A fantasically grotesque manga series from Kentarou Miura. It is set in a middle ages europe type of world, in the kind of way you understand why they called it the 'Dark Ages': disease, rot, savagery, mercenaries, the works. The nation in which they live has been at war with its neighbor for over a century, which as I understand it was a fairly common stance in Dark Ages Europe - constant war between nations, but neither able to consistently mass sufficient troops to move lines. In this setting, a brilliant strategian, Griffith, begins winning battles and climbing the ranks of the king's favor...

The narrative revolves around one 'Gatsu' (sounds like 'Gats' to the western ear). He is born of a dying woman under a carrion tree hung with the dead of a recent battle; some mercenaries who fought in the battle adopt him. (There is an awesome cover in a later volume with the child Gatsu, standing at the bottom of the page, looking back at a shadowed tree hung with bodies and covered by ravens. He is dragging a sword twice his height through a bloody path decorated with things he has killed. I want that on a poster.) He fights with them until he is in his early teens, at which point when his father goes into a rage at a whole mess of things, and Gatsu kills him in self-defense. I think that describes my family pretty well. Anyway, Gatsu is a loner until he runs afoul of The White Hawks, who are trying to reave the village Gatsu is trying to defend. After slaying a fistful of their troops, the leader of the band, Griffith, decides he needs some of that in his ranks, so he personally defeats him and shall we say 'forcibly enlists him'. Gatsu adjusts pretty well -- I mean, when your whole life is swinging a big-ass sword, your local environment must not mean all that much. This sets up the first half of the plot - the time Gatsu spends with the Hawks. Griffith's dream is to find out what moves the world, who decides the fate of all the people he has killed. He assumes that the first step to find this out is to become king.

I really think there are two stories in this series. One is the story of Griffith's ambition and the parts played by his lieutenants. Griffith is perhaps the last person you would want as a friend, but people serve under him because they have their own dreams, and as Gatsu states at one point:

"People bring the small flames of their wishes together ...since they don't want to extinguish the small flame...they'll bring that small flame to a bigger fire. A big flame named Griffith. But you know... I didn't bring a flame with me. I think I just stopped by to warm myself by the bonfire."

The second half of the series is dominated by Griffith's fall after Gatsu leaves him, followed by Griffith's rebirth as a literal demon. The tale devolves into total psychopathy run by the demons of the "God Hand", and Gatsu bringing it to them, old-school. I'll update this after I translate that half.

The term berserk comes from the old Norse meaning 'bear shirt' or 'bear skin'. Frequently men prior to going into battle would eat mushrooms that contained psychoactive alkaloids. These mushrooms first would have a narcotic effect where the warrior would fall asleep, upon waking there was a sense of vigor, superhuman strength and fearlessness. They would go into battle in this state, hence the name berserk. Under the influence of these mushrooms the men were formidable fighters and this lent to the legend of Norsemen as generally all around tough guys for a relatively localized culture.

Ber"serk (?), Ber"serk*er (?), n. [Icel. berserkr.]

1. Scand. Myth.

One of a class of legendary heroes, who fought frenzied by intoxicating liquors, and naked, regardless of wounds.

Longfellow.

2.

One who fights as if frenzied, like a Berserker.

© Webster 1913.

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