The worst part about Berserk is that I can’t recommend it to anyone, and indeed the gorgeous deluxe editions are sort of hidden inside my house. I dread the idea of my mother or mother in law picking one up and leafing through it casually. It’s an unfortunate position to be in because the art is unbelievable. Soaring castles, epic battles, imaginative monsters, and detailed character designs. But, the rub: also graphic rape, violence, casual racism, outdated sexism, demonic engines powered by suffering, and torture at the hands of an inquisition so intensely detailed that it keeps me up at night and I regret reading it.
Then why bother? Because Berserk is one of the most influential pieces of fantasy fiction of all time. Sometimes it dials things up to 11 just for the sake of it and I don’t like that, but others it’s blazing new ground in scale and excitement. It’s almost impossible to read Berserk without being impressed once per issue. It’s particularly of note if you’re a fan of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series, as they’ve admitted to cribbing whole sections of content from the manga. More than anything else, that’s what drove me to read the series, and I obviously didn’t regret it enough to not-buy all 13 of the deluxe library edition books and pre-order the 14th.
The artist has since died, so the 14th will include his final work, as well as (I believe) the first work by his apprentice who is carrying on the story. In the 13th, Guts and his companions defeat and escape the Sea God and finally make their way to Elfheim. Guided by the mercurial Puck, they hope to find a cure for Casca’s intense mental trauma, and seek the help of the Elf King to do so. The question remains as to whether or not this is what Casca wants, given that her regressed mental state is a coping mechanism from the horrors she endured at the hands of Griffith and the other apostles during The Eclipse.
Don’t pick up Berserk if you (justifiably) tapped out of Game of Thrones because it was too horrible to endure. Pick up Berserk if you’re a Souls junkie who wants to see the origin of the series’ nihilistic story themes, the giant greatswords you can wield, and those f***ing bonewheel skeletons.