The name Kentaro Miura evokes in us a sense of awe and respect as dark and gruesome images of an undefeatable swordsman donning black armor, and journeying through desolate and ravaged lands killing demons fill our minds. His masterful ink strokes not only were adept at expressing the emotional depth of each character but also conveyed the heaviness of the movements, the fluidity of the shadows, the heaving of muscles as Guts swung his heavy sword.
Berserk was the Magnum Opus of Kentaro Miura and can be hailed as a piece of modern art. Through Berserk, Miura was able to reach his zenith of being an artist to deliver the best of his creativity and story-telling.
The Prelude to Greatness
A young Kentaro Miura was heavily into animes and mangas. It helped in cultivating his creativity and artistic abilities early on. He wrote his first manga, Miuranger when he was 10 years old, and later on, 40 volumes of the manga were published. A year later, at the age of 11, he created his second manga Ken e no Michi.
To pursue a career in art enrolled, Miura in the art college of Nihon University. He submitted a short manga Futanari for his admission exam which later earned him the 34th Newcomer Manga Award. While in college Miura also created many short standalone mangas and continued improving his artistic abilities. At the age of 18, Miura also served as an assistant to George Morikawa, the author of Hajime no Ippo, for a short while.
“I’m going to be a bit emotional, but let me reminisce a little bit. When I started my first weekly serialization without even a single assistant, he came to help me. He was 18 and I was 19. We were at some art college, and he came up after a lecture with a sketchbook in hand. I didn’t know how extensive his drawing skills were, so I showed him some of my work and told him to get as close to this as he could. What he showed me was astounding, and definitely belied his age…”.George Morikawa(Hajime no Ippo) on the death of Kentaro Miura, Twitter
For a short while, Miura also worked for Buronson on a project King of Wolves. He was also an illustrator for another manga by Buronson, Japan, which began its serialization in 1992.
The Forces behind “The Force”
Fantasy series and manga like Guin Saga, Pygmalio, Violence Jack have been credited as Miura’s main source of inspiration. It helped him to create the setting and direction of the story. He also admitted in an interview that works like Hakuto no Ken, 90s action movies like Conan the Barbarian, Hellraiser, Name of the Rose had also inspired Miura in creating his unforgiving world of Berserk and its cast of horrid monsters and Gods. The Godhands have an uncanny similarity to the Cenophites that we see in Hellraiser.
“….That comes from Shinji Wada’s Pygmalio. Also, I think it was in the Guin Saga spin-off The Snow Queen, there was this illustration of a two- or three-meter-tall giant wielding a sword. Guts’ sword is a cross between those two…”Miura in an interview with Yukari Fujimoto (2000) / Miura’s Take on Guts’ sword
The impeccable fighting scenes in Berserk, whether hand-to-hand combat or sword fighting, were a direct result of Kentaro Miura’s interest in martial arts and his extensive study of them.
Artworks of Escher, Bosch, Giger among other notable artists had also served as references for the creation of nightmarish landscapes yet these references had Miura’s own touch giving them a very organic feel while paying homage to the great artists at the same time.
The Genius of Kentaro Miura’s Story telling
As an artist, Miura tried to put in his own individuality in his work. So a lot of his own experiences find their way in Berserk as essential elements of the story. The Band of the Hawks was based on Miura’s own group of friends. The image of Griffith also was based on a close friend of Miura. Likewise, the emotional experiences of Guts were tied with that of Miura’s own personal experiences. Berserk’s story also saw a lot of input from events occurring in the real world as well as in history. Miura always struggled to understand them from his own personal perspective put them in his story with his own touch. This makes Berserk one of the most individualistic and genuine stories.
Kentaro Miura also had the gift of genius storytelling. It flowed without a moment’s hesitation from event to event, from character to character. The events leading up to the eclipse, the journey of the band of hawks and their end, Guts and Casca’s romance were events that Miura created as he built along with the story’s progression. And thus we witnessed as the story of Berserk evolved from that of rage and revenge to that of redemption. Filled with deep philosophies, whether intentional or unintentional, Berserk forces us to question right from wrong, the futility of struggle, the finality of fate, the definition of Good and Evil as we travel along with Guts and his companions.
“I’d hardly thought any of it out at first. I had no idea how far I’d be able to run with just that original idea for the manga, and I really hadn’t come up with the idea for the Band of the Hawk at all….”Miura in an interview with Yukari Fujimoto (2000)
Kentaro Miura and his Dreamscape
Berserk was essentially set in a land similar to that of medieval Europe. He transformed medieval Europe into landscapes of unimaginable horror with grotesque monsters laying waste to the land. The horror of the eclipse, the brutal fight scenes, the ever-abundant gore, the rawness in the manga panels are a wonder to behold. But Miura was not limited to only the blood and gore. His drawing skills evolved over the years. And he gave us some of the most delicately lucid and stunning manga panels akin to that of shoujo mangas. Miura himself in an interview had agreed that Berserk is more of a shoujo manga at its current standing than a shounen. He feels that his work concentrates more on the emotional journey of each character and how the character builds up around it and how it influences their actions in the story.
But we must agree that the height of Miura’s artistic capabilities shines brightest in the dialogue-less panels of Berserk. The beautifully illustrated panels were apt at conveying the emotional depth of the characters. The heaviness, the silence, the rawness of the moments also resonates deeply with the readers in the absence of words.
The Legacy of Kentaro Miura
Miura’s influence was undeniable in the revival of the Dark Fantasy genre in the modern-day world of media and entertainment. Game franchises like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Demon souls borrow heavily from Berserk. The heavy black armor sported by the characters, the gigantic sword and other weapons, the grim and desolate environment settings, the character designs, their grief and struggle, and even the central theme of the games’ storyline, everything screams Berserk. Miyazaki himself confirmed in an interview that he is a loyal fan of the legendary manga.
Games like Dragon’s Dogma, Devil may cry, Final Fantasy VII, Drakengard also sports characters, armors, and weapons influenced by Berserk. Authors of notable manga like Kazue Kato(Blue Exorcist), Ryōgo Narita(Baccano! and Durarara!!), Yūki Tabata(Black Clover), Hajime Isayama(Attack on Titan) among others have credited Miura and Berserk as their greatest inspiration. Even animes like Castlevania were also inspired by Berserk’s dark and gritty atmosphere. Not to mention, Striga’s armor was a direct reference to the Berserker armor.
Miura also created other mangas while working on Berserk. Giganto Maxia was another feast for the eyes that he created. Miura, since 2019, was also working on a new manga of his, Duranki, with its production being done by his own personal manga studio, Studio Gaga.
A Bonfire of Dreams
Miura’s greatest gift to the world is the story of Guts’ journey. The journey of Guts through the ravaged land is a journey of epic proportions. Guts’ struggles against his fate, his struggles to not be killed even after losing everything that he held precious and dear to him. His struggles to retain his humanity and form new bonds with people and live again is a beacon of inspiration to numerous fans across the world. And though we may never read the last chapter of the epic saga, or get to see Guts’ redemption and his reunion with Casca, or get to know the fall of the God Hands, or get to uncover the mystery that Skull Knight is, Berserk will continue giving us hope and inspiration and strength so long we choose to believe in it. The death of Kentaro Miura is a personal loss to all of us.