In Defense of Puck

Berserk isn’t the most pleasant manga ever written. I know. A series about demons that will kill you and rape you being fought by the angriest dude ever isn’t pleasant. It’s a dark series that explores complex themes with deep characters that suffer from horrible problems.

Which makes this little dude kind of baffling.

Me: “Miura’s art is amazing! The detail work is so incredible and it captures so much horror and emotion!”
Miura’s art:

Puck is kind of an anomaly in the world of Berserk. The world is horrifying and gruesome, filled with selfish people or sadistic monsters. Yet Puck is kind, selfless to a fault, and goofy as hell. Despite seeing multiple horrors during his travels with Guts, he never loses his optimistic demeanor. In a world of darkness, this little dude is a ball of sunshine.

In my experience, Puck is a divisive character. Many people I’ve talked to about the series cannot stand him, arguing that he clashes with the tone of Berserk. Some others love him, saying that he provides some desperately needed levity in one of the heaviest stories in manga.

Both sides have a point. Puck’s presence can be pretty annoying sometimes. When you’re in the middle of an intense fight between Guts and a demon, you want to focus on that. Cutting away to Puck floating around and being an idiot can be frustrating. You just want to see Guts fighting the monster, not Puck being dumb!

On the other, yes. Berserk is a dark and horrifying series. One that desperately needs a source of levity. And when he needs to be, Puck can indeed be that levity. I mean, just look at these panels he shares with Guts! Not even our hardened hero can be 100% serious all the time with Puck around!

For those of you who have never read Berserk (What the hell are you doing? Go read it! Now!) Guts usually looks like this:

So, yeah. Puck is the comic relief. He’s around to make jokes and lighten the mood so that the reader isn’t completely depressed 100% of the time. He’s a necessary addition to the story, whether you like him or not.

But I do think there’s more to Puck than just comedy. Miura was far too good at writing to include a character who just makes jokes and nothing else. There must be another purpose for him than that. One more deeply connected to the themes and narrative of Berserk. And there absolutely is.

Puck is introduced in the very first chapter of Berserk, mere pages after Guts’ introduction. Remember, this first chapter takes place after the Golden Age arc. Puck is meeting Guts at the absolute worst time of his life, when the Black Swordsman believes has nothing left to lose and is filled with nothing but hatred.

Or at least he would have you believe.

In the first arc of the series, Guts puts on a show of cold cruelty. Yet beneath his hard façade, there are signs that he truly cares for people. Every now and then, he shows signs of affection and concern and kindness to those around him. But he tries to suppress those feelings, to make himself into the hardened cold-hearted warrior he wants everyone to believe he is.

The thing is: that act constantly crumbles. All because of Puck.

Unlike the rest of the world, that buys into Guts’ act completely, Puck knows there’s something more to it. He can literally feel other peoples emotions, so he knows that Guts is full of shit. In following Guts around and being who he is, Puck brings out the humanity in Guts. This tiny elf knocks down the walls that Guts has so carefully built through his kindness and innocence.

Not only that, but Puck begins to understand Guts. He sees the horrors that Guts has to deal with on a daily basis and it damages tears away his naivety. Yet it doesn’t ruin Puck’s kindness. Rather, it strengthens it. Seeing Guts struggle so hard, feeling his pain, Puck sticks around to support him.

That’s why Guts responds to Puck with such hostility early on in the series. He’s suffered tremendous loss and pain and is afraid of feeling anything like that ever again, so he closes himself off and pushes people away. In his refusal to leave, Puck threatens Guts with those feelings again.

But as he eventually learns, that’s exactly what Guts needs. He needs someone to open up to, to put trust into, to lean on. Puck doesn’t just heal Guts physically with his elf magic. He opens the Black Swordsman up to reconnecting with people again.

This has an avalanche of effects on the story. Not only does Guts reunite with Casca because of Puck’s influence (among a few other things), but he also forms a bond with Isidro, Serpico, Farnese, and Shierke. He finds purpose in life beyond simple-minded revenge or fighting. Guts’ entire character arc is influenced by Puck just as much as it was by Griffith or Casca!

I bet that sentence is gonna piss a few people off.

It’s easy to see why some people might not like Puck. But I don’t think people give the character enough credit. Yes, he is the comic relief character. But he adds so much more to the story than you might think at first glance. He’s a shining example of just how complex and interesting each and every character in Berserk is.

Except for maybe all the random mercs and knights that Guts cuts down over the series. The deepest thing about those guys are their wounds.

Well… less ‘deep’ and more ‘complete’.

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