I think I’ve said “Now where the hell is all this going?” about thirty times — a couple of times for each volume, on the balance of it — ever since Berserk’s “Golden Age” arc ended and we were returned to what amounted to Guts’s struggles in present time. The story has come a long way since, and jumped through more (flaming) hoops than originally seemed possible or necessary.
And yet, I have never felt that Kentaro Miura didn’t have some sense of how everything was ultimately going to fit together. Each piece of the story does have its place — it’s just that when you’re in the process of watching it unfold, it can become a test of patience. What I’ve discovered works best is just to take each volume on its own terms first — as a story about a man’s adventures, nothing more than that — and then only after about every six or seven volumes have gone by attempt to snap everything together. Trying to figure out how it all snaps into place while you’re reading it is a sure formula for frustration.
Most of the action in this book takes place down near the dock, where Guts & Co. have repaired to hop a boat belonging to nobleman Roderick. Between them and their escape lie about a bah-zillion monsters courtesy of the (totally bonkers) Kushan warlords, who are themselves allied with Guts’s supernatural archenemies. Gut’s armor alone won’t be enough to get him through this one — he has to pair up with Schierke and become a vessel for her magic. (It’s slowly becoming clearer that Schierke represents a large and important part of the Berserk cosmology, something that stands in opposition to the Godhand or at least as a more constructive complement to it.) The resulting battle is as epic as we have come to expect from this series, with bodies chest-deep in the streets and a cliffhanger that has Guts’s Kushan archenemy preparing to square off against none other than our old one-horned friend Nosferatu Zodd.
“Frustration” is a good word for what people seem to feel when they read Berserk as we have come to know it lately. Miura sets a plot goal for his characters, send them scurrying towards it, and then has some giant obstacle drop out of the sky (rather literally) so that the remaining distance takes twice as long to cover. It’s like the storytelling version of Zeno’s Paradox. What looks like relentless forward motion is in fact a kind of in-place perpetual motion, a way to give us the semblance of things happening. It’s unfair to say nothing is going on — it’s just that the accumulation of details and happenstance takes place on such a drawn-out scale that you wonder how much of this really is Miura going into the depth he wants to, and how much of it is just simple stalling for time.
Berserk is not a series you can get into partway. You’re either in for the long haul, or you skip on it entirely — not just because of the size of the thing, not just the expense of buying thirty-plus volumes at something like fifteen bucks a pop, but because of the sheer gutwrenching emotional exhaustion that comes with committing yourself to the story. I don’t want this story to wear out its welcome, but I get the feeling Miura’s going to see how long he can get away with this balancing act — and not lose as many readers as you might think. He’s just that good.