“Berserk”, the unfinished masterpiece: the precious legacy of Miura Kentarô

Miura Kentarô had been a leading figure in Japanese fantasy comics since the late 1980s. Her untimely death at the age of 54 made Berserk, on which he had been working for almost 30 years, an “unfinished masterpiece”.

“It was too big to be called a sword.” Thus begins the impressive narration of Berserk, the story of a dismal warrior who wields an oversized sword called “The Slayer of Dragons”. The protagonist’s name is Guts. After being betrayed by someone he had dedicated himself to body and soul, Guts finds himself not only one-eyed and one-armed, but also with a curse marked on his neck that attracts demons. He will then live always torn by a dilemma: undertake a journey of revenge or stay with the woman he loves to protect her.

This epic story will never be completed, but Miura Kentarô’s contribution to the manga world is immeasurable.

An authentic dark hero

First off, one of the things that surprised Japanese manga fans in the late 1980s with Berserk was the appearance of a true dark hero. Of course, there had already been heroes of apparently type badass or “villains” in the works of other mangakas, but Guts, who does not hesitate to use an innocent girl as a shield to defeat her enemies, creates the model of the “dark hero”.

Guts, le héros de Berserk © Miura Kentarô (Studio Gaga) / Hakusensha

The appearance of this type of dark hero of heart as well as of appearance, who can in no way claim to be “allies of good and enemy of evil for the triumph of Justice”, has undeniably widened the field of action. expression of the manga that followed, especially in terms of characterization.

Protagonists carrying more or less marked evil elements such as Eren Jaeger in the attack of the Titans d’Isayama Hajime ou Itadori Yûji dans Jujutsu kaisen, by Akutami Gege, would never have seen the light of day without the path opened by Miura.

Swords and witchcraft stories have become a major genre

Berserk, with its dark characters, is not only a masterpiece of dark fantasy, it is also one of the most authentic opus of Japanese heroic fantasy.

Heroic fantasy, or “story of swords and witchcraft”, is one of the most popular genres in the entertainment industry in Japan today, but when Berserk released in series for the first time, heroic fantasy was considered a relatively minor genre, not only in manga, but also in other adjacent genres like anime and novels.

In the world of video games, it was another story, by the mid-1980s, works with a large share of heroic fantasy, such as The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy have enjoyed enormous popularity, the series Castlevania in particular becoming a national cultural phenomenon. It is not at all impossible that Miura was one of the first manga designers to perceive the trend of the time. Indeed, in the 1990s, the world of video games was, in a way, the engine of the Japanese entertainment industry.

Cover of the last volume of Berserk (number 40) published in French by Glénat editions (photo from Nippon.com)
Cover of the last volume of Berserk (number 40) published in French by Glénat editions (photo by Nippon.com)

Typical Japanese heroic fantasy

Berserk has been translated and published in 15 countries, including France and the United States, and is very successful abroad. Miura said in an interview:

“I don’t really have a mental image of my foreign readers, but from the start I’ve always wondered if a fantasy written by a Japanese could work beyond my country. It’s kind of like a samurai story written by a stranger, I don’t know if people like it despite feeling uncomfortable, or if it works like a real fantasy … I don’t know yet. “

This fear was perhaps one of the reasons why Japanese cartoonists and novelists were reluctant to tackle this genre. Corn Berserk simply proved that this fear was unfounded. What Miura created, as we now know, is a heroic fantasy masterpiece that only a Japanese can draw, combining the best aspects of medieval historical drama with the techniques that Japanese manga developed in the past. over the years.

Miura’s graphic expression is one of the heights of Japanese manga, combining realism gekiga de Hara Tetsuo (Ken the survivor), the comic book realism of Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira) and the talent for the staging and the subtlety of Nagai Gô (Mazinger Z and Devil man).

Couverture du tome 15 de Berserk © Miura Kentarô (Studio Gaga / Hakusensha)
Cover of volume 15 of Berserk © Miura Kentarô (Studio Gaga) / Hakusensha

His critical and commercial success opened a kind of breach for the manga and fiction writers who followed him in the development of a true heroic / dark fantasy manga.

Besides, Miura himself didn’t have such a big idea in mind, and he seems to have started with the simple idea of ​​drawing a dark and nihilistic villain as the main character, the fantastic universe of magic and witches no. ‘was added that later.

A story that will never end

The number Young Animal of September 10, 2021 (which bears the n ° 18) is a tribute number, with the 364e episode, titled “Tears of Dew,” the latest signed Miura. All of Studio Gaga, who works with Miura on Berserk for years, has gone all out to finish the episode. It will appear in the 41e volume in the series, which will be released on December 24. It presents essential revelations. The most astonishing is that when the author delivered the name (the storyboard), he couldn’t have known that this would be his last episode. However, this one reveals the identity of a character remained mysterious until then, and suggests that the fate of Guts enters from this moment into a new phase.

This is not the first time that the death of a mangaka or a writer has left a series that followed the evolution of a character unfinished. You could almost say that these series of successive episodes, which grow larger and more captivating and are abruptly interrupted, are the most interesting, precisely because they never end.

This is what we can say in any case of the unfinished masterpiece of Miura Kentarô. We will continue to turn and return the pages of the more than harsh life of the “dark swordsman” who never gave up, our passion will never be extinguished. They leave us the freedom to imagine an “after”. Miura Kentarô’s “Dark Fantasy” is so exciting that it cannot have an end.

couverture du premier tome de Berserk © Miura Kentarô (Studio Gaga) / Hakusensha
Cover of the first volume of Berserk © Miura Kentarô (Studio Gaga) / Hakusensha

(Banner photo: Part of the cover of the first volume of Berserk © Miura Kentarô [Studio Gaga]/ Hakusensha)