Berserk Deluxe Volume 1
“Berserk contains all of the primary ingredients: sex, violence, horror, sadism, and adventure. What is not to love about this manga? More importantly, what’s not to love about a great manga presented in a package as classy as this one?”
Japanese mangas are not known for their subtlety. This is especially true when it comes to artist and writer Kentaro Miura’s massive series, Beserk. Since 1989 this title has been churning out gore and guts for ravenous fans in the East and West. Now, in Anno 2019, American comics company Dark Horse has published their first “Deluxe Edition” composed of some of the earliest Beserk stories. Handsomely bound in black faux-leather, this tome is a true treat for any serious manga fan.
For those not in the know, Beserk tells the story of Guts, a brutal mercenary who kills daily while wondering the haunted towns and forests of medieval Europe. Born underneath a corpse tree and raised by hired killers, Guts also bears a demonic mark on his neck, which is all part of a larger curse that he must fulfill. This curse involves the so-called God Hand, which is a collection of hideous demons who inhabit a Hell that looks disarmingly like an M. C. Escher drawing.
Miura’s masterpiece takes obvious influence from the works of Clive Barker (the God Hand look and act like the Cenobites of Hellraiser), famous Japanese manga creator Go Nagai (Devilman), and H. P. Lovecraft (The God Hand are referred to as the “Great Ones” in one story arch). The hands of Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, and Dungeons & Dragons creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson are also present. But to call Berserk “derivative” is a high crime. This action-packed and blood-drenched series is completely unique and uniquely engrossing.
Despite being over 600 pages long, Berserk Deluxe Volume 1 is a fast read because so much of Miura’s work relies on scenes of violence and images of the grotesque. Whole pages can be consumed here without bothering to read actual words. When the characters do speak, they tend to speak in the patois of thugs and knaves.
The chief thug is Guts, whose guiding philosophy is summed up in the first tale, “The Black Swordsman”: “Anyone who dies because they get caught up in someone else’s fight is a small fry who doesn’t have the strength to survive in the first place.”
As controversial as it is brutal, Berserk is a feast for the eyes and provides plenty of food for the brain, too. The world of Guts and his faithful elf Pluck is a harsh, terrifying world where a whiff of weakness is a death sentence. The land is also a land of demons, with hideous creatures possessing the bodies of angry, depressed, or otherwise deviant noblemen. Guts dispatches these demons with great aplomb thanks to his hand arrow gun and his massive sword that can cut creatures in half with a single stroke.
Berserk contains all of the primary ingredients: sex, violence, horror, sadism, and adventure. What is not to love about this manga? More importantly, what’s not to love about a great manga presented in a package as classy as this one?