Recently I’ve become a huge fan of the massively popular manga named Berserk. Due to this, after reading the first few volumes I tried watching both anime’s of it up until the point where they catch up with where the manga left off.
The reason why I can say that I like the manga Berserk so easily and so quickly is that I don’t really consider it an action show and more an exploration of a person who lives a horrible, vicious life cycle whilst only ever enjoying the rush of battle. The quiet moments speak to me so much more than the action of the show. Skeletons and huge snake monsters don’t appeal to me at all and the enjoyment is all in the context leading up to it.
The things about Berserk is that I feel what’s said communicates just as much as what isn’t, the moments of Guts’ speech speak volumes of what he really is and the lack of speech when facial expressions are used instead communicate so much about his past as well as his character.
I always feel a sense of sadness and loneliness in guts, that he’s a man with horrifying experiences to speak of that we can’t even think about. The Berserk manga executes the show don’t tell rule perfectly when it comes to showing Guts’ character. He rarely speaks about himself at all and all knowledge has to be inferred through his crazy world views that reek of a history of tragedy.
The “show, don’t tell” rule is something that I can sometimes find obnoxious, especially when it’s done for something needless. In this regard exposition doesn’t become annoying as simple things are demonstrated through characters that don’t matter, maintaining the immersion. Not to say that it doesn’t feel forced, there’s just so little of it that I feel able to appreciate it (and learn from it which is the purpose of exposition in the first place) without it breaking my suspension of disbelief – the insane and unrealistic fights will be what breaks that.
I also love the world building of the Berserk manga, not only do I love the art style and aesthetic of a dark fantasy world, but the insanely long introduction chapters really add something to the world. As I normally end up reading 20 page chapters it’s refreshing and immersive to finally read a 116 page chapter where they can really explore an idea, theme or event continuously without any cuts. It helps me to imagine the world as a real place where time is obeyed naturally, the long chapters also represent the long days that the character of Guts needs to go through and gives the world a sense of actual time passing outside of where our main character is located.
I hate to throw around the word “subversion” however the damsel in distress trope is used a lot and is somewhat turned on its head for the purpose of the narrative (and not just because he saves a boy and not a girl).
This damsel in distress trope is a defining moment for Guts as it defines him (in my mind) as a more interesting and complex character which makes him feel vastly more complicated and real than the average shounen protagonist. At the start of chapter one, a group of vicious mercenaries are throwing knives at a chained up elf in a tavern, they are established quickly as “bad guys” who are dealt with brilliantly. From here you then see Guts load his rather unique crossbow and demolish them in an instant. Throughout this you never see a shot of the main character because he’s just that stealthy.
Theirs then two long pages of the villains getting hammered by cross bow bullets before they even realise what’s going on. You then see the shot of Guts standing there calmly yet mildly irritated. From this it’s obvious that he’s a clearly skillful and experienced soldier who copes easily under this kind of pressure, highlighting him as a complete bad-ass. From this neutral position of calmness he is then able to casually kill another as if it’s his day job and relay his message.
“Now would you be so kind as to relay a message to your master for me?”…”Tell him that the black swordsman has come.”
He is clearly a person of importance, this confirms and demonstrates his power and potential authority in the world, or his sheer infamy that spreads across the land. It also demonstrates that it isn’t normal to be as powerful as he his due to the fact that titles are fairly rare for simple criminals or mercenaries.
The next part that happens is great and a defining moment for why I got so hooked instantly to the series. When he draws his sword it’s not just a huge chunk of iron, it cannot be contained in the frames of the manga chapter, its power is literally off the charts. If you didn’t already get that from the first panel the momentum shot of the sword swing cleanly chopping a guy in half proves it farther, you don’t need to see a reaction shot, you are amazed anyway!
“That thing was too big to be called a sword. Too big, too thick, too heavy, too rough, it was more like a large chunk of iron.”
This statement not only shows further the fact that he’s a master swordsman but it also shows that he is passionate and must have persevered massively to attain his skill as a swordsman. The narrator retroactively tells you about the sword as if it’s completely foreign and unnatural, showing that he would have probably needed to teach himself the blade as there would be no instructor capable enough to teach him.
The beauty of what happens next is immeasurable when you realise that he had no intention of saving the elf – he didn’t even realise its existence! This shows that he is a genuinely violent character who is somewhat selfish, hinting at his disastrous past (which was somewhat hinted at from the first panel) and an innate survival instinct that Guts clearly possesses.
This scene is brilliant for establishing guts as a great character and this moment was the thing that made me get hooked into it as a series. This is what the manga does so well that the Berserk 2016 anime adaptation fails at immensely and why I recommend the manga so much more.
Needless to say, I really want to turn this into a many post series discussing the entirety of Berserk as a whole from the perspective of a person experiencing all three mediums (manga and both anime’s) at the same time and I greatly look forward to writing about this in the future. Normally I get a little bored or tired by the time it comes to the end of a 1000 word blog post however I feel great and have immensely enjoyed writing these points. Because of this I hope that you’ll continue reading this blog series and share it with anyone who might be interested just because I’m enjoying it so much.
(I’ll write the posts anyway so no pressure or anything, blogging (for me) is for myself and not a large audience for the most part)
Next, I’ll be discussing how Berserk 2016 completely misses the point of the original manga as I intended to write about that in the first place but got distracted and started analysing something else just to prove my point about the quality of the manga and nature of Guts. Regardless, it will help prove my points for the next post so that’s all that really matters.