Manga Review: Berserk Volumes 31 & 32 by Kentaro Miura
Heads up, there will be major SPOILERS for earlier volumes as I briefly recap the series so far as this first review is so far into the story.
This seinen (men’s) manga series began publication in 1989 and is still running. Or perhaps I should say walking, given the slow publication schedule. The first few volumes depicted the scarred antihero Guts. the Black Swordsman, wandering a post apocalyptic fantasy realm where demons have been unleashed into the “real” world. Guts is an ass, solely interested in slaying demons and pushing people away due to the “brand of sacrifice” on his neck that attracts supernatural beings.
Eventually, the manga switches to a long flashback arc that explains how Guts got this way. An orphan from birth, Guts has known only war and abuse. By chance, he comes across the Band of the Hawk, an unusually nice by comparison mercenary band. Their charismatic leader Griffith becomes Guts’ best friend, and Guts is finally able to overcome some of his trauma and become lovers with Griffith’s chief lieutenant Casca.
Griffith’s ambition gets ahead of him, and he is imprisoned and mutilated, while the Band of the Hawk are outlawed. Guts and the others rescue Griffith, but their leader betrays them all as a sacrifice to the Godhand and their demons for power. Most of the Band are eaten or worse; only Guts and Casca survive, but her mind is shattered, and Guts abandons her with one of the Band who wasn’t present at the Sacrifice to draw away the demons from her.
The flashback sequence was the part told in the 1997 anime adaptation.
After the flashback, Guts undergoes character development, and slowly learns to tolerate and even care for other people again, starting with the annoying elf Puck. Puck suggests taking Casca to his home of Elfhelm where it’s possible her mind can be healed. It’s a long and perilous journey, and the party has gradually swelled in number.
Presently our protagonists are in the port city of Vritannis, attempting to get a ship to Elfhelm. Problem is that the city is being attacked by the forces of Ganishka, the Kushan Emperor. Guts and his companions must fight escalating menaces. First, a small army of humanoid monsters, then a pack of sea creatures, and then a powerful Kushan wizard. This forces Guts to resort to the power of the Berserker armor, which raises his already formidable physical power, but at the cost of becoming, well, a berserker who cannot distinguish friend from foe, and damaging his body.
Fortunately, the aid of the child witch Schierke and the subtle swordsman Serpico help mitigate the ill effects of the armor and defeat the foes. But then an astral projection of Ganishka himself appears, far more powerful than anything yet seen. And there’s a new person entering the battlefield!
The newcomer turns out to be Nosferatu Zodd, the first demon Guts ever knowingly fought. He’s now working for Griffith in the new Band of the Hawk as one of the Apostles (humans who have made deals with the Godhand to gain demonic powers.) It turns out Ganishka is also an Apostle, but one that wants to rule the world on his own rather than bow to Griffith (now also called “Femto”) as the chosen Absolute of the Godhand.
Guts and Zodd temporarily put aside their own feud to team up against Ganishka and manage to disperse the emperor’s astral form. Guts is in such bad shape afterwards, however, that Zodd is willing to take the excuse that Guts needs to be elsewhere and not fighting against Griffith right now to postpone their battle. Guts and crew take sail.
Most of the rest of the volume is the battle of Vritannis. While the Kushan monsters were driven back, the main body of their army is still far superior in numbers to the assembled troops of the Holy See countries. All seems lost until Griffith and the Band of the Hawk appear out of seemingly nowhere and force the Kushan troops to withdraw.
The reborn Griffith is hailed as the Hawk of Light, a messiah-like figure that is endorsed both by the sole remaining royalty of Midland and their equivalent of the pope. His beauty and purity amaze onlookers, but the readers know the true source of his powers….
This series has some awesome and detailed art; one of the reasons it appears so slowly is that the creator refuses to take shortcuts in this matter. The characters are fascinating (though honestly, skip the first few volumes and start with the flashback as initial Guts isn’t that good a character) and there are compelling themes.
As you might expect, there’s a lot of detailed violence in the series, and especially early on a lot of sexual violence. (The creator has stated he is kind of ashamed of how much there was of that and has been tapering the rape and sexual assault off as time passes.)
The biggest issue a reader is likely to face is that eventually you will catch up to the published manga, and then have to wait ages for the next volume. The series has been running thirty years, and we are still nowhere near an obvious ending.
There was another anime adaptation in 2016 which I have not seen.
Recommended to fans of highly violent heroic fantasy.
And here’s the best music from the 1997 anime: