There’s a new volume of “Berserk” slated to come out in Japan this summer. If we’re lucky, Dark Horse might be able to put it out in English by the end of the year. Even if they do manage to pull that off, three years will have passed between the release of new volumes of that title on these shores. For a series that is already on its thirty-seventh volume and shows no indication of reaching its climax anytime soon, that kind of delay between volumes is disturbing. It gives you the feeling that its creator has lost his passion for doing this series. For a title as ambitious and epic in scope as “Berserk,” you would think that Miura should be chomping at the bit to impart more of his vision to us. Instead, the long delay between volumes, the manga’s return to serialization being described as an “irregular” one, and Miura’s rumored obsession with “Idolm@ster (no, really) really make you start to fear that we may never see the end of Guts’ quest.
It’s under these circumstances that “Giganto Maxia” has been released into the wild. Viewed in the most generous terms, you could think of this story as something that Miura wanted to tell so badly that he put his signature series on hiatus to do so. Or, its existence may just be one more sign that “Berserk’s” creator is tired of the series he has been writing and drawing for the past quarter-century. This is more baggage than any title should have when it comes to market. Which is a shame because it’s pretty good for what it is. However, you’ll probably be able to guess my ultimate feelings towards it before you get to the final paragraph of the review.
“Giganto Maxia” takes place (according to the back cover) one hundred million years in the future. Most of civilization is in ruins and giant monsters known as Giganto either roam the landscape, or are shackled by the Empire as tools of warfare. It’s through this landscape that Prome and her wrestler bodyguard Delos roam. While their ultimate goal is never stated, they clearly enjoy taking in the many strange sights that this world has to offer.
We first see them in this volume wandering through a desert and subsequently captured by a tribe of demi-human natives. Bitter at the Empire’s treatment of their kind, the tribe’s greatest fighter prepares to extract his vengeance from Delos in the arena. Yet the wrestler is far more crafty and full of heart than he is initially made out to be. It’s these attributes that will serve him and Prome best in the process of winning over the tribe, and facing down the Empire and its Giganto when they come calling.
If “Giganto Maxia” is remembered for anything, it certainly won’t be its plot. The adventures of Prome and Delos with this tribe is a bog-standard mix of fantasy (or sci-fi, as we are in the future after all) and shonen manga tropes. You’ve got the mismatched protagonists, the downtrodden yet noble natives, the evil Empire, and the familiar conflicts, misunderstandings, and calls for forgiveness that reverberate through these parties. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that Prome and Delos also have a special ability that allows them to fight back against the Empire and their Giganto that gives the story its name, “War of Giants.”
The funny thing is that the utter predictability and lack of originality to this story doesn’t really matter in the end. “Berserk” has shown Miura to be a top-tier storyteller, and he demonstrates that again by making this familiar material engaging and involving. It starts with the protagonists: Delos may seem to be a standard issue dumb, yet strong guy at first. Yet he demonstrates some real heart and intelligence in the way he takes on the tribe’s champion in a way that wins them over in the end. We also learn enough about his history as an arena fighter to see how it informs his actions in the present. Prome initially appears to be designed to cater to fans of moe and lolicon, except that she’s revealed to have an actual personality capable of expressing humor, sarcasm, and even embarrassment at one point. The rest of the cast isn’t as developed as its protagonists, but Prome and Delos have enough personality to propel the narrative and get you invested in their fate. Though, I could’ve done without the crass “nectar equals watersports” joke that runs between them throughout the story.
Miura’s storytelling skills also extend to his art and how he’s able to render a visually interesting world while also showcasing some impressive fight scenes. “Giganto Maxia” may start off in the desert, but its locales quickly grow more exotic from there. We’re shown the underground tribe stronghold and its intricate levels carved out by beetles. There’s lush greenery of the Shard of Gaia, a mostly dead giant that allows the tribe to live out in the desert. Then you have the last chapter, a stand-alone story which acts as a stunning showcase for the many ideas that Miura couldn’t fit into the main story.
The fight scenes are also key here as there are only two real ones, but they are both memorable for different reasons. Delos’ one-on-one with the tribal champion has lots of hard hits, bruises, and blood. It’s distinguished by the smarts our protagonist uses in taking on his opponent. You see, it’s not just enough to beat him as Delos has to do so in a way that defuses the hate that the tribe feels towards outsiders. The end result is immensely satisfying.
Then you have the actual Giganto Maxia itself. Even though the trim size for manga is substantially smaller than American comics, Miura manages an impressive sense of scale for the format that he’s working in. You can chalk part of that up to the double-page spreads he uses to get the scale of the battle across. Even though he’ll sometimes do one after another, the changes between the spreads always feel significant and never indulgent. When the actual fighting between giants starts, Miura structures things so that every move feels like it matters. There’s no padding here — every punch has a reason behind it, all leading up to the insane near-orbital maneuver that Delos uses to end the war. “Giganto Maxia” may borrow a lot from the shonen manga rulebook, but its fights are masters of economy and free of the bloat that occupies far too many of the battles in other such series.
What’s here may not be original, but it’s still executed in a way that feels incredibly satisfying. I only have a couple real issues with what’s presented here, actually. The first is that general tone-deafness most Japanese creators have towards issues of race. I don’t want to dissect it here, but I have to mention the fact that the tribe here is made up entirely of black people and Delos has an unmistakably caucasian appearance. Yes, the whole “white savior” bit is better executed here than, say “Far Cry 3,” but if you’re tired of that particular trope then what’s here is just going to annoy you even more.
I’m also kind of curious as to why Miura felt that we needed the final chapter in this volume. The main story ends in an appropriate way at the finale of the sixth chapter, while the seventh showcases more of the world and the relationship between Prome and Delos in an open-ended way. As I mentioned before, we get some really incredible visuals out of this chapter, but it could’ve been dropped from the volume entirely and nothing important to the overall narrative would’ve been lost. The feeling I get — and this is what bugs me about this — is that Miura did this last chapter as a way of saying, “Hey, if you like what you saw in the main story, there’s plenty more where that came from!” I may be reading too much into things here, but it felt like he was essentially testing the waters to see if there was enough interest in making an ongoing series out of this.
Fortunately for fans of “Berserk” there was not. Now we’re just biding our time until the release of the next volume, and (I guess) the new anime series set to debut later this year. Maybe if we’re lucky the new anime series will re-ignite fan interest in the series and persuade Miura to get back to the manga on a more regular basis. I kind of doubt it because artists are fickle like that. After all, here’s a creator who took a lengthy break from the series that made his name to put out this entertaining story. I’m not saying that Miura shouldn’t have given us “Giganto Maxia,” but it all comes down to this: I’d rather have had a new volume of “Berserk” instead of it. It would’ve taken something transcendent to make me feel otherwise.