September 25, 2007
by: Serdar Yegulalp
The blood-stained destinies of three characters continue to unfold in grand fashion.
Manga Description: Two feudal kingdoms, Midland and Chuder, battle for supremacy in what will become the final clash in a century-long struggle. Spearheading the Midland forces is the Band of the Hawk, a legendary cadre of elite mercenaries led by the charismatic Griffith and with the fearless Guts as its berserker champion.
The Hawks' ferocity, courage, and fearsome skills - not to mention Guts' enormous broadsword - are just what Midland needs to turn the bloody tide, but during the fray, Guts and Griffith's most trusted lieutenant, Casca, fall together from a cliff into a raging river. Both miraculously survive (barely) and Guts tends to Casca's wounds as she tells of having her life saved by Griffith, her induction into the Band of the Hawk, and her deep feelings toward Griffith. And above all, she even seems to finally be warming up to the grim Guts.
But this greeting-card moment won't last long, for Chuder warriors are on the prowl, and the only greetings they carry are on the points of their spears!
Content: (This section may contain spoilers.)
There’s what we do, and then there’s what we say we do. It’s all too easy to say you didn’t do something out of guilt or foolish pride, when the things you have done speak far louder. No one, not even Griffith, the charismatic leader of the mercenary Hawks, is immune from this. Certainly not Casca, the girl who joined Griffith out of admiration for his purity of purpose, or Guts, the bruiser who chose to follow Griffith (for now) as a way to perhaps find a place in the world.
Volume 7 continues Casca’s reminiscences about how she came to meet Griffith and ride with his band—and also how she came to realize, by degrees, the depth of his commitment to his vision. At one point Griffith prostitutes himself to a wealthy lord with a taste for handsome young men; the next morning, while compulsively scrubbing himself clean in a river (this part is hardly subtle but absolutely on the mark, psychologically), he admits he did it for the sake of the group as a whole. Or did he do it as a way to assuage the guilt he buries away about those who die in his services, whose names he never even knows?
“I want to be his sword,” Casca finally says, and there’s no double meaning there. The only life she can imagine now is one in Griffith’s service—all the more reason why she’s outraged so thoroughly when Griffith’s attention fixates so thoroughly on Guts. Of all the people in the world to captivate her man so thoroughly, why Guts? Why this brusque, meat-headed bruiser who wields a sword bigger than he is and has little more than contempt for her—at least in part because she’s female, and that much weaker when suffering from her menses (as she is now)? Still, even while injured and on the run from an enemy army, they have no choice but to set aside their anger and cooperate as best they can to rejoin the others.
In the end, they must separate—Casca fleeing back to the Hawks, and Guts facing off against literally dozens of men in the forest in one of the most stupefyingly violent sequences in the whole series so far. What makes any one of these scenes riveting and not simply interchangeable placeholders is how they’re used as commentaries on the characters. At the climax of the fight Guts finds himself bedeviled with questions that he can’t put out of mind: Why do this? Why kill, and maybe die, and then just get up tomorrow and do it all over again? Who’s it really all for? Not her, certainly. Only after great effort does he finally push such things out of his mind and leave a forest full of dead men behind for the Hawks to stare at when they finally do come to rescue him.
He’s a hero now, if he wasn’t one before—“the Hero of the Hundred,” they call him, but on returning to their camp Guts realizes he’s only thinking about staying on until the end of the current campaign. Their leader has been like a great fire, throwing off endless heat and sparks, but maybe (he tells himself) he’s only been warming himself by that fire for a time before moving on. Maybe there really is no place for him in this world, and any talk of real solidarity for him is just self-delusion—it’s just what he tells himself can be true, instead of what is true.
The entire second half of this volume is lighter on character and heavier on basic plotting, since it’s the kickoff for the remainder of the war which lapses into the next book. Aside from providing the usual servings of bruising violence and black humor, there’s another plot element that’s slipped under the door quite abruptly: the commander of the fortress the Hawks are trying to capture is none other than the man whom Griffith sold himself to all those years ago. And he wants Griffith captured alive. I’d say that was foreshadowing, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.
Click on the image for more examples of Berserk's art, courtesy of Dark Horse.
(C) 1992 By Kentaro Miura. English translation (2) 2004 by Dark Horse Comics, Inc., and Digital Manga, Inc. All rights reserved.
From their first adventures together, Casca was quickly caught up in the aura Griffith radiated -- something the rest of the Band of the Hawks felt as well.
Art: One constant point of praise for Berserk is Kentaro Miura’s artwork, and even though the first volumes are a little rougher and less polished than the later ones, you can immediately see what the screaming is about. By Volume 7, the artwork has become phenomenally good, among the best in its class, and as with the neighboring volumes the change in the story’s venues gives Miura that much more diversity of scenery. There are more scenes in and around the castles of Midland’s royalty, for instance, with many lushly-depicted interiors. In general, Miura’s loving attention to detail on most any page or panel is stupefying—and sometimes downright repulsive, as when he shows Guts spattering his namesake across the page. But he also pays great attention to other kinds of details that matter—the look on a face, the knotted muscles in one’s shoulders or neck—and his character designs are markedly more “Western” (and that much more striking) than what you’d see in most other fantasy manga. It’s the sort of design work that’s impossible to mistake for anyone else’s achievements.
Translation: Dark Horse has almost never done a bad job with any of their titles. Berserk has been presented unflopped and uncensored (each volume is also in shrinkwrap, this being an 18+ title), although only spoken texts have been relettered. Sound effects are not translated or retouched, and there’s no glossary of same in the back. I could say that’s a minus, since Berserk is one of those titles that a fan from another kind of comic oeuvre (i.e., Heavy Metal) might be able to get into, and the lack of FX translations might be a stumbling block for them. But I suspect the force of the story and artwork would win people over in time.
The Bottom Line>: It’s all about the characters. That’s what I keep telling people who’ve started reading Berserk and have been knocked over by both its epic scope and its savage bloodletting. Under all the gore and clanking armor, the violence and the savagery, this is a story about three of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in all of manga, and each succeeding volume is just further evidence to support the case. It’s a people story: it’s just that the people in question live in a murderous age where you have to fight for every inch of space and every gulp of air. This particular volume doesn’t have the sheer narrative power of the previous one—it’s essentially a conclusion of everything that was started there—but it still has the power to keep you turning the pages fast enough that you’ll wish you got more of a page count for your $14.