On May 20, 2021, it was announced that Kentaro Miura, the reclusive and highly acclaimed artist and author of the influential manga “Berserk,” had passed away. He died on May 6 of an acute aortic dissection at the age of 54. After 32 years and 40 volumes, Miura’s masterpiece “Berserk” was left unfinished, but his undeniable influence on manga and illustrating will precipitate through the countless mangakas he inspired.
“Berserk” is a dark-fantasy manga with hints of science fiction and epic storytelling, as well as recognizable themes found in Japanese and Medieval European folklore. “Manga” is the name attributed to Japanese comic books, usually released in serial magazines or as graphic novels. “Berserk” was first published in 1989 in the magazine “Monthly Animal House,” and the manga was developed into 40 volumes, a short-lived anime in 1997, three feature-length animated films in 2013 and another short anime in 2017.
The reason for the story’s long life-span was due to Miura’s perfectionism, which is evident in his high quality illustrations and the rarity of him releasing a chapter. In the last five years, Miura only released a single seventeen page chapter every six to seven months. Nevertheless, his engaging storytelling and passionately motivated characters attracted a passionate and loyal fan base that supported “Berserk” for more than 30 years.
Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of “Berserk” is its giant-sword wielding antihero, Guts. Dressed all in black, haunted by a curse mark from a troubled past and wielding a sword characterized as “Too big to be called a sword. Too big, too thick, too heavy, and too rough, it was more like a large hunk of iron” (Miura). Guts’ signature look and giant sword have become so iconic and memorable since it came out that his character design has practically become a cliché in modern manga and anime. Popular series like “Bleach,” “Final Fantasy” and “Naruto” all have a character or two that fit this description. Miura’s influence on character design and setting is present in a lot of modern manga, but few artists can compare with Miura’s art style.
Miura’s style focuses on a use of dark black ink. Rather than graying out or digitally adding lines in his work, Miura’s art style used deep, dark shades of black and detailed intricate line work that left very little white or blank space. His meticulous style is probably why it took him so long to release new chapters but it was essential to create the dark and hell-like atmosphere of the world of “Berserk.” Part of the appeal to “Berserk” is the unapologetically brutal and grotesque illustrations, but this matches the intense details of the plot and the complicated, layered characters. The sword wielding Guts is on a journey for revenge when his friends and adopted family are murdered by one of their own. Now haunted by spirits at night and fighting human-eating demons by day, Guts must travel to hell and back to take vengeance on his former brother.
It could be said that Miura’s art form and storytelling are indulgent or excessive, but his detailed style only strengthens the themes of “Berserk.” Despite the atrocities he witnesses or the suffering he endures on his quest, Guts never gives up. His drive to stay alive against the worst forces of evil imaginable stands as a sign of rebellion against disparity, which makes him admirable and inspiring. In mourning Miura’s death, I also mourn the characters of his story that I have come to love and invest my emotions in. I will never know if Guts gets revenge, if good will triumph over evil and if all will end well, but it’s enough to know the spirit of that story and what made it so great will live on through the new mangas and stories it inspires.
*WARNING: This manga contains some images and plot points that may be triggering or panic-inducing to some readers, please proceed with caution.*
By: Tony Le Calvez