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Ray's epic Berserk review

I recently finished Berserk, the most influential dark fantasy manga ever made. It was written by the late Kentaro Miura, in 1989 for Monthly Animal House. It spans 364 chapters, and 41 volumes. Each chapter details the journey of Guts, the black swordsman and his quest for revenge against the hawk of light, his old friend, Griffith. The story is considered one of the most influential of all time, with properties such as Final Fantasy 7, Hellsing, and even  Dark Souls being inspired by Berserk. Any edgy, sad, black wearing, anime boy with a big sword is probably inspired by Guts. The unfortunate thing is that Berserk has never received a quality anime adaptation, leading many to not give it a chance. Unfortunately for them, they are missing what I would consider the greatest piece of fiction ever written. This is my review of Kentaro Miura's legendary tale of love, revenge, and violence, this is Berserk.

The black swordsman arc starts with a full page spread of Guts, balls deep in an apostle disguised as a woman, only for him to blow its head off using his arm cannon. This is an amazing hook, as the reader can already establish a few things. Apostles are horrid creatures that are a mess of flesh, spikes, horns, tentacles, and other deadly features. Guts hates them for some reason and has an arm cannon. And the last thing we learn is that Guts is ruthless, dangerous, and someone who is willing to do whatever it takes. In 4 pages we have learned more about our main character than I have learned about an isekai mc in 3 seasons.

After leaving the building, Guts puts on his cloak and walks through the night until he reaches a town. Here, one of the first things you see is a cage of women, a guard, and a homeless cripple. It then cuts to the inside of a tavern, where a group of ruffians is throwing daggers at a small elf. Elves are tiny fairy-like creatures, yet the one we see appears to be very feisty, threatening to chew through the rope that is wrapped around his neck. As onlookers state that they feel bad for the elf, they also state that they cannot do anything to help. One of them says, (1)"Not even the mayor can stand against the men from Koka castle". Guts enters the tavern and immediately gives the owner a bag of coin, stating upfront, (2)"I'm going to mess this place up a little". He then puts an automatic crossbow attachment on his arm and shoots one of the people torturing the elf. This angers his fellow bandits, leading them to fight Guts. They are quickly put down, as Gut’s crossbow quickly ends them. He then fires an arrow through one of the men’s nose. Guts then demands that the man send word to his master that Guts is coming for him. A ruffian attempts to sneak up behind Guts, but is bisected at his waist. This is when Gut’s sword is revealed to us. It is described as, “too big, too heavy, and too rough, it was more like a large hunk of iron”.  After this, Guts steps out of the tavern, followed by the small elf. He introduces himself as Puck and follows Guts around, until they are stopped by a large group of armed guards. Before this though, Puck tries to touch Guts, only to be smacked away.

This small part reveals a lot to the reader about the characters, the setting, and helps set up the main conflict of this chapter. One of the first major things that the reader can pick up on in this section is the setting. The first things we see are the caged women, an armored guard, and the crippled vagabond, showing how to use the conditions of this city right from the beginning. We see as these women are carted off, the guard does nothing, implying that he or the town's government is implicit in these actions. These women look forlorn, as they stare off into nothing, their cold gaze emphasizing the things they have seen. We then see the ruffians from koka castle torturing Puck without anyone even attempting to stop them. The people seem to disapprove of his torture, but neither them nor the city’s mayor are willing to do anything, as is displayed in quote (1). This implies that the mayor is either a coward or that he does not wish to anger the people of Koka castle. While both of these turn out to be true, this shows that the mayor is putting his own safety from these men, over the safety and comfort of his people.  His uncaring nature towards his people is further emphasized by looking back to when Guts first enters the town and sees the crippled man on the side of the road. He is missing everything below his left knee, and his hands and right feet are wrapped in bandages, implying injury. He holds a crutch and begs for money, it doesn’t seem to be going well. He has earned but two small coins in his day of begging, as it is evening when Guts enters the town.

We are once again shown Guts’ blunt and ruthless personality when he enters the tavern and immediately pays the owner for the damages that his establishment is about to receive. Right after doing this, he starts killing the ruffians without a hint of hesitation or mercy. In front of everyone, he shoots four men, killing three of them, and bisects another man using his massive sword. The top half of the man’s body flies into the crowd and Guts doesn’t seem to care. He then tells the only survivor to send word to the master of Koka castle, making the cold and threatening statement, (3) “The black swordsman has come”. This scene proves without a shadow of a doubt that Guts is a dangerous man. He walked into the tavern, assaulted five men, killing four in the process, then just left without an ounce of remorse. The audience also gets introduced to Guts’ sword and instead of it being described as an awesome or heroic weapon, it is barely described as a sword. This differs from what many fantasy manga do with the protagonist’s weapon. In Sword Art Online, Kirito’s sword is described as being a sleek and dangerous sword, made with black metal. It has a cool design and is extremely strong, making the character who wields it seem like a powerful badass (sorry for not pulling a direct quote, I’m not 14 anymore and I’m not about to reread SAO in order to get a quote). In contrast, the description of Guts’ sword makes it seem like a crude and violent tool that is unwieldy and ill fit for humans. This in turn, subtly implies that maybe Guts isn’t human and already helps to set him apart from other fantasy protags. At this point in the story, this is closer to being true then many would expect. Guts has left his humanity behind due to a mysterious past event, and now he seeks out revenge. He carves out this path, leaving bloodied and broken bodies in his wake without any sense of mercy. He seems to treat those around him with a cruel indifference, with him being an asshole to Puck at every turn. He is displayed as a seemingly cruel person, but this is contrasted by his reaction to receiving physical contact from Puck. Puck just touching him causes him to lash out and threaten to kill Puck. Whether this is just him being an asshole or if he actually has some aversion to physical touch is yet to be shown yet, but it helps the reader begin questioning his appearance and personality.

After leaving the tavern, Guts and Puck are stopped in the street by around twenty armed guards. He gives a frustrated look and replies with an annoyed, (4) “shit”. Puck manages to escape the situation, leaving Guts to be taken to a large castle, presumably that of the mayor. In here we cut to a full page spread of Guts being tortured in a dungeon by a man with a whip. He is lashing Guts, opening large wounds on his chest and causing blood to pool at his feet. His torturer approaches him complaining about the lack of screaming. When he gets too close though, Guts spits blood on the man's face as an insult. As the man goes to lash Guts again, the mayor enters and commands the torturer to stop. He asks whether all the weapons belong to guts, showing a panel with a ton of weapons and ammunition. He begins questioning Guts, asking if he is a mercenary and if he intends to start a war. Guts remains silent until the mayor reveals that the town will likely be destroyed due to Guts killing those men. Instead of showing any remorse, he mocks the guards for being too weak to stop that from happening. The mayor then describes a man he refers to as “the master”. He is a large man on a horse who wears a helmet that looks similar to the head of a cobra. The mayor states, (5) “He…or rather it…is not human. It is something much more frightening… perhaps even a creature from hell”. Guts chastises the mayor for sacrificing his citizens and refusing to stand up to the “master”. The mayor tells Guts that someone like him, a wanderer, could never understand his situation. Guts looks at the mayor and says, (6) “I know. That thing is a monster that eats humans… I know it very well”. Guts then tells the mayor that he is aware of the mayor’s activities. The mayor has been feeding citizens to the “master”, citing the carriage of women as evidence. He then tells the mayor that he is only doing this to save himself, rather than his town. The mayor responds by telling the torturer to hurt Guts as much as possible without killing him. 

Here, Guts feelings about the weakness are on full display. His clear malice and disdain towards those who cannot defend themselves is palpable. He also seems to be very knowledgeable about the “master” and sees right through what the mayor is doing. Guts’ knowledge of the fact that the women who are shipped off are eaten, makes the audience question how Guts knows the “master” and how he knows that he eats people. Also the fact that the “master” does eat people, gives the audience further questions about who this person is and what they are.

The next scene opens with the one surviving bandit from earlier warning the “master” of the black swordsman. Here it is revealed that the “master” holds the title of baron, implying nobility and status. After the ruffian describes Guts to the baron, he gives a menacing grin, asking himself, (7) “Could it be… him?”. This implies history between the two characters, making us ask more questions about Guts’ mysterious past. As the baron ponders, the mayor enters the room begging for forgiveness. To this the baron replies by stating that he knows the circumstances. The mayor immediately says that he will give the baron double the gold and double the sacrifices. The baron tells the mayor that the mayor is only afraid of losing his own life, implying that the mayor is a cowardly man who thinks he is above others. The baron then flicks a severed human ear off his fork and towards the mayor. This shows the baron’s cannibalistic nature first hand and horrifies the mayor.  The baron then says the line that completely proves, without a shadow of doubt, his lack of humanity. He looks upon his suit of armor and addresses the mayor behind him, saying (9) “Gold… Prisoners… I don’t care about such things. All I wish to see are humans within a fiery apocalypse. Trying to escape. All I wish to hear are the sound of snapping bones, crushed under the hooves of horses. I do not need an excuse. None at all.”. The mayor is then removed from the room as the baron stairs out the window with a cold and empty gaze, pondering about the black swordsman.

We then cut back to our main character, Guts, within a cell that is likely near the room he was tortured in. He lies on the stone floor, unable to move, when he spots something on the straw bed in the corner. A strange creature that looks like a deformed fetus sits there, staring at Guts. Guts acknowledges it in a way that shows that he has encountered this creature before. He shouts for it to get away from him, his voice almost being a desperate plea. While this happens, Puck trips and falls into the cell, the keys to it wrapped around him. Guts looks over and notices that the fetus creature is nowhere to be seen. Puck just assumes Guts had a nightmare and some concern for him. Puck also tells Guts that he really should have listened to his advice. Guts asks why Puck is there, with Puck responding, (10) “To repay a debt. We elves have a strong sense of duty”. Puck then places his hand on Guts, only for Guts to scream (11) “DON’T TOUCH ME! DON’T YOU EVER TOUCH ME…”. Puck asks what was wrong, as he had no intentions of hurting Guts, only for Guts to shimmy away, asking Puck to stop. He seems almost like a wounded animal here, not just in his physicality, but his reactions are similar to those of an abused dog. He backs away and bares his fangs. He lashes out, yelling at people not to touch him, but why is that? Guts now has developed another layer of personality that drives the audience to see Guts as something more than a bloodthirsty maniac. Puck reveals that elves have healing powers and the ability to give people happiness. He places his hands on Guts, and the many wounds on his body begin to heal. Puck asks what Guts’ name is and asks why he has come to this place, but says that Guts doesn’t have to answer. Guts tells puck his name, and Puck continues to heal his body, until he reaches a peculiar scar. He asks what it is, only for Guts to refer to it as “the brand”. Puck asks several questions, ranging from how Guts got the brand to who gave it to him, but Guts promptly tells him that he talks too much. He ominously tells Puck will learn soon enough, when the baron comes to kill him and burn down the town. Puck asks Guts why he would do this. Guts simply responds, (12) “I don’t care. All I wanna do is find that bastard and kill him. I don’t care about anything else. Anyone who dies because they get caught up in someone else’s fight is a small fry who doesn’t have the strength to survive in the first place. If someone can’t live their life the way they please, they might as well die.”. Puck can feel Guts’ rage, sadness, and fear, all mixing to form something far deeper and far darker. Puck then asks why Guts saved him at the tavern, only for Guts to tell Puck that saving him was not his intention. He asks Puck why anyone would save him. Puck then flies out the window with tears in his eyes. Guts looks out the window and sees a fire in the distance. He says that he has been waiting for him, presumably the snake baron. He then cuts his arm and places the blood onto the brand. 

7 Kudos


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