Berserk: The Flame Dragon Knight novel

Lets just hope this didn't do well enough for them to consider another novel. Not that it means much, but it got 21 reviews on the japanese amzon.
Well, i just checked Amazon and the top review gave it 1/5 stars so... I mean a lot of people probably bought it, but i just hope they won't make another one.

When i heard that Dark Horse was gonna translate this novel, i thought that the people here should make a SkullKast reviewing it.
But now, i don't think it's really worth it :ganishka:
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
I never realized it had 10 illustrations from Miura. That's pretty cool at least. The pictures are nice.
Wow, well that was pretty much the only talking point around this novel from the very beginning. If it were just a novel by Fukami, it wouldn't have registered on anyone's radar. Miura's involvement lends the whole endeavor an unfortunate air of authenticity. And for what it's worth, I do like the illustrations. Back when this was first introduced, I thought they alone made the whole thing worthwhile. These days... after having to read about giant penises, throat rape, mutilated genitals, people sliced up into pig food, I just wish this never happened.

Are there any scans of the art?
Yes and there are spoilers in them, but you wouldn't be reading this thread if you cared about that, right? :guts:
https://imgur.com/r/Berserk/8hf8K
 
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This seems really tryhard, even by the standards of Berserk, a series that features demon children raping each other to death with stingers, and baby cannibalism. It reminds me of early Torchwood, thinking that adding more sex and violence to something automatically makes it more adult.
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
It reminds me of early Torchwood, thinking that adding more sex and violence to something automatically makes it more adult.
One of the biggest takeaways I have so far is that this book was half-assed by all involved in the writing department. It immediately gives off the vibe that it was an early draft, never given a critical eye by the publisher, or an editor, and most importantly Miura. That's the only way I can rationalize some of the choices made in the way that it's written. It's not supposed to be scrutinized, because it's just a cash grab these guys didn't spend much time on. I'll go over more in the review, but chew on these lines of dialogue in the book that convey what I'm talking about: "Here it comes, a big army." and my favorite: "She slashed arteries in necks and thighs, prompting massive blood loss."
 
Ugh. This whole thing makes me sick. Miura couldn't have read it before it came out. I remember his comment in one of the Young Animal issues about how excited he was that Grunbeld finally had a backstory. The tone of that comment just doesn't jive with the excerpts Walter posted.

I hope Miura is as appalled as we are, because that could mean there won't be any more of these abominations.
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
I hope Miura is as appalled as we are, because that could mean there won't be any more of these abominations.
When I read the scene with the duke, all I could think about was Miura's reaction. And while I have never met the guy, I think by this point I have a good feeling about his sensibilities, based on what he has and has not included in Berserk. And I felt genuinely bad for him.

The fact that there's been no announcement of another novel ever since this one, 2 years ago, is a good sign I feel. I just hope his "next project" isn't art for another one of these things. And failing that, perhaps it won't be with Fukami at the helm.
 

jackson_hurley

even the horses are cut in half!
I'm at 70% now. The end is in sight. But before I hop in bed, here are a few more tasty morsels to give everyone happy dreams:

"Her tongue had been cut out and all her teeth removed, so she could emit only moans from the back of her throat. The grand duke, Haakon, was thrusting his cock into the girl's mouth. When he ejaculated into her throat, the girl choked and went into a coughing fit. Haakon struck her and shouted. "You idiot! Swallow it!" He picked up a pair of red-hot tongs that had been hung on the wall, and hit her with them, gouging her flesh until the bone was visible."

"Deep down, Edvard felt agitated. There were rumors going around about Fulda, and many of them disturbed him. For instance, that she was remarkably lecherous, and that she couldn't be satisfied down there except with a ridiculously large penis." (Fulda is Edvard's mom)
Jesus H christ, is that some sort of a weird porn version of Berserk? I mean, I'm pretty used to fucked up things in my free time but violent shit (especially if its sexual) for just the sake of it is not a very good way to tell a story. Like it has been mentionned before in this thread, it looks like the writer (not gonna bother with his name) was enjoying it in a very very wrong way. I can almost imagine him being delighted by some scènes saying in his mind "oh this is gonna be good, niah ha ha". Pretty frustrating I must say. Now if only I could get my hands on these illustrations without having to buy that abomination..
 

Aazealh

そうはいかぬ
Staff member
For the love of Puck, Miura, retcon the shit out of this travesty when and if you get to the point where it's time to delve into Grunbeld's backstory. Wipe this thing from the canon.
This has been my hope from the beginning. I've never said so publicly before, but after the novel came out I sent Miura a letter to tell him how I felt about it. That it did not do justice to the name "Berserk", and more generally that if he's not the writer of a "Berserk" piece of work, then I don't want to read it. Was not easy to write, and probably not pleasant to read either, but I have no regrets.
 
This has been my hope from the beginning. I've never said so publicly before, but after the novel came out I sent Miura a letter to tell him how I felt about it. That it did not do justice to the name "Berserk", and more generally that if he's not the writer of a "Berserk" piece of work, then I don't want to read it. Was not easy to write, and probably not pleasant to read either, but I have no regrets.
Good for you Aaz. This sounds like a dumpster fire sold with Miura's name on it. Maybe he provided an outline in order to put his stamp on it, but it reads like they published the first draft from some fan porn writer who thinks Berserk is only about sex and gore. Shameful that Hakusesha didn't vet something like this better, but perhaps they signed away final approval. These quotes are embarrassing.
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
Four sentences on Grunbeld's penis in one scene:

"Ohh, that's what I call big..." His large penis — appropriate for the size of his body — was beginning to stiffen. It was too soon to say it was towering tall, but it was already easily over twice the size of that of an average adult male. ... He could feel blood gathering to his crotch, due to the pleasant sensation.

Hakusensha: YEP, LOOKS GOOD. PRINT IT! Miura: THUMBS UP!

I finished it tonight. I'll soon stop torturing you with these updates.
 
Holy shit, this reads like one of John Norman's Gor books, but only somehow a million times worse. And that fucking prose, Jesus.....:magni:
 
jeez.....thx Walter for exposing yourself to that torture so we dont have to.
I really, really feel sorry for Miura , i think he got sick after read that shit.
 
This really sounds like some bad Berserk Porn Fanfic... I am still going to buy it just to have Miura's art, but jesus...:stop:
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
In the "Flame Dragon Knight," a brisk, light-novel bearing Berserk's name, an irrevocable stain has been left on the series. The novel represents a wager from the publisher — that the series' millions of fans are hungry enough for the backstory of Grunbeld that they'll swallow a work bearing all the marks of a first draft from a third-rate author with no established rapport with the series.

From the opening page, I knew something was amiss. It starts in a morgue, with police investigating a dismembered corpse. From the setting to the language, it didn’t feel or read anything like Berserk. I hit the home button on my Kindle to ensure I had launched the correct e-book. Sure enough, this was the “Flame Dragon Knight.” Here we go.

With hastily written lines of dialogue like: "Here it comes, a big army," and "So this is what it feels like to be a dragon," or the evocative, "He could feel blood gathering to his crotch, due to the pleasant sensation," it's apparent from the very beginning that this is no masterwork. The thin, prosaic language mirrors the staid, predictable story, which proceeds along obvious rudders that when dramatic turns finally present themselves, it's not exciting, more like a yawn you've been feeling creep up on you. But the largest flaw in the novel is not in the language or the plotting, it is the author’s treatment of Berserk’s grim world, which comes across as an offensively grotesque caricature. Despite its brief length, it is filled with pages upon pages of depictions of sexual violence, all of which are there merely as table setting for the world.

[A servant being tortured] "He'd been stripped naked, his hands and feet pinned down, and his genitals cut with a dull, rusty knife. The severed bloody mess, testicles and all, looked like some kind of putrid marine animal."
[As Grunbeld watches] "His mother's dress had been torn and the soldiers thrust into her three orifices at once. She'd been punched in the face over and over and nearly all her teeth were gone. ... After the rape, the Tudor soldiers toyed with Euphemia like she were a bug, enjoying their torments. They punched her, kicked her, peeled the fingernails from her hands with pliers, and finally slashed her throat horizontally with a knife. Then they yanked her tongue out through the gaping wound."
The above two examples occur within the first 20 pages. I could have listed at least four other scenes, but who wants to read that?

Berserk is of course no stranger to violence, sexual or otherwise. It is set in a brutal world where eyeballs explode from skulls, human-monsters shred bodies, mount dismembered women onto spears, stretch their skin onto flags, along with depictions of a pile of burned children’s bodies. But these moments never feel gratuitous in Berserk. There is gore, but the scenes aren't about the gore. It's not about the sexual violence. This is why Fukami’s penchant for moments of crude, over-the-top sexual violence brings utter shame to the name of Berserk, validating outsiders’ normally unfounded claims that it's a series fixated on the abhorrent and grotesque.

Fukami's attention to sexually tinged depictions also reveals his lack of respect not only for the characters, but for the readers. Whether it was relevant or not, we're treated to four sentences about Grunbeld's penis, in the midst of his seduction by Edvard's mom. And after a 10-year jump in the story, Fukami makes a special note that Sigur's breasts and bottom have grown.

[Edvard's mother to Grunbeld] "Ohh, that's what I call big..." His large penis — appropriate for the size of his body — was beginning to stiffen. It was too soon to say it was towering tall, but it was already easily over twice the size of that of an average adult male. ... He could feel blood gathering to his crotch, due to the pleasant sensation."
"Sigur had grown into a woman who radiated a cold elegance. She had a high waist, and the muscles in her arms and legs were taught like a gazelle's. But for all that, her breasts and bottom had filled out, giving her body slender, elegant curves."
Even getting past that, if one attunes their brain to accommodate the simple wording and squints through the depraved acts, they'll find themselves staring at what feels indelibly like an unauthorized fanfic. Admittedly, a glorified fanfic that was somehow able to kiss pages with beautiful illustrations from Berserk's creator, but that still feels completely divorced from the work it is based on. The writing is often extraordinarily amateurish, the characterization is generally tone-deaf, and the storytelling is thoroughly sloppy. As the cherry on top, the author also shows a lack of understanding of core Berserk concepts. So how could such a thing happen?


Why Does This Exist?

Kentarou Miura has historically been very protective of Berserk, taking a hands-on approach to the 1999 Dreamcast game, contributing original scenarios for the 2004 PS2 game, and penning his own screenplay for one episode in the 2016 anime series. So what happened here? Why hand the reins to someone who has not proven themselves? The answer is, apparently, business needs.

Writer Makoto Fukami traipsed his way to sharing cover credits with Kentarou Miura by way of his role as script writer for the universally panned Berserk anime (2016-2017). The novel was announced in April 2017, and released two months later, just as the 2017 season concluded with an episode featuring Grunbeld. The timing of its release cannot be a coincidence. And as a result of the murky circumstances, we cannot assume one way or the other that Miura had much of a say in who wrote it, or even whether such a thing should exist. Because it's no large leap to see this as a co-marketing effort cooked up by the consortium of businesses behind the anime, likely as additional merchandise to milk all they could out of the (ephemeral) brand exposure it afforded.

The opaque way in which the novel was conceived, and the lingering question of how much was truly authoritative about it, led fans to an undesirable place, even from the moment of its announcement. We were forced to ask uncomfortable questions, such as, "how are we to regard this sudden foray into a new medium, where Miura is, for the first time ever, not at the helm of his own character?"

Most of us were content to let its quality speak for its placement in the series and how we should regard it. But as the reviews waded in from overseas, the outlook was grim. The tidings were like a plague ship. Despite this, I needed to know for myself just how bad it was, and how far this author could sully the good name had Miura built. After having finished it for myself, I bring you bad tidings, and I'm sorry to say that if you're reading this now, you too are plague-ridden.


Who is Grunbeld?

The novel's chief value proposition is that it promises to unravel a series of enigmas around Grunbeld: “Who was he as a human?”; “What would such a man sacrifice?”; “What was the real story behind his epic war with Tudor (the only piece of the puzzle Miura gave us himself)?”. For those who would embrace this novel on the prospect of a semi-authoritative origin story for Grunbeld, they'll unfortunately leave mostly empty-handed here. The broad strokes of the above questions are certainly answered, but from boyhood to his sacrifice, there's really not a lot to Grunbeld as a character that can't be summed up in a sentence or two.

By way of analogy, imagine if you will Guts from the Golden Age devoid of the scenes of introspection which humanize him. That's Grunbeld, to the letter. He's alive on the battlefield and hungers for the adrenaline of combat (even this is already too flowery for how he's described in the book, I apologize). But with humans, he's awkward, distant, unsure of how to relate, and keeps his friends close. Sound familiar? An added failure here is that Grunbeld as a human doesn't seem any different at all from the apostle Grunbeld we see in the pages of the manga, either in personality or strength.

The bulk of the novel is an attempt to add meat to that skeleton. But one of the biggest surprises to me was how relatively brief the screen time was for the titular character, and how little any of it has to do with active decisions on his part, and thus how much we can learn about who he was. So if you wanted backstory on a fictionalized island, its government, its religion, and the thoughts and feelings of three or four characters who don’t survive the book, you’re in for a real treat.

Nearly all the development in the story happens around Grunbeld rather than something he had any agency with or that informs who he is as a character. For example, his great height and strength flow from his ancestry — a race of hunters in the north who were known to be extremely tall. His people are protective of their native culture, and follow a native religion. But these are under siege by Tudor, which is expanding north to Grant, the island where this story takes place, during the hundred years war with Midland. That's all fine, and at least feels like it fits in with Berserk. But it's a footnote — the setup for what actually happens in the novel.

The key relationship in the novel is a love triangle (more of a love rhombus, really) between the aloof hero Grunbeld, the mastermind Edvard, the warrior Sigur, and somewhat set apart from the main conflict, the priestess Benedikte. Nearly all other named characters are scheming villains with next to no development — the disciples of Adon, basically. By the end, Edvard has been turned evil by his scheming father, betraying his comrades and Grunbeld, who he begrudges because Sigur loves him, not Edvard. His friends end up as Grunbeld’s sacrifice, and as an apostle, he lays waste to the massive army of Tudor and Grant forces that schemed to remove him as a thorn in their conquests.


Okay, So Who is Grunbeld?

Listen, what can I tell you? He was a valiant warrior, fond of plate armor, and wields a massive war hammer (which the author says was found in a temple raided by Tudor). Everyone in the book calls him a fire dragon, and he builds his career defending a keep that's literally called "Fire Dragon Lair", and at the end he says he wants to be a fire dragon and actually turns into one (Miura’s notes: He’s like a dragon). That’s pretty much it, guys.

He’s not actually very friendly or close with his friends, regularly delegating duties to them without much affection or thought. I don’t know if this was intentional or just a failing of the writer. But the only exception is how he treats Benedikte, who is, depending on how you read certain passages, either his niece, his adoptive sister, and/or his true love. Grunbeld and Benedikte meet when they are young and develop a strong bond. Their character designs were clearly from Miura and make a good visual pair because of the incongruities in their design. There are fleeting moments in the novel where you can squint and sense Miura’s hand at work, and this couple’s introduction is one of them.

Benedikte is blind but can sense people’s Od (not expressly stated in the book, but it’s evident). They meet in a forest, with a spring that has natural healing powers, not dissimilar from other places in the Berserk world where elves once thrived (I know, this is sounding cool, right? Well hold your horses.) With her second-sight, she is convinced Grunbeld is a fire dragon pretending to be human, and she is fascinated by his radiant aura. Their meeting, along with her prophetic vision, mirrors an ancient legend on the island of a fire dragon who rampaged after a priestess was sacrificed. The events of the novel, obviously, are circular in that regard. By this introductory story structure, you can tell that more effort was invested in the front end than the back end, and in this section more than others, it’s not hard to trace the invisible line between Miura’s notes and where Fukami picked up.


Why is the Big, Bad Guy so Bad?

Edvard’s scheming father, the Grand Duke of Grant Haakon, serves as the book’s chief antagonist. Haakon is sick of his old country's ways, and after visiting the continent, is eager to adopt the progressive culture he witnessed in the Holy See territories. But his people hold him back, sticking to their traditions. That's the extent of his characterization. Oops, wait. Forgot — The jolly old duke also routinely tortures, mutilates, rapes, dismembers, ejaculates into, and peels the skin from women before cutting them into pieces and then littering his own capital city's streets with their corpses.

"Her tongue had been cut out and all her teeth removed, so she could emit only moans from the back of her throat. The grand duke, Haakon, was thrusting his cock into the girl's mouth. When he ejaculated into her throat, the girl choked and went into a coughing fit. Haakon struck her and shouted. "You idiot! Swallow it!" He picked up a pair of red-hot tongs that had been hung on the wall, and hit her with them, gouging her flesh until the bone was visible."
Why all this? Why so much? Despite the absurd, layered level of depravity on display in his scenes, Haakon isn’t an apostle, though that would have been a good guess given the circumstances. He’s just your usual scheming, bitter asshole leader who punishes women for his own failings. Fukami, with his subtle pen, chooses to embellish these traits into what amounts to murder porn for a few pages in what I can only imagine was an effort to communicate that Haakon is not a good person. He gets a visit from a Tudor spy, who has a proposition for him — sell out Grunbeld and his people, and be given title in the Tudor kingdom. This plan is mostly successful, until Grunbeld suddenly appears as an apostle and rips through the roof of his throne room to eat him in the final scene.


Wait, What About the Other Four Big Bad Guys? Who Are They?

Funny you should ask! The God Hand literally introduce themselves by name, sounding off like they’re Mouseketeers (“I'm Void”), but otherwise the sacrificial ceremony plays out like a rushed version of the Count's ceremony. It even has a verbatim repetition of one of my favorite go-to lines, "a fissure in your heart will open into which evil will pour."

Then several wrinkles present themselves that I can't imagine would pass muster for even casual Berserk readers. Grunbeld is perfectly happy to embrace a new demonic existence in exchange for the souls of his comrades. Instead of heartbreak and guilt over his selfish decision, it's more like: WHAT A DEAL!!!!! One can hardly blame him, given the circumstances, which are themselves utterly broken for such a ceremony. The sacrificed are of course his comrades — Sigur and Benedikte — who are already dying, and Sigur is about to be raped by Edvard, so the clock is ticking. Benedikte is happy to be sacrificed and encourages him to do it (expressing ignorance about what awaits, despite her knowing quite a lot already), and the empowerment comes as a promise of vengeance for his fallen friends. So really, no downside, all upside.

"Search for the Hawk. Go on living. Grunbeld remembered those final words of Benedikte. Is this fate? Benedikte. Is it my fate not to die like this, but to go on fighting? For me to be alone again, throwing myself into even fiercer battles? Does such a magnificent future await me?"
Layered on that, the God Hand only mention the sacrifice of his two comrades (Sigur and Benedikte), but after the ceremony, there's a bonus third -- Edvard. Oh, that's right by the way, none of the sacrificed were present in the ceremony. Just Grunbeld. In the real world, Edvard suddenly notices a bleeding sensation on his cheek. The brand just appeared there. Grunbeld bites him in half, legs first (no idea how, but whatever), and as his upper torso lands, Edvard manages to utter the names of the friends he betrayed. Grunbeld tears through the remaining troops, and makes his way to the capital city to eat the Duke. The end.


Where does Miura’s Work End and Fukami’s Begin?

This is one of the lingering mysteries I hoped to help solve by reading it. Since the novel was first introduced as a co-authored piece, with Miura's illustrations grounding the whole affair, we've wondered in what order those were created. Until I read it, it was certainly a chicken-and-egg puzzle. But one scene in particular stood out to me as a strong indication that Miura's illustrations may have informed the outline of the novel, rather than the other way around. It's conspicuous because the novel does a very ham-fisted job of recreating the accompanying visual.

After an assassination attempt scene in which Benedikte and Sigur must fight through Bakiraka groupies, the pair hang out for a while with the corpses instead of running off to summon a guard, because Benedikte is shaking and needs to calm down first. These two, who have scarcely spoken more than a hello or goodbye throughout the novel, immediately broach Sigur's incidence of gang-rape while in the re-education camps (she brings it up in relation to how it clouds her pursuit of Grunbeld), and within a page, end the scene by laughing together. The scene is capped off by an illustration of the pair of girls laughing together, their heads touching:


Despite having just survived close combat, their clothes remained unsoiled. Almost as if Miura had intended this to represent their close relationship (which never occurred), and in a desperate attempt to include it, Fukami concocted this scene. This impromptu bonding scene — amid a pile of fresh corpses, chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool, where they had just survived a surprise attack — struck me as so unlikely that it couldn't have been intentionally scripted that way. Rather, it makes more sense to me that Fukami got the illustrations in advance as a way for Miura to inform Fukami of milestones in the story he had envisioned, and it was Fukami's job to fill in the blanks. And he did so whether it made any sense or not with the flow of the story.


Should I Read This?

In short, no. A factor in me buying it and reading through it despite everything negative I'd already read was to verify for myself the claims made by others. I wanted definitive proof that it was as bad as it was, and if it was so bad, how in the world is it this bad? This review serves as that testimony. And if you've made it this far in the review and think maybe it might still have some good stuff in the margins, well, that's your $10 to spend. But consider that it may encourage the publisher to go another round with this.

The tumultuous result of this thing crashing in on itself really feels like a blow to me, and should feel that way for all fans. Shortly after I finished the book, I dove back into another book I'm reading, by a reputable writer, and immediately I was struck by what could have been a cool new medium to experience the world of Berserk. If only we had gotten a competent writer, and not a complete hack, there's a huge world of possibilities, even if Miura wasn't at the helm of the script. Instead we have this.
 
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Holy Christ, what a disgusting trashfire. Walter, you're doing God's work reading through that pile. Your pains have not gone unappreciated :azan::puck:

Edit: Just got back from browsing the "official" (I guess) Berserk subreddit, and apart from the usual idiocy, the first post to mention the novel was full of people unironically praising it. I'm now more glad than ever to have switched to here as my main Berserk hub.
 
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Damn, that thread alone is better written than the book itself. :iva:
Thanks Walter. :guts:

Hopefuly the next project that Miura has in mind will make us forget that this and the 2016/17 anime ever happened. :serpico::ganishka:
You know, in a way this can all be our eclipse as well, think about it... :femto::casca:

Bye bye. :daiba:
 
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Grail

Feel the funk blast
Thanks for putting in the time for this review, Walter. I personally won't be spending money on a copy in English. What a waste of those lovely illustrations! :judo:

My personal hope is that reviews like this one about how bad the novel is has spread, and Berserk fans vote with their wallets. At the end of the day, that's the only thing that's going to show Hakusensha that nobody's interested in a shoddily-written novel. It's been said before, but it never ceases to boggle the mind how Berserk projects simply don't get the treatment the series deserves, whether it's the budget or the people involved. What a sad state of affairs we're in.
 
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