Reviewby Casey Brienza,
The journey to the safety of Puck's homeland continues, but Guts' nerves are wearing thin under the pressure of staying alive. Against his better judgment, he is taking it all out on Casca, and after being gang-raped by some bandits, she no longer trusts him. Fortunately, Isidro, Farnese, and Serpico soon catch up and join the band. Meanwhile, the newly reincarnated Griffith is again attracting warriors to his standard. His latest recruit is the adolescent noble Mule, saved by the Band of the Hawk from the Kushan. Mule befriends the clairvoyant Sonia and finds himself overawed by the beautiful and charismatic Griffith, who ordinary people are—for good reason—treating like a god on earth.
The climatic story arc that culminated in the resurrection of Griffith has passed, and a new chapter in the epic hack 'n slash fantasy that is Kentaro Miura's Berserk has, as they say, begun. Volume twenty three begins where volume twenty two left off: Griffith still wants a kingdom of his own and is busy assembling a new Band of the Hawk. Guts, meanwhile, has decided to escort the mentally damaged Casca to the safety of the fairy Puck's homeland, where the Mark of Sacrifice on her breast will not attract man-eating demons.
Now granted, nothing of particularly earth-shattering import to the characters happens here, nor is anything of particularly earth-shattering import to the story revealed to the reader. The plot is, to put it bluntly, at a bit of a low ebb right now. Not every chapter can top the Eclipse! Nevertheless, this proves to be an exceedingly well-balanced volume in every respect, a near-perfect mixture of sex and violence, character development, comic relief (courtesy of, as always, Puck and Isidro), and transcendent yet sinister beauty.
The thoughtful character development comes at the beginning and the end of the volume, respectively, effectively bookending the more fanservice-oriented, gratuitous bits (a.k.a. bloodshed and sexual assault). In the final chapter, for example, we have Farnese coming to grips with her own vulnerability and uselessness. Charged with protecting Casca, she briefly loses track of her and gets hopelessly lost in the forest trying to find her. Though soon rescued by her companions, she realizes that she has no choice but to continue on her path if she wishes to find herself. The beginning of the book, on the other hand, shows Guts in the process of losing himself. He has Casca back, but it sure doesn't take him long before he starts driving her away with a madness-driven physical assault. It is not clear if some demon (a fox-like creature with lightning bolts for eyes?) is driving him to hurt her, or if it's just his own deranged and damaged psyche taking control of his better nature. Either way, it's fast becoming clear that what Guts most wants in this world is not to see Casca smile again but rather to see Griffith again…though whether to attack him, serve him, or some combination of the two is left to the reader's imagination.
As for Griffith, who is looking even more divine and lush-lipped than usual, the intervention of his army on behalf of a troop of Midland forces led by the youthful Lord Mule constitutes the major action scene of the volume. It's a pretty standard large-scale bloodbath, with the major players the odd collection of characters that joined up with Griffith in volume twenty two. Most notable is Sonia, who looks like a naïve little lamb amidst all of her beastly compatriots, particularly when clinging affectionately to Griffith. Griffith, for his part, is doing the Messiah shtick for the refugee Midlanders, conjuring spirits of the battle dead to console their families. It's an exquisitely lovely scene—any number of shoujo mangaka would sacrifice their left hand to draw bishounen so well—and even more affecting because you can't quite shake the feeling that there's some exquisitely evil stuff lurking just behind the radiant façade.
As always, Miura's artwork is exquisite and, remarkably, drawn without the help of an army of assistants. And while he has been great right from the first page of volume one, he has improved over the many years of working on Berserk. Nothing ever looks inconsistent, and the changes have been subtle. But they become especially noticeable with the reappearance of Griffith after such a long absence. Also, the Dark Horse edition includes a double-sided fold-out poster, which is a much-appreciated bonus that has only begun appearing recently. Anyway, Berserk is one manga series that is simply not to be missed, and fans who have remained loyal thus far will not be disappointed in the least.
Overall : A
Story : A-
Art : A+
+ Great story, gorgeous art, and plenty of sexual and violent action. Something, in short, to please everybody.
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