Now, to be clear, I’m not going to cover the entire Golden Age in this review. I’m going to cover each of the different sections of this arc as they are dictated in my copies of the manga (the deluxe hardcover edition). Here, I’m going to cover Guts’ childhood up to him joining the Band of the Hawk. Then I’ll cover Wind of Swords, Nosferatu Zodd, so on and so forth. Why am I taking so much time with this series? Because I want to cover as much of it as I can in as detailed a manner as I can.
This is my favorite manga, okay? Leave me alone.
After the end of ‘Guardians of Desire’, we rewind the clock a couple of decades to witness the birth and childhood of Guts. After escaping a life of abuse at the hand of his adopted father, Guts took up a life as a wandering mercenary. Eventually, this brought him to cross paths with the Band of the Hawk, a legendary mercenary crew led by a man named Griffith.
This backstory is insanely thorough. We literally start at the birth of Guts, then we just keep on going. Few character backstories have this much depth and detail, if any do at all. Because of this insane level of attention, you learn just about all there is to know about Guts.
Especially since his childhood was… rough. He was born from the corpse of his mother, who had been hanged from a tree. His adopted mother died to plague when he was three. His abusive father sold him to be raped by another mercenary when he was nine. Said adopted father tried to kill him a few years later. Suddenly, Guts’ asshole attitude in the Black Swordsman saga starts to make more sense.
But make no mistake. Guts isn’t a helpless victim. When someone hits him, he hits back and he hits hard. If he can’t hit back right away, he’ll make sure to do so as quickly and brutally as he can. The seeds for the man he’ll eventually become are all there in his youth.
Also, little kid Guts is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Just look at him!
This whole section does a lot to endear Guts for new readers. Black Swordsman Guts was… well, an asshole. To an extreme degree. So much so that newcomers might not notice the depths hidden beneath his attitude. That initial saga makes Guts extremely unlikable. Showing us Guts’ traumatic childhood does a ton to help the audience empathize with the character.
It’s also in this arc that we’re introduced to the Band of the Hawk. We meet the lovable asshole Corkus, the cute little Rickert, the clever and wise Judeau, the silent teddy bear Pippin, and of course: everyone’s favorite female knight, Casca. All of these guys are given fairly strong introductions, particularly Casca. You very quickly get to know what each of these dudes is about and they endear themselves to you just as fast.
Of that lot, Casca is obviously the one who gets the most attention. Her introduction here is honestly perfect. You get a strong sense of who she is: a badass lady who is utterly devoted to Griffith and is more than willing to punch a fucker in the face if she thinks he deserves it. She despises Guts just as much as Corkus, if not more, yet she defends him simply because Griffith wants him. This is a strong introduction to one of the best characters in the entire series.
Then, of course, there’s the White Hawk himself: Griffith.
After first meeting him in ‘Guardians of Desire’, you wouldn’t expect Griffith to be… well, anything like he is. He’s cold and brilliant, yet he has a childish air of innocence about him. Like Guts, you never really know what he’s about. One minute, he’s executing a brilliant battle plan. The next, he’s having a water fight with Guts and laughing like a little boy. The charisma he carries in the story that brought the Band to him can be felt by the reader. But all the while, you’ve got this nagging, curious worry in your mind; how did Griffith turn from this brilliant but oddly innocent man to the cruel monster we met in ‘Guardians of Desire’?
There isn’t much action in this part of the story. There’s a few glimpses of battles, a few one-on-one fights, and Guts’ first battle in the Band of the Hawk. It isn’t much, but it’s all excellent! Guts’ first duel against Griffith is one of the best battles in the series, with some truly spectacular choreography that perfectly shows the opposing styles and personalities of both characters. And the first battle is amazing, perfectly showing off why the Band of the Hawk is different from the other mercenary crews we’ve seen up until that point.
It certainly helps that Miura’s art is as amazing as ever. This section has some of the best panels of early Berserk. This is the point where the series started to step away from the classic 80’s manga look and starts to look like… well, Berserk.
The artwork itself is amazing. Even more so is the imagery. I particularly love this panel of Guts and his sword. It’s such a beautiful and tragic image that perfectly captures the essence of Guts. I want to frame this panel and hang it on my wall.
I love this section of Berserk. It’s a brilliant, tragic beginning to the most iconic section of Berserk’s narrative. It perfectly balances its darker themes with its more hopeful and pleasant ones.
And this is just the beginning.