Thursday, December 19, 2013

Berserk vol. 37

It's that time of year again as the annual volume of "Berserk" has finally arrived.That being said, the "annual" tradition is effectively over now as it's doubtful that a new volume will even be out in Japan next year.Mangaka Kentaro Miura announced that "Berserk" is going on hiatus while he works on a six-part series called "Gigantomakhia."Little is known about the series save for the fact that it is set 100 million years in the future.Given that the man has been working on "Berserk" for over twenty years now, I can understand why he'd want to take a break and do something else for a while.Of course, this is a career-defining work he's putting on hold and one with no clear ending in sight yet so his actions here still come off as undeniably frustrating. Yet we still have a new volume of "Berserk" to consider here regardless of these issues!How is it?Well, if this is going to be the last volume of the title that we see for a while then it at least does us the service of providing a convenient stopping point for now. After several volumes the "Sea God" arc wraps up here with Guts and co. taking out the massive beast thanks to the power of song.No, really.With the advent of the merrow in the previous volume and the revelation that Isma was one of their number, we find out that they fight through singing.Though that does make a certain amount of sense given that they're an underwater race, and provides an effective countermeasure against the Sea God's attack on Guts, it still comes off as undeniably silly. The rest of the arc involves Guts' last-minute rescue from the bowels of the creature, the resumption of the group's journey to Elfland, and some mysterious shenanigans from the mute boy that appeared earlier.It's all falling action and probably would've read better right after the high-stakes action of the previous volume.Even so, it's still nice to see things end on a solid win for this group after so much of the series has been centered around their suffering. Then we get a break from the main story with a three-part-arc which flashes back to Guts' time as a mercenary before he joined up with the Band of the Hawk.It may seem odd to have such a tale here, but when you consider that these chapters wer originally published to coincide with the release of the second of the three "Berserk" films released last year, it makes a little more sense."Spring Flowers of the Distant Days" doesn't add a whole lot to the established series mythos, but it does wind up being a satisfying tale which plays to the title's strengths. We see that immediately with a wounded, shackled Guts being marched with other prisoners of war to an undisclosed location.The young warrior is shown some kindness by an older soldier who takes some pity on the boy and helps him effect his escape.This being "Berserk," that only serves to put Guts in a worse position as he winds up in a cell at a nearby castle to be slain by a noble's son as a confidence-building exercise.As he ponders his fate while lying on the floor of his cell, Guts finds out that he's not alone here. There's plenty of brutal action to satisfy fans of the series, and the fact that it doesn't have any direct ties to the main story actually feels refreshing to a certain extent.This includes the flower sprite as well.I can see Chitch annoying some people as she's an uber-cute childlike creature whose personality is at odds with Guts and the world he inhabits.Yet that dichotomy is acknowledged in the story and Miura manages to extract a good amount of pathos from her situation by showing it as it is:a flower blooming in prison by the light that passes through its window each day witness to the poor souls who briefly reside in its surroundings.Guts initially rationalizes its existence as a hallucination of his weakness, and faces a dilemma about whether or not it would be better to destroy it or accept it for what it is. This subsequently leads to the real drama in the story as Guts not only has to face off against the noble's son in a weakened state, but a race against time as well.Though it may be on a significantly smaller scale, this sequence has the urgency and tension that I felt was missing from the climax of the "Sea God" arc from earlier in the volume.Some may find the parts with Chitch and the end of the story to be too saccharine, yet I make a nice contrast to the harsh world of "Berserk."It may seem weird to describe any part of this series as "heartwarming" yet Miura earns those moments through honest means and they're all the more effective for it. Vol. 37 wraps up with two chapters that catch us up with Rickert and his young companion Erica helping a traveling caravan fight off some marauding trolls.Just when things seem to be at their worst, the reconstituted Band of the Hawk swoops in with one of Griffith's generals, Irvine the Arcane Archer, to save the day.While Rickert and the caravan's members are grateful for the assistance, the young man can't help but be disturbed by the appearance of such a monster.He and Erica are subsequently escorted by the Band to Griffith's Kingdom of Falconia which is said to be one of the few places left in the world where men can live free from the threat of monsters. It's only the start of things, yet I can see the potential here.As the only member of the original Band who wasn't part of the Eclipse, Rickert only has Guts' word to go on for Griffith's betrayal of his comrades.Not only is it likely that he'll want to hear his former commander's side of the story, but I can imagine that Griffith is going to want to bring the young boy over to his side to complicate things for Guts when their final showdown happens.I like the thought of where this is going, though we won't be seeing the payoff for a very long time at that. Fortunately Miura doesn't ramp up the drama too much in these final chapters so we're not left with a real sense of urgency in waiting to see what happens next.A lot of times, that's a bad thing yet I'm into "Berserk" for the long haul.If he's going to put it on hiatus for a while, then it does the man no good to end things on any kind of cliffhanger and leave his audience frothing for its return.I can appreciate that.For everyone else who hasn't started reading it, you can take this as one more sign that it might be best to wait until the series is all done before you make any kind of a commitment to reading it. Jason Glick
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