Dear Kentarō Miura: Stop with the tease, already.
You are the creator of Berserk, easily one of the greatest ongoing series of modern manga, and that has become both your hallmark and your albatross. Berserk is great enough that I am willing to forgive the way you have drastically wound down its production schedule, delivering new chapters more or less whenever you feel like it.
Clearly you still want to draw something, even if it isn't Berserk, and so you produced Giganto Maxia. The worst thing about this series is not that it's bad. It's actually pretty good. But it ends right when it gets interesting, and that means all it ends up doing is teasing us as to how we could have received that much more Berserk instead of something that promises a little, delivers a little more, and then pops like a balloon on a griddle.
Warriors — er, wrestlers — of the wasteland
Giganto Maxia attempts to be a kind of far-future mythology, about a time when the world has grown unrecognizable and nightmarish, when all technology has become bio-organic, and all civilization has apparently reverted to the kind of Hobbesian (shilling for Darwinian) feudalism that Miura seems enamored of. The landscape is blasted and inhospitable, and mankind has crossbred itself with any number of other, hardier creatures, the better to survive.
Through this wasteland go striding the Conan-esque Gohra, bemuscled and as stout of heart as he is of body. Straddling his shoulders — the better to build his muscles, she says — is the waifish and elfin Prome, who speaks Spockishly of herself in the third person and provides Gohra with healing factors synthesized by her body and excreted in her urine. (That's right: Gohra uses Prome's pee to survive. Even Gohra is skeeved by this.)
The two happen across a village of what could be described as beetle-men, humans with insectlike carapaces that make some of them look like the fellow on the cover of Tool's 10,000 Days album. Gohra and Prome are greeted with hostility: after all, they look like the dreaded pure-breed human who drive giant biological war machines. Gohra insists on the right to a duel with the village's second-in-command, something he's good at since he was a gladiator in a former life. The two tussle, and gain the sort of mutual respect that authors love to give their characters after they have come within an inch of pounding the stuffing out of each other. From that, Gohra and Prome are permitted to join the fight and unveil their weapon — an Ultraman-esque giant, complete with Gohra's own luchador wrestling moves, who goes forth to grapple with the machines of destruction.
For most of its running time, Giganto Maxia more than pays off. Even in its early days, Miura's art has always been spectacular; by this point, it's become so detailed and assured that even the throwaways in the corners of his frames could be the centerpieces of other peoples' work. The story we get also gives us a taste of something above and beyond the warriors-of-the-wasteland concept it opened up with, where Gohra and Prome leave their new allies with a choice — they can destroy their enemies (who are already on the run), or use their powers to make the wasted land new again. It's a hint at some of the directions the story could have explored and used to deepen itself. I say could have, because after one more omake-style chapter that's mostly there for laughs, the series ends.
What Giganto Maxia feels most like, in terms of the rest of Miura's career, is an exploration attempt — a trial run for something that Miura might switch off to if he finally does tire completely of Berserk, or, heaven help us, actually finishes the work. I fear that perhaps Miura has tired of Berserk in the same way George R.R. Martin has grown indifferent to Game of Thrones, and by producing something like this he was testing the water to see whether both he and his readership would be interested in going in a different direction. But so far that hasn't happened.
It's a shame, because what little Miura has teased with Giganto Maxia has an appeal that's entirely different from Berserk. Despite the grimness of the settings, hope is far closer to the surface in Giganto Maxia than it is in Berserk. In a time when every major pop-culture franchise seems to be in a death spiral to see who can out dark-and-gritty all other comers, that's appealing. (George R. R. Martin, call your office.) Berserk itself is as dark and gritty as they get, but it too has rays of light here and there, and — most importantly — a tremendous sense of intelligence and perspective about why it has to be this way. Giganto Maxia has a little more of the light, but it's not clear if it has the same sense of purpose; we just don't have enough of it to know.
The shame of it is how all that's good about Giganto Maxia only winds up being a reminder of how Berserk is still an unfinished piece of work. Maybe Miura is now regretting having spent all those hours at his easel when he could have been powerskiing, I dunno. I want to feel sympathy, but given how notoriously reclusive and uncommunicative Miura is, his motives are entirely up for grabs.
Let me conclude with two observations. One, there might well have been greatness here if it had been developed into anything beyond an anecdote. Maybe someday it will. But two, given a choice between seeing more Berserk or more Giganto Maxia, I know which way I'll lean.