A run-in with an immortal demon-warrior named Zodd, an assault on a strategically significant fortress and underhand court politics present both problems and opportunities for Guts, Griffith and the Band of the Hawk as they rise up the ranks in the army of Midland. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Guts’ and Griffith’s differing philosophies and battle techniques are starkly contrasting but during the events of this volume they form a combination that is powerful and effective; both in terms of the battlefield and Berserk’s impressive character study this is an important factor in the series’ ability to consistently get your attention and keep hold of it throughout.
The fight against Zodd appears on the surface to be a generic tough guy vs. monster battle but as is always the case in Berserk there is much more to this than is immediately apparent. It is perhaps intended to draw attention to how the main characters interact and how their respective fates are intertwined; I’m guessing that because Zodd recognises Griffith’s pendant, it is an object of superhuman power, feared by even invincible demons. This incident also highlights how much Griffith values Guts as a comrade, not to mention how their combined efforts can even give the likes of Zodd a tough time.
The Band of the Hawk are becoming a military force to be reckoned with too as the unfailingly charming and charismatic Griffith is promoted, given more responsibilities and acquires more attention by the king’s inner circle. The combat scenes (which are still full of clashing swords and gushing blood, for those who are into that sort of thing) are often reduced to pans and still shots, but I don’t think the focus of the series is on these parts anyway; they punctuate the longer scenes involving the convincing politics and machinations that are set in motion by the Hawks’ rise to fame.
As Griffith attains more and more respect and responsibility, he makes enemies in high places as well as causing some discontent within his own ranks. Caska is still resentful of the fact that Griffith places so much faith in Guts without a word of explanation (even to Guts himself, interestingly), which is one of the reasons why this volume paints Griffith as such a fascinating character. One scene shows him in his study, surrounded by books that cover topics as far-ranging as science, history and military tactics; this intelligence is but one facet of a personality who has skills as a warrior, tactician and scholar – a man who is a cut above the arrogant nobles, and more in line with the king’s own way of thinking. Ever the straightforward type, Guts on the other hand is continuing with his inner search for answers regarding his place in his commander’s plans and the harsh world in which he lives.
I suspect that Berserk’s fantasy-tinged take on the Middle Ages of Europe, with the chivalry, violence and occasional appearances of supernatural monsters that go with it, is in many ways similar to traditional Japanese tales of samurai and spirits that form a significant proportion of anime produced over the years. Perhaps Japanese audiences find this show exotic and unusual, yet strangely familiar at the same time, for this reason; in the same way that Western audiences are entertained by Japanese-themed period pieces that share similar aspects with our own folkore and history, for all their differences. This could explain why this is such an enduring classic in its home country as well as a worthy addition to international fans but above all Berserk is simply a good story, which is what really matters.
The strengthening bond between Guts and Griffith suggests that, for better or for worse, they are inexorably bound by fate; a suspicion reinforced by their encounter with Zodd. In the meantime the increasing importance of the Band of the Hawk in the Army of Midland ensures that we have plenty of substance to concentrate on, both in terms of Berserk’s medieval politics and its fascinating portrayal of the characters.