Man, things sure are looking up for the Band of the Hawk. Griffith’s way to becoming king seems like smooth sailing from here. Surely nothing wrong could go for them now.
Wait, Guts, where are you going?
With the war over and the Queen of Midland dead, Guts decides it’s finally time to leave the Band of the Hawk. His friends try to understand why and get him to stay, but he’s made up his mind. Unfortunately, Griffith has other plans.
If the last few chapters were the rise, then these few are the fall. And god damn, is it effective! These chapters are some of the best the Golden Age has to offer, giving us some of its most beloved and iconic moments!
One Snowy Night is a very character-rich chapter. It’s all just characters walking through the snow and chatting around the table, and it’s still one of the most engaging chapters in the Golden Age. We get a little glimpse into Corkus and Judeau’s backstories and Guts opens up to his boys. It’s powerful stuff.
And we get more of Judeau being the actual best friend Guts needs in his life.
Also, the art is downright gorgeous. Miura perfectly managed to capture a quiet sense of melancholy in each and every panel. The gentle falling of the snow is just as sad as it is beautiful. It amplifies the tone of the chapter brilliantly.
Good as it is, however, it pales in comparison to the next chunk of the story. Granted, very little can compare to Morning Departure. These chapters have my favorite fight scene in all of manga!
Part one of this segment is more or less a continuation of One Snowy Night rather than the start of this section. It wraps up all the character growth and backstory reveals that the last chapter started, then peels away the layers of the love triangle going on between Guts, Griffith, and Casca. While all of this was pretty obvious, actually seeing Guts admit aloud to having feelings for Casca adds a nice little bit of tragedy to all of this.
But the real bulk of the story doesn’t start until this happens.
The final chapters of Morning Departure is split between all three of our main character’s perspective. We get to see into Guts’ head, seeing how calm and determined he feels. We get to hear Casca’s inner turmoil as she realizes just why it is she wants Guts to stay. Finally, we get our first look into Griffith’s head, hearing his thoughts for the first time as he cobbles together a strategy to defeat his friend. I love this; up to this point, Griffith has always been an unknown, stoic figure; the only now do we get to really see what he’s thinking.
The fight itself is framed perfectly. A tense stand-off between two swordsman of seemingly equal skill levels. The artwork is absolutely jaw-dropping, capturing the massive scale and beauty of Midland. The way Guts and Griffith are framed makes them seem titanic, their clash the single most important event this massive kingdom has ever seen.
The duel begins…
…and ends just as quickly. It’s all over in one swing. Yet that single stroke has more impact and weight than other fights can capture in multiple chapters. The sheer force of the impact, Guts’ face of focus and determination as he swings at his friend with all his power, the look of absolute shock on Griffith’s face as the massive sword settles harmlessly on his shoulder, it all works together to create one of the most dramatically impactful duels I’ve ever seen drawn on the page.
Despite Guts’ victory, there is no triumph to any of this. When Guts walks away, there’s an air of sorrow to it. Griffith is stunned. Casca cries out in sorrow. Everyone else is reeling, trying to make sense of what just happened.
And Guts? Guts delivers one of my favorite mini-monologues in all of Berserk.
This little speech perfectly encapsulates the respect Guts has for Griffith. Guts has gone through so much in his life, practically all of it terrible enough to break an average person. But Guts has survived all of it. Despite everything, he’s kept on living, kept on moving. It isn’t just that he thinks Griffith doesn’t need him. He wholeheartedly believes that even if his leaving does hurt him, Griffith will be able to get right back up and move forward. If Guts could do it, surely Griffith could do it too.
The sad thing is: Guts is wrong.
With this, a major chunk of the Golden Age has ended. The glory days of Guts and his friends in the Hawks has come to an end. Now, they, and therefor we, are stepping into a dark new chapter.
So… how many of you guys have been missing the supernatural elements? Because we’re about to get a whole lot of that. It’s time for Berserk to remind you why it’s considered a horror manga.
At least, after we get through Griffith basically forcing himself on a teenage girl. Thanks, Berserk, for always being so light-hearted and fun.