If chapter one established how grotesque and badass Berserk would be, then this is the one that shows just how tragic it truly is.
Guts is on the road, but his constant battle against demons has left him wounded and tired. A curious and loyal Puck follows after him, despite Guts’ best efforts to push him away. On the road, they’re both separately picked up by a cart driven by a kindly old priest and his granddaughter. But when the curse of the Brand acts up again, great tragedy befalls all four of the temporary party.
This chapter masterfully captures the complexities of Guts’ character. We can see him acting like he doesn’t care, that he hates everyone and looks down on the weak. But when people try to draw close to them, his first instinct is to push them away, to shove them out of the danger that he brings. If he truly didn’t care, then why would he hesitate?
This complexity is beautifully displayed in the action. While fighting the skeletons, Guts’ face is cast in shadows. The panels are glorious, making each swing of the Dragonslayer seem a dramatic show of force meant to excite the reader. Yet when Guts must turn his blade on the possessed girl, there is no glory in it. No excitement. The panel displays Guts from far-off, as if from the view of a bird, as he quickly strikes the girl down. We are made to feel the pain and the horror that Guts is trying to hide.
Then, when he lets the rage out, we feel every bit of it with him.
Not only that, but we get a more subtle insight into how trapped Guts feels. When the priest speaks of his nephew, whom he believes foolishly went off to war to get killed, Guts doesn’t laugh or condescend him. He defends the nephew. And in doing so, he delivers one of the most simple yet powerful lines in Berserk.
He died doing what he wanted, no matter what, right? I bet he was happy.Guts, ‘The Brand’
While reading it, you can practically hear the envy in his voice. Guts can’t do what he wants, no matter what. Not with that Brand on his neck. And especially not with the ghosts of his past. Knowing what this man goes through in the coming Golden Age arc only makes this line all the more tragic. It plays well into the themes of destiny and struggle at the heart of the series.
This chapter isn’t just the Guts show, though. Puck still carries on his role as the audience surrogate, and he does it really well. And the priest and his granddaughter are given an adequate amount of time on the page, so their tragic deaths are as horrifying and powerful as intended.
I also love how ominous this chapter is. Guts gets attacked by a monster born from blood and semen in his sleep, then fucking skeletons rise out of the fog! It is beautifully creepy and Miura’s artwork brings it to life brilliantly!
This is definitely a more minor chapter in the grand saga that is Berserk. But it is still an absolutely wonderful one! Full of powerful character development and tragedy, this is the one where Berserk really starts to become the masterpiece we know it as today.
And now, we get to the first true saga of the series. It’s only six chapters, true. But it’s a saga nonetheless.