Given the circumstances, these two chapters created by Studio Gaga with Kouji Mori as director are good and honestly exceeded my expectations. Of course they’re not on Miura’s level, but you can see that everyone involved gave their all. I believe they have huge potential to get better over time.
Before reading the chapter, I was careful with my expectations, but now I am optimistic and hopeful about Berserk’s future in general.
I guess I was not disappointed as some people perhaps were. This is not Miura’s work after all and it does show. In this article I am going to analyze these chapters from both artistic and narrative stand points.
The episode starts with a rather well-made suspense, rewinding to the moment the Moonboy turned back to Griffith in front of Guts’ very eyes. Everyone on Elfhelm notices the presence of a malicious entity on the island. I like the details put into the inhabitants of Elfhelm, but a (expected) difference to Miura’s work is already noticeable here, as Miura likely would have made these pages incredibly detailed double spreads.
I also do like the first page where Puck gains the focus for a change of perspective, but I do wonder if him flying in the night sky has any significance in the story.
We see how Casca goes down the stairs with Schierke looking at her, wondering what’s going on. Even though they both look different from Miura’s rendition, I still like how both are drawn here. Note how the paneling and layout is quite simplistic.
As soon as Schierke and Casca see Griffith, the real chaos begins: Casca’s brand is reacting strongly to the Hawk’s presence. She starts to be reminded of more key events during their journey: Sea God, the Troll Cave, the rabid refugees that have tied her to the stake and the Eclipse itself are depicted. The order is chronological, going from latest to older events. The layout is a bit confusing, as the destroyed necklace on the left side seems disconnected or out of place and the reading direction is not too clear, either.
While I like Casca’s nude portrayal from an artistic standpoint here, I also felt it was included just for the sake of it. Conviction Arc and later in Berserk, nudity at least was “justified” or casual (that felt a bit less objectifying to me), such as this astral depiction of Casca’s fear from the Conviction Arc, which the chapter page may have been inspired by.
What is also shown in those panels that her necklace is breaking apart, or effaced to put into Schierke’s words, which might play a huge role later: It will make room for Casca to perceive those of the other world and also get possessed. Flora’s amulets so far have prevented that.
I honestly think Casca would have been more reminded of the events of the Birth Ceremony (where her brand hurt strongly as well) and the Hill of Swords, which was the last time she saw Griffith standing before Guts. However, if the point of this page was for her to remember more details about their journey, it does fulfill its purpose.
Right now, we don’t know how deliberate the visuals are and how much guessing there is from Mori’s directing part. Perhaps, Casca remembering these instances at a later point makes more sense for the plot that is to unfold.
In either case, both Casca and Guts are losing their minds. For Guts, the white eye symbolism is used, which is a clear indicator for this. We see him charging at Griffith, who appears naked and defenseless. Guts now has the chance to strike him but soon he will realize that he cannot harm him no matter how hard he tries. Every hit of his misses, as Griffith basically teleports away using his space bending abilities that he has showcased multiple times in the manga.
The page where Guts hacks away at Griffith (or attempts to) is particularly confusing as the reading direction is not clear and it is also not clear what is happening. I welcome the idea of visualizing Guts’ confusion and futility in this way, but the execution could need some work since legibility is being sacrificed here (I hope Studio Gaga didn’t actually use a behelit for this).
A few interesting world building bits follow: because Schierke and Farnese are both mages, they somehow got dislodged from their physical bodies and perceive a so called Maelstrom that sucks in every ethereal body that does not resist. At the center of this storm we can see a figure that resembles Griffith.
It’s noteworthy that Farnese actually goes to protect Schierke, being the one who stops her from getting closer to the Maelstrom. The fact even our knowledgeable Schierke does not know about the nature of this swirl is interesting. They both decide to stay away from it, rightfully so.
Apparently, the maelstrom was so strong it also transported their physical bodies out of the Elfin hut (this is generally possible with astral and physical realms merging during World Transformation). With the three of them being outside together, Schierke, Farnese and Casca can now witness what is about to happen with Guts and Griffith.
After this, we see a black figure escaping from the branches of the World Tree: it is Zodd who dolts down from the skies and attempts to strike Guts, who barely evaded. The fact Zodd manages to show up is very strange, as Dannan mentions just one chapter prior, that beings with malevolent intentions are not able to set foot on the island at all. Griffith’s Maelstrom might be the reason why Zodd manages to reach Elfhelm, basically being sucked toward his location.
What a chapter that was! I personally enjoyed it a lot, even though I felt it had some issues.
Last time Guts got enraged over Griffith, Schierke needed to snap him out of it at the mere mention of Griffith’s name (Volume 28). This may indicate Guts managed to a achieve a “semi-state” of control. The eyes of the Beast of Darkness are usually only shown when the armor possessed Guts or when he is possessed by wraiths. But here, while the will of the Beast may be influencing him, he has not “turned” into the Berserker yet.
Guts got a chance to harm Griffith this time, he realizes that he cannot even afflict a scratch. Can you really avenge your comrades if Griffith is literally untouchable? He’s seen it with his own eyes now.
If Griffith cannot be touched, then revenge is no option
If Guts can’t be with Casca because she can’t see him, protecting her will become impossibly difficult.
What will Guts do now? It will throw him into another crisis that either destroys him or forces him to face his trauma and perhaps start healing. His companions likely will be the safety net that catches him when he falls. After all, Farnese will start learning soul mending magic and may be able to mend the wounds Slan afflicted to Guts’ ethereal body, too.
She might be the key for both Casca’s and Guts’ full recovery.
The art is overall of decent quality. I particularly like the well-done spreads of Griffith whose beauty was captured perfectly. Taking a closer look, the quality takes a dip in smaller panels. It is also very inconsistent, which leaves quite a sour aftertaste considering how well the double spreads are made in these chapters.
Weaknesses of Studio Gaga so far are polish, paneling and focus of action. Let’s take a look at the latter two: A lot of pages possibly could have been summarized into one page and some pages seem too large, blown out of proportion for their actual importance to the flow of action. To name examples: Why is it necessary to have half a page showing the brand bleeding? Or why have a full double page with Guts’ rage face and his rattling metal arm? Instead of say, a frontal, stylized shot of Guts charging at Griffith, such as the one when he charges at the wheel wraiths during Conviction Arc?
I suppose this is where the lack of paneling skill and perhaps also posing skill limits Studio Gaga as whole. I am sure if the focus of action was done by someone more experienced, this chapter could have fitted in the usual 20-30 pages format, as well.
I remember having to work through very similar issues when I created my Berserk fan comic. Creating good paneling and getting the layouts just right is something that one gets better at by doing and I am optimistic that Studio Gaga can learn this. With these chapters, as imperfect as might be, I think they have proven their huge potential.
Visuals & Symbolism
What I am probably most surprised by is the continuity of the visual language Berserk uses. This is something that worried me the most so I am relieved to see it is present and by the looks of it used properly, too.
The Eye of The Beast
The eye of the beast in its original form was a simple, white eye without pupil. Later it evolved into the z-shaped eye of the Beast of Darkness. The fact it was used at all by Studio Gaga makes me think it was deliberate.
So far the z-shaped eye and only appeared in so called “astral visuals”, such as the one below, where Guts (his ego engulfed in flames of the Berserker Armor) is conversing with Schierke in her luminous body. These depictions are often of fantastic nature, they indicate that wraiths are involved in one way or the other and usually do not occur in “normal” depictions of the physical world.
It is a clear symbolism that indicates Guts has lost his mind. Studio Gaga uses this symbolism true to its origin. If they also paid attention to the context and meaning of the symbolism (time will tell how accurately they are using Miura’s visual language), they show us Guts is actually under influence of the Beast of Darkness in the new chapter.
It is evident they’re on their way to develop their own visual language based on the visual language Miura has already illustrated so far.
Storm & Maelstrom
That’s a concept that has been there from the beginning. The Dragon Road a Behelit is establishing is visualized via an upside-down tornado: instead of connecting to the earth, its foot appears to connect to the moon. It’s first appearance is in the first few chapters of Berserk when the Count calls upon the Godhand. This storm makes another appearance, forming around the Crimson Behelit during the Eclipse.
The storm is used as metaphor as well: Isidro comments about Guts cutting through enemies like a tornado during Conviction Arc. By Gedfring, Puck is described as tempest that will one day return to the Island of Elfhelm.
As Guts obtained Berserker Armor in volume 27, we see a tempest of agony with Guts’ ego, protected by Flora’s amulet, at its core.
Now in episodes 365/366, with Griffith appearing on Elfhelm, this phenomenon gets its own name. The all-consuming Maelstrom surrounds Griffith as well, attempting to suck in the ethereal bodies of both Schierke and Farnese. It makes you wonder if this is the cause for Griffith’s strong influence over others, such as the Bishop, Mule or Charlotte, who are possibly caught up in this Maelstrom without being aware of what is actually happening.
This is a beautiful addition to the Guts and Griffith parallelism that already exists so far. Because now it becomes more apparent why Griffith is the torch for humans, apostles or similar beings, while Guts it the torch for the dead, to put it in Skull Knight words in chapter 91. The fact this was thematized at all shows that the visual language will continue (more or less), which is a big relief for me personally.
Studio Gaga also makes use of visual parallelism in their pages. I am not sure if this was deliberate, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it at all: there is a visual parallelism within these two pages, with the brand and Casca switching positions in the layout.
It is important that Studio Gaga attempts to speak Berserk’s visual language in their own way, rather than pedantically imitate one of the best Japanese artists of modern times. Berserk as written and illustrated by Miura unfortunately has ended a while ago. But Studio Gaga and Kouji Mori can create a Berserk that honors Kentaro Miura’s legacy and gives this behemoth of a story an ending at all.
Personally, I am extremely grateful for that alone.
Thank you Kouji Mori and Studio Gaga for having these massively sized balls to even attempt it.