~ Earlier this year, one of the great artists of our time passed away. His name was Kentaro Miura and he was 54. Rest in peace.
I wanted to write a little about him, in the form of a short ode, given he is one of my favorite people that I have never met and now, never will.
Miura’s masterwork, a manga called “Berserk” (1989-present), is maybe the best piece of art, fiction, storytelling I have yet experienced. And maybe nothing will ever surpass it. Miura wrote and drew it. Set in a dark fantasy world of medieval wars and demonic gods, Berserk tells the story of Guts, a lone, wandering warrior in search of his destiny. I have written two essays on Berserk, on the first and second arcs of the manga. In the future, I definitely want to write more about Berserk.
For much of his life – from 1989 to 2021! – mangaka Kentaro Miura dedicated his life to drawing and writing Berserk. As a work, it is honored by millions of fans now distraught at the thought of his passing this year, and at only 54 years of age. His influence upon manga, and upon many people’s lives, is eternalized in ways that most artists can only dream about.
I first experienced Berserk as a consequence of chance (or was it fate?) I watched the 1997 anime adaptation as a result of a passively transmitted recommendation from an Imgur thread of some rando user’s list of their favorite anime. I was mesmerized by the particular image they posted to represent Berserk – a gif. I will try to find it:
I was in college. I watched the whole thing over the course of a week or so. 25 episodes. I didn’t talk about it with anyone; there was no one to really talk about it with. Maybe there was nothing to *talk* about. The experience was so profound that I can honestly say that no finale has ever hit me as hard as the series culmination of that 25-episode anime did. And nothing probably ever can again.
I also happened to watch it at a time in my life, in college, where I felt very alone. Where seeing Guts on his own, unable to see himself as capable of loving or of understanding anyone but himself, struggling through a life that was relatively worthless to him beyond mere survival, with the hope of real relations beckoning him suddenly from shadows that he maybe couldn’t ever learn to trust… I was in a moment of my life where all that related to me in ways that I couldn’t fully define, or trust.
But the thought of Guts struggling on, fighting against unstoppable demons and surviving, the sound of that music… helped me. In those days, Berserk helped me a lot.
I highly recommend watching the 1997-1998 Berserk anime without reading anything more of what I have to say here and without looking anything up. Just do it. Please, give yourself this gift. (And this curse… For maybe nothing will ever hit you quite like it.)
The art of Berserk, both in its design and its narrative, its music and vivacity, its beauty and its terror – is unforgettable in ways that I cannot fully describe. So much light, grace, and peace. And so, so much twisted savagery, and darkness and pain and despair. Angelic and demonic elements enter the fray. You have characters both beautiful and terrifying. There is deliverance and there is damnation.
Berserk has it all.
And it all comes back to a trio of principal characters: Guts and Griffith and Casca.
I did not start reading the manga until a couple years ago. And it was not until I started to read it, and let my eyes grace the panels of Kentaro Miura’s hand-drawn work – every page a masterpiece – that I realized how god-like this stuff was. Miura, truly, was touched by God. There are stories you can read from his co-creators about how much time and energy he put into every stroke on every page. And looking at his work, you can tell! I reckon Miura put more effort into the individual etchings of the panels of Berserk, thousands of times over, than some of us probably put into any given thing in our entire life… Look upon his works, ye mighty, and despair!
Have you ever seen art so sublime?
In an interview Miura did, he described the initial impulse for the Berserk story to be about anger. Insofar that he didn’t have its narrative planned from the beginning (and even did not wish to be a *fantasy* manga artist-writer for very long… given more “serious” historical fiction was meant for the greats of the field, at least in his earliest judgments as a young creator…), Miura did not seem to know what kind of story he wanted to create until he started to create it. He goes on in that interview – in an apparent subconscious epiphany in the moment! – to describe Guts and Griffith as the two souls that every man has inside of him:
Miura: See, so up until that point, he’s Griffith. But then from there he falls and re-examines what it is he really wants to do, and so in that sense, that makes him Guts, right? Maybe Griffith and Guts are symptoms that affect boys. When a boy seriously tries to do something, he could become either one.
–Interesting — so you’re saying that you have both of them inside you.
Miura: They’re both there. When things start going well, Griffith starts sprouting up. If Berserk were to start to slip and fall, I’d probably go back to Guts. Anyone trying to build up something experiences both sides, I suspect. This is something I only realized talking about it now.
In this regard, in the tales of Guts and Griffith, in what they mean to one another and what they *do* to one another over the course of the harrowing saga, Berserk is truly a story about masculinity.
What does it mean to be a man?
Why do some men dream so big?
How do some men learn to survive when they are alone?
When do men learn to love?
These are questions that Berserk asks amidst its fantastical, medieval ultra-violence and epic astral showdowns between fairies and demons, between berserking super-warriors and evil Gods.
Truly, Berserk’s tale is not for the faint of heart. The most brutal and twisted acts of evil take place within its panels. There are no true victories for the forces of good. The world is dark and shorn of its prototypical “heroes” and there are no simple or expressly ‘happy’ endings for characters or story arcs.
Blood, gore, and the most exquisite, inventively inspired acts of violence and depravity grace Miura’s masterwork; one can tell he was equally inspired by Hellraiser (1987) as much as he was Fist of the North Star (1983-1988). And his work, in turn, inspired everything from Dynasty Warriors to Dark Souls to probably every single manga that came after it, with aesthetics and character and weapon design, and oh yes, sex and violence.
And yet, Guts is a survivor. Casca is a survivor. And they, along with Schierke and Puck and Farnese and Serpico and Isidro, and Judeau, Corkus, Pippin, and Rickert all end up *saving* each other, time and time again. A major theme of Berserk is that of companionship being the only way out of the world’s darkness.
Once more, the beauty AND the terror.
Berserk is one for the ages and I can say nothing more about it save for that everyone should get around to watching it or reading it, experiencing it in some form or fashion before their time is done.
Guts’ character changes so beautifully – and understandably – over the course of the long saga, just as I imagine Miura did over the course of his life as he wrote the story.
And though we may never get the “true” ending from Miura’s hands, I can say with confidence that the work is among my favorite things in the world.
I can only thank Kentaro Miura from afar, with a cosmic, eternal dose of gratitude for his life as an artist – and from everything I have ever read about the man, as a person too.
I shed some tears when I read the news that he had died earlier this year.
I think it was because I knew that he had poured his entire life into Berserk, which I was still in the midst of reading to the latest released passages of at the time (for a long time, *saving* it, knowing the new chapters came slow and that I had time to get through it at my own pace).
I cried not because I now understood that Berserk would never get his final touches (a part of me certainly did), but more because he was still a young man. And because every man’s death should diminish us.
I never knew him, but I love Kentaro Miura.
Rest in peace, mate. I will never forget you ❤️