Few manga are as true to their title as Berserk. Taking place in an alternate Medieval universe of sorts, this epic series conjures up a world plagued by vicious monsters, equally vicious monstrous humans, constant warfare and apocalyptic mayhem of the bloodiest kind. In other words, it is a gorehound’s dream.
We follow Guts, a scarred warrior who will stop at nothing on his quest for revenge. Armed with a massive sword and having transformed his left arm into a weapon, Guts is a prodigy of strength on a warpath and a far cry from the typical hero. The fact that he is the protagonist is very telling, Berserk sets itself as an extremely dark tour of force that has no qualms when it comes to graphic depictions of rape, torture and massive slaughter. More than the usual conflict between good and evil what is at stake here is a clash between gradients of evil and perversity.
The bleak tone is set right away as the manga opens with Guts having sex with a woman who right away morphs into a beastly creature. In no time Guts is hacking his way through hordes of demons in a swirl of violence that is only an appetizer for what is to come. There is a bit of everything, from black magic to body horror, all leading up to a grand climax of cataclysmic proportions that is pure hell.
Through a very long flashback we learn how Guts became an embittered man whose trail is strewed with the mangled remains of humans, monsters, animated corpses and everything in between.
One of the things Beserk has going for it is the very solid artwork. It is reminiscent of Western comics as befits the European setting. It is also highly detailed and comprehensively so, flying heads and bizarre monstrosities are depicted with the same care as ethereal beauties of the most deadly kind. The action packed scenes flow wonderfully well and mimic the illusion of movement almost flawlessly. The body horror element is particularly well accomplished with truly creepy transformation sequences that can be quite distressing. It plays a very important role in a story in which appearances should not be trusted.
Not only does Berserk go all out when it comes to carnage as it caters to psychological horror, it merges the two in an extremely dark vision that spares no one. Depravity runs so rampant that even without the diabolical sacrifices and supernatural onslaught there would still be enough shocking content to warrant the R+ rating.
Berserk pushes the boundaries of what manga as a medium can accomplish and has been adapted into an anime series that covers the first arcs and more recently into a series of animated movies. It should be kept in consideration that these adaptations are all partial even if worth checking out, the manga is still ongoing and has been resumed after a very long hiatus.
Despite its length, spanning 37 volumes and with no end in sight, Berserk is a perfect introduction to the world of gory manga. Its Western-like aesthetics make it a great title for those less familiar with Japanese 2D culture and one that fans of horror comics are very likely to enjoy.