Thursday, May 27, 2021

Remembering Kentaro Miura's Legacy: Berserk

Guts surrounded by evil spirits.


Earlier this month the world suffered the tragic loss of one of its most talented visual storytellers, Kentaro Miura. He passed away at the age of 54, having suffered acute aortic dissection. Miura is best known for the creation of the seminal dark fantasy Berserk. Originally a manga series, it has spawned a host of animated series and films, covering various arcs of the expansive manga that was still being created by Miura and his team up until his death. Taking place in a medieval fantasy world, Berserk follows a battered mercenary named Guts who suffers unimaginable tragedy and betrayal and goes on a quest for vengeance, as he struggles against destiny. The world in Berserk is often oppressively dark and violent, befitting of its title and the rage that consumes its main character. It is not completely defined by action and bloodletting, however. I would go as far to say that the series’ greatest strength is its human element. It deftly tells a tale of loss and suffering, showing how its main character deals with this strain. It speaks to the concepts of hope and peoples’ ability to heal, as well as finding the willpower to move forward even when destiny seems against you. The original animated series, and more particularly the manga, was a great influence on the three of us, with it occupying much of our free time, along with Warhammer 40k, during our high school years. In this post, we wanted to talk a little about that inspiration and how Berserk fits into our miniature hobby.


Guts enveloped in rage, as his berserker armor takes over.


The God Hand.


Guts plunges into combat.


Although Between the Bolter and Me is characterized by careful conversions and sculpting, when we started the hobby in the later part of the 90s, conversions were a relatively rare thing for us. After watching/reading Berserk, however, we knew we needed to convert a model of Guts. Not being very adept at converting, we ended up using the 2004 Games Day model, Archaon on foot, due to his platemail. This allowed us to make Guts wearing his berserker armor with relative ease. The model was one of our first efforts at using green stuff, specifically to sculpt his hair. His Dragon Slayer sword was made using the power sword from the 54mm Inquisitor model Artemis. The final model looks a little rough, compared to the stuff we create now, but it was the start of us trying to do more with this hobby than simply build models as they were intended.


Guts was built primarily from the 2004 Games Day model, Archaon on foot.


Since the back of Gut’s neck isn’t visible, I painted the Brand on one of the skulls on his chest.


When we finally started this blog in 2013, we had largely moved on to creating our own characters, but Berserk’s influence stayed with us. Although the series is famous for Guts wielding a ridiculously large sword, it does not really reflect the series as a whole. While it is an iconic image, the series is more focused on believable characters with realistic emotions and aspirations. The world that they inhabit is equally well-realized, representing a feudalistic society that could easily have stepped out of a historical fiction piece about medieval Europe. Everyone, from important characters to random bystanders, is carefully dressed in functional and sensible attire. Knights and archers use realistically scaled weaponry. The amount of detail lavished on the most minor characters, architecture, and landscapes creates a plausible and almost normal world. This heightens the visual and emotional impact when something out of the ordinary or otherworldly is introduced, like Gut’s sword or some daemonic entity. When creating models, we try to use a similar strategy, balancing believability and fantasy, while playing with peoples’ expectations of what a Warhammer miniature should entail. Our Sisters of Sigmar warband is understated, filled with stoic warrior women with believable weapons, which focuses the eye on them as characters, drawing you to their battered faces and scars. This burdened, humble look acts to accentuate the oddities within the warband: the seer with a fiery bird of Sigmar, the midnight-clad sister with a plague mask, and the matriarch with a resplendent suit of full platemail.


Our Sisters of Sigmar warband, created for Mordheim 2019.


Guts between two Sisters of Sigmar.


Other than in our own work, Berserk’s influence can be seen broadly throughout the miniature and role-playing hobby. The dark fantasy world that Miura created has often been emulated, but never surpassed. Kingdom Death quickly comes to mind in this respect. As a game and setting, it attempts to channel the blasted hellscapes and horrific monsters from Berserk, but ultimately fails to add anything meaningful to it, and instead focuses on more shallow sexual overtones. Even the Warhammer setting, which prides itself in its grim dark aesthetic, does not reach the dread magistry of Berserk, with its oppressive creatures and nihilistic tone. Games Workshop’s Mordheim probably gets the closest to Berserk, with its tight focus on downtrodden and low fantasy. More recently, the pen and paper RPG MÖRK BORG shares some DNA with Berserk. Its bleak, apocalyptic world, filled with dreadful monsters and lost souls would fit nicely alongside the God Hand and other horrors in Berserk. Perhaps better than games, various miniature artists really channel the spirit of Miura’s work. The creations of Ana Polanšćak and Ex Profundis probably get the closest to Miura, due in part because of their dark styling, but perhaps more importantly because they do not attempt to copy, but rather shape folklore and other inspirations to their own ends. Like Miura, they are experts at taking traditional fantasy ideas and making them their own.

Having been following Miura's work and reading Berserk for over 20 years, it is hard to believe that he is gone. At the moment, it is not clear if Berserk will continue, and if the story of Guts and Casca will ever get resolved. Whatever the case, I feel incredibly fortunate that we got as much Berserk as we did. It is an incredible world, filled with dark visions and compelling characters. It is sure to continue to inspire countless others in the years to come, as new people are exposed to Miura's work. If you have not read any of Berserk, I would encourage people to consider it, but I need to add a caveat that it contains graphic depictions of sexual violence. And while it is usually not included frivolously, the scenes are disturbing and something that you should be aware of before reading. If you do decide to venture into the world of Berserk, you will be rewarded with some of the best artwork in the medium, along with a story that touches on the human condition and how people find meaning in severe hardship.

- Eric Wier

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting - I am not familiar with Miura's work but I will check it out. I enjoyed your musing on how it relates to your own hobby output.

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  2. guys, fellow hobbyist and Miura fan here. I wat touched by the Master death, but I am happy for him to have existed and for us to be able to enjoy his creations. I also was greatly inspired by his work, also for his mix of darkness, deepness and also comedy. I am rereading Berserk and I find in it even more art and inspiration then the last tkme

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    1. I am really happy we have as much of Berserk as we do too! I am also in the process of rereading all of it too.

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