November 17, 2011
Kentaro Miura – Dark Horse – 2011 – 35+ volumes
Lately, I kinda expect to go into these volumes of Berserk a little disappointed. After all, we’re getting one volume a year now, and the story moves so slowly that it’s hard to appreciate it when it does appear. It only makes you want more.
But then again, the man can draw. I couldn’t stop staring at every single one of the pages in this volume. The details in the character design, the clothing, the monsters, the setting… all of it. I sometimes compliment artists on their levels of detail, but Kentaro Miura is better than all of them. The drawings are immersive in a way that’s difficult to describe. There’s no doubt he’s committing every possible detail of Midland to the page for our enjoyment. And that’s why only one volume a year comes out. I’m not sure I can fault him for this, as much as I’d love to read a ton of new Berserk.
The opening chapter or two of this volume features the new Midland. Every singe brick of the massive castle, and every single face and body of the thousands of people that live there now. This is more of what we were getting last volume, with double-page spreads depicting minute details of massive landscapes and no words, and it’s just as engrossing. At this point in the story… it’s hard to say if we don’t really need to know more, or we already know all we need to know about the new Midland. It’s just as awe-inspiring to the reader as it is to the new residents, though.
But again, no words. And no Guts. Happily, the story switches over to the ship Guts and company are riding to Elfhelm. This volume suggests it might be another ten years before we get to see Elfhelm, as the ship is immediately attacked by the terrible monster pirates, then is washed up on an island haunted by a monster.
My favorite scene in this volume… the only time I get taken out of the story is when I realize how self-aware Berserk can be, and that’s not a bad thing. Guts has been absent for about a volume and a half at this point, or a year’s worth of story. Slowly, during the monster fight, we get an occasional out of context panel. You realize this is first-person progress of Guts coming up from below deck, and then he makes an amazing speech and is revealed at the end of one of the chapters. Then he proceeds to completely shame the monster attacking the ship. It’s wonderful, and the best way to bring him back after such a long absence.
The story on the island might take a bit of time to tell, but it involves Isidro and a little girl from the island, along with a terrible nightmare creature that turns everyone into what appears to be Clayface. I like Isidro a lot, and I’m happy with any bit of spotlight the plot can give to him.
It occurred to me that this series is probably one of the best comics I own, and I own a lot of fine comics that are also not manga. Miura is amazing at world-building, and it reads just like the best fantasy novels, except in comic form. It’s western fantasy, but with slight eastern influences (Puck as comic relief, the Hokuto no Ken-like Fat Knights in man and monster flavors, which are, in turn, Lord Humongous from Road Warrior). And it’s got some of the best art in any comic I’ve ever seen. Not only for the detail that Miura lavishes on it, but his skill in monster, weapon, and armor design is also up to the task. I re-read the first five volumes after I finished this, just to make sure it was as good as I remember. Once the flashback arc starts, it is.