I, like many other people, was greeted with some truly awful news when I went to check the online news this morning. Kentaro Miura, the creator of “Berserk,” passed away due to aortic dissection on May 6th. He created a number of shorter works such as “King of Wolves,” “Japan,” and “Giganto Maxia” over the course of his career, but it’s his genre-defining masterpiece that he’ll always be remembered for. While the story of “Berserk” can be boiled down to being a simple revenge story, Miura imbued it with so many memorable characters and breathtaking art that it stood above its seinen brethren. So many other titles simply revel in violence and bloodshed for their own sake, but “Berserk” told a story where these things were necessary and rendered with a level of craft that made them as horrifying as they were thrilling.
Miura didn’t just create a great manga. He created one whose influence spread far beyond it to other media. “Berserk” received three anime adaptations: a 25-episode anime TV series from the 90’s (which was excellent, in spite of its ending), a trilogy of anime films, and a subsequent anime adaptation from the 10’s. The series even received the “Dynasty Warriors” treatment with “Berserk and the Band of the Hawk,” which I enjoyed as it was perfectly suited to this style of gameplay and provided a nice trip down memory lane in terms of the overall story.
There are also the many other ways it influenced popular media. As has been noted elsewhere, Cloud Strife’s Buster Sword from “Final Fantasy VII” owes a stylistic debt to Guts’ Dragon Slayer, as does “FFXIV’s” Dark Knight class. You also don’t get the “Dark/Demon’s Souls” series without “Berserk.” Full stop. There’s also the fact that I’ll never be able to look at a manga that starts off introducing its protagonist with a story in the present day before flashing back to show us how it all went wrong for them without thinking of it as “Berserk-style.” Looking in your direction here, “Claymore” and “Tenjo Tenge.”
“Berserk” also leaves behind a physical legacy of forty volumes of manga that tell a story that will likely never be finished. (Well, not unless Miura left behind a lot of notes and Young Animal gets Chica Umino and Tesuo Hara to finish it off, BUT I DIGRESS!) It’s always tough when you realize that the final words for the series you’ve been reading for all these years are going to be “To be continued…” Tougher still when you’ve been stewing over a notion that the reason its creator hasn’t been going ahead full-steam on it has been down to the fact that he wanted to do other stuff and not his signature title. Then a day like today rolls around and you find out that you were completely wrong about all that.
“Berserk” may be unfinished, but it’s never going to leave my bookshelf. It may be a bridge to nowhere now, narratively speaking, yet it’s an immaculately constructed one filled with incredible visuals that tell you a story that will grip you until its very end. Even if we’re never made privy to Miura’s plans for the rest of the series, or an attempt by another creative team to finish it off, there was one post on the Anime News Network forums today that offered me a small bit of closure in that regard:
[...] And they lived happily ever after in Fairyland while Griffith fixed the rest of the world. The End.
It’s absolutely not the ending Miura was building towards. For right here, and right now, however, it’s kind of perfect.