Saturday, August 13, 2011
At the Cost Of Their Flesh and Blood
I have recently begun re-reading the "Berserk" manga in anticipation of filling the holes in my collection later this month. I have the first twenty-five volumes of the manga, which puts me short nine volumes from being up to date. So far, it's been just as fun a ride as it was the first time.
I was introduced to "Berserk" after I had just finished watching "Cowboy Bebop" and asked a buddy of mine for a list of anime recommendations. "Berserk" was #14 on his list with the text "You want this anime, you need this anime, you will have this anime." And my local Blockbuster had the first three DVD's and I checked them out and loved them. Ironically, to this day, with the exceptions of "Cowboy Bebop" and "Berserk," I can't think of a single anime or manga that I like. So, if you don't like anime or manga, don't worry, "Berserk" is still really cool.
If you're new to "Berserk," I recommend starting with the anime. You can get the series for about $30 here on amazon. While there are some differences from the manga, and it cuts quite a bit of material, it is a great introduction to the world of "Berserk."
Without being too spoilerish, I will discuss the series' three leads.
"Berserk" is about a young mercenary named Guts. A man who has been taught nothing except how to swing a sword. And he's very good at it. As far as protagonists go, Guts is... different. If I had to compare him to any other character, I suppose it would be Conan the Barbarian, but I am not quite comfortable with that comparison. Near the beginning of the series, Guts joins, against his will might I add, the Band of the Hawk and becomes the captain of the Hawks' raiders. And it is here that over time this troubled, traumatized man grows as a character and begins to learn to relate to others.
And then there is Caska, the second-in-command of the Band of the Hawk. A tough, yet vulnerable young women who is the only female warrior we see in the series (unless you count Lady Farnese in the manga, but her position was ceremonial, and she wasn't trained to actually fight). While her relationship with Guts initially appears to be something we have seen over and over, it quickly and yet slowly develops into something unique. When we meet her, she is completely devoted to being the sword for her leader, the man who saved her life, the man who saved her from being a child concubine for a local nobleman. Which brings us to...
Griffith is the leader of the Band of the Hawk. A strong, handsome, intelligent, pure, special, eloquent, and angelic young man. A commoner who dreams of being a king. He is looked up to, respected, and admired by everyone in the vicinity, like a saintly hero from a classic poem. Of course, being a commoner rising in the ranks, many in the aristocracy hate him and see him as a threat to their way of life even though he is shaping up to be the hero of a desperate war they are fighting. Indeed, Griffith is a shining beacon of light in a very dark world. But, you know what they say about shining beacons of light? They cast very dark shadows. For those of you who have never seen or read "Berserk," chew on that for a while.
There are a lot of other characters who come and go. Only the very lucky stick around, and that is not hyperbole. There is darkness and tragedy to this series, and it is very real. "Berserk" is a series with the power to make you happy, to make you sad, to make you angry, and to scare you. But above all, it makes you think.
One of my favorite things about "Berserk" is that it spits in the eye of just about all the cliches. It takes familiar tropes and really turns them on their heads. No one is what they appear to be, and just when you think you're seeing a Joseph Campbell hero myth unfolding.... well, that would be telling.
The manga is better than the anime. But for a first-timer, I'd recommend the anime first as it gives you a great taste of this series, even though it leaves you wanting more. The manga is still unfinished, and at the moment is more of a financial investment. But I am happy with it so far, and if you like the anime, trust me, you're going to want to read the manga. You're going to actually need to read the manga.
A warning though, "Berserk" is not for the squeamish. So if the thought of reading an epic sword and sorcery fantasy where the swords actually do the unthinkable and not only draw blood, but kill people is unsettling, than this series is not for you. There is no play fighting here. The fights are real and anyone can die at any time. And they will, trust me on this.