What is “Berserk”?
Berserk (Japanese: ベルセルク Hepburn: Beruseruku?) is a Japanese dark fantasy 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. Themes of isolation, camaraderie, and the question of whether humanity is fundamentally good or evil pervade the story, as it explores both the best and worst of human nature. Both the manga and anime are noted for their use of graphic violence and sexual content.
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 semiweekly magazine Young Animal, where Berserk continues to be serialized intermittently. The series was adapted into a twenty-five episode anime series covering the series’ Golden Age arc by Oriental Light and Magic from October 7, 1997 to March 31, 1998. A trilogy of films, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc, were released beginning in 2012. A second upcoming anime adaptation is scheduled for release sometime in July 2016.
Guts (ガッツ Gattsu?) is a wandering mercenary who is taken in by the mercenary group the “Band of the Hawk” (鷹の団 Taka no Dan?) after being swiftly defeated by its leader Griffith, and soon becomes his right-hand man while making a name as the group’s renowned raid leader. Shortly afterwards during an encounter with a monstrous man known as Nosferatu Zodd who defeats both Guts and Griffith, Zodd notices the Crimson Behelit in Griffith’s possession; a trinket in the shape of a face, and leaves promptly, warning Guts that his continued friendship with Griffith will result in his death.
The Hawks play a pivotal role in ending the 100-year war that has ravaged the country of Midland and are initially welcomed as heroes, but Griffith’s aspirations to rule his own kingdom are shattered when Guts leaves the Hawks to find his own dream. Unable to cope with the loss, Griffith seduces the King’s daughter Charlotte but is caught and ends up in the dungeon for a year. By the time Guts learns of this and helps the outlawed remnants of the Hawks rescue him, Griffith has been horribly mutilated and rendered a mute shadow of his former self.
The weight of knowing his body is too damaged for him to fulfill his dreams proves too much for Griffith and he accidentally activates the behelit on his person. This brings the Hawks to another plane where they encounter archdemons known as the God Hand in a ceremony known as “the Eclipse”. Urged onward by the eldritch beings, Griffith sacrifices his soldiers to the demons, called “God Hand’s apostles”—humans like Zodd who sacrificed their loved ones and humanity for power—so that he can become the God Hand’s fifth and final member, taking the name Femto.
Branded, Guts witnesses the brutal slaughter of his comrades, though he and his lover Casca are saved from certain death by the mysterious Skull Knight. Guts loses an arm and an eye while Casca is driven insane after being raped by the reborn Griffith. Leaving Casca in the care of Rickert, a survivor of the Band of the Hawk who was not spirited into Astral Plane, and the blacksmith Godo, Guts begins hunting down Apostles in search of revenge against Griffith, though his Brand of Sacrifice makes him a target for restless spirits that hunt him nightly.
Years after beginning his journey, Guts is joined by the elf Puck whose company he eventually accepts. Guts is later reunited with Casca as she is about to be burned as a witch in the city of St. Albion. There, encountering Farnese of the Holy See Church’s Holy Iron Chain Knights, Guts endures a nightmarish ordeal that ends in Griffith’s physical form restored. As Guts takes Casca to the Elven realm of Elfhelm for sanctuary with the help of his new companions, Griffith creates a second Band of the Hawk with Zodd and other Apostles among its ranks to battle the invading Kushan army. The war between Griffith and the Kushan emperor, a rogue apostle, climaxes with the emperor’s destruction and the overlapping of the mortal realm and the supernatural. No longer challenged by demon or man, Griffith establishes 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 their new ruler is actually one of them.
As of July 2015, the manga has sold 27 million volumes in Japan and 8 million overseas. As of January 2016, reported 40 million volumes have been sold worldwide. The 1988 Prototype chapter won a prize at the Comi Manga School Miura attended and the main series won the Tezuka Osamu Award for Excellence at the sixth installment of Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002.
Miura first premiered Berserk in 1988 with a 48-page prototype, which won a prize at the Comi Manga School he was enrolled in at the time. On November 26, 1990, the first volume of the manga was published by Hakusensha in its Jets Comics collection. Three more volumes appeared until Berserk was serialized by Young Animal (Hakusensha) in 1992 and new chapters are still being released in the semiweekly magazine. Bound volumes are still published biannually in Japan by Hakusensha (Jets Comics collection); as of March 2013, 37 tankōbon of the manga have been published in Japan. The manga was published on an irregular schedule from late 2006 until July 2015. From then to December 2015 it was published monthly before returning to an irregular schedule.In North America and the United Kingdom, the manga is translated and co-published between Dark Horse Comics and Digital Manga Publishing, which has released 37 volumes so far, the first on October 22, 2003. The series has also been published in France by Samourai Editions, Dynamic Visions and Glénat, in Spain by MangaLine Ediciones, in the Netherlands by Glénat, in South Korea by Dai Won, in Italy, Germany, Brazil, and Mexico by Panini Comics, and in Poland by J.P.Fantastica.
First series (1997)
Main article: Berserk (1997 TV series)
Produced by Oriental Light and Magic and directed by Naohito Takahashi, the 25-episode TV anime 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. Though the manga storyline remains largely intact, several changes were made, with the modification or elimination of characters (one notable example being Puck), some of the series’ most violent and brutal scenes, and material that would have extended the storyline beyond the planned run of the anime series. Themes of friendship and ambition are more developed and emphasized than those of causality and the supernatural, each of which were made with the approval of Miura.In Asia, Vap Video has 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.
Second series (2016)
Main article: Berserk (2016 TV series)
The Japanese magazine Young Animal announced on December 22nd, 2015 that a second televised anime adaptation of the Berserk manga would be produced and broadcast on Japanese television network WOWOW and MBS sometime 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. The new series will apparently be primarily animated using CGI rather than the previous series’ traditional animated style.
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.
Main article: Berserk: The Golden Age Arc
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 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 Yuko 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.
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.
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. 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.
A new anime project was announced in December 2015, and a preview was shown at NBC Universal’s Comiket Winter booth.
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