|Written by||Kentaro Miura|
|Original run||October 1989 – present|
|Anime television series|
|Anime film series|
Berserk (Japanese: ベルセルク, Hepburn: Beruseruku) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Kentaro Miura. Set in a medieval Europe-inspired dark fantasy world, the story centers on the characters of Guts, a lone mercenary, and Griffith, the leader of a mercenary band called the "Band of the Hawk". Miura premiered a prototype of Berserk in 1988. The actual series began the following year in the now-defunct magazine Monthly Animal House, which was replaced in 1992 by the bimonthly magazine Young Animal, where Berserk continues to be serialized intermittently.
The manga has been adapted into a twenty-five episode anime television series covering the series' Golden Age arc by Oriental Light and Magic, which aired from October 1997 to March 1998. A trilogy of films, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc, was released beginning in 2012. A second anime television adaptation was broadcast in 2016 and 2017 for a total of twenty-four episodes.
As of January 2016, Berserk had over 40 million copies in circulation, making it one of the best-selling manga series of all time.
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Guts, a baby found beneath his dead hanging mother, is adopted by the mercenary Gambino. Raised as a mercenary, Guts eventually kills Gambino and flees as his adoptive father becomes cruel. Guts earns a fearsome reputation, catching the attention of Griffith, the angelically charismatic leader of the mercenary group, "Band of the Hawk" (鷹の団, Taka no Dan). Griffith forces Guts into joining the group upon defeating him in battle. Guts quickly rises through the ranks of the band, eventually becoming Griffith's best warrior. During this time, Guts learns of Griffith's mysterious pendant, the Crimson Behelit, along with Griffith's dream to rule a kingdom of his own. When the Hawks encounter a monstrous immortal being known as Nosferatu Zodd, it adds further mystery to the Behelit as Zodd spares Guts and Griffith upon seeing it, warning the former of his impending death should he be a true friend of Griffith's. Eventually, they are hired by the kingdom of Midland and help to win the Hundred Year War against the Tudor empire, being ordained knights by the king of Midland. Meanwhile, Guts gradually develops a romantic relationship with Griffith's unit commander, Casca, the Hawks' only female member. After having overheard Griffith say that he can only consider someone a true friend if they have their own dream, Guts leaves the Hawks after defeating Griffith in single combat. Shaken by Guts' departure, Griffith ruins his fortunes when found seducing the king's daughter, Charlotte. He is imprisoned and tortured, while the Hawks are marked for death. Guts spends his next year training to become a better swordsman, but is warned by a mysterious, seemingly demonic being he calls "the Skull Knight", that his actions have set forth "the Eclipse". He temporarily returns to the Hawks and helps the outlawed remnants of the Hawks rescue Griffith, only to find him horribly mutilated and rendered a mute shadow of his former self.
Through preordained events, the despairing Griffith unknowingly activates his Behelit during a solar eclipse. This transports the Hawks to another plane where they encounter archdemons collectively known as the "God Hand" in a ceremony known as the Eclipse. Urged onward by the eldritch beings to become one of them to fulfill his dream, Griffith sacrifices his soldiers to the God Hand's "apostles"—humans like Zodd who have become powerful demons by sacrificing their loved ones and humanity for power—each of the Hawks are "branded" with a symbol on their body identifying them as sacrifices. Almost all of the Band of the Hawk except Guts and Casca are slaughtered by the demons. Griffith finally emerges reborn as the God Hand's fifth and final member, "Femto". Griffith's first act upon his ascension is to rape Casca in front of Guts. Guts loses his right eye and cuts off his own left forearm to escape captivity in an attempt to save Casca before losing consciousness. Guts and Casca are saved from death and brought back into the physical world through the intervention of the Skull Knight. However, Casca is rendered insane from her horrific experiences. Guts learns that the "Brands of Sacrifice" that he and Casca now bear leave him open to be preyed upon by evil supernatural creatures on a nightly basis. Casca is left in the care of the blacksmith Godo and Rickert, the only Band of the Hawk member who escaped sacrifice because he was not present at the Behelit's activation. With a new sword known as Dragonslayer and a prosthetic left arm that contains a hidden cannon, Guts begins hunting down apostles in search of revenge against Griffith. During this time, Guts begins seeing an ethereal deformed infant that appears before him, what was his and Casca's unborn child tainted by Femto's rape.
Two years later, Guts is joined by an elf named Puck and a young thief named Isidro. Casca eventually runs away from Rickert, sending Guts on a mad hunt to find her. Guts is later reunited with Casca as she is about to be burned as a witch in the city of St. Albion. There, along with Puck and Isidro, they encounter Farnese and Serpico of the Holy See Church's Holy Iron Chain Knights. Guts endures a nightmarish ordeal that ends in Griffith being incarnated into a new physical form being restored through a misshapen apostle whose dream was to "hatch" a new world. This apostle also ingested the deformed infant after stumbling upon its weakened and dying body moments before the Incarnation ceremony, resulting in Griffith's new body bearing some sort of influence of the infant. Puck suggests that Casca's mind might be restored if they take her to the Elven realm of Elfhel. Guts heads there for sanctuary with the help of his new companions. They are soon joined by the witch Schierke who teaches Farnese magic and negates the effects of the brand on Guts and Casca. Griffith creates a second Band of the Hawk, with Zodd and other demonic apostles among its ranks to battle the invading Kushan army. The war between Griffith and the Kushan emperor, Ganishka, a rogue apostle, climaxes with the emperor's destruction and the overlapping of the mortal realm and the supernatural astral realm.
Now unopposed, Griffith finally obtains his own kingdom by establishing his rule over Midland with the endorsement of the Pope and Princess Charlotte, creating the city of Falconia to provide the Midlanders with refuge from the ever-increasing attacks of mythical beasts, unaware that their new ruler is actually one of them. At the same time, Guts and his party take a ship toward Elfhelm. Following a dramatic battle with the Sea God, Guts's party reaches Elfhelm, on the island of Skellig. The elf ruler, Danann, helps Farnese and Schierke travel into Casca's mind and restore her to her former self. However, despite recovering her memories, Casca still has not overcome the trauma from the events of the eclipse completely, usually collapsing when she sees Guts or remembers her fallen comrades. At the same time, Farnese and Schierke begin training with the other apprentice witches and wizards living on Skellig, during which Farnese expresses an interest in the power to heal human souls, specifically Casca. At the same time, Guts encounters the Skull Knight once again who tells him that his journey is at an end. Meanwhile, Griffith is shown leading his new armies of both humans and "war demons" against an army of giants that have emerged due to the effects of Griffith's and Ganishka's war. Griffith's army scores a swift victory with Griffith delivering the final blow against the giant leader in the climax of the battle. Following this, Griffith participates in a council with the other nobles of Falconia before departing that evening for currently unknown reasons.
In 1988, while working with Buronson on a manga titled Orō (王狼, lit. "King of Wolves"), Miura published a prototype of Berserk in Hakusensha's Gekkan ComiComi. This 48-page prototype placed 2nd at the 7th ComiComi's Manga-School prize. The serialization of Berserk began in Hakusensha's Monthly Animal House in 1989.
In an interview with Yukari Fujimoto, Miura mentioned manga artists Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Fujihiko Hosono as early influences to his art style, as well series like Violence Jack by Go Nagai and Guin Saga by Kaoru Kurimoto for the story and atmosphere of Berserk. Fist of the North Star by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara influenced Miura to develop his art style. Ranpo by Masatoshi Uchizaki served him as a reference for his backgrounds. Pygmalio by Shinji Wada and The Snow Queen (Guin Saga spin-off) inspired Guts' sword size by mixing the characters' swords of both series. Miura has also commented about the influence of shōjo manga on Berserk. Particularly, he has mentioned that the anime adaptations of The Rose of Versailles and Aim for the Ace!, both directed by Osamu Dezaki, inspired him to read The Rose of Versailles manga, and the work of Keiko Takemiya as well.
Berserk is known for its frequent and often extended hiatuses, which date back to late 2006. After a 10-month hiatus from September 2014, the manga came back in July 2015, and until December 2015, it was published monthly before returning to an irregular schedule. It was published monthly from June to September 2016, before entering another hiatus. The manga resumed from March to June 2017, then it was published on a monthly basis from December 2017 to May 2018. Four months after, another chapter was published in August 2018, before entering an 8-month hiatus. Two chapters were published in April and August 2019, respectively. Three chapters were published in April, July and October 2020, respectively. A chapter was published in January 2021.
Berserk explores a wide range of themes and topics. Free will and destiny are discussed within the series. Human resilience is a recurring theme, with many characters coming from horrible backgrounds, constantly struggling against an unjust world. Guts struggles with destiny itself, and is constantly resisting the pull of predetermination. Griffith also embodies this idea of resilience, by chasing his dream of ruling his own kingdom, despite his lowborn origins, as well the free will, by his own decision to sacrifice the Band of the Hawk in order to achieve his dream.
The series also explores human nature and morality, as characters struggle between becoming good human beings or falling into madness and evil. Guts, at the beginning of the story, is presented as an antihero who does not care about killing, and is indifferent to people who aid him. Guts does not act in accordance with definitions of right and wrong, he operates within a gray area, and does not attempt to be heroic or protect the innocent. However, as the story progresses, it is shown that he is in fact a person who is deeply conflicted internally. His tragic and traumatic past, unfolded in the "Golden Age arc", proves that Guts is a much more complex character. Anne Lauenroth of Anime News Network, wrote that Griffith is "not evil at all", but "arrogant and brutally realistic about human nature". The suppression of his own human nature would initiate his demise as the Hawk and the rise of Femto.
Friendship, comradery and human relations are other explored themes. As a child, Guts tried to build some level of friendship with his mercenary group, but due to his traumatic experience with them, he lost trust in people. Through the time he was with Griffith and the rest of the Band of the Hawk, Guts formed bonds, friendships, animosities, and co-dependencies, maturing as well as individual. Miura has stated he based the Band of the Hawk on his own high school friend relationship experience. Jacob Chapman of Anime News Network, wrote that through their friendship, Gut's ambitions were elevated and Griffith's were lowered, allowing both of them to consider a new future for the first time, one where they fight side-by-side as equals and die on the battlefield, but they reject this future out of their own personal fears, as Guts did not think he was "good enough" for a happy future and Griffith was terrified of his lofty dream crumbling into something more mundane. Miura has also stated that the story of fight between Guts and Griffith speaks about their change after having built their personalities.
The Golden Age arc has been compared to a Greek tragedy. According to Lauenroth, Griffith's hamartia lies in how he compartmentalizes his feelings of guilt and shame that would get in the way of his dream, and how he deals to repress them. His inner dialogue in his second duel with Guts; "If I can't have him, I don't care", marks the Golden Age arc peripeteia. When Guts comes running to rescue him, Griffith reaches his moment of anagnorisis, with his thought: "You're the only one... who made me forget my dream", initiating thus the Eclipse.
Betrayal and revenge are major themes in the series. Guts suffered his first betrayal when Gambino sold Guts' body to another soldier for a few coins. He would eventually take revenge against the soldier, killing him on the battlefield and he later would kill Gambino as well. Guts is in a quest for revenge after his comrades were betrayed by Griffith and sacrificed by the God Hand. This desire for vengeance has been his main reason of survival.
Religion has been also touched in the series, mainly through the characters of Mozgus and Farnese. Miura has stated that he created Mozgus based on the concept of rigid personality to create a fanatic religious character with no flexibility. Farnese is presented as the figurehead of the Holy Iron Chain Knights, inquisitors tasked with burning heretics and witches at the stake. After her encounter with Guts, she finds it increasingly difficult to resolve her faith with the atrocities she has become party to, as Guts, inversely, takes action against something he disagrees with. Guts denounces the very idea of prayer, claiming that the act of clasping hands only prevents people from realizing what they desire through their own means. After the battle between Guts and Mozgus, Farnese rejects her faith, as she realizes how blind she obeyed the rigidity of her beliefs.
Berserk is written and illustrated by Kentaro Miura. The manga started its serialization in Hakusensha's Monthly Animal House in October 1989. Hakusensha published the first tankōbon volume of Berserk under its Jets Comics imprint on November 26, 1990. In 1992, Monthly Animal House was renamed Young Animal, and new chapters are still being irregularly released in the bimonthly magazine. In June 2016, Hakusensha's Jets Comics imprint was renamed Young Animal Comics, and the first 37 volumes of Berserk were re-published with new cover arts. As of September 28, 2018, 40 volumes have been published.
In North America, Dark Horse Comics, in conjunction with Digital Manga Publishing, announced the license of the manga in 2003. The first volume was published on October 22, 2003. As of September 25, 2019, the 40 current volumes have been published. In September 2018, Dark Horse Comics announced a "deluxe edition" of the Berserk manga, featuring hard covers and larger prints, with the 1st volume (collecting original volumes 1–3) released on February 27, 2019. The 2nd volume (collecting original volumes 4–6) was released on June 26, 2019. The 3rd volume (collecting original volumes 7–9) was released on October 23, 2019. The 4th volume (collecting original volumes 10–12) was released on October 23, 2019. The 5th volume (collecting original volumes 13–15) was released on June 24, 2020. The 6th volume (collecting original volumes 16–18) was released on November 18, 2020. The 7th volume (collecting original volumes 19–21) was released on March 10, 2021. The 8th volume (collecting original volumes 22–24) will be released on July 28, 2021.
A novel adaptation, entitled Berserk: The Flame Dragon Knight, written by Makoto Fukami with illustrations by Kentaro Miura, was released on June 23, 2017. It is focused on the new Band of the Hawk's apostle Grunbeld.
First series (1997–1998)
Produced by Oriental Light and Magic and directed by Naohito Takahashi, the 25-episode anime television series adaptation Berserk: Kenpū Denki (剣風伝奇ベルセルク, Kenpū Denki Beruseruku, lit., "Berserk: Sword-Wind Tales") first aired from October 7, 1997 to March 31, 1998. The series begins with the Black Swordsman arc, continuing through the Golden Age arc. VAP released thirteen VHS and twelve VCD including two episodes each (a single one in the last VHS and three in the last VCD) from 1998 to 1999 in Japan. The seven discs "DVD-BOX", using Audio-CD cases, was released in Japan in 2001, with the seven volumes being re-released later in individual DVD regular cases in 2003.
Film series (2012–2013)
In September 2010, a wraparound jacket band on volume 35 of the Berserk manga announced a new anime project, which was later revealed to be a series of films. The first two films, Berserk: Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King and Berserk: Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey, were released in Japan in February and June 2012. Berserk: Golden Age Arc III - The Advent was released on February 1, 2013 in Japan.
The first two movies are substantially a retelling of the 1997 TV series. The third movie features new footage beyond the TV series storyline based on the manga. The movies are primarily animated using CGI although rendered with a flat two-dimensional effect which matches the TV series visual style.
The voice cast features Hiroaki Iwanaga as Guts (replacing Nobutoshi Canna from the original anime), Takahiro Sakurai as Griffith (replacing Toshiyuki Morikawa), and Toa Yukinari as Casca (replacing Yūko Miyamura). The English voice cast features Marc Diraison as Guts, Kevin T. Collins as Griffith, and Carrie Keranen as Casca, all reprising their roles from the original anime.
Second series (2016–2017)
The Japanese magazine Young Animal announced on December 22, 2015 that a second televised anime adaptation of the Berserk manga would be produced and broadcast on Japanese television network WOWOW and MBS starting in July 2016. The first promotional video for the new series was revealed at NBC's winter Comiket, which featured Guts in his Black Swordsmen attire fighting off dozens of demonic skeletons with his characteristic sword Dragon Slayer. It commences with the "Conviction" story arc, starting around chapter 115 of the manga, and introduces Puck, Isidro, Farnese and Serpico as characters. The second season, covering the "Falcon of the Millennium Empire" arc, began on April 7, 2017.
Susumu Hirasawa participated in the soundtracks for all adaptations of the manga, using an eclectic selection of instruments. He received the offer to compose music for the series due to Miura being a fan of his works and listening to them while he works on Berserk, that also led to Miura almost never requesting a specific composition to Hirasawa. Hirasawa has said that Berserk does not feel like a self-restrained story, and that composing for the series is similar to the sensation of unlocking one of his inner restraints, leading to compositions on a "Berserk style". Hirasawa has made five songs with lyrics for the series, the last two of them were written in a language Hirasawa created by mixing elements of Thai, German and Latin together. Besides Hirasawa, the video games and film trilogy feature work by composers Masaya Imoto, Hiromi Murakami, Shinya Chikamori, Hiroshi Watanabe, Yasushi Hasegawa, Tomoyo Nishimoto and Shirō Sagisu; the anime and the film trilogy feature theme songs by Penpals, Silver Fins, AI and CHEMISTRY.
Two video games based on Berserk have been developed by Yuke's. The first game, Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage (ベルセルク 千年帝国の鷹篇 喪失花の章, Beruseruku Sennen Teikoku No Taka Hen Wasurebana no Shō, Berserk Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Lost Flowers), was released for the Dreamcast in Japan by ASCII Corporation in late 1999. It was localized in western regions early the following year by Eidos Interactive. The second game, Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō (ベルセルク 千年帝国の鷹篇 聖魔戦記の章, Beruseruku Sennen Teikoku No Taka Hen Seima Senki no Shō, Berserk Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Record of the Holy Demon War), was published by Sammy Corporation exclusively in Japan on the PlayStation 2 in 2004. A Berserk-themed spinoff of Omega Force's Dynasty Warriors series, titled Berserk and the Band of the Hawk (ベルセルク無双, Berserk Musou) was released on October 27, 2016 in Japan, and later in the U.S. on February 21, 2017 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PC via Steam. Dragon's Dogma featured armor sets from the Berserk: The Golden Age Arc films and Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 made characters as they appeared in Berserk (2016 TV series) playable.
In addition to video games and game guidebooks, Berserk has spurred on a range of different merchandise, from lighters to keyrings to Kubrick. Statues and action figures are produced by Art of War, Prime 1 Studio, and First4Figures. A Berserk trading card game was released by Konami in Japan. A figure of Guts was released by Max Factory in its Figma line in January 2012. Several other Max Factory Figma figures have been released; Guts in his Band of the Hawk attire, Guts in his berserker armor as well as Griffith, Femto, Casca and the Godhand. Berserk inspired two pachinko machines that feature original CG animation.
As of July 2015, the manga had over 27 million copies in print in Japan and 8 million overseas. As of January 2016, the manga had over 40 million copies in circulation. In 2016, Berserk ranked 38th on the 17th "Book of the Year" list by Da Vinci magazine. Berserk volumes have topped Japanese manga charts, with volume 40 debuting as the best selling manga for the week of its release. In September 2018, it was reported that Berserk is publisher Dark Horse Comics' best-selling product of all time with over 2 million copies sold in North America.
Finnish heavy metal band Battle Beast have written songs about Berserk, including several on their 2013 self-titled album. When guitarist Anton Kabanen left Battle Beast in 2015, he formed Beast in Black and continues to write songs about the series. The deathcore band Brand of Sacrifice released the album God Hand in 2019. Both the band and album are hugely inspired by Berserk.
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