Before I get into why I dropped Berserk, let me talk a little bit about a fantasy series I used to enjoy: The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I really enjoyed the struggles of Richard Rahl, the Mother Confessor Kahlan, and the Wizard Zedd. Like Berserk, it had some unsavory moments–some very unsavory moments indeed. Yet, I felt that the great storytelling outweighed the bad.
Then, I ran into Goodkind’s full-blown Objectivist philosophy in book eight, The Naked Empire. Few moments in my reading life have depressed me as much as Richard Rahl inveighing against self-sacrifice as an evil. Apparently, people should always act in their self-interest, and any sacrifice of one’s self-interest is immoral. Never mind that the heroes frequently risk their lives and suffer quite a lot. Also, many good people had sacrificed their lives for good causes by this point in the series, and the fantasy world’s universe includes God, who no doubt rewards the righteous. The idea of self-sacrifice being a moral evil simply did not compute in my mind. Despite having read 6,454 pages of Goodkind’s work–the equivalent of reading War and Peace about four and a half times, I put down the series and never picked it back up again.
A good friend brought around a similar change to the way I viewed Berserk (2017). (I highlight Berserk (2017) because the problem occurs here even if Berserk (2016) gives context to it.) He tends to research series minutely and discovers some very surprising things–like the black magic prayer in Your Lie in April. A while back, I wrote a post titled “On the Danger of Flying Witch and Its Ilk,” wherein I describe acceptable and unacceptable forms of magic in fantasy books. Essentially, I find all purely fantastic magic okay. However, if a story does describe a system of magic plainly related to the real world’s occult, that might be alright too, provided that the story shows it as evil.
The neophyte witch Schierke’s magic involves the common idea of the four elements with a supernatural ruler for each element. This is something a fantasy writer can easily concoct himself; however, that good friend’s research found that the manga involves an incantation with the Four Kings deriving from actual pagan magic. I even discovered one thread where a gentleman was looking for books about the magic Berserk describes, and someone gladly points the books out!!! So, I can not only add that watching or reading Berserk might lead someone to the occult, but it certainly has!
In this context, the portrayal of Berserk’s church is quite sinister. It’s one thing to use the motifs from the Medieval Catholic Church in order to give form to a fantasy religion. It’s another to make this religion cruel and wicked, have other evil forces gallivanting about, and then to show magic as the path to God. Yes, Berserk does have the concept of a supernaturally good Being called God, but it then says that magic is the way to God!
So, I’d say that Berserk (2017) might cause someone not grounded in faith harm. For that reason and to be consistent with my principles, I’m recommending that one avoid the new Berserk completely. I know two very enthusiastic fans of the series who are also ardent Catholics; so, the manga will not necessarily harm one’s understanding of the truth. Still, whether or not one goes into the new anime or the manga, it’s good to know that this occult bias exists so that one can be on one’s guard. As for the Berserk which came out in 1997, that lacks the occult propaganda discussed above. I’ll always consider that version a classic.