ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Berserk’ Deluxe Volume 2

Reading Time: 5 minutes

CONTENT WARNING: Review includes discussion of sexual assault and child abuse.

Since it’s 1989 premiere, Kentaro Miura’s Berserk has evoked rage, horror, and delight in manga fans. Known as one of the most long-running and popular adult manga series ever published, Berserk has led to a hit anime TV series and feature films, video games, a variety of toys, a trading card game, and is the top-selling series in Dark Horse’s history, with about two million copies sold and counting. Now, Dark Horse is presenting one of the longest-running adult fantasy manga in an over-sized 7″x10″ hardcover edition, Berserk Deluxe Edition Volume 2. This larger-than-life manga edition contains volumes 4, 5, and 6 of the series.

Set in a fictional medieval dark fantasy world, Berserk centers on Guts, a lone wandering mercenary, haunted by real demons, and feared by many who know him as the Black Swordsman. Described as having a mysterious and dark history he lives by a code of survival, revenge, and not having empathy for those he deems as weak.

Berserk Volume 2 opens with more flashbacks of Guts’ past. Having been raised in torment and hardened into a fierce warrior by the time he was 11-years old, he is able to swing a sword twice his size and kill a man in battle without a second thought. However, this volume also shines more light into some of the darker parts of young Guts’ life.

The reader learns not too long after the death of his adoptive mother, Cis’, death, Guts’ adoptive father and commander of a mercenary group, Gambino, sold Guts’ body to one of the mercenaries. Throughout the next few days Guts exacts revenge not only on his rapist but also on Gambino. The man he loved like a father and sought to earn respect from.

Over the next few years, Guts grows into a fearsome warrior, which eventually gains the attention of the charming Griffith, commander of the elite Band of the Hawk. Griffith is a young man who grew up in the slums but has always had dreams of rising above his status and meager upbringing to something more elite. Griffith is willing to do so by any means necessary.

After defeating Guts in their first meeting, Griffith tries to offer him a place within the Hawks, an offer that Guts strongly refuses. Griffith eventually persuades him with a wager, and if he can defeat Guts in sword combat, he can claim ownership of him to join the Hawks. Once again, Griffith defeats Guts, and this is the encounter that sets Guts onto a path of fame, glory, suffering, and damnation.

One of my favorite things about Berserk is the character development. Before joining the Band of the Falcon, Guts is mistrusting, heartless, and overall scornful character. And to be honest, it’s not that those traits don’t disappear altogether, but throughout this volume we see Guts start to trust slowly, and even bond other members of the Band of the Hawk.

One, in particular, is the only female member of the and unit commander, Casca. During an intense and massive battle, Casca is holding her own against the enemy but soon finds her self in a dire situation with the enemy had surrounded her and pushing her towards the edge of a cliff. Having been fighting for hours while also dealing with the effects of her menstrual cycle, she eventually starts to suffer from exhaustion. Suddenly Guts, the last person she expected to help her, comes to her aid. Since they seemed to always bump heads and Guts didn’t exactly agree with her being a woman on the battlefield.

For most of his life, Guts has had very little to no empathy for others, especially those he views as weak. He believes that it isn’t his business to help others when they should be able to survive by themselves. So when he willing intervenes to help Casca, we see how he’s started to care for others and respect his comrades. Especially Casca, who he later comes to acknowledges her for being as a capable warrior.

Lastly, I’m impressed with Miura’s complex take on the reality of sexual assault, and the after effects it can have on characters. Miura illustrates and writes Guts as this very masculine antihero archetype, who on the surface seems like this heartless deadly warrior, but beneath that surface, there is the pain and trauma he’s tried to bury from his sexual assault.

As Guts got older and had made a name for himself as a fierce and deadly mercenary, he is still dealing with the aftermath of his attack. He regularly has nightmares that replay the attack. He hates any physical contact with people so much that when someone touches him even in a friendly manner, he reacts violently. And his desire to grow stronger stems from the shame and blame that he places on himself after the attack. Thinking that had he been stronger then maybe he could’ve stopped it from happening.

I think it’s essential to see that even though he’s able to get revenge on his attacker that doesn’t instantly resolve his issues or bring him all the closure he needs. I think sexual assault is a challenging topic to tackle in most forms of entertainment and when poorly done, it comes off as shock value or a plot device instead of unpacking the complexities of the trauma and the effects it can have on a character. While I’m not saying Miura’s depiction trauma is perfect, I do think he does a  great job of showing that there isn’t some magic cure-all for trauma that makes it go away, but rather is a complex process for each person, and that there are complicated after effects even on characters as powerful and deadly as Guts.

Overall when it comes to stories of gore, horror, and medieval fantasy, not even Game of Thrones comes close to Berserk. The storytelling and detailed illustrations are in a league of their own. Reading the Deluxe Edition makes me appreciate how the art style evolves over the years through each volume.

I highly recommend Berserk to readers that are fans of dark fantasy, horror, and adventure. However, be warned it is very graphic, deals with sexual assault and abuse that may not be suitable to children and or anyone that may be uncomfortable seeing these things illustrated.

Berserk Deluxe Volume 2
  • Rating
5

TL;DR

I highly recommend Berserk to readers that are fans of dark fantasy, horror, and adventure. However, be warned it is very graphic, deals with sexual assault and abuse that may not be suitable to children and or anyone that may be uncomfortable seeing these things illustrated.