In 1989, late manga artist Kentaro Miura began a series that not only completely changed the dark fantasy genre, but also established a new standard in media as a whole. For over three decades, “Berserk” displayed the power of human determination through its protagonist Guts, a warrior of demigod-like strength who wields a giant sword. With 2022 being an active year for the franchise, even after Miura’s passing in May 2021, there is no better time to experience the horrific, yet oddly beautiful world of “Berserk.”
I first began experiencing “Berserk” around a year ago, watching the 1997 anime throughout October to celebrate Halloween. Miura’s passing last year also brought numerous eyes to the series, mine included, as I always heard how excellent the series was in media discussions.
The anime covers the “Golden Age Arc” of the manga, one of the more popular storylines amongst fans. After acting as a lone mercenary, Guts gets ambushed by the Band of the Hawks, a rising mercenary group led by the charismatic Griffth. Griffith establishes Guts as his partner on the battlefield, much to the dismay of Casca, a female warrior within the hawks who idolizes Griffith. The trio works to coexist in order to support Griffith’s dream of earning his own kingdom through medieval warfare.
The 1997 anime is superb: the excellent voice acting, pacing, story, character and character development, and art akin to Miura’s mangas made me understand the franchise’s praise immediately upon finishing the 25 episodes. The anime also lived up to the franchise’s reputation for being wicked and graphic, particularly in a sense of its violence and creature designs.
Character development being so crucial to the series surprised me, as seeing the rugged art felt like a juxtaposition to some truly emotional moments. Guts’ journey throughout the arc felt perfectly paced, exciting, unpredictable and genuine, making him a truly memorable and iconic character. Casca, Griffith and other supporting characters also felt real and interesting, adding to the already expansive worldbuilding.
While I am no expert on mental health, I also found it interesting how the series tackles mental health and trauma, specifically within Guts and Casca’s evolving relationship. Despite starting in the late 1980s, elements such as these make the series feel timeless and open to be adored by many people.
For many, myself included, the anime acts as an entry point to the franchise, as the entire 1997 series is uploaded through multiple channels completely free on YouTube. Also, the anime ends on a complete cliffhanger, where the logical next step is to find out what happens next via reading the manga.
In terms of accessibility, the manga is also easy to find, with websites such as Comixology offering legal and high quality scans at an affordable price.
If you find yourself enamored and have some expendable funds, however, the arguably best way to read “Berserk” is through the “Deluxe Editions.” These hardcover books contain three individual volumes, with around 700 pages of immaculate hand-drawn art printed at nearly twice the size of the original volumes.
As someone who experienced the “Golden Age Arc” through both the 1997 anime and manga, I think both are tremendous in different ways: the anime feels as a perfect telling of the main story, while the manga expands on additional side stories more and adds more character moments.
Despite the similar plots, I still found myself taking the whole summer to read the arc – over 3,000 pages of art – after watching the anime months prior. I found the additional content made the read worthwhile, along with the high quality story being just as excellent experiencing it the second time. Alongside my first reading, I rewatched the 1997 anime with my girlfriend.
“Berserk” continues to rage on, as following a hiatus after Miura’s death, the manga now continues under the leadership of Miura’s colleague Kouji Mori, with chapters now being released on a near-bimonthly basis and the next deluxe book being released in December. Alongside the manga, “Berserk: The Golden Age Arc – Memorial Edition” is now releasing individual episodes, remastering a movie trilogy based on the famous arc.
“Berserk” stands as an important series to many people, and I am glad that its popularity continues to grow with time. My only fear is that the disturbing imagery lives up to the franchise’s infamy, and I would only truly recommend the series for those with strong tolerance for graphic content. Even I had to look away a few times while reading the manga.
But if a macabre tale about self-reflection sounds inviting to you, “Berserk” is the perfect story to get into, especially during the chilling fall season.