The social media sphere experienced a false alarm recently: a rumour circulated that Netflix might be releasing episodes weekly, effectively moving away from the binge culture it pioneered. While the streaming giant quickly assured everyone that there will be no changes, the immediate public backlash is an excellent example of how quickly people have accepted binging as a way to consume media. People embrace the idea of spending a chunk of their weekend diving deep into hours of endless content, quickly going through shows at an unprecedented rate. Current television shows have to experiment with innovative methods of capturing the audience’s attention. While it feels like the world is spinning faster than ever before, there is still a medium that exemplifies the beauty of long form narrative— a storytelling format that has people around the world wait weeks, and sometimes months, to read the next chapter of the story.
That medium is manga, the serialized Japanese comics that have influenced art and culture around the world. Usually the vision of a single creator, these stories are released by chapters, with readers having to wait for the artist to create the next chapter in order to progress with the story. Hearkening back to the days when prolific writers delivered their famous stories through this format (Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle released works in serials), serialization encourages a unique environment for characterization, world building, and delivering stories that are constantly keeping the reader on its toes. One manga that exemplifies the impact of this influential medium, whose fans are rejoicing the conclusion of a story-arc 20 years in the making, is the critically acclaimed Berserk by Kentaro Miura.
First released in 1989, Berserk is notorious for its erratic release schedule, with the author taking hiatuses that last for months and even years. Muira takes painstaking efforts to deliver a story that lives up to the themes he tackles while constantly pushing the art to be more intricate and beautiful than before. This has lead the perfectionist mangaka (a person who creates manga) to experience extreme burnout over the years. The hiatuses are infamous in the manga community, with many fandoms joking about how the delayed releases of their favorite manga is nothing compared to the amount of time Berserk fans have to wait. It’s a stark contrast to the reality popular showrunners have to consider when their delays can lead to the possible social media meltdown. They cannot possibly function with the level of agency and freedom Muira has when crafting his magnum opus.
While the name may go over the heads of a few, many are bound to know the multitude of media inspired by Berserk. Most well known are the Dark Souls and Castlevania games, with the latest Castlevania series on Netflix citing the 90s Berserk anime as a major influence. Even the last two films of Marvel’s Infinity Saga includes references to Berserk.
Berserk is a dark, horror/high fantasy story that follows the cursed Black Swordsman, Guts, who is doomed to be hunted forever by demons and evil spirits at nightfall— all of whom are ruled by the man who cursed him, his once-friend and brother-in-arms, Griffith. Guts is cursed alongside Casca, the field commander of Griffith’s army and the woman Guts loves.
Casca lost her sanity due to the horrors she experienced the day the curse was put upon her, leading Guts on a journey to recover her sanity while combating his urge to have his revenge against Griffith. Meeting able body companions along the way, Guts is tested on his ability to get close to people, to protect Casca, and deal with the rage that was instigated by Griffith. If this sounds like an absurdly high stakes masculine power fantasy that is filled with extreme violence, ridiculous physical feats, and sexual imagery— you are absolutely right.
[Trigger Warning: Berserk shows extreme graphic violence with sexual violence and the trauma caused by it being a major theme throughout the story. Please take that into consideration if you are interested in reading/watching.]
Despite the framing, the manga breaks the mold by focusing on the connections people make and the motivations that drives them.
YouTube video essayist, Super Eyepatch Wolf, explains why people are so enraptured by this series: “It’s a story, through all of it’s epic battles, bloodshed, and nightmarish imagery, of people: the bonds they form and what can happen when those bonds are broken.”
Anime seemingly invaded western media in the late 1990s, with many people fondly remembering the short lived Berserk anime for it’s wailing, 90s grunge opening credit score and equally grungy main character.
Guts is emblematic of the popular, misunderstood outcast persona and the loner culture adopted by the era. His vulnerability is the reason he is a compelling protagonist, with his animalistic brutality on the battlefield fueled by deep insecurities, fear, and mistrust of people due to years of neglect and abuse.
Similarly to the appeal of Game of Thrones, the manga deconstructs the idea of noble knights and fair maidens by creating a story that plays with genre conventions and tropes.
Muira does this by exploring the duality of man: the beauty of camaraderie and compassion juxtaposed by the depravity of the humans who gave up their humanity in order to become demons.
Love is an important theme, with the manga playing with the bond between Griffith, Guts, and Casca, their relationship frequently flirting with the idea of a love beyond friendship between all three characters. All the blood, guts (pun intended), and gore are auxiliary to the real reasons people read Berserk: they just want to see the characters find some form of peace within a cruel world.
It is that yearning for peace that has caused an incredible amount of hype to be formed around the release of the latest chapter, which premiered at the end of August. In this chapter, 20 years after readers had seen Casca lose her sanity and become a shell of her former self, Guts and his companions had successfully transported Casca to Elfhelm, an Elven kingdom where the Flower Storm Monarch has the ability to help the adventurers. After chapters dedicated towards processing Casca’s trauma by Guts magic-using companions, the young witch Schierke and her disciple Farnese, Casca finally had her memory and sanity, seemingly, restored.
The recent chapter showed her interacting with her companions who are finally going to meet the woman they were fighting to keep alive and, something fans have been waiting for ages, Guts and Casca finally having a moment together. Being Berserk, all does not bode well at the end of the chapter, showing that trauma is not so easy to overcome for the two.
In the span of twenty real life years, a character has gone through an entire story arc, with fans being along for the ride every step of the way. It is one of the reasons that Berserk is the best selling product (not just manga) in the history of it’s English publisher, Dark Horse Comics. Internet communities agree, with Berserk ranked as the #1 manga on the popular, user aggregated forum, Myanimelist.net. People have been captured by the unique world and character building Berserk has to offer, a slow burn that might not have worked in any other medium. It is what makes the serialized manga industry so unique in the modern era.
While instant gratification, binge watching is the norm, this historic storytelling medium still has its hands on the pulse of audiences around the world, making an impression that will influence art and media in the years to come.