Comic Picks By The Glick

Berserk vol. 34

September 29, 2010

... and now we wait.

Longtime readers and listeners will know that I think mangaka Kentaro Miura’s “Berserk” is pretty damn incredible.  You’re also probably aware that I’ve expressed some concern with how the series will read now that Dark Horse is no longer releasing volumes bi-monthly now that they’ve caught up to the series in Japan.  That’s because for all of the action, character, drama, and gloriously over-the-top fantasy violence that is the series’ stock-in-trade, after 33 volumes it’s hard not to feel its pace start to drag or feel that the story is starting to get out of Miura’s control.

I was feeling these things as I read through the first two-thirds of this volume despite its many impressive artistic achievements.  The opening scenes detailing the scale of the Kushan Emperor’s transformation are simply breathtaking in their scope and menace.  As much as this series deals in epic world and reality-destroying threats, this comes off as something truly important and frightening.  Then the battle begins as Griffith’s “Band of the Hawk” assume their demonic forms and jump into the fray against the demonic spawn of the Emperor.  Their initial scenes of transformation and attack are rendered without dialogue or sound effects which draws the reader’s eye to the impressively monstrous character designs and the brutal carnage that their assault begins.

These scenes are truly a feast for the eyes, but after about a hundred pages you start to wonder where Miura is going with this.  There are times when I’ve felt that the series becomes a bit too “Shonen Jump” in its pacing, where chapters go by without any real story advancement.  Then things pick up as the humans enter the fray after a rousing mental speech from Sonia, the young medium working for Griffith, and we get to see some more great battle scenes as humans and demons team up to fight an even bigger threat.

Now I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this here before, but scenes like those make me think that the ultimate result of Guts’ quest for vengeance against Griffith will be the culmination of the greatest joke “evil” ever played on “good.”  You see, Griffith and his band haven’t actually done anything to make us think that their intentions are less than pure.  Yes, there was that time one of his acolytes laid waste to the home of the witch that was helping them, but other than that they’ve done nothing but rally the people of Midland and give them hope.  By not trying to make the world a living hell, they’ve set things up so that if Guts does kill Griffith, the latter can actually claim that sacrificing their comrades was for the greater good.

The scales might be tipping in the other direction, if the end of this volume is any indication.  In the final three chapters we’re treated to what could be a real game-changing moment in this series.  I’m not going to go into great detail here (you should just read this for yourself), but it involves fantasy invading reality and some of the foreshadowing from the “Troll Arc” coming to fruition.  These scenes are truly a sight to behold as creatures of myth come alive and the accompanying narration makes it clear that the world is not the same anymore.

Is this Miura stepping up his game as “Berserk” enters its home stretch or a trick to keep the faithful interested for a few more volumes?  I want to believe that it’s the latter, but the series celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and I’d certainly like to hope that it’ll have wrapped up before it reaches its 30th.  If I seem anxious about wanting the series to end, that’s because it’s frankly quite remarkable that the series has been this good for so long and I’d like to see it go out on a high note.  As opposed to seeing it go into decline before rallying to a finish after decreasing sales and popularity necessitate its cancellation.

If every volume were as good as this one, that wouldn’t be an issue.  Yet vol. 34 is great even by the series’ lofty standards and it also brings with it some new challenges.  I’m all ready to put “Berserk” on my list of the year’s best comics, but if Miura doesn’t properly follow through on the “game changing” elements here then you can expect a very angry podcast about it sometime next year.  One thing’s for sure:  vol. 35 just came out in Japan and I REALLY want to read it in English now.

(A final observation:  “Berserk” vol. 34 also continues the trend of manga series where the main character[s] make only a token appearance in the latest volume.  “Battle Angel Alita:  Last Order” and “Ghost Talker’s Daydream” also did this and it makes me wonder if I’ll see any other series do this before the end of the year.)

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