Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 26th 2009
Guts and his band of adventurers find themselves facing untold danger when they venture into a trolls' den to rescue their compatriots, Casca and Farnese. However, this cave is not just any cave, but the Qliphoth, a realm where dark creatures gather. Even if Guts is able to rescue the victims, a far greater evil awaits him—one that could injure his very soul. And that's not the only battle he must fight: out in the nearby forest, the Apostles have launched an attack on the home of the kindly witch Flora, with a familiar old enemy leading them. Guts is being called out for a one-on-one duel, but does he have any strength left after his ordeal in the cave? Fortunately, Flora has left a very useful—and very magical—piece of equipment for him...
Well, if it's about not rescuing distressed damsels from trolls, then it's about fending off demonic seductresses or battling for survival against 12-foot warriors. This volume of Berserk moves at a breathless pace from one blood-soaked set piece to the next, and at one point in the last couple of chapters, even lives up to the series' name. But constant peril and ever-escalating battle don't always spell good execution; Guts' escape from the cave seems a little too convenient to be true, and the next fight on his schedule gets a bit of a magical assist from an outside agent. The occasional forays into character introspection and personal development also seem arbitrary, placed there only to make the series feel deeper than it really is. But when you're busy having your mind blown by intense fantasy artwork and massive displays of power, do story flaws really matter all that much?
If anything, story flaws are probably the last thing from one's mind when this volume arrives in the middle of the troll rescue arc. The first few chapters are all about pure action and adventure: cutting one's way through nasty creatures, getting the captives out, and letting all the main characters grab their fair share of kills. (Yes, Isidro finally does something useful with that flaming knife of his.) Guts' encounter with a certain member of the demons known as the God Hand also ups the tension level—but the action and drama cuts itself off a little too soon when another character shows up to save the day. Playing the "Get Out of Cave Free" card does help to keep the arc from getting too long, but it's a clunky way to do it. Meanwhile, the occasional moments of internal monologue—Farnese reflecting on her emotional bond with Casca, Guts thinking to himself how much fun he's having—are simply too superficial to be of any real value.
Fortunately, this volume's second half is quick to jump back into pure action mode, with a riotous mob of Apostles serving as the next challenge. In this case, bringing up characters from previous story arcs is a good thing, since it keeps the series coherent and well-connected, plus Guts definitely needs an update on what Griffith and all his other old enemies are up to. Besides, who wouldn't want to see the world's greatest swordsman fight for his life against a 12-foot-tall armored giant? Taking on sentient warriors is always a lot more fun than chopping the heads off common beasts; it's clear that Guts' latest duel is a whole new level of challenge compared to the troll problem. Yet even this battle has to fall back on magical assistance—sure, it's nice to see advanced forms of ass-kicking and name-taking, but the hero of this series is supposed to have gained his reputation from sheer effort and skill, not because of performance-enhancing armor.
Speaking of sheer effort and skill, the artwork continues to impress on just about every page, whether it involves the shudder-inducing depths of Qliphoth or the explosive clashes of metal against metal as Guts duels against Grunbeld. Even if Kentaro Miura's personal style occasionally seems trapped in time (look at the way he draws child characters and compare against Kazuo Umezu), the level of detail and draftsmanship is the kind that stands out in any era. Miura's complete command of light and shadow gives every moment an otherworldly quality—this is one of the few series that can honestly claim to transport its readers to another time and place—and the attention to backgrounds is a welcome sight when so many other artists are too lazy to be bothered. But the real highlights, of course, are the action scenes, all of which benefit from dazzling layouts and intense pacing. Yet that same intensity and attention to detail can also be the artwork's own worst enemy; the action gets so overwhelming at times that it may take a quick re-read to understand who struck who during a pivotal moment.
As an action series, there isn't much to be expected from the dialogue—basically, the text does an adequate job of having the characters explain the situation, make battle decisions, and taunt their enemies. But there are also moments of eloquence, like when Schierke casts an elemental spell (even if it does end in an overused Nietzsche quote), or the chilling description of Guts' newfound armor. Being an action series also means frequent use of sound effects, and with the sounds so densely integrated into the artwork, leaving them alone in the original Japanese was clearly the best decision. Translations of each sound effect appear in the margins or white space, although they can become difficult to follow when the panels all bunch up next to each other. A pleasant bonus to this edition comes in the form of a color insert just behind the front cover.
Volume 26 of Berserk is hardly the best one in the series—it's not even especially memorable—but for fans who like a solid dose of action rendered in an eye-popping artistic style, this one should fit the bill. Between the trolls, the God Hand, and the Apostles, there's no shortage of villains for Guts and company to fight, and the variety of combat techniques keeps things interesting (even if Guts ultimately resorts to brute strength most of the time). Those keeping an eye on the plot will notice some minor annoyances, though: Guts' all-too-convenient escape from the troll cave, for one, and then the all-too-convenient armor that's been lying around waiting for him. Yes, Berserk throws in the occasional cheats and glitches in order to keep the fights competitive, and more importantly, awesome. But for a series like this, that's probably what matters most anyway.
Overall : B
Story : C-
Art : A
+ Stunning artwork as always, and the pace never lets up as Guts and company rush from one battle to the next.
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