Speak a Better Word: The Legacy of Kentaro Miura

It’s now been two years since the tragic passing of Kentaro Miura. Many, many people have made memorial artwork, videos, and more. But among these eulogies, there is a recurring quote and panel from the Berserk manga, used to honor the mangaka. From a certain perspective, it makes a touching sentiment. The only problem is that it takes Miura and his life’s work terribly out of context. 

When I was thinking over this quote, the phrase, “speak a better word,” came to mind. I knew the phrase was biblical even if I didn’t remember the exact reference. But once I started digging, it was surprisingly relevant. Hebrews 12: 20-24 says,

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven. You have come to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Instead? Instead of what? The author of Hebrews is comparing the relationship that people of the Old Covenant had with God to the relationship that people today, in the New Covenant, have with God. This is better than that. The author speaks of an arrival, a reunion, and a tale of revenge that concludes with a twist of restoration.

I am a Berserk fan. Berserk isn’t usually that bright and hopeful. I’ve seen the darkness portrayed in the series and what it’s like to sit with the evil of a world where a God of benevolence seems distant or altogether absent. The whole story is about the escalating oppression of supernatural beings who stole power to make themselves gods over men. It seems to me a good representation of what an Old Testament, pre-flood world would have been like, awash in evil and sin. I’ve always assumed you have to be a certain level of cracked to enjoy Berserk. I guess what I’d never fully grappled with was the extent to which unbelief can be driven to revel in hopelessness. 

Sometimes our brokenness shows most clearly in what we consider a victory. 

Which brings me to the problem of our quote.

A Lesser Word

Christians have an unfortunate record of taking verses out of context:  

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Judge not lest you be judged.

You have not because you ask not.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

And so on and so forth.

You’d think these failures are a disqualification from the criticism I’m about to make of the Miura quote in question but a proper understanding is what I’m after and I have a legion of Berserk fans to fact-check me. If anything, a Christian hypervigilance for decontextualization is exactly what inspired my observation.

The Berserk panel in question shows a contemplative Guts reflecting aloud to himself about the death of someone he knew well. We’re supposed to feel a sorrowful fondness. However, the proper context shows something quite different. Guts has accepted a ride (rather reluctantly) from a traveling priest and his young daughter. The priest is admonishing Guts about dedicating his life to the violence of war and its empty glories. He warns that his nephew lost his life in just such a futile pursuit instead of pursuing a life of peace and starting a family. And this is where we get Guts’ response: “He died doing what he wanted, no matter what, right? I bet he was happy.”

Two misunderstandings are going on when we apply this to the late Miura-sama. The first has already been stated: this is in reference to a young man who died in battle, nameless, and without a legacy. Obviously, at minimum, this is not a fitting comparison for someone of such enormous impact as Kentaro Miura. The second misunderstanding is that this statement comes at a time in Guts’ life and Miura’s narrative that Miura would never want to be taken as the moral of his story because it actually goes against one of the primary messages of the series. So, let’s make sure we get this right.

The Black Swordsman

Taking Berserk in chronological order, the story could be described as one man’s journey to move beyond the extreme trauma that causes him to distrust everyone, isolate himself from others, and carry his crushing burden alone. Eventually, he moves toward a place of reliance, sharing his burdens in the trustworthy company of others. But at the time when Guts’ delivered this quote, he was in the middle of what readers refer to as The Black Swordsman Arc (The BSA). This arc depicts some of Guts’ darkest moments, when he’s at his most violent, his most destructive, and his most unhinged. He lies to himself to keep his head above the waters of insanity as new horrors and evils roll in. 

One of the ways he lies to himself is seen in this same quotation and panel. The concept of happiness as a result of doing whatever you want no matter what, without consideration for others, would imply that Griffith, the greatest villain of the story is, in fact, the happiest of all. Guts is believing a lie that Griffith fed him years ago, even before the eclipse. He wants to believe that he, himself, is doing what he wants most by pursuing his revenge against the demonic apostles and the god hand, even though it leads him to imitate Griffith’s destructive selfishness. Even though he was most happy in the community provided to him by The Band of the Hawk, Guts convinces himself that things are better for everyone when he isolates himself and fights alone. (For Comparison: My Hero Academia fans have seen this theme from the Vigilante Arc in Season 6.)

But The BSA shows that, once you’ve ingested the philosophy of isolation and self-righteous suffering, the depression and repressed anger it produces will work its way out. Once he returns from his quest and takes responsibility for Casca and her mental state, Guts isn’t free of what he’s done to himself. He’s spent years feeding The Beast of revenge and madness and thinks that he can simply turn it off, but he can’t. He tells himself that he would never sacrifice Casca for his ambitions as Griffith did, but he nearly does. At one time, he and Casca were united. Her companionship meant so much to him that he wanted her beside him as he pursued his dreams even though he wasn’t sure how to do it. But the Eclipse and The BSA cut his dreams of two into one, alone and isolated. 

A Better Word

The Black Swordsman presented Guts as a broken man acting on bad advice. It isn’t until he’s introduced to Isidro, Farnese, Serpico, Azan, Schierke, Puck, Ivalera, Roderick, and Isma that Guts allows people in and for his goals to be broader than just his own. (Sidebar: this is a typical character arc when a story moves from some of its shonen moments to more seinen themes—Hunter x Hunter, My Hero Academia, Naruto, Vinland Saga, etc.) He puts down the destructive thinking Griffith gave him and starts to act in defense of others. This was always Miura’s goal. Even in the midst of The Black Swordsman Arc, Miura’s destination was always Elfhelm, Casca’s return to sanity, and the company that formed around that mission—a movement out of the one and back into the two with the help of the many. 

Miura’s own life reflected this evolution in its own way. He started as a solo mangaka, masterfully hand-drawing every panel with extreme devotion and detail. But toward the end of his career and, unfortunately, his very life, Miura had begun to entrust other artists with learning and executing his style, sharing the workload and his original vision. He even shared his vision for the final arc and conclusion of the series with trusted others, which is the only reason we are receiving new chapters from his loyal students even after his death. 

As we wait and hope that Miura’s protégés will be able to provide some kind of resolution to Berserk in keeping with how Miura had planned it, we are left in a difficult narrative spot. Casca has not been able to interact with Guts and has been kidnapped by Griffith, whisked away to Falconia. Guts is absolutely broken in a way we’ve never seen before throughout the entire series. Both his reunion with Casca and his vengeance against Griffith are shown to be completely out of reach despite his best efforts. 

There seems to be very little hope at the moment and the frustration only mounts as we, the readers, remain in a season of hiatus. However, one hopeful factor remains and should not be underestimated: Miura’s last contribution to the story provided an inspiring development for Guts. We see that he has changed and recognized that change in himself. He moves from where we’ve known him for most of the story, in isolated suffering, to finally smiling in gratitude toward those who helped him bring Casca back to reality. This and Casca’s own remembrance of Guts are such cathartic and victorious moments for fans, it almost makes you think that Miura knew his time on earth was drawing to a close.

Not counting the left turn provided by Casca’s persistent PTSD and her eventual kidnapping, this would have been a beautiful resolution to much of Guts’ emotional journey and Miura’s overall message. But the story goes on and there are still loose ends to tie up. Miura’s message is not complete but the beautiful moment captured in this panel provides us some hope for a similarly redemptive ending.

And so, if we’re looking for a quote better suited to the legacy of Kentaro Miura, for now, I don’t think we could do better than Guts’ own words here. They eulogize their author in a way consistent with his vision for the series. Despite the bad, I believe this page shows that the destination was something more akin to hopefulness than nihilism, of restored faith instead of bitter distrust, and fellowship rather than isolation.  I believe this page is a better word for Berserk and a fitting capstone on, arguably, the greatest work in manga. 

Berserk is published by Dark Horse.

5 thoughts on “Speak a Better Word: The Legacy of Kentaro Miura

  1. Wow, this was really deep and insightful! I had no idea Berserk had such an introspective story. Very cool! Yeah, humans in general seem to love taking words out of context, not just manga, or religious text, but anything that is quotable will probably at some point be taken out of context. I’m glad you found a panel that fit the message of Miura’s writing better.

  2. I’ve never seen Berserk, but this is a very well-written article that I’m sure would connect with me if I had seen it. I do have one question: how is Matthew 18:20 taken out of context? It seems pretty straightforward to me, especially when reading it in context. If Jesus says he’s there, then he’s there, and there really isn’t anything to contradict that in the verses prior to that. Anyway, good article!

    1. Hi, Tommy. Thanks for the comment and the kind words. Pardon me for the long explanation but, sometimes, these kinds of questions get lengthy especially if you’re trying to answer well.
      We should notice that this section of the chapter is about wrongs, repentance, and prayerful church discipline. Instead, people who trust that God hears their prayers (as is right) sometimes read Matthew 18:20 and think it’s a kind of cheat code:” if I can get 2 other people to pray with me, God will DEFINITELY make it happen.” Unfortunately this makes two poor assumptions.
      First, God is not any more or less present based on crowd size. Even with one Christian in a room, the Spirit of God inhabits that Christian. There is no need to invoke The Spirit as though He were some outside force and no need to gather him together through the presence of many people as though He were in pieces. He’s fully God and indwells all Christians.
      Second, praying for something doesn’t mean you get what you asked for. And thank goodness for that: we ask for some unhelpful things. Prayers are acts of alignment where we, yes, do make requests but also do so seeking God’s will and glory. Answered prayers are in line with what brings God glory most. Unanswered prayers are, as painful as they can be, still in line with what glorifies God most.
      (BTW I don’t say any of this as someone who’s perfectly content in all of this. I struggle with it too.)

      1. Oh! Well, that makes a lot of sense. I’m fully behind that. Thank you for clarifying that for me, because I’m on board with what you just explained.

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