing, has no appreciation for when someone aids him, and feels that most people are better off dead than living. But as the world begins to take shape and the struggles of Guts are shown in their brutal, visceral detail, it’s clear that he has a soul of some sorts, and that he clearly isn’t evil or enjoys killing innocent people. But a life (however long it has been since his life became what it is now) of nightmares, of being hunted constantly, and of seeing horrors that would and do break people of even strong constitution and fighting ability leaves him hollow to dealing with other people. When your world is nothing but violence and death at the hands of dark forces and monstrosities, what other choice do you have?
The story closes out in a large city, ruled by a man rumored to be another demon much like the one that Guts dispatches at the beginning of this volume, and a Behelit, a strange egg-like artifact that Guts not only recognizes, but also evokes a response in him that is either fear or hatred. Maybe it’s both? We’re left wondering until the next volume.
This column will be ongoing for quite a while – I plan to review all of the Berserk series, one volume a week, and follow Guts from his violent introduction to stories almost certain tragic and horrific end. Berserk is truly a great work of art and literary writing – running over 30 volumes, it is packed with gorgeous (if graphic) artwork and a deep, complicated story that will jump across time and place. This introduction serves as your first step into the world of Berserk, and future reviews will lack as much emphasis on setting you up for what you’re to expect in this story. It’s bloody, it’s graphic, and the subject matter will touch on all matter of dark things. But Guts, and the world he has the unfortunate time of living is, is rich and deep, with so much that we’ve not even been introduced to yet, and we have far to go before we see this through.
If it isn’t clear yet, I’ll go ahead and spell it out – this is absolutely not a series for children, or people who are squeamish or easily moved by scenes of massive violence and gore. Now that we have that covered – the art is gorgeous, and while there isn’t much in the way of character development in this volume, it sinks enough hooks of interest into the reader to bring them back to Volume 2, where some of this may be answered, and we will almost surely end up with more questions.
I hope you’re looking forward to taking this journey with me, and we’ll go in-depth (read: spoilers abound) into the story of Berserk volume by volume until we reach the exciting and shocking end! Make sure to check back next week for my review of Volume 2 of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk!
Content Grade: A
Age Rating: 17+
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: March 17th, 2009