On the 20th May this year fans all over the world learned that Kentaro Miura, the revered Manga author and creator of Berserk had passed away.
I first discovered Berserk like many western fans through the 1997 anime adaptation and while I enjoyed that, it was the manga that hooked me in a way that no other comic had in many years. I still remember the thrill of discovering Berserk in its original form. The books were an unpredictable juggernaut of storytelling that mixed ultra detailed art with the kind of visceral action, emotional gut punches and staggering revelations most writers can only dream of delivering. To top it off despite running for over three decades it just seemed to keep getting better all the time. Reading the manga was a completely different experience because not only was the original anime adaptation missing so much of the “golden age” story arc but Miura achieved what was seemingly impossible; he conveyed motion and action better than an entire team of animators in still drawings. Actually make that three teams of animators. In this fan’s opinion all three anime adaptations of Berserk have failed in one way or another to truly capture the spirit of Miura’s saga. I mean no disrespect to the people behind them and I think both the 1997 series and the 2012-2013 movie trilogy are worth a look and have their strengths (the less said about the awful 2016 adaptation the better) however this is a saga that ran for 30 years, no adaptation will be able to invest the same time and effort to reproduce Miura’s life work. If you’ve never experienced Berserk do yourself a favour and go straight to the source and check out the manga itself. You don’t want a diluted experience trust me.
There are a lot of great artists who are also writers in the comics medium but to me (and clearly many all over the world judging from the many tributes) there was something extremely unique about Miura’s talents at both.
I knew Berserk was popular in the west and certainly that it had sold a ton of books for Dark Horse comics in the US and other territories but what I didn’t realise until all the fan tributes poured in online was that it had in fact outsold every other Dark Horse comic EVER published. To put that in perspective if you know anything about Dark Horse’s popular titles it outsold Hellboy, Usagi Yojimbo, Grendel and Sin City. In other words 35 years worth of some of the best American comics ever produced were outsold by one single manga series and an age restricted one at that.
Miura’s private life like many manga-ka is not well documented however his work as far as his manga goes certainly is. Apparently he showed a great deal of passion from an early age for comics and created a manga called Miuranger for his classmates in 1976 at the tender age of 10! Images of this can be seen on the Berserk fansite Skullknight.net and it looks (as you may guess from the title) to be his own take on the colourful spandex clad heroes of the Super sentai “ranger” shows which started in the 70’s and continue to this day. Even at this age his art looks pretty impressive for a ten year old, being a youngster it was probably drawn in sketchbooks and on a variety of media and I have no idea if it exists in any form today but apparently he created 40 chapters worth of material! An impressive feat for such a young artist.
In 1982 he enrolled in an art school and in 1985 he created his first one shot manga Futatabi for his application for his art course at university, a sci-fi story which was later published in Weekly Shonen magazine and got him a nomination for best new author. The same year he published another one shot called Noa in Fresh Shonen magazine. By 1988 he had created what is now known as the “Berserk prototype” a 48 page one shot which served as the basis for what would later become Berserk. It contains roughly the same premise and some of the elements of Berserk that would later become so iconic and familiar. He won a prize from a manga school called ComiComi for this the same year. In 1989 at age 23 he worked on a short manga called King of Wolves with the legendary Buronson (Fist Of The North Star). The same year he published Berserk’s first “proper” chapter in Animal House magazine. This magazine only lasted till 1992 however it was succeeded by a bi-monthly magazine called Young Animal in which Berserk has been continued ever since.
As a writer who finds it extremely difficult to find the time to put pen to paper (or keys to keyboard most of the time) I have always been amazed at the work ethic of many authors and artists, particularly those working in the field of manga and comics in general. Imagine dedicating over 30 years of your life to one story, it’s truly an incredible accomplishment.
Berserk is a manga I have shared with a number of close friends over the years and all of them have had a similar reaction to it to me and remain fans to this day. I’ve been on this journey for eighteen years since I discovered it in 2003. The jouney hasn’t ended yet. Volume 41 of Berserk which at the time of writing may (or may not) be the final volume (it’s undecided at this point whether it’s continuing without Miura or not) comes out in Japan on Christmas Eve of this year. I’d expect the English version to land in 2022 from Dark Horse Comics in the US. Whether the series continues or not with this volume it certainly won’t be the end for me. I’ll re-read, re-enjoy and analyse until I too am no longer among the world of the living.
If I was to take one message from Berserk it’s that there’s only meaning in this world if you have people you love, people you’d protect and risk your life for if it came down to it, otherwise you’re just going through the motions and you’re not really alive. That and to never give up in your efforts to protect and care for those people, no matter what. Miura-san, thanks for never giving up and spending so much of your life working on a wonderful legacy to leave behind for generations to come.
Rest in peace.