About Kentaro Miura
Berserk is one of the most well known and critically acclaimed manga to ever be created. In the wake of the new Berserk (2016) anime that has started airing, it is about time we look at the man behind the legend, Kentaro Miura.
Miura was born in the Chiba prefecture of Japan in 1966 and saw his first success within the manga world in 1985 where he was nominated for Best New Author in Weekly Shonen Magazine for his oneshot Futatabi where the female protagonist Venus finds herself in a futuristic world where there are only men. This is interesting considering Miura's lack of confidence portraying female characters early in his career.
Nowadays he is much more confident drawing the opposite sex due to the guidance of fellow mangaka Umino Chika and Mori Kouji. Umiko Chika is a female mangaka most well known for her work on Honey and Clover and Mori Kouji is another mangaka most well-known for Holyland and Suicide Island who is said to have a lot of experience with women. Kouji and Miura went to the same high school and often had "manga boot camps" during exam breaks to help each other to become the mangaka that they are today.
Other minor works and the birth of Berserk
Illustrations from the Berserk manga
After his success with Futatabi, Miura went into a slump until creating the 48 page Berserk Prototype in 1988. It was very similar to Berserk in many ways with the main character having the general appearance of Guts during the Black Swordsman arc. His mechanical arm, lack of an eye, and giant sword are all present. Puck also makes his first appearance as a girl who shares a striking resemblance to Griffith. The basic premise of the prototype is also very similar to events of the Black Swordsman Arc, where Guts travels across various European inspired locations slaying demonic apostles. The prototype also retains the gritty art style and brutal violence of Berserk.
Speaking on the violence and historical inspirations for Berserk, Miura had this to say in an interview.
"The most disturbing parts of my story are taken from the high medieval period, while those that confer a glorious impression are drawn from the period represented by Versailles. They are different epochs. To come to the point, I have created a new period by uniting diverse characteristics of the Middle Ages, from its beginning to its end. At the start, I thought of having Guts wandering through Europe during the period of Dracula and Joan of Arc, but I abandoned the idea because I decided that creating a story that followed real history would limit my imagination."
Before officially starting on Berserk there were a few other manga that he worked on including 3 collaborations with the famous writer and original creator of Fist of the North Star Yoshiyuki Okamura - better known by his pseudonym Buronson. Miura provided the art while Buronson wrote the stories. There was Japan, which was an ultra nationalistic and post-apocalyptic short manga and King of Wolves and it's sequel that focuses on a man transported into the past to serve under Ghengis Khan in Mongolia. The only other work that he started and completed during the time when he was writing Berserk was a 7 chapter manga called Giganto Makhia in 2013. The story focused on a man with super human strength and his companion that travel through a post-apocalyptic land reminiscent of Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
The serialization of the Berserk manga we all know and love began in 1989 in Young Animal magazine. It starts in the future in the same way that the 1997 anime adaptation does during the Black Swordsman arc and then uses a prolonged flashback to tell Guts' story before that point. There are obviously many references to European history, the events taking place during the Golden Age Arc of Berserk being heavily influenced by the Hundred Years' War between France and England during 12th and 13th centuries.
Berserk mixes many genres; it could be seen as a work of action, adventure, or horror, but during an interview Miura stated that Berserk is first and foremost a fantasy. The historical elements of the story were added to give Berserk an air of realism and to help appeal to readers that were not interested in fantasy. During another interview Miura stated his desire to create something unique and recognizable, but also finds it strange a man from Japan is doing a series set in medieval Europe and using western fantasy concepts, much like it would be strange for a European man to create a series depicting Japanese samurai or ninjas, and how this "false" image that he has created of Europe has managed to gain him so much success both in Japan and overseas.
Illustrations from the Giganto Makhia manga
Themes, characters and adaptations of Berserk
Illustrations from the Berserk manga
There are many themes in Berserk like love, war, politics and death, but the ones that stood out the most were camaraderie, fate and betrayal, especially in the Golden Age Arc. Guts starts off as somewhat of an introvert, but when he meets the Band of the Hawk he finds something akin to a real family for the first time. He is inspired by Griffith and uses the group to not only realize his full potential as a warrior, but also a leader. Although Guts is using the Band of the Hawk he is also being used by Griffith for his strength.
The behelit necklace that Griffith wears symbolizes fate. This is most obvious during the Eclipse scene, but also in more subtle ways like blocking the arrow during the attempt of Griffiths life. The characters start off resigned to their fates, but as they grow and develop they realize that they can shape their own fates. This is especially true when Guts first leaves the Band of the Hawk and causes Griffith to lose control as he sees this as a huge betrayal. Betrayal, fate and camaraderie all come to a head during the eclipse when all of Guts' comrades are sacrificed, Griffith betrays the Band of the Hawk and Guts is fated to seek revenge and be haunted by evil spirits.
Regarding the characters, Miura had a lot of say about the relationship between Guts and Griffith. Guts was always made to stay on the ground among all of the mud and blood while Griffith keeps his hands clean and looks down on the other characters from above. They both suffer horrible torture in their childhood, but develop into very difficult people. When first formulating the story the Band of the Hawk and Griffith were all seen as a way to help develop Guts as a character. Casca was not even supposed to have a relationship with Guts, but it just seemed to happen organically during the creative process. The Band of the Hawk are also loosely based on his group of friends in high school, with the leader of his group being the inspiration for Griffith. Miura also modeled Pippin to be physically similar to himself, but in terms of personality he has bits of both Guts and Griffith.
There have been several adaptations of Berserk manga throughout the years. As far anime goes, there was the 1997 T.V anime simply named Berserk, which covered the Golden Age Arc and was produced by the same studio that makes Pokemon OLM. Then in 2012 the first Berserk movie was released with the title Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King. The second movie was released later in 2012 and was titled Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey. The third and final movie, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III - The Advent, was released in 2013. These 3 movies were produced by Studio 4°C and cover the same events of the Golden Age Arc in Berserk as the previous T.V series, but in a more condensed format.
Finally in 2016 we have a brand new T.V adaptation for Berserk simply named Berserk (2016) which will cover the events of the Black Swordsman Arc and beyond and is being produced by LIDENFILMS. There have also been multiple Berserk video games. A game for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, another game for the Playstation 2 in 2004, and there is currently another Berserk game in production that will be available for next generation consoles and PC.
Illustrations from the Berserk manga
Inspirations and the Impact of Berserk
Illustrations from the Berserk manga
Like all great works Miura was inspired by a lot of other works and creators. He cites the Guin Saga novels series as being the main inspiration for the fantasy world of Berserk. In his quest to make something unique he wanted to strike a balance between the drama of shoujo manga like Rose of Versailles and early shounen manga like Fist of the North Star. He was also heavily inspired by early seinen manga like Go Nagai's Devilman and Osamu Tekzuka's Dororo. Hollywood movies, especially ones from the 80's like Robocop, Terminator and Conan the Barbarian, the Evil Dead series, and Flesh and Blood were also a huge inspiration.
Dark Souls - Berserk References A video looking at some of the striking visual similarities between Berserk and Dark Souls
Berserk has also gone on to influence a great many works. Gungrave almost feels like a retelling of Berserk in a modern setting. Brandon and Harry closely mirror the relationship between Guts and Griffith and the mafia syndicate Millennium serves as the Band of the Hawk. Gungrave even begins with a glimpse at future events, before having a prolonged flashback like in the 1997 Berserk anime.
There have been many manga that borrow elements from Berserk, but the two most noteworthy and often compared to Berserk are Shin Angyo Onshi and Feng Shen Ji. They are often affectionately referred to as Korean Berserk and Chinese Berserk, because of similar story elements, scale, and characters to Berserk and the authors' countries of origin. The manga Wolfsmund by a former Berserk manga assistant contains obvious influences from Berserk. Lastly, the Dark Souls video game series also borrows very heavily from the mythology and lore of Berserk. Interestingly, both series are interpretations of European medieval fantasy by people from Japan that have been successful overseas.
From left to right, cover art for Devilman, Dororo, Gungrave and Dark Souls
Berserk is one of those series that has always had a very passionate and dedicated fan base, despite the often inconsistent release schedule of the manga. There have been entire years where there have been no chapters released and unlike other mangaka, Miura doesn't seem to have any particular deadlines or release schedule. Fans have even joked that he is wasting time playing Idolm@ster games instead of writing Berserk when he expressed his interest in the games. Despite this, there are interviews where Miura recounts his work schedule getting up from 7 in the evening and sometimes working until 2 in the afternoon; taking very few breaks in between and "living like a vampire".
He has also taken breaks to help with the various adaptations of Berserk throughout the years, like the break he recently took to assist with both the new Berserk anime and video game. Despite this there has always been a lot of negative fan reaction to Berserk adaptations - mainly to do with its insistence on using CG animation. He also took a break to write Giganto Makhia in 2013 and since 2016 has been releasing chapters of Berserk more consistently.
Despite the frustration people often feel at the often lackluster adaptations and inconsistent release schedule of Berserk, it remains the favorite manga of many (it's the #1 ranked manga on MAL) and so this is as good a time as any to show appreciation of Berserk and the man behind it, Kentaro Miura.
An illustration of Guts from the Berserk art book.
MFA_Community is the official publishing arm of the MAL Featured Articles club. This article was written by LoneWolf, one of the club's writers, in collaboration with the official Featured Articles team.