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Author Topic: So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...  (Read 688 times)

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Offline NO1SY

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So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...
« on: January 07, 2024, 11:11:55 AM »

In November I decided, somewhat on a whim, to finally read one of the most classic manga series that I had never picked up before: Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Over the course of a few weeks I read all 375 available chapters, thinking that the series had been completed, only to find out that it is still being released and I caught up just as a new story arc got started. Berserk is widely regarded as one of the absolute best seinen manga, drawing in heaps of praise, and seething ire when the anime adaptation was f*cked up, and after reading it all I… really don’t get what all the fuss is about…

Berserk is about a very muscly man called Guts, who really hates demons and monsters, and particularly hates a specific demon man called Griffith, and so he goes around chopping them all to pulp with an enormous sword (and occasionally shoots them in the eyes with crossbow bolts and throwing knives). No matter how much damage he takes, his hate and anger fuels him to get up and keep fighting until his enemies are defeated.

The story begins with him going from town to town searching for demons to kill who will bring him closer to Griffith, like crossing names off of a cartel hierarchy. We get introduced to a comedy relief character in the form of Puck the little elf with healing powers, and Guts will occasionally save someone from demons but then act all tough guy tsundere in an “it’s not like I was doing it to save you or anything” kind of way and making some comment about how weak people won’t survive or should stay out of the way.

The next section of the story takes us back in time and is a hundred or so chapters telling the story of how Guts got to where he was as we read just prior. It is a story of a damaged boy finding a leader to trust and his place to grow, only to have things spiral downward and out of control as the group are within touching distance of their goals, and then to have everything ripped away from him in a horrendous fashion.

I want to pause the summary here to discuss a little. These two sections are what cause people to label Berserk as grim-dark - a label that indicates either that bad things happen to good people, or that there are no truly good people. By these definitions I would say that Berserk is barely grim-dark. It is definitely seinen, with all the blood and gore, death, nudity, the plethora of phallic demons and far too long, detailed and pornographic sex/r*pe scenes (it is not an easy read when commuting on the public trains, let me tell you…). But it really is quite surface level with many of the darker themes. I don’t know if I’ve read other grim-dark mangas that have done it better, but unfortunately, for me, in the context of all literature it doesn’t hold a candle to anything written by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Pierce Brown, Michael John Grist, Luke Scull, etc. To be honest, despite the dark aesthetics, Berserk kind of starts to read like a shounen manga because these themes aren’t really approached in a more mature or deep way. There is a lot of your standard manga narration with overuse of obscure and random metaphors that sound poetic but obfuscates the point of the plot and exacerbates the issues of thematics. On the other hand, I had a really hard time sympathising with character motivations as they pertained to serving Griffith, because I rarely saw properly written the same charisma in him that the other characters themselves claimed to be seeing - so I was constantly feeling as though the story was telling rather than showing me this - and so all the events that transpired really didn’t hit me like they should have outside of a fleeting sense of shock and awe.

Credit where credit is due, a lot of the characters in the group are likeable, and I particularly enjoyed the character of Casca during most of the second section of the story. The artwork is also pretty good, with absolutely standout spreads of either super detailed settings or striking vistas, very visceral motion, or just Guts looking cool. I will also say that, for the most part, the darkness of this part of the story tows the line and generally manages to stay on the right side of being too edgy or overly cringe-inducing.

Next we transfer into an arc of the story which felt akin to watching a DnD campaign - whereby the party are trying to get to the land of the elves to help heal Casca. I’m not going to lie, I actually enjoyed it for what it was and I enjoyed the majority of new characters that were introduced to the group. But this was a vast departure in tone from the previous sections, such that it was a little jarring. Again, if it weren’t for the gore, nudity, and sex, this was even more like just reading a shounen manga. We also move from a fairly low fantasy vibe with fairly supernatural magic, to a more high fantasy high magic feel, and although I liked the magic system, I’m not sure that I liked it in the context of Berserk. In the meantime, in the background, Griffith has returned with a whole warring nations sub-plot that I could not help but distrust the entire time.

Sadly Miura passed away in 2021, but the series was continued in 2022 by his friends and colleagues. It is here that I want to bring up the mystery boy who keeps on appearing, helping, and disappearing in this latter section of the story. I dislike what they did with him. If this was the plan all along, then I think the subversion of expectations really doesn’t feel great here - like a ham-fisted broken promise. Otherwise I speculate that they decided on this reveal to steer the plot in for a landing for Berserk as a series. In either case, what feels worse is that the direction that they have now steered the plot in, by using him as a mechanism, is essentially a repeat of basically the same plot that has already kind of been repeated twice already over the last two story arcs
Spoiler
and just when Casca was returning to a semblance of capability. It kind of sapped most of my motivation to continue reading in the future.

So I have mixed feelings about Berserk. It was a decent enough read for sure, and I definitely had more things that I liked about it that I haven’t mentioned in this post. But it also did not blow me away as I expected by the general praise around this series, and this mis-match is to the point that I am actually questioning my enjoyment of manga story-telling generally a little bit, especially in comparison to novels. For me, the shounen-esque elements were like a ball and chain weighing the storytelling down because of the confused tone and slightly ballooning sub-plots, robbing momentum and profundity from what could have been a much more effective and concise story.

I have tried to keep this spoiler free, but I know this is probably a controversial take on Berserk so let me know your thoughts about the series, and if you think I’m approaching it from the wrong angle etc.

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2024, 02:34:53 PM »
I definitely think you're not on the wrong track. For me Berserk is definitely out of my typical genre interest range and so I didn't like it for the heavy gore/violence/sex content, but I've read enough to get an opinion I think.

Generally speaking when works get a lot of praise I don't ever see what the hype is all about, often it's a bit of rose-coloured glasses mixed with a dash of viral and suddenly it's the best thing ever. Sure it's good but then lots of other things are.

I definitely feel it could have been more concise, but I think the story style was just a slow paced telling style. It's been a while since I read it, and I haven't read up to date at all.
Art-wise it was very good, and I think I heard it took a very long time to draw pages because there was so much detail in them. But a lot of the gore didn't need to be explicitly shown. But that's not my thing so I can't fault that really. The art style certainly suited the genre of the manga.
Overall it had a nice premise with the trauma backstory and the character interactions feeling a bit more complex than typical relationships. But I think any personal-level plot elements were drowned out by the violence/sex content a lot of the time. Not that you can't have both but it's a fine balance I think.

I can't comment on anything specific because I didn't read too much of it, and I certainly haven't read any recent content since the author died. I didn't know it got continued until you just told me so that's how much I was paying attention.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2024, 02:36:54 PM by Suuper-san »
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Offline Nabe Man

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Re: So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2024, 03:33:35 PM »
I only read one chapter of Berserk but felt as though i should get around to reading the rest to study whats so likable about it like other titles im reading. What was the kicker to finally pick it up was Guts being a profile picture for and edgy classmate of mine. The classmate would be stand off-ish and try to say cool things and even lie in many anecdotes to make himself sound cooler than he already is (I was a witness in all of his stories).

I couldnt understand what was so great about Berserk so i picked it up in last December. So Guts hates monsters so much that he's in the guts of a monster in the first page. Hmmm. I couldnt help but think this scene was just a device to pull readers in as sex sellls. What was kinda weird to me was the monster he was with wasnt mentioned at all later in the chapter. It could be in the later chapters. I really don't know.

Soon i realized why my edgey wanna be cool collegue liked about Gut's. Gut's was like his rolemodel or something. Guts is edgy, stand-offish and usually for these characters in manga they usually need that comedic relief to make his interactions more appealing. But Guts appeals to those people that find his character cool. It doesnt do anything for me but i could see the appeal. There is alot of action and it's drawn really well to be understandable.

Berserk is popular in my opinion because people think the story is cool. If i read it more i could probably say other things about but that's all i got.  :noidea:

When it come to new writers coming in the mix of stories i think readers know the writers work really well and when someone doesnt do it justice it feels bogus. Fans can pick it up easily. It reminds me of how boruto is . The manga industry knows the title is still profitable and will continue it for as long as it remains so even if the story loses it's integrity.

The story telling in manga has had a constant wash rinse repeat kind of an approach that does get irritating. Every once in a while you do get those titles that's amazing. Novels trumps manga in consistent story telling hands down but manga just has a different appeal. So whenever you feel for either the option is there.


Offline Operative13

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Re: So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2024, 06:43:05 PM »
In my view, the problem that just not Berserk, but many Japanese fiction works (and frankly many works in general), is that the conflicts and themes tends to be very surface-level. There's hardly any questions about how complex and strange life really is, and often the characters tend to be caricatures of tropes and ideals rather than reflections of reality. As a result, there's often a lack of subtlety and very often the story rigs the plot into forcing a certain idea or emotion. They dictate to the audience, and do not allow them to consider other options.

The best works I've seen come from those that understand that the audience is intelligent and will make interpretations based on what the plot presents itself. Hayao Miyazaki just keeps winning awards competing against the very best of cinema (i.e. Boy and the Heron) whereas others are barely lucky to get nominated for one for this very reason. This mastery of themes and conflicts baked into a interpretable story is what separates timeless classics from mindless eye-candy. Berserk may be popular, but it is no more a classic than the likes of Naruto, Bleach, or Dragon Ball Z. It's certainly not in the tier of works like Satoshi Kon or Makoto Shinkai.

Personally I think the best question to ask oneself whether they enjoyed the work is if they would go through the trouble of reading/watching it again. If the answer is a resounding yes, then it is a work that stuck with you well. If the answer is a very hesitant maybe, then it is perhaps little more than eye-candy that you get sick of after having too much.  :sick:
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Offline Nabe Man

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Re: So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2024, 06:13:20 AM »
I guess it's a good thing that manga and anime offers so many diverse genres and stories to appeal to everyone. I would say there are sides of me that want rich story telling and other sides that just want a good time with laughs, silliness and something that satisfies my primal need for physical violence. There are countless flavors that are offered.

I for one am in the story telling space of mind where i have a story idea then go "so how do i turn this into a battle manga haha ?" One of these days hopefully i start to do rich intimate story telling like that of Miyazaki and friends
as i do understand that fist fights etc are not the only gimmicks that produce good stories.

I totally agree that if you don't want to read it again it's a one time thing that served its one time purpose.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2024, 06:38:34 AM by Nabe Man »

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: So I Binge-Read All of Berserk...
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2024, 09:33:45 AM »
Quote
I would say there are sides of me that want rich story telling and other sides that just want a good time with laughs, silliness and something that satisfies my primal need for physical violence.
100% I agree.
Often our disappointments with shows are because we're wanting a genre that they're not giving XD
I often do feel a bit of annoyance when shows don't go into much depth or just rely on copy-paste personality stereotypes that don't deviate much from absolute generic. But then others enjoy the show because it's predictable and enjoyable because they don't have to stress about characters randomly dying and just want to enjoy the superficial presentation. Sometimes we're watching entertainment to escape the complexity of personal relationships and just want something we don't have to think about :P
I enjoy both so I sometimes hate shows when they are too generic, but also shows that are too deep I feel like my emotions are being micromanaged XD
My favourite shows are a huge mixmash of both deep intellectual shows and stupid comedies. Humans are complex creatures after all :P
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