A while ago I read two decades worth of Berserk, the gory, adult-themed medieval seinen fantasy manga. Non-detailed spoilers follow.
While it’s not literature by any means (the storylines are often just frames to hang gory battles on), there are some powerful, honest themes that can’t help but rise from the extreme situations – particularly how vulnerable Guts becomes when he has someone to protect.
I thought the early multi-volume flashback was a structural mistake, as it felt like a massive, unbalanced detour that overwhelmed the present day events. Miura Kentarou brings us through Guts’s childhood, youth, many battles, and the betrayal, in what must have taken years and years to be serialised.
I like my works to have thematic and tonal consistency, so several things in this long-running manga stood out. I can’t say that they’re bad, and I can’t fault Miura wanting to do different things, but they make Berserk a less focused work.
It’s a large shift when the nightmare creatures displace the vanilla medieval antagonists, and battles are against freakish monsters instead of humans. Additionally the setting takes on strong elements of fantasy, and Miura eases into tropes of the “adventuring party with magical weapons”, which is enjoyable (Guts has been struggling alone for a long time) but a departure from the original vision.
The “rebirth” cannibalised both the (very significant) misshapen creature that haunted Guts, as well as the status of Femto that defined the early part of Guts’s quest. Given the story possibilities and how much was left unknown to the characters, this seemed strange. (Of course, there’s another angle Miura could be working – we shall see…)
The Kushan arc was a bit rushed towards the end, but it was interesting to see a fantasy translation of a culture that doesn’t usually make it into the genre. Guts moves into the background as the muscle for a group wandering around a larger confrontation, instead of his goals driving the story.
All up, I’m still following the manga and looking forward to more developments, even though it’s not my usual style.