In 2019, I briefly chatted about various seinen manga that intimidated me due to their vehement popularity or strange and very mature content. Since I absolutely loath being intimidated by anything, I decided to tackle that list of manga and read every serial on there. One of the titles on that list was Berserk by Kentarō Miura. It was my number one most intimidating series, actually, and since it recently received a very special Deluxe Edition upgrade, I thought it was the perfect place to begin.
Berserk is a seinen, dark fantasy, sword and sorcery series that is known for being one of the most graphic things in existence. It follows a former mercenary named Guts—also known as the Black Swordsman—and his epic quest for vengeance while being persistently pursued by morbidly grotesque demons of various sorts.
There are so many things about Berserk that blew my mind and made me feel wholly silly for waiting so damn long in picking it up, however, these Deluxe Editions are absolutely gorgeous and help to justify my dilly-dallying quite a bit.
Because each edition is almost a foot in length, weighing approximately four to five pounds per volume, and spanning about 700-pages, they are supremely oversized. This heft makes them a complete beast to read, physically speaking. It’s not ideal in the least for small hands (like mine), nor for holding them up for extended periods of time. I ended up placing a pillow in my lap and then resting the edition on the pillow to lessen the strain of holding them. Even with the excessiveness of the weight, they were a gem to read.
The faux leather binding with the textured covers helps to give the volumes a good grip so they won’t slip out of one’s grasp. The binding also feels a tiny bit flimsy when compared to the bulkiness of the tome, yet with care it should still last through quite a few readings. The bright red foil lettering really pops beautifully against the black matte and helps to create a minimalist yet sophisticated design. When the volumes are lined up neatly on the bookshelf (especially red bookshelves) they look so spectacular. There is a thin black satin ribbon bookmark that is included in each volume that’s very useful for people who like to take their time reading. I ended up reading this volume across three days due to the heaviness of it and its strain on my carpal tunnel laced limbs. These ribbons also just rounds off the slick appearance of it rather nicely.
The manga pages are smooth, sturdy and thicker than typical coarse manga pages, which helps them feel like they’d last a long time, especially if taken well care of. The bright, cool white colour with the sharp deeply black drawings makes the images come to life as one is reading. Some of the sections do feel somewhat too dark to decipher the more intricate details (uncommon) which is more than likely a result of poor photo copying.
Moving away from the physical pros and cons, the story of Guts and his quest to destroy all demons and supernatural things that he comes across ended up being far more compelling than I had expected. My assumption was that this manga was mostly popular due to its pretty hardcore subject matter and violence, but what I discovered is a story that is fairly complex in nature with some narrative dynamics that can be somewhat genre-bending and that is where so much of its beauty truly lies.
Guts is the total encapsulation of his namesake. He loathes cowards with every fibre of his being and is unwilling to fight for people that don’t have the bollucks to fight for themselves, or to at the very least make an effort in doing so. He puts on a supremely brave and arrogant face, yet the suffering of others impacts him on an excruciatingly deep level, which he then uses as fuel to stoke the fires of his insanely ruthless and vicious desire for destruction. He is the walking epitome of an antihero and such a brilliantly crafted one to boot.
Beyond the complexities that make up the persona of Guts and his very special brand of an (anti)hero’s journey, there are the superb thematic components, some of which are more on the nose than others, yet still very captivating, especially in the way they are portrayed and how they contribute to the overall storytelling style.
Some of the easier to decipher ones include betrayal, revenge, human suffering as it pertains to severe oppression by people in positions of authority and power, and the way that society shuns what they deem to be imperfect (e.g.: people with physical defects). My favourite themes are the ones that are a bit more thought provoking such as the duality of religion and how it contributes to its inherent toxicity (whether or not I agree with it is a different case entirely, but I appreciate its representation in the narrative); the fine lines between morality and compassion versus madness and obsession; the shōjo-esque nature of the comedy and interactions between Guts and Puck, a little fairy that he saves who ends up becoming a sort of companion for the brute, and the intellectually stimulating crux of nurture versus nature.
Other titbits that I adored about Berserk thus far is how even with a pretty decent dose of dialogue exchanges, much of the storytelling occurs via the outstanding artwork penned by Mr Miura. The supremely intricate detail-work and the versatile use of shadowing help to create an almost multi-dimensional allure to the illustrations that further heighten the enthralling essence of the story’s brutality, both physical and psychological. Additionally, I enjoyed the pacing. I’m someone who takes my time reading manga so I can relish the art as much as the narrative and both work effortlessly together here to depict the mosaic history and objectives that drive Guts to keep surviving and moving forward.
Overall, Berserk is easily turning into one of my favourite manga serials to date. Granted, I’m only one deluxe edition into the series (three normal volumes), so there is still plenty of content left that could change my mind later on. However, given how rivetted I am by Guts and the many different characters and circumstances that he comes across, I don’t really see my passionately positive feelings about the title changing anytime soon. I highly recommend Berserk by Kentarō Miura to everyone that has a deep respect or interest in exceptional artwork, wholeheartedly dark and fucked-up storylines, and phenomenally crafted antiheroes.
Publication Date: 27-February-2019
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Page Count: 696
Content Warnings: Graphic sequences of violence and death. Graphic body mutilation and dismemberment. Giant insects. Depiction of physical oppression. Graphic scenes of sex, including sex between humans and animals (satyr). Nudity. Graphic depiction of human experimentation.
AniList: ベルセルク by 三浦 建太郎
GoodReads: Berserk Deluxe Edition Volume 1 by Kentarō Miura