Berserk Vol. 1-2

By Kentaro Miura
224 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

There are books out there that you sometimes know you shouldn’t enjoy, but can’t put down. A guilty pleasure, if you will, or a sick fascination. For whatever reason, there’s something about the material that just enthralls you for wanting to see more. And for whatever reason, that’s what Kentaro Miura’s Berserk is to me. I’ve read two volumes now, and I can’t wait to see the third installment hitting stores later this week. Even though, y’know, it’s not something I should be enjoying.

Guts, the Black Swordsman, is not someone you’d want to cross. Wielding a sword larger than his entire body with the greatest of ease, coupled with a multiple-quarrel shooting crossbow built into his prosthetic left arm, Guts kills his foes with the greatest of ease. He’s on the search for the demonic members of an organization known as the Godhand. Unfortunately, it seems the Godhand is more than ready for Guts’s search and has taken steps of their own…

Guts is certainly the central character of Berserk, but it might be a little harder to call him the hero. Miura writes Guts here as more of a force of nature, barrelling his way through situations and leaving a scattering of corpses in his wake. The closest readers get to a viewpoint character in Berserk is Puck the faerie, rescued in the first chapter and then tagging along with Guts despite Guts’s feelings on the matter. It’s interesting, because while Puck certainly says the logical things that someone in these situations would voice (“You should help that person” “Why don’t you stop that evil warlord”) Guts rarely seems to acknowledge this advice; it’s like Miura’s way of admitting to the audience that Guts is really not a likeable person in the slightest and this is not someone to be admired. Guts himself doesn’t have much of a personality, but there’s something about him that I couldn’t help but find enthralling. It’s almost like you can’t look away because you want to see the moment that he finally stumbles, that his quest falters horribly, even though you know that it won’t. It’s just so over the top and crazy that every new step is fascinating.

At first, I was pretty unimpressed with Miura’s art. It didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary; adequate grasp of anatomy, not terribly attractive characters, and there’s only so many times you can watch Guts batter people to death with that hunk of metal nominally referred to as a sword before it gets a little old. And then the demons started showing up. Miura draws demons in such a wrong and disturbing manner that it’s unsettling. That’s how demons should look, of course. Watching them ooze out of people’s bodies to reveal themselves should be a moment that drives normal people to hysterics, and looking at the event on the printed page leaves no doubt in your mind as a reader that it’s just what you’d have done in that situation. Even things like a little stone statue to summon demon is able to look creepy in Miura’s art, with its facial features scrambled and randomly placed around its surface. Forget Guts interacting with people, Miura should just stick to the demons.

In the end, it’s still hard to identify what about Berserk brings across such a fascination. Is it the characters? The visual look of the monsters? The little hints of a troubled past, like Guts’s tattoo that oozes blood? All of the above? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’m hooked. The really laughable part about this is that I’ve been promised by others that “the real good stuff” doesn’t come for another volume or two, when Berserk jumps into an extended multi-volume flashback that gives the history of Guts and explains the tattoo, his association with demons before, and more. And if “the real good stuff” is yet to come and I’m already hooked, well… I’m just glad that right now Berserk is only on a quarterly release schedule. I need some free time to read other books as well.

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