Berserk volume 2 offers a masterclass in slow worldbuilding

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The timeline of Berserk is difficult to describe without delving into spoilers. It runs in a kind of loop, where volume one starts in the middle of the story and, through multiple flashbacks, we find out how Guts became the monstrous human being that he is. Volume two doesn’t try to change our opinion of Guts, nor does it offer much to explain why he is so incredibly damaged.

It does, however, give us what I believe is the first truly stunning artwork in Berserk, which makes this a worthwhile volume to read.

Berserk’s plot slowly comes into focus

Berserk volume 2 the count eating a person

Volume one of Berserk left Guts exploring a town stuck under the thumb of a demonic Count, with a former court physician offering to help Guts seek out the town’s ruler and kill him. The doctor is scarred and broken, mangled to a point where he is barely recognisable as human. For seven years he has been waiting for someone capable of killing the Count to arrive. That someone is Guts.

Like the previous volume, volume two of Berserk doesn’t explain any more than it absolutely has to for the reader to follow the plot. We know that Vargas, the doctor who escaped from the Count’s grasp, stole something called the Beherit with him. This strange egg-shaped thing is covered with noses and mouths and, according to Guts, is used to open a portal between the human world and a world that is home to powerful demons. 

We don’t know how the Beherit can be used to open that portal. We don’t know how it helped transform the Count, who was a pious human before it came into his possession, into a monstrous demon. We don’t even know how Guts knows all he does about the Beherit. Reading through this volume of Berserk, I am mostly enjoying just how much Kentaro Miura restrains himself from doing long, intrusive lore drops. Instead, he trusts the reader to stick with the characters while the world is slowly built around him.

So much is said about how incredible the art of Berserk is, which is fair because it is stunning work. However, I think the thing more writers could take from this story is how to drip-feed information to their readers. It is such a fine balance between telling your audience what they need to know and trusting your reader to fill in the gaps where they need to. 

Kentaro’s treatment of the Beherit is a perfect example of this. We know it is dangerous because of how Guts reacts to it. That carries weight all its own. This balance is so much more difficult to achieve than people realise, so it is wonderful to see it achieved so perfectly here.


Midway through the conversation about how Vargas expects Guts to kill the Count, Miura seems to remember that drawing people sitting around having a conversation for pages is boring as sin. To remedy this, a giant man bursts into the building to kill them. It is the same giant man that Guts dispatched at the end of volume one, enhanced by ingesting the “daemon” of the Count. Again, no explanation of what that is. All we need to know is that it makes his body nigh-invulnerable, allows him to stretch his limbs into giant whips, and gives him some sort of connection to the Count. 

After a fight in which Guts displays the first hints that he knows how to use his giant sword beyond just swinging it really hard, the group retreats. Vargas is captured and scheduled for a public execution, with the Count hoping to lure Guts into a trap. This doesn’t work because Guts is a bit of a bastard and has no intention of saving Vargas. Again, Kentaro is quite content to let us believe Guts is a terrible person without letting us know the reasons why.

In fact, the Count, a character who has been shown to actively torture and eat people, gets more humanisation than Guts does in this chapter. We meet his daughter, who has been confined to her room for years since her mother was killed by heretics, driving her father into the arms of demons in a twisted attempt to keep her safe. Again, we’re not meant to like what he has done, but there is more of an attempt to throw a shade of grey onto the character. 

The star of this volume, though, is the fight between Guts and the Count. While I enjoyed the art in volume one, this was the first time that I had to stop to actively take it all in. The grotesque design of the Count in his full demon form. The detail in the columns and rafters of the throne room where they fight. The sense of motion in every swing and slice of Guts’ giant sword. It is near flawless to look at and the first example of why Kentaro Miura is perhaps the greatest artist in comic book history.

The fight feels like a battle to decide the limits of humanity’s strength. Even with his mechanical arm, complete with a crossbow and built-in cannon, Guts is a human and therefore at a disadvantage against a demon who can regrow limbs and even half of his face when it is cut away. As skilled and powerful as he is, even he is pushed to his limit in this battle, a fact that the Count takes immense pleasure in pointing out.

Unfortunately, the volume ends in the middle of the fight, leaving me itching to pick up the next volume and see how it ends. Which shows how talented Kentaro was as a storyteller. Even without knowing the character’s backstory, I want to know how his story ends. The advantage of reading it now, decades after it was first published, is that I don’t have to wait months or years for my next dosage. I can pick up where I left off almost immediately, much to my immeasurable joy.

If you want to read (or reread) Berserk, your best bet is to pick up a digital copy or invest in the paperback versions if you can find them in your region.

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