Kentaro Miura’s Berserk has established itself as one of the best manga ever put to pen and paper. His passing in 2021 was met with mass mourning from fans around the world, and the status of the series currently remains in limbo. Regardless of whether the publisher decides to continue with Miura’s understudies or leave it unfinished out of respect, the legacy he and his work leave behind is arguably some of the best that the dark fantasy subgenre has ever seen.
But for a manga that’s been so widely acclaimed, it hasn’t translated much into the anime sphere. Even with all the hiatuses that Berserk suffered, there’s still plenty left to adapt, and this dark-fantasy epic has more than earned an anime that does Miura’s source material justice.
Berserk is simultaneously one of the easiest manga to recommend and one to warn people about with a disclaimer. It’s even more graphic than HBO’s Game of Thrones, unabashedly putting the horrors of a bleak, dark world front and center. Berserk is relentless, for better and worse. The punishing things that happen do ultimately serve the story’s resonating themes of trauma, systematic corruption, religious fanaticism, and societal inequality, but the earlier portions of the manga show scenes that fall into gratuitousness.
However, what started as a compellingly grim and blood-curdling revenge epic evolved, along with Miura, into an inspiring story of humanity’s indomitable spirit and sheer force of will when at its best. The admittedly horrific scenes depicted result, in the short- and long-term, in a story about healing from the unjust traumas inflicted by an unforgiving world and learning to trust people again, as well as an emotional theme of found family.
The harrowing events that Guts, Casca, and the rest of the characters had to endure make it something that would be visually difficult to revisit, but another Berserk anime adaptation wouldn’t have to in the first place. Animation studio OLM’s 24-episode anime series from 1997 covered everything that was most necessary from the gritty Black Swordsman and Golden Age arcs — and the same was true again for the latter in the anime movie trilogy by Studio 4°C.
Aside from putting that contentto screen a third time seeming tasteless, it would also be a massive waste of time considering how much has come out since the Golden Age‘s conclusion. But perhaps most of all, it would be cruel for another anime to stop short of adapting Berserk‘s turning point in the story, where we see Guts make meaningful strides in terms of emotional character growth.
That indomitable spirit as the Struggler fighting against the Current of Causality and the very concept of fate is the narrative pillar of his journey — punctuated, of course, by some of the most cathartically brutal fight scenes in a manga.
Counting the Golden Age Arc Trilogy as a single entity, there have been three Berserk animated adaptations. The most recent was the 2016-17 TV series, but it, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired.
The source material wasn’t lacking, as there had been more than enough story written by Miura to animate, but the problem stemmed from the animation itself. CG art and animation are already a touchy subject in the anime fan base, and the 2016 series’ dodgy work did no favors for its already rocky reputation.
It was a disappointment for many fans on more than just a superficial level, as that show was the first Berserk anime to move onto the Conviction and (the first half) of the Falcon of the Millennium Empire arcs.
There’s too much great material not to adapt, and while the argument can be made that Miura’s masterful and excruciatingly detailed artwork can’t be adapted properly, studios like MAPPA (Jujutsu Kaisen, Attack on Titan season 4) and Wit Studio (Attack on Titan seasons 1-3, Vinland Saga season 1) have proven that putting to screen an honorable rendition of it is possible.
His art is still some of the best in the business, and no artist or animation studio will be able to mimic it in terms of skill or style exactly. However, the fact that it doesn’t have an art style grounded in near-photorealism, like Takehiko Inoue’s samurai epic Vagabond, suggests that it’s a doable job, albeit a challenging one.
And for all the comparisons to George R. R. Martin’s sprawling and dense brainchild that Berserk gets, its plot seems to have elements comparable to The Witcher, or at least CD Projekt Red’s interpretation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s work. It’s understandable, to an extent, that Game of Thrones comes quickest to mind, but the point-of-view of Berserk‘s story is much tighter in scope.
A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones puts a lot of focus on intricate political intrigue and a slew of characters on a chessboard that will eventually clash. Meanwhile, The Witcher approaches its storytelling through Geralt of Rivia, a hardened monster hunter abused by the world and the people around him who is experiencing the consequences of a continent ruled by royal greed and tribalistic fearmongering. It focuses on a core group of characters, their emotional connections, and how they deal with the aftermath of their surroundings.
On that basis, Berserk isn’t all that different. While Guts starts in a severely more volatile state of mind, he is ultimately a wandering outlaw or ronin-like figure ripping and tearing through a land deprived of hope. He initially exists solely for vengeance, but as he slowly pieces himself back together and lets people in again, the found-family cast of characters and their intrapersonal relationships become the focal point of the story.
Miura’s writing allows for rich supernatural lore and fantastical worldbuilding, showing how these characters navigate through it. This leaves the political intrigue and turmoil as an entity that more so lingers in the background. It all has an indirect effect on the group, but it doesn’t take precedence over them.
All of this combines for a world that expertly blends fantasy, horror, and action that’s in service to the nuanced and intimate character-driven story at the forefront. Berserk paints a bloody and haunting picture that strangely has its own beauty to it, but it’s a beauty that nonetheless demands a proper adaptation. While the previous three iterations have failed to succeed, a fourth attempt, this time honoring the source material’s distinct visual style, is in order.
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