I have previously mentioned wanting to write an article on the masterpiece that is Berserk — and it feels that no time is better than the present to share the significance and impact of Kentaro Miura’s finest work after the sad news of his recent passing.
It makes me even more melancholic that I did not manage to get to this piece until now, being one of millions of fans who were holding out for the series’ end to finally be able to cover it fully at a later date instead. But as of now, it is high time all of us dedicate a worthy amount of time, effort and words to the incredible legacy Kentaro Miura left behind.
With a brilliant mind, breathtakingly underappreciated artistic talent that was not represented nearly enough outside of the medium, and as a narrative genius, Kentaro Miura was taken from us far too soon, and he will be remembered fondly — deservedly so.
Unlike the severely lacking anime adaptations of his original work that were unable to capture and translate his originality and brilliance in a new format, we hope to make this article a tribute to him in all of his glory. Here we will detail the importance of his work, celebrate his existence, and briefly discuss why anyone who is yet to read Berserk should do so immediately.
An introduction to Berserk
While Miura made his debut with one-shots, Berserk took up the majority of his time, effort and dedication over the course of more than 30 years. Both Miura and his fans have stayed faithful to Berserk even with so many lengthy hiatuses over time, but the eager anticipation for new chapters never dissipated the overwhelming love and respect both Berserk and Miura retained and continue to amass even now.
Berserk gravitates to the young adult male seinen audience, but its mixture of many genres have given it worldwide, broad appeal. Action, adventure, fantasy and horror are all combined to make the nightmare of Berserk a reality, and with disparate elements such as dark fantasy and historical European influences coming together, it has a unique charm, but also holds something meaningful within itself, allowing many fans to take something away from each and every aspect.
Berserk’s world is deeply compelling in the most twisted and disturbing way, and with complex characters and real world messages, it will doubtless stand the test of time for its influence and legacy.
Universally impactful characters
When anyone talks about the importance of Berserk, its characters are often identified as being some of the strongest within the manga medium. The contrasts between characters are masterfully conveyed, with Guts and Griffith providing a prime example of this as soon as they meet.
Griffith, with a crystal-clear appearance of a superior, never-to-get-dirtied warrior who looks down upon everyone else, is always presented above the ground — even teetering on the edge of a sword to retain his control and superiority. Meanwhile, Guts is often seen standing his ground among the filth, blood and gore. This all comes full circle once we learn their similar, tragic backgrounds — and reinforces the fact that while the two are so very similar in many ways, their fates could not be any less different.
The behelit hanging around Griffith’s neck not only saves him during an attempted murder, but provides him an overwhelming need of retaining control and superiority over everyone after he is betrayed, and ultimately loses hope. It reinforces how fateful this eventual moment is for him — but what happens to Guts in the meantime? He continuously goes against the path laid out before him, fighting against all odds to retain a source of hope without giving in.
And the juxtapositions and parallels do not end here, with even the conflict of ideals being challenged between the two. Griffith believes in the ends justifying the means, willingly sacrificing what is necessary for his own benefit, while Guts puts duty over power and protects those important to him.
Additionally, the blurring of the lines between good and evil is wonderfully explored between its two major characters. Guts takes the appearance of a dark and terrifying monster due to the Berserker Armor, while Griffith appears angelic and was designed to look like a hero. Such detail reinforces the overarching theme of Berserk: how a desire for revenge makes many of its characters feel an overwhelming amount of hatred and rage, all for the sake of achieving their own goals and aspirations. The characters are therefore not at all black and white in terms of morality; they truly capture what makes us human.
We all fall into both extremes of Guts and Griffith at different times for different reasons, so what can we learn from Berserk?
His life lessons
While Berserk has a disturbing premise and dark art, the underlying life lessons and narrative themes makes Berserk much more than a simple intense action, high-stakes gorefest. The manga is often shocking and grotesque, featuring plenty of sex, violence, betrayal, war, pain, death and disturbing revelations. But on the other hand, the themes of Berserk are universally recognisable and significant to current day issues: love, politics, fate, camaraderie, morality and persistence. And possibility the most impactful and memorable of these themes is the fact that not only did Miura persist with Berserk after so many years, but how he successfully managed to capture a sense of the strength of humanity in Guts.
Guts is not perfect; he’s human. He feels regret, takes ownership of both his good and bad actions, and in the end, resists ever being defeated by the hands that are dealt to him. This is, once again, in contrast to the enemies of Berserk — the apostles to be exact — whose origins often show them blaming others around them for their misfortune. The world is cruel and unfair, but Guts keeps on striving to make his life worth living. He self-reflects to improve himself, and in a world full of monsters and demons, Guts is a human character who reminds the audience that our own growth and potential is whatever we make it out to be; we determine it for ourselves.
He personifies and exhibits strength not just in brawn, but also in dealing with adversity. It’s a way of living that we can all look up to and strive to adopt in order to survive. In a manga filled with broken people, Guts withstands the hopelessness of his situation and surroundings. It is one of many heavy hitting, emotional tales witnessed when exploring Berserk — and there’s so much more on top of the main character’s endless pursuit of revenge and contentment in an unkind world.
One such example is how Berserk uses the trope of friendship to allow the characters to feel glimpses of hope, with the loving and consensual sexual healing between Guts and Casca being narratively significant and reinforcing character development. It is a truly beautiful moment that is ripped away from us far too soon — and it is what we have to grow accustomed to, both in Berserk and in our own world. We must value what we have, and give our lives our own meaning in the moment.
The importance of Berserk
The storytelling and artistic genius of Miura is unmatched, with his artwork depicting a modern day Dante’s Inferno being wildly imaginative, haunting and unforgettable. Miura once said in an interview that he found the drawing stage the most difficult to work on, which is understandable enough. The amount of jaw-dropping detail within each panels is exquisite, and somehow continuously improves with each volume despite it always having been commendable.
Overall, Berserk is a visually striking, narratively brilliant and emotionally captivating story with fantastical elements — yet one that remains grounded in its real world implications. With an overall message of finding your place in the world and surrounding yourself with those who support and love you because the journey through life is short and hard, Guts’ story is as much our own story. We just need to keep going and living to the best of our capabilities with the knowledge that there is always someone not as well off as yourself, even when you’re enduring the most difficult of times.
An unforgotten legend
Miura took influence from Hokuto no Ken when visualising Guts carrying his signature huge sword. Miura was also cited as referencing movies such as Hellraiser for inspiring the world of Berserk. While he took many inspirations from different sources, it is undisputable that Miura had much more impact on a wider number of works in comparison.
Miura’s influence in the dark fantasy genre went on to inspire manga, anime, video games, literatures, you name it. His influence on video game developers in Japan specifically is highly notable. Devil May Cry, Dragon’s Dogma, Gungrave, and Hidetaka Miyazaki’s on Souls and Bloodborne all took inspiration from the manga for character and boss designs, world and lore, and weapons — even Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud owes a debt to Miura, since Miura essentially created the “spiky-haired hero with big sword” trope.
Miura’s declining health as a result of the long hours and hard work creating Berserk most likely explains the many hiatuses the manga took. But hopefully Miura felt rewarded for the acclaim he received and the affection and reverence fans have had for his work over the years.
Many celebrities left kind words after the news of his passing, such as Hajime No Ippo creator George Morikawa, who Miura first worked under, for reminding the world of his talent from the very beginning. Yana Toboso (Black Butler), Taro Yoko (Nier), and Hiro Mashima (Fairy Tail) all made posts to honour Miura, with plenty of others doing the same. And his fans were quick to remember him too; Final Fantasy XIV fans donned the Dark Knight class en masse to pay tribute to Guts’ signature fighting style, which was a direct inspiration for the job in the game.
Berserk has always been deserving of its number 1 spot on MyAnimeList of the top manga of all time, and for anyone who has yet to experience this masterpiece, start by either buying the first omnibus of the series on Amazon — or if you prefer the anime approach, watch the 1997 series available on Amazon, then catch up to the manga. The anime in question is highly recommended for its iconic OST provided by Susumu Hirasawa, who previously worked on Paprika and Paranoia Agent. You will not regret it.
Miura was one of a kind, and he will forever be missed.
We thank you for what you brought into the world; it will not be forgotten. May you rest in peace.
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