Berserk is not only one of the greatest manga series of all time but also one of the first stories in general. Kentaro Miura ’s tale of the lone swordsman Guts, his tragic life, and his burning desire for revenge against Griffith has influenced and inspired millions of people across the world, with the combination of characterization, tragedy, brilliant storytelling, and a beautiful little light of hope being something very, very special.
Having said all that, there is no denying that one of Miura’s greatest virtues as a creator was his world-class art. You only need to have a look at a couple of pages of Berserk to see that this was generational art being done and the mangaka did some pieces that could be shown in a museum up against any other artist of his time. He was that good.
So, how did Miura start? What were his influences? Which works impacted his vision and what would end up becoming Berserk? Well, in this article we’re going to cover that and a lot more regarding one of the greatest artists of our time.
First of all, Guts
If you are going to talk about an artist’s influences, then it behooves you to talk about his most popular character first. In that regard, Guts is the protagonist of Berserk and the one where the entire story begins, which is interesting because his creation is something that Miura has been very vocal about when he was asked.
One of the most obvious influences in Guts’ character, particularly in the first arc, the Black Swordsman, is that of the protagonist of Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro. They both look very similar, both wander through desolated lands fighting bad guys and they are both very manly and stoic characters, even if their backstories and inner thoughts differ greatly.
You only need to look at both characters to see that the influence is quite notorious. Plus, Tesuo Hara’s artwork on Fist of the North Star was very important to Miura, which, yet again, can be seen in the first volumes of Berserk.
Guin Saga, a very famous novel series in Japan, was another big influence of Miura’s and he was quite vocal about it during his lifetime. The image of the main character, tiger head aside, is already can quite similar to Guts in terms of the attire, the build, and the sword-wielding. Miura also took a lot of elements from Guin Saga to implement them in Berserk, although giving them his own spin.
In an interview in 2000 with gender studies professor, Yukari Fujimoto, Kentaro Miura had this to say about the influence of Guin Saga in the big sword that Guts uses, the Dragonslayer:
That comes from Shinji Wada’s Pygmalio. Also, I think it was in the Guin Saga spin-off The Snow Queen, there was this illustration of a two- or three-meter-tall giant wielding a sword. Guts’s sword is a cross between those two. It’s just the right size to be still somehow carryable, while giving that close-to-the-action feeling of violent men’s manga. I couldn’t make up my mind for a while, though, and Guts’s design went through quite a bit of change — long hair, wielding a katana, etc. After agonizing over it for a while I ended up with what he is now, and I felt like I really nailed it.
American films such as Mad Max and Terminator also played a big role in the early stages of the series, particularly during the Black Swordsman period when Miura was still finding his feet as an author. But there is an argument to be made that the following character, the concepts surrounding him, and the implementation of his design was instrumental to stretch the mangaka as an artist.
Griffith and the impact of shoujo manga
Griffith is the main antagonist of Berserk, Guts’ former best friend, and one of the major causes of almost everything that happens in the series. As you can see in the image, Griffith is a very direct contrast to Guts and pretty much any other character from the first arc, the Black Swordsman: he is very good-looking, transmits a much softer and delicate aura, and has an almost androgynous look, which is something that is even mentioned by some characters in the manga.
All of this is very important since by the time that Miura kickstarted his second arc, the Golden Age, he had a major desire to push the envelope and Griffith’s design can be viewed as one of the biggest examples of this. While Berserk is often regarded as a seinen or a very dark and violent shonen series, the reality is that Miura was an author that took from every genre to make his art and storytelling all the more special–there is an argument to be made that the latter chapters of Berserk are more geared towards classic fantasy than anything else.
Much to a lot of people’s surprise, Miura was a huge fan of shoujo manga. For those that are not familiar with the term, shoujo manga is geared towards little girls, with more focus on romance and female leads. And one of the most important manga series to influence Miura’s work was Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles.
The 1972 manga series was very influential in the medium and the Berserk author certainly was one of them, with the character of Lady Oscar being a huge inspiration for Griffith’s design. It is a very good contrast with the manga’s supremely dark tone and it shows the degree of range that Miura wanted to explore, which is something that he also displayed in the more tender scenes of his story.
In the aforementioned 2000 interview, Miura also had this to say about his influences and how it impacts the way he drew according to certain scenes within Berserk:
If I were doing a story like Fist of the North Star, I would be able to really concentrate entirely on just drawing well. The manga I want to create, however, has aspects to it that can be downright shojo mangaesque, and I wouldn’t be able to pull that off if I went all-out Fist of the North Star in terms of art. So I have to strike this balance between delicate drama and Fist of the North Star, and after much wrestling with this I finally ended up with my current art style, although I imagine that it will still be subject to change.
Kentaro Miura ‘s Inspirations for horror
One of the most notorious elements of Berserk is how dark it can get, both visually and from a storytelling perspective, so there is no surprise in stating that Kentaro Miura took a lot of influences from the horror genre for his manga series. The Godhand, the demonic gods that pretty much rule the Berserk universe, were inspired by the Cenobites of the Hellraiser movie franchises.
Not only visually, but they also have a lot of similarities in terms of being demonic entities that grant stuff to humans while taking something away from them. It doesn’t stop there, though. In fact, as an interesting fact, while Hellraiser influenced Berserk, both series are influenced by the works of H.R. Giger, which is shown in the manga through one of the members of the Godhand, Conrad:
There was also the influence of Brian De Palma’s 1974 movie, Phantom of the Paradise, in the design of Griffith when he becomes Femto, a member of the Godhand, which is fairly obvious when you contrast and compare:
The list goes on and on. We could be ever forever dissecting how Miura came up with so many different designs, but it is very interesting to see how such a talented creator managed to take from so many different sources while turning them into his own thing.
Kentaro Miura And The power of the settings
There are a lot of great things to highlight about Kentaro Miura’s art, but his settings are some of the finest both comics and manga have ever graced their pages. It’s powerful, beautiful, and impactful, filled with a lot of details that make you spend hours contemplating every page.
So, considering that Berserk takes place in a world that is obviously inspired by the Middle Ages, it is interesting to see where Miura took influence from for the architecture, the lands and so on.
Miura was heavily influenced by French and Spanish architecture for the setting of Berserk, which can be shown in the castle of Doldrey. This place was inspired by the Castle of Coca in Segovia, Spain, and you can see the similarities at first glance.
The Church of Enoch in Berserk is inspired by the Church of San Martin in Fromista, Spain. The image is quite obvious when you compare and it shows the wide range that Berserk has as a franchise, but the most interesting part to analyze was the abstract places in the story and where Miura was inspired to create such places.
M.C. Escher was a Dutch graphic artist that was known for creating a lot of complex and thought-provoking pieces, often leading to a lot of interpretation by the audience. In that regard, you can see a lot of similarities between Escher’s painting on the left and the place where the Godhand takes people in Berserk on the right, thus giving us a very good glimpse of where Miura was taking inspiration from.
In a 1996 interview for the Berserk Illustrations File Interview, Miura had this to say about his influences for a lot of different things in his manga series:
There are many things. Movies like ‘Hellraisers’ and ‘The Name of the Rose’. I’ve liked Escher for a very long time. Well, I think Berserk readers would already know this kind of thing from ‘behind the scene’ features… It’s also inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales and so on.
Kentaro Miura sadly passed away at age 54 in 2022, and while it was a very untimely passing, his legacy and art will live on forever.
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