Guts, a former mercenary now known as the "Black Swordsman," is out for revenge. After a tumultuous childhood, he finally finds someone he respects and believes he can trust, only to have everything fall apart when this person takes away everything important to Guts for the purpose of fulfilling his own desires. Now marked for death, Guts becomes condemned to a fate in which he is relentlessly pursued by demonic beings.
Setting out on a dreadful quest riddled with misfortune, Guts, armed with a massive sword and monstrous strength, will let nothing stop him, not even death itself, until he is finally able to take the head of the one who stripped him—and his loved one—of their humanity.
[Written by MAL Rewrite]
Volume 14: Berserk: The Prototype
Berserk won the Award for Excellence at the sixth installment of Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002.
The series has over 40 million copies in print worldwide and has been published in English by Dark Horse since November 4, 2003. It is also published in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Brazil, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Poland, México and Turkey.
The first three volumes may discourage some of the readers because it's starts off kind of slow and the initial artwork is not quite up to today's standards. However, after the reader begins the Golden Age arc it is nearly impossible to not be pulled in and become addicted to the series. It is chock-full of action, drama, character development, twists and turns, and just a dash of romance. It defies generalization and is just damn good storytelling.
After the Gold Age arc wraps up the story come back full circle to where it left us at the end of volume 3. But by
then the rhythm of the manga has changed completely. The reader has established a deep connection with Guts, Casca, and Griffith and that only grows more as the story continues. You'll be confronted with conflicting emotions and think things like "I really want to see Guts put Griffith in the ground" and at the same time "Griffith is just so damn cool". These conflicting thoughts and emotions just go to show how invested the reader becomes with the characters.
Another good thing about the Berserk story is that the protagonist (Guts) is not always the focal character in every chapter. In fact, nearly all of the major supporting cast members receive a considerable amount of page space for their own stories to be fleshed out. Each of these side-stories is not only unique and extremely well developed, but also very deep and revealing as it shows the reader why these character are the way they are. One of the side stories that I found most intriguing was Farnese and Serpico's as it was so beautifully orchestrated as part of the manga as a whole.
The only problem with the story, in my humble opinion, is the introduction of magic in the manga. I feel that the magic the group "acquires" in volume 24 is somewhat exaggerated and does not suit the dark atmosphere of the story. In fact, at times it can even make some of the chapters feel a bit shounen-esk. But even still, it's pretty much impossible not to enjoy the ongoing story that is Berserk.
Art - 9.6
The artwork in the first few volumes of Berserk won't do much to impress many of today's manga readers, but at the time when the series was first serialized (1992) it was certainly well above average. Those initial volumes feature many very unique character designs (especially the apostles) and also sport a relatively high focus on detail. However, where Miura really shows off his latent artistic talents early on is through his ability to create crisp, clear, and highly fluid fight scenes.
One of the few negative aspects of the early volumes can be identified as the simple shading techniques that Miura used. Also, sometimes the character faces will look just a bit "off" and it can be a little distracting. However, these minor quality issues were most likely due to the time constraints that were in place at the time and not entirely the fault of the artist.
Then as the series progresses the reader gets to watch the artwork literally evolve. As we learn more and more about the characters and the world in which they live, the characters themselves and their environments become more and more visually detailed. The simple shading from the early volumes is eventually replaced by a hand shading technique which gives the series a more gritty and surreal overall feeling. The character designs become more crisp and facial expressions sometimes are so vivid that one look at a character's face is often enough to tell the reader exactly what the character is thinking. By the time the reader makes it into volumes 20 and beyond Miura has made it very clear that he means for Berserk to be truly regarded as a work of art just as much as it is a masterfully epic piece of storytelling.
In my own experience I have seen very, very few other manga series that can even approach Berserk's later volumes on an artistic level and, unfortunately, I highly doubt that I will ever be able to find its peer.
Characters - 9.5
The very first character you will meet in Berserk is Guts, the "Black Swordsman" with a dark past and a score to settle with his demonic enemies. Certainly not a very revolutionary character at first glance, but even though he may start off as such, his character quickly expands, and ends up as one of the most believable and human characters I have ever witnessed.
As the story unwinds, you follow Guts through his past, allowing you to experience his personality change during his constant battle against fate. You follow Guts through waves of despair and hardships offset only by the flickering fires of friendship and trust. Eventually, Guts becomes like a maelstrom of opposing emotions, and the question arises, will he continue on his path of all-consuming revenge even if it means losing everything he has come to care for?
The other characters that appear throughout the course of the story come in all different shapes and sizes and all play their roles perfectly, just as support characters should. The more important support characters, protagonists and antagonists alike, are all draped in many layers of depth, making their characters both solid pillars and interesting ingredients within the plot as a whole. From Griffith's burning ambition to the skulduggery of the God Hand, from Puck and Isidro's antics to Farnese's troubled past and uncertain future, the characters all appear vivid and alive (Although alive might not fit The Skull Knight...) and all have their own emotions, personalities and ambitions. The supportive cast show their brilliance in how they appear to the reader as actual players in Berserk's grand game, and not just as passive plot devices.
With such a cast of strong personalities and vibrant, living characters, Berserk easily cuts it's way (no pun intended) to the top score in this category.
Enjoyment - 10
The fact that I sat and read through all 295 chapters of this exquisite manga in one sitting should justify the perfect score for enjoyment! The manga has great characters - heroes you root for and empathize with, villains you can't help but admire for their ruthlessness and charisma. The artwork is dark, brooding, and gruesome and complements the story well. And what a riveting story it is... It hooks you from the first chapter and sets the stage for the most intriguing revenge themed manga on the market. Its success is testament to its quality. My only complaint is the excruciating waits between chapters.
Also, I must throw in a cautionary note: this manga is quite definitely not for the faint hearted. There is a considerable amount nudity, sex, gore, violence, and, for the lack of a better word, bad-assery!
OVERALL - 9.69
This review is the final result of a review team composed of members from the "Critics and Connoisseurs" club. The team members were:
8GaugeBrett - Who wrote the Art section and combined the individual review parts together into a whole.
Amaity - Who wrote the Enjoyment section.
Baman - Who wrote the Character section.
Ianmessku - Who wrote the Story section.
Here are their individual scorings for the Manga:
Category - 8GaugeBrett, Amaity, Baman, Ianmessku
"Have you ever hated someone so much, that this feeling alone would drive you to do horrific and impossible to grasp things?
Have you ever hated someone so much, that your whole life was focused on finding that person and ripping him apart?
Have you ever hated someone so much, that you would forget about your humanity, purge it all just to find enough power, for one, single fraction of a moment, one chance to get your revenge...
What would your eyes look like in that very moment...? Insane? Terrified? Passionate? Happy? Or maybe... satisfied...
Look into his eyes, and find nothing there..."
When I first learned that there is
something like Berserk manga, I was a bit surprised. That was some 7 years ago and little did I know about relations between anime and manga. Either way, I took my chances and downloaded several first volumes.
You can imagine my surprise when I noticed that the manga is a far cry from the anime which really made my day some time ago. Having struggled through the first chapters I moved on to the next volumes. You know, the anime itself is, in all its ingenuity, only a small fraction of the whole manga... As small as several volumes with some deleted scenes and a bit redone ending at that. However, by the moment I reached 'the anime plotline' in manga (which is volume 3) I got already interested in the manga itself.
I think that there's no point in summarising the plot. You can read it above, and for the sake of not spoiling anything, I think you should. You have to, however know this: Berserk manga, in terms of plotline and characters development - is by far the best manga I have ever read, the most complete one, the most multi-dimensional one, the most memorable one... Nowhere else will you be told the stories of sub characters so bluntly and yet discreet that you won't even notice. Nowhere else will you receive such a huge dose of information, and yet still be able to comprehend it effortlessly. This is something uncanny, and frankly, I doubt that anyone ever will be able to reach the level.
The characters are just great. On one hand we have Gutts and Griffith, shades of black and white, fire and water. Being so different, neither can live without the other one. They're like Yin and Yang, two halves of the same coin - even in his darkest moments Griffith still finds himself as Gutts' friend, although few minutes later this friendship changes into hatred and horrific envy. Their whole story is like that, they start off as great friends who would die for each other with smiling face, but only one of them is really committed here.
Characters shine even more when we consider other protagonists and antagonists. No person is left shallow and without a story to tell. Miura-sempai explains everything in a given time and briefly enough to keep you interested. Unlike in other titles where antagonists exist only to serve as a powerup training bag for the protagonist, here all demons have their motives. Even the smallest monster is explained, by which you get attached, even to such scumbags.
The story itself is brutal, broody and hectic sometimes. But you never really lose the track if it. You can have two mini-arcs in one mayor arc, but you'll always remember what the team's real destination is. In this way, Miura-sempai makes it clear to you, that Gutts, although a little less passionately, follows his path and even if he was to be destroyed, he would neither falter nor go back. And the same goes for Griffith, who despite his appearance (nowhere else will you notice that appearance is deceitful so much as in Berserk) is a very strong-willed and straight-forward character. And in all this, having seen all the atrocities that happen in Midland, you never ever think of Griffith as the wrong one. He's not wrong, he's just following his dream, a dream that was clouded with Gutts appearance in his life.
The art itself, is a state of art to watch and read. Detailed panels, hundreds of characters on one page during a hectic battle, highly textured monsters and what I love the most - fluid, realistic and clear fighting scenes. You don't need Kubo trolling with ink to see that Gutts has his speed even despite the weight of his sword. You don't need hundreds of straight lines to increase the dynamics of the scene - Miura-sensei manages it all without a loss in quality.
Facial expressions are something completely else. Even if you cannot follow the plot for some weird reason you can always judge whether the character is good or bad by just looking at his or her face. Those are very detailed and so rich in expressions that you never get bored. You can feel the difference between smooth and angelic appearance of Griffith and a brute, yet kind rectangular face of Gutts.
The mangaka puts a lot of effort into shade and light in Berserk. By that we get a very distinctive nights, sunshines and sunsets as well as dynamic shadows (however awkward it sounds) that no anime director can mime. It's simply sensational to look at all that and even be able to read the story of it... It is clear to me, that Miura-sensei is trying to end up with a sort of masterpiece in terms of manga. And you know what? He's pretty close to achieving this.
There are, however, some bad points too. The manga is not for everyone. I would strictly add parental advisory and 18+ to it. Nowhere else will you see so much nudity, sex and violence as in this manga. It's not a hentai-like nudity and sex though. Berserk shows a violent world with all its aspects, hence these parts were as relevant as any other to make the story as believable as possible.
I'm glad I was able to read the manga. It's one of the best titles ever, if not the best so far. I sincerely hope though, that Miura-sensei lives up to the expectations and finishes this story in a fitting way. Judging by his up-to-date work, it's more than possible.
This series already gets plenty of praise, so I will mostly focus on criticism for this review, despite the fact that I do have plenty of positive things to say about Berserk. I want to make a review that will be legitimately helpful to people, rather than simply echoing the beliefs of every other reviewer on here. Look at the myriad "10" reviews for raving about how amazing it is, there is plenty of that already. This series does not get nearly enough proper criticism. Please read the whole thing before marking the review "helpful" or "not helpful." Because if you don't
finish it then you don't really know, do you?
The first flaw that is quickly apparent is in the first three volumes, or is simply the first three volumes in their entirety. They are a tad cliché and they follow our beloved lone wolf anti-hero and his elf buddy (comic relief sidekick who also heals out of convenience to the plot) on a couple adventures. The villains are cliché, everything is kind of cliché, the art is nothing special (yet), and it seems sort of generic. Not the best exposition to any series. This would have been best moved into chronological order.
The true glaring issue here is that, after this, there is a lengthy flashback/reverse-time-skip that lasts around 11 volumes and is called the "Golden Age" arc. This arc will now be called the "GA" arc because typing on my iPhone is inconvenient. It is easily and widely acknowledged as the best part of the series, to the point where people dub berserk the greatest manga of all time simply because of this one arc, but it is still seriously held back by the first three volumes.
The conclusion of the astounding GA arc is one of the most intense and emotionally impactful scenes in manga and it would have been, additionally, one of the most unexpected, but we already knew it would happen, due to the first three volumes, which greatly lessened the impact. It was a great scene, but it could have been even better and had an even greater effect on me as a reader. I would not have seen it coming if not for the first three volumes, despite some masterful foreshadowing within the GA arc itself. There was a marked lack of foresight shown in the first three volumes. It seems like Miura was trying to show how everything built up to the situation in the first three volumes, but by the time I finished the GA arc, I really didn't care about the first three volumes anymore. I could nitpick some elements of the GA arc, but it's so superior to the rest of the series that I won't even bother.
The art slowly became some of the best and most detailed art in manga, but it was also often used as a crutch after the GA arc. The misty valley arc is the earliest example of this. The image of the “elves” slaughtering each other and “playing human” was one of the most brutal in the series, and it may fit in thematically, but the arc lacks overall significance and character development, especially considering its length. It would have established Guts's personality after the GA arc and how he had changed, but we already knew from the first three volumes. It was also the perfect opportunity to turn Puck into something more than a pointless comic relief character that we've seen a million times before, but that potential was quickly squandered as well, and Puck's character never really develops beyond a comic relieving plot device.
Guts's showdown with the evil apostle fairy chick foreshadowed a descent into fights that are shounenesque in both verbosity and length, a serious depart from the gritty fantasy realism that the series is so often praised for. The realism further deteriorated as it went on, proportionally to the increase of clear shounen elements. Guts gathered a crew à la one piece, an inexplicable depart from his character, including an uninteresting masochist, a loli witch, and a motherfucking veritable shounen protagonist. The loli witch was one of the worst things to happen to the series. The thief kid/shounen protagonist was another one of the worst. I have no idea what Miura was thinking there.
The masochist chick was actually quite an interesting character before she fell in love with Guts and started rolling with his crew. She was a powerful reflection of the pervading theme of masochism that usually manifests itself in the oft depicted self-destructive nature of humanity. Now she's the epitome of cliché. She shows some promise of recovery, but at the pace the plot is moving that will likely be in the distant future. The women are all in love with Guts by the way. No shounen is complete without a harem of women who exist to make the protagonist look cooler.
The Skull Knight was another promising character, but it's been a while since we've seen him, he appears infrequently anyway, and having next to nothing known about him, after all this time, is simply bad writing. There has been some fairly obvious clues regarding his identity and origin, but there has been no true follow up on that, and we still know very little about him as a character. He's only existed to make a couple of convenient actions and philosophize about Guts's fate. Therefore, he too, has been reduced to more of a plot device than an actual character. There is also a possible major contradiction in his backstory, but I can't get into it without spoilers and I suppose it could still be explained somewhere down the road.
Magic was introduced along with the witch and the crew gained shounenesque (I'm using this word a lot) power ups and thus realism went entirely out the window. Guts got a power-up that was reminiscent of Sasuke's curse mark early in the Naruto series. The theme of camaraderie is more omnipresent and becomes more about the “power of friendship,” harem elements develop, the ruthlessness is reduced, there is a moe loli witch, there is now campy abilities and gimmicks, there is shitty power-ups, there is in-battle commentary by secondary characters, battles are often increasingly drawn out, yesterday's enemies are today's friends, characters announce special moves when they are preformed, the general purpose becomes a noble fight against the very idea of evil, there is a general saturation of overused clichés and tropes, and there was even a slapstick comedy fanservice shower scene. Yup, berserk is undeniably in an increasingly noticeable downward spiral into battle shounen territory. Many fans deny this, but they are, well, in denial. This is sort of funny seeing as so many Berserk fans are pseudo-elitists who hate on popular battle shounens. It may be more explicit than a typical shounen series, but that superficial aspect of it does not grant it any sort of inherent maturity.
Now, the mangaka clearly has no idea of what to do with the story. It's been ongoing for over twenty years and the story isn't close to being done; it is moving at a snail's pace, both on the rate at which it's released and the actual speed of plot development. It has been a half a year since the last chapter came out. Recently there was an arc where the motley crew nobly fights off a sea god/kraken thingy and mermaids are somehow involved. And they actually teamed up with comic relief pirates. My one piece comparisons are getting more accurate. Now, exactly what was the point of this arc? No one knows, but it sure as fuck isn't the fucking elf island that they've been trying to get to for over 10 fucking volumes. Fuck... He's clearly stalling because he's out of ideas. The dude does have serious myopia and a strange method of storytelling. He once decided that a published chapter of Berserk didn’t count because it gave too much information and insisted that it never be printed again. Seriously. If you’re putting that little thought into what you publish and how it will affect future chapters, that’s a problem. These 18 pages introduced a huge concept (although they didn’t go into great depth about it) that has yet to be seen again, even over 200 chapters later. Ummm, maybe you should have just kept the chapter after all?
Despite my criticisms, the GA arc is a tragedy of epic proportions and it is a must read for any manga fan. There is a reason that this is the highest ranked manga on MAL. It has extraordinarily wide appeal and some very good qualities, despite it often falling into the "sex and violence=depth" trap.
Make no mistake, I may compare it to shounens, but it is still far superior to shit like Naruto; you won't hear the word nakama being tossed around, although similar themes of companionship are increasingly echoed in a more subtle manner, and, unlike the worthlessly lazy Tite Kubo, Kentaro Miura puts an incredible amount of effort in his artwork. Although he made many mistakes in the plot, his artwork is indisputably among the best in later volumes. I've seen maybe one or two mangaka that come close or are on the same level.
Guts is a powerful and tragic character and Griffith and Casca are compelling, until something happens to Casca, which kills her value as a character, and reduces her to a plot device for the majority of the series. One of the early themes of Berserk was how every man had his own dreams and motivations and, at least during the GA arc, it showed. All of the characters were detailed and had their own emotions. You could make an argument that, at that point, not a single character was a one dimensional plot device.
Later on we get Guts's aforementioned posse, plus at least three or four comic relief characters with no depth to speak of, or higher purpose to serve in the storyline. I'd say that Guts and Femto are the only true quality characters, as it stands right now.. The fact that I still have sympathy for Femto after all that he did, really drives in what a great and multi-faceted character he is, his character is full of symbolism, and his rivalry with Guts is incredible.
The antagonists have become less convincing over time. Despite interesting theories about and the philosophical nature of Void, and despite the fact that they all have awesome character designs, only one of the God Hand members is truly developed and compelling. One of them has only really existed for fanservice. Did I mention that berserk is actually pretty big on fanservice? Shit, Conrad isn't even good for fanservice, the Majin Buddha lookin fat fuck. Conrad's "personality" section in the Berserk Wikia is blank for a reason. He just kinda floats there while everybody else does all the hard work.
And don't even get me started on Ubik. There's a reason his Berserk Wikia page doesn't even have a personality section. And at least Conrad made that big rock hand thing during the eclipse, this tentacle-ass motherfucker does absolutely nothing at all. What does Ubik even bring to the table? They oughta fire him or something..... Femto is an incredible and complex character that is the perfect foil to Guts while paralleling him in many ways. I don't expect all of the God Hand to be that, but at least give us something.
I rate highly on conclusions as well as expositions, and from the looks of it, this series will have a very bad conclusion, or not have one at all. The climaxes of the series were often vastly epic, although the arguable biggest climax was pretty early on and the story never reached that height again in terms of intensity or quality, but the exposition was sub-par to say the least, and we'll have to see about the conclusion, but I'm not too hopeful. The GA arc is kind of rendered pointless if the overall series fails to deliver on its promise and delivers a lackluster conclusion. That's just speculation though. He may pull it off yet. But, at the pace he’s going, I seriously doubt it.
Art: 9.5/10 (it wasn't as incredible in early volumes and there were some minor mistakes and inconsistencies throughout, so minus .5)
Characters: GA arc 10/10, post GA 5.5/10
Story: GA 10/10, otherwise 6/10
Enjoyment: 9/10 Easily, it's only recently that my enjoyment of it has significantly waned, but enjoyment is the least important category by far and I don't usually count it, except when I'm deciding whether to round up or down.
Actually a very good rating, considering this was a mostly critical review. I just felt like the series wasn't getting properly called out on its flaws, although I like it. The fact is that it's far from perfect and I believe my "7" rating is a somewhat generous one, inflated due to nostalgia and other similar biases.
In addition, the GA arc is simply too amazing for me to give the series anything below "good." That arc will stay with me forever and I've read it around 7 times. Too bad the mindless fanboys will not consider any of this and will simply click "not helpful" without reading the review, despite the fact that "7" is a positive score. On the other hand, haters may deem "7" to be too high a score and they will be butthurt as well. Well, I said what I had to say and I stand by it.
Berserk: best manga of all the time or GREATEST manga ever? This isn't up for debate, its written in stone.
The story is incredible in every way imaginable. It starts out with a few small arcs featuring the Black Swordsman named Guts who hunts down demons known as Apostles. We aren't really sure why he does this at the beginning but the mangaka, Miura indicates that there is a lot of history between Guts and these Apostles. The setting is realistic fantasy at first with dashes of supernatural and high-fantasy elements sprinkled here and there. Guts doesn't appear as a very likable protagonist at first.
He's rude, cynical, wooden and somewhat insane. The only definite characters are him and his elf sidekick, Puck. There is definitely a strong sense of mystery at first with Guts' motives being hinted at very subtlety as he makes his way through these self-contained arcs. There are no real characters that one can attach themselves to and the tone is extremely bleak. Themes such as existentialism are brought up quite often as the audience wonders why Guts continues at what seems to be a hopeless goal. Its eventually revealed that he has a personal vendetta against one of the God-Hands named Femto, one of the 5 deities of the Berserk universe.
As soon as this is revealed, the manga goes into a very long flashback of Guts' entire life up to the present. It explains how he joined a mercenary group called The Band of the Hawk and became friends with the leader, Griffith. We see that Guts' enjoyed his life with the Band, and was friends with many of the mercenaries. Themes such as comradeship, identity and love are brought up which is stark contrast with the themes in the present. While reading all this, there is a nagging sensation that the audience hears at the back of their heads: this can't last. Miura skillfully throws in elements into the story and brings them up again much later. Its all masterfully weaved together, and as the past starts to catch up with the present, you can't help but dread the outcome of it all. And finally when the Eclipse rolls around, all sorts of emotions surge up such as sorrow and anger. It all comes full circle when the audience realizes that it was foreshadowed since day 1. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we call masterful storytelling, and the best part is that its only one-third of the story. Truth be told, the manga could have ended after volume 13 and it would still be spectacular but Miura goes the extra several miles and turns Berserk in the stuff of legends.
The characters in Berserk are phenomenal and are expertly written. Many characters undergo vast changes, and it all feels natural and not forced at all. Despite how they all appear at first, you can't help but come to like them all, shortcomings and flaws be damned. Guts becomes one of the best protagonists after a while, a true tragic hero in every meaning of the phrase. It really is a pleasure just to see all the characters interact and to see all their quirks. A chapter can be filled with nothing but dialogue and exposition, and it will be every bit as interesting and compelling as the action-packed chapters. The characters and story go hand in hand, they are all products of their environment and fit so well with the setting. All the fantastical elements fit just as well if not better. Berserk doesn't really require that much suspense of disbelief at first but once you get into it, it doesn't really matter what it pulls, it all seems possible and the sky is limit.
The art is easily some of the best I've ever seen in a manga. The level of detail in the drawings is absolutely insane, everything looks so good. Characters all look great and have their own style and flavor. Faces are never recycled and even background characters all have a distinct look from each other. One of my favorite parts of the drawings are the eyes, their not overtly huge like in most anime and manga, but have a unique design that fits the characters well. Its not ultra realistic like Vagabond or Blade of the Immortal, yet the artstyle it sports is just as good if not better.
Overall, Berserk is easily the best manga I have ever read. From its well developed and written characters to its deep and intricate plot. There's loads of action, blood, gore, nudity, violence, horrific monster designs and I love every bit of it. Truth is all the extreme elements of this manga simply play second fiddle to the characters and story. There is no manga out there that has captivated me like Berserk, it has no equal. I don't even need to read every manga in existence to tell you that. You could take it as fanboy rambling, but I'm not kidding you when I say Berserk is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. If you have the time to read this review, than you sure as hell have enough time to open a new tab and read the first few chapters of Berserk. You won't regret it!