What does it take for man to create a God? What does it take for man to destroy one?
As we delve in the fantasia created by the beautiful, rich and enticing world of Berserk, we come back to this question again and again. What does it take to stand before the Devil and still not lose the deep hatred to stand and fight? For as we follow Gatts (I’ll use this spelling convention rather than the more popular Guts), the devil-killing resolve we see in him was not a product of holiness or nobility, but of savage vengeance to the effect of what he lost — the price for a man to create a God. Here we stand, before that berserk rage and gape in awe as Kentaro Miura sensei creates a living and breathing world of fantasy out of the dark and desolate fields of Midland.
Creator: Kentaro Miura
Chapters: 357 (until 2016)
A friend in my mind, is someone who is my equal” — Griffith
The single phrase that turned Gatts’ life upside down, this line can be said to be the pivotal point of the entire story-line. The story revolves around Gatts and Griffith, both of them belonging to the same “Band of the Hawk” as Griffith slowly build his dreams out of nothingness. Deep down Griffith’s heart, he is a man who believed that “In this world not all are born equal. Some are born to rule over others.” He believed from the bottom of his heart that everyone would always “accept me, either as an ally or an enemy”. He is a man not prone to refusals and denials. So when his true friend and right-hand-man Gatts leaves him, his world shatters. In that frenzy of denial, he destroys, by his own hand the monument that he himself had built from nothing but mud. Presence of lust, but absence of means to it is the road to damnation. In that same frenzy he goes ahead and sacrifices everyone and everything he knew to the Devil; or perhaps the God, for there is no God or Devil; only a collective consciousness of all the beings on the planet. That being—though omnipotent is but a product of men itself, thus having no virtues; or perhaps all of them together—so is indifferent to any individual’s wishes ( You will find similar depiction of divinity in the stories of Rajsekhar Bose, better known as Poroshuram ). Thus is born Femto, the God hand—in exchange of every single life in the band of Hawks. Gatts and Caska survives, only to be cursed as branded sacrifices for eternity. Even as the Hawk soars ever higher—saving Midland from the Kushan attack and creating a paradise on Earth with the resurrection of Falconia, the old capital of Midland—we but wonder the lines of Fate.
“Good does evil in name of greater good; Evil does good in name of greater evil” — Pug had said (Riftwar cycle, Raymond E. Fiest). We are consternated by Griffith’s miracles and only wonder what his ulterior motive may be.
Another protagonist in this story of two friends, Gatts is a dynamic character. Initially portrayed as savage, unforgiving and blinded by revenge, a type of person who takes young maidens hostage if it suits his purpose — we see his hostility slowly thawing once the story progresses.
Born amongst the dead and holding a sword before being able to walk, Gatts childhood among the mercenaries has been one of violence and killing. Even though it was to save himself, he still haven’t got over the fact that he killed his own father His unnatural zeal of living on has been portrayed again and again in the manga. It is as if he simply refused to die. “People gather around him, for he is strong” — I quote from One-Punch Man. In spite of his harsh behavior, his nonchalant attitude and his savage means, strong people like Shirke, Farenze, Serpico, Roderick, Azan and even elves like Puck and Ivarella gather around him as he undertakes his journey of vengeance. However it is these people (special credits to Shirke) that make his heart softer. An young but potent sorceress, Shirke’s journey with Gatts is a beautiful depiction of the feelings of a powerful witch and an adolescent girl. Naturally shy around people (whom she initially refers as savages) we see her own heart softens as she clings onto Gatts in his suit of the Berserker’s armor — a piece of armor made by the dwarves which grants the user the power manifolds times his own and releases all senses from him even fear and pain. Drenched it an insanity and a primal instinct of destruction, that person loses himself and would even kill his loved ones. That is the power to bring down a God; and accordingly, that is the price. I find it ironic how in both cases, one should need to sacrifice a lot; to the point it made me wonder whether it is even worth to become a God, and accordingly; to take one down. But this resonates nicely with the preaching of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. To gain something, one must pay something of equal value.
“I’ve said I’ll strike down void. This is foretold by fate.” — Skeletal Knight
The manga is not yet complete, so there are a few things that are still shrouded in mystery. Caska, facing immense violence and having her womanhood stolen from her have broken down and lost all her memory and sanity. The group is currently trying to restore her memories. I personally feel that there would be more elaboration to this end. Another major gambit is Gatt’s great sword, described in the manga by “huge, rugged, rough piece of iron” which “no human being can wield,” by which he cuts through armored men, horses, demons, acolytes (I’d prefer using this term rather than the more frequently used apostle) and even old-Gods alike.
It has been hinted again and again that the continuous drenching in demon blood have had some rather adverse effect on it. I personally believe that there will be more elaboration to this end. Another mysterious character is the Skeletal Knight. He have had many appearances — sometimes referring to himself as the God of death, sometimes as someone who walked a wrong path—and his abilities seem to be limitless—from dominating the feared Nosferatu Zodd in a sword duel; to cutting through space and time with his sword; to even directly swallowing behelits.
He claimed to be the only one who was bent on banishing evil—and I find a similarity to the ghost rider. I feel that he is a character who was “meant” to be shrouded in mystery—every strong story has one such character — and will never truly reveal his whole past. Of course, I may be wrong. The elves have played another important role—that of the only comedians in this dark plot. Indeed, during the later phases of the manga, the dark hostility is definitely allayed due to the comic actions of the elves making the manga much cheery and lighthearted to read. “This manga would be too dark without me.” — Puck
The art of the manga is beyond brilliant, it is extraordinary. Even the most minor details have been carefully drawn. And I pay hundreds of Kudos to the scantalators who have made this manga readable for people like us who don’t know Japanese. They really went to great lengths to preserve that excellent art. Only trade-off to it had been the lower resolution of images. But I will still pay my accolades. Since the manga had been running for several decades now, the scantalators have changed time and again. It is only the very first few for whom the above praises hold. The successors have not done a bad job, they have really upped the picture resolution. But compared to the previous quality, I find the later ones slightly lacking. It is mainly out of respect for the original translators have I used the terms Gatts and acolyte instead of the more frequent terms. Coming back to the art itself, it is extraordinary. Even the minute details is drawn. Every body physique is carefully painted. One can truly see how great it is by carefully observing Gatts. His young self differs a lot from when he is a few years older. When he was sick, his body really was made thin and skinny when compared to normal . When he doesn’t wear a shirt, every muscle in his packs and ribs are clearly visible and distinguished. There are clearly some great pieces of art in the majestic beings and landscapes that has been drawn in the manga, viz the depiction of the Kushan lord Ganishka when he becomes a demon lord. The landscape view is fantastic. There are also many different complex action scenes involving many different dead bodies in battles, just as there are complex scenes with numerous different of organisms in the elven forests. There are entire chapters with no dialogue and only battle. In that scene, every sword, every mace, every face has been minutely detailed. The shading is exquisite—I say so as someone who draws tolerably well. Every hatch, every cross hatch, every stroke of brush are all clearly visible. Again, kudos to the scantalators for their hard work to uphold it.
No discussion about Berserk is complete without discussing the references to historical and mythological trivia. A lot is adopted from the history and the popular literature. There has been references to Jesus Christ, and Midland — the name of the kingdom — I believe is named after Midgard, the middle of the nine worlds in Norse mythology. The situation depicted is that of the sixteenth century Europe, with reference to the hundred years war between France and Britain. Also, the war against Kushan is alike the holy crusade to recover Palestine from the Saracens. I have found the story of Griffith to bear semblance to that of Joan of the Ark — a person liberating France (Midland) from the Chudans. There has also been numerous references to mythological beings, especially Hindu mythology.
Terms like rakhshash, pisach, and nagin have been used left and right. The emperor of Kushan is named Ganishka for the Hindu god by the same name. And after the metamorphosis, he has been compared to the Rudra form of Shiva (the almighty destroyer of all in Hindu mythology). The emperor’s sidekick is named Daiva, a generic term used for all Hindu Gods. Finally, we also find reference to Chuthlu from the Lovecraftian lore of Necronomicon. I found the statue of the old God of sea bearing resemblance to artist impressions of Chuthlu. Among the popular sailor’s tales, we find the reference to Davy Jones and the Kraken. There is even the famous ending scene from Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest where Jack Sparrow enters the mouth of the Kraken with his sword bare in his hands.
In this entwined fate of good and evil, we are only to stand as mystified bystanders. Berserk is a fantasy fiction in the guise of a manga. It is exceptional, one of its kind, unique. It depicts explicit violence and sexual content like sex, rape and desires extremely innocently. It is adult, in all senses. Both the content and the philosophy is adult. This manga is difficult to read, more so to comprehend. But it can also be safely said, much of the sexually explicit content would be over by chapter one hundred and fifty or so. After that, the story escalates quickly while nudity and the likes are put behind. All in all, this is a manga with a unique story—an unthinkable concoction. And with that I’ve found my new favorite. Dear all, I present this story as one of the best ever told, along the likes of FMAB, Clannad, Hunter x Hunter, Steins Gate et al. Come, let us witness the epic battle between the man who aspires to be a God and the man to aspires to bring one down. In the end.