So, this isn't a piece I ever wanted to write, and honestly it's not one I ever thought I would have too. As I'm sure you've heard by now, if the title of this didn't give it away, Kentaro Miura the creator/writer/artist/genius behind the manga series Berserk has passed away, he was 54. I've spent the past several days processing this; talking with friends who are fellow Berserk fans and feeling just as devastated right now, because it still doesn't feel real. For starters, 54 is far too young. On top of that, Miura-san's passing leaves his magnum opus Berserk incomplete. This hurts, it hurts badly. It's always sad when a creator whose work we admire passes away, but for a lot of us I suspect this hits harder than usual for several reasons.
Berserk started serialization in 1989, so it's been running for thirty-two years, and while it's always picking up new fans, a large amount of its fanbase have been following it for years or decades. I started reading it in high school when I was 16, literally half of my life. My friend Greg has been a fan even longer than that, twenty years if I'm not mistaken. Furthermore, as mentioned above, Berserk is incomplete, the most recent chapter was released earlier this year (2021). To compound that even further, the most recent chapters, the last two in particular, made it pretty clear to longtime fans that we were headed towards the conclusion. Three major bombshells got dropped, two of which confirmed two plot points going back twenty years ago; and all of which changed everything. Just reading the newest chapters got me excited in a way very few properties have gotten me excited in recent years. I've seen a lot of properties that I used to enjoy either go down in flames or change in ways that meant they weren't for me anymore. And that's fine, not everything is for everyone, and tastes can change as we go through life, and so can target demographics. But Berserk has always been there, and while its output was infrequent (which we'll discuss later) it was always there waiting for me when new stuff got released. It's one of the few properties I feel that I can still unreservedly call myself a fanboy of. It's my favorite manga by far, and not learning how it ends when the finish line was in sight feels like a punch in the gut.
Of course the absolute worst thing about this is the loss of Miura-san himself, and his death is tragic in pretty much every way possible. He passed away from acute aortic dissection, my understanding of which is that the heart basically ruptures. When that happens, survival is unlikely. That said, apparently it's pretty rare, and even rarer for people under 60. A major cause is high blood pressure, and that last part is probably going to stand out to longtime Berserk fans. There have been rumors about Miura-san's health problems for years, but he was such a private person that rumors are all they were. It's true he took frequent hiatuses between chapters, and health was speculated as a major reason for it, but so was the insane level of detail in his artwork. I hate to say I think we can now say it was health related, but this week someone translated a bunch of jokes he'd made about his health that appeared in Young Animal (the magazine that published Berserk) over the years, and suddenly those feel a lot less funny. But we still don't know the full circumstances, and I suspect we never will. He was so private his death wasn't immediately announced. We learned about it this week, but he actually passed away on May 6th. The reason given for the delay was to give his family time to grieve, and most of us don't know what family he had. Whether he was married or had kids or anything, I don't know and I suspect most folks don't. There's only like 3 pictures of him on the internet. Despite how private he was, his influence was immense.
It almost feels impossible to overstate how much of an influence Miura-san and Berserk had across a variety of mediums on creators around the globe. Berserk defined dark fantasy, more so than any other work in the genre. Hidetaka Miyazaki-san has been incredibly open about how much Berserk influenced Dark Souls, and it's obvious to anyone who's played the games. From the look of the bosses to the architecture, it's dripping with Berserk-like designs. And Dark Souls became so insanely influential it ended up creating its own subgenre of RPGs That's literally an entire sub-genre of video-games that wouldn't exist without Berserk. Another obvious one is that manga/anime/video-game protagonist with a humongous sword. This trope shows up a lot in Japanese works, but Guts' immense Dragonslayer was the first. Miura-san has admitted in interviews that he originally came up with the giant sword as a gimmick to get attention; it certainly worked. That said, its fully justified in-story and doesn't actually feel like a gimmick, which just shows how much of a master storyteller Miura-san was. And those are just two of the most obvious, his influence on other mangaka, artists, writers and creators of all types (including at least 3 heavy metal bands) is probably incalculable. He's certainly influenced my own writing
Calling Miura-san a master storyteller feels quaint. I realize this whole article probably sounds like I'm exaggerating or being hyperbolic in many respects, but I'm really not. There's a lot of creators of ongoing stories that I've loved, but for one reason or another lost patience with over time, that's not the case with Berserk. It's always kept me engaged and I'm just happy to be along for the ride. I think the best example I can use to explain how good Miura-san was is this: Berserk is one of, if not THE darkest piece of fiction you'll ever read, and not simply because of the amounts of horrific violence. There's the darkness of human nature, the nature of "God" (if there is one as far as this work is concerned), and the absolute depravity and evil that mankind is capable of inflicting upon itself. And then there's the infamous Eclipse. Which someone on the internet this week said (and it might have been my friend Greg, I can't remember if he was quoting someone else or not. Apologies Greg) "the Eclipse makes the Red Wedding look like a tea party." That is a completely accurate, unironic statement. And yet despite that, Berserk is also one of the most optimistic and uplifting works you'll ever read; with its themes of friendship, comradery, deep and true love, and becoming a better person than you were. That's what makes it so much more than just a revenge story that it appears to start out as. Guts eventually realizes the people he loves are more important getting his (absolutely 100% justified) revenge, and he doesn't realize this too late. Berserk is everything you want in a great story, an interesting plot with a good hook, insane twists, and characters whose fates you care about. Which is of course, all up in the air.
So that of course begs the question, what now? Where do we go from here? What happens to Berserk? In Japan manga is so tied to its creator, that on the rare occasion where the creator passes away in the middle of the work, it's generally left unfinished, but Berserk is in a unique and unenviable position. As stated previously, it's been running for 32 years, with fans all over eagerly anticipating to learn how it ends. It's also one of the best-selling manga of all time. Out of Dark Horse's (the company that publishes the English language edition) 50 best-selling graphic novels, Berserk takes up 40 of those positions according to Amazon.com. And lastly, there's how close we are to the end. So again, what now? Will someone pick up the mantle and finish the series via notes (if any) that Miura-san may have left behind? I know Miura-san had at least four full-time assistants, and he recently had them make a separate short manga with the intention of getting them closer to his own art style so that Berserk could be produced at a faster rate. I think it's a safe bet that at least some work on chapter 364 (the last chapter released was 363) has been finished, so I wouldn't be surprised if that and maybe the chapter afterwards finally get released. I personally have mixed feelings on whether anyone else should, or honestly even could finish Berserk. On the one hand, yes, I want a conclusion as badly as anyone. On the other hand, I don't want what we've seen happen to certain other works (COUGH*DUNE*COUGH) happen to Berserk. If it ends up being decided either by Studio Gaga (Miura-san's studi0) or Hakusensha (his publisher) that his assistants will finish Berserk, they'll have my support because they will have an absolutely daunting task ahead of them. Two other possibilities that I've thought about, which are admittedly unlikely but not impossible, would be the following:
One, his assistants do the ending as a separate manga. So instead of following from Chapter 363, instead they start at Chapter 1 and release Berserk: Final Act, or Kentaro Miura's Berserk, or something along those lines so that Berserk can have an ending, and Miura's work can still be left untouched.
Two, finish off with an anime film. Hear me out, assuming there's some notes and an outline, instead of continuing the manga, maybe the final arc is released as a stand-alone film. It's not without precedent. Naruto had an anime film that was canon to the manga near the end of its run in order to deal with some important plot points that Masashi Kishimoto-san wanted wrapped up but didn't feel comfortable doing himself. It doesn't have to be a film either, it could be a final TV series or even an OVA series, as long as the production is high.
I wish I had a better suggestion, but that's all I've got. But what if the worst should happen, and we truly get no ending? Well my friend Greg (I'm sorry I keep dragging you into this) pointed this out to me and I'm now going to point it out here because I think he's right and I don't have anything better. Here's where Berserk is as of the last chapter. Casca has her memories back and is no longer insane, she and Guts, and their friends, are safe on Elfhaven where Griffith and his forces can't touch them, Guts chose love and redemption over revenge, and every full moon their kid comes for a visit. That might be the happiest ending Guts and Casca could ever get, and that's pretty uplifting.
I never met Kentaro Miura-san, but his death still hit me like a ton of bricks, and I know fans everywhere feel the same way. I just hope he knew how much his work meant to people, how many lives he touched, and that he had fans all over the world from all different countries and cultural backgrounds. Rest in Peace Miura-san. Thank you for everything, you will be greatly missed.