- For the original draft of this series, see Berserk: The Prototype.
Black Swordsman (黒い剣士 Kuroi Kenshi?) is the first story arc of Berserk, serialized in Young Animal between 1990 and 1991. The arc is followed by Golden Age and spans 8 episodes, which is the shortest in the entire series, serving primarily as an introduction into the world and characters of Berserk.
Chronologically, this arc takes place between episodes 94 & 95 of the manga.
The Black Swordsman
Having murdered a monster in the form of a blonde woman who talked him into having sex, a man in black with a perpetually-closed right eye and prosthetic left arm reaches the nearby town of Koka while watching a wagon carrying a locked cage full of young girls. Inside a tavern, a restrained elf is being tortured by bandit patrons before the mysterious man walks in. The figure kills all the bandits save one, telling him to relay a message to his master: "The Black Swordsman has come."
Managing to free himself, the elf introduces himself to the Black Swordsman as Puck and says that he is sole survivor of a troupe of performers who became a plaything for the bandits' enjoyment. Puck flies off when soldiers arrive to arrest the Black Swordsman, who is imprisoned. The lord mayor of Koka accuses the swordsman, who he assumed to be a mercenary, of dooming the town as the bandits' leader, the baron of Koka Castle, is a fiend no man can kill. The Black Swordsman explains that he is familiar with such monsters while surmising that the mayor has been offering girls for the baron to devour. This leads the mayor to leave him to rot in his cell. At Koka Castle, the baron learns of the Black Swordsman's presence in Koka, deducing his identity, and decides to set his sights on the town despite the mayor's attempts to appease him.
Coming to in his cell and unable to move due to his torture, the Black Swordsman becomes upset upon seeing a deformed fetus-like creature that he knows crawling towards him. The creature disappears when Puck arrives to free the swordsman as a reward for saving him. Despite the fact that said swordsman insisted not to be touched, the elf moves close to him and spreads a pain nullifying powder from his wings. As they converse, the elf manages to learn the Black Swordsman's name to be Guts before the latter springs up when the elf points out an odd mark engraved on his neck. Guts only states that the mark is a Brand, explaining to Puck that his only concern is to kill the baron even as he expects him to raze the town. Eventually offended by Guts' affirmation that weak humans do not deserve to live, Puck leaves the cell key behind and flies off, while Guts feels pain from his brand as he senses the baron approaching the town.
Once in town, adorned in snake-themed armor, the baron orders his men to destroy everything as they set the town on fire while killing everyone. Guts, hiding under a pile of corpses, ambushes the bandits and eliminates many of them with his Repeater Crossbow. Impressed with Guts while recognizing him as a hunter of Apostles like himself, the baron faces the swordsman on horseback, before transforming into a reptilian monster, proclaiming that no man can kill him. The Snake Baron proceeds to mercilessly beat Guts, before the latter uses his prosthetic hand to fire a cannonball to his enemy's face, blowing a hole into it. Guts then grabs his giant sword to cleave the Snake Baron in two at the waist. Though the Snake Baron is still alive, he recognizes Guts' brand while being tortured and tells the Black Swordsman that does not know where the God Hand are located. Then, a large piece of burning rubble falls on him as Guts leaves the monster to die in the flames. The following morning, Puck finds Guts again in the nearby forest, wanting to accompany him out of curiosity despite the swordsman's refusal to have the elf be his companion. What's more, Guts is being hunted by specters that are bidding their time within the shaded parts of the forest.
Later finding a road to walk on, Guts encounters a priest who offers him a ride. Though Guts refuses the offer twice, not wanting the priest to be attacked by the spirits following him, he finally decides to accept the priest's offer to ride in the wagon. Inside the wagon, Guts finds Puck and the priest's daughter Collette. While letting the priest believe that he is a mercenary, Guts decides to sleep after accepting a blanket from Collette. However, Guts ends up stabbing a small one-eyed creature that latched to his face in order to wake from a nightmare involving the fetus-like creature that he saw earlier. Guts explains to everyone that the creature is an Incubus and that it and the spirits hunting him are attracted to the brand. Seeing that night has fallen while his brand is bleeding, Guts warns the group of an impending spirit attack. Collette is the first to die, getting killed by spirit-possessed skeletons as she was attempting to calm down the wagon's horses. Guts then tells the priest and Puck to flee for their lives while he massacres the skeletons. However, Collette's lifeless body is used by the spirits to behead her father. Guts, dismayed at that turn of events, has to bifurcate her. Afterwards, Guts continues to fight the skeletons until dawn, heavily wounded once the spirits withdraw. Though Puck attempts to tell Guts that it is not his fault that the priest and Collette died, the swordsman laughs while explaining that their deaths only validated his philosophy that 'People who perish in other's battles are worms'. Soon after, the swordsman walks off, Puck following him.
The Guardians of DesireArriving to witness the beheading of an alleged heretic on the order of the town's leader, the Count, Guts picks up the girl's head and throws it at the Count who recognized the brand drew on her forehead by the swordsman and sees it as an outright declaration of war. Guts proceeds to flee the execution site while fighting off the Count's soldiers and their leader Zondark with ease. But when Guts is outnumbered by reinforcements, he is saved by a small, bandaged and cloaked man who takes him and Puck to hidden laboratory. Seeing Guts as ally as both have a mutual enemy in Count, revealed to be a deformed, the figure takes them to a secret room where Guts recognizes an egg-shaped item as a Behelit. The figure introduces himself as Vargas and that he once served the Count years ago before learning the truth and being tortured and mutilated while forced to watch his family devoured by the Count. Before Vargas himself was eaten, he managed to fake his own death and escape the dungeon while stealing the Behelit from the Count. Guts explains that Behelit is a demonic relic that opens a portal to a realm where five demon-gods known the God Hand reside.
While Guts explains that he will kill the Count for no one's sake but his own, Vargas' lab is compromised as Zondark steps in. Guts draws his sword and engages the injured man in combat before realizing that he is no longer human. Having been infused with a piece of the Count's body to personally kill Guts for his humiliating defeat, Zondark battles the swordsman before he's eventually crushed and Guts, Vargas, and Puck escape through a passage hidden beneath a floor tile as fire engulfs the laboratory. Guts decides to part ways with Vargas, taking the Behelit from the man despite Puck thinking they could have worked together. The two later learned that Vargas has been captured and executed.
Though Puck wanted him to save Vargas, Guts explains the Count is counting on that with an ambush arranged. Though he hides it while Puck confronts him with it before attempting to save Vargas himself, Guts has noticed a parallel between himself and Vargas and that he fears failing like Vargas had. Turning his back as Vargas yells his final words, Guts sees the fetus-creature as it remains him of the man's dying request. Puck ends up being captured and is taken to room of the Count's daughter Theresia, whom he has been keeping safe from the "world of heretics". Letting Puck out of his cage, unaware that her father is no longer human, Theresia explains that the Count only began the witch hunts after her mother was killed by her pagan abductors. Later paying his respects to Vargas in the mass grave of the Count's previous victims after sunset, Guts nearly gets possessed by one of the revenge-driven dead before expelling the spirit as he declares that he will kill the Count as a living man that a puppet to a dead man's desire. Guts raids the Count's castle, killing what remained of Zondark's body as he presses forward to find the Count. When Puck overhears that Guts has arrived, he convinces Theresia to free him so he can find his friend while promising to return and free her.
Once reaching the Count's throne room, dispatching the regiment of guards and ignoring the adviser Dahl, Guts sees the Count as he perceived from his clone that he stands a better chance of killing the swordsman in his true slug-like form. Though the Count possesses regenerative abilities, Guts engages the apostle in a violent battle of such magnitude that it shakes the castle to the point of unhinging the locked door to Theresia's room off as he musters the courage to leave her room. As the Count gets the upper hand, Puck suddenly appears and grabs the Count's behelit with the Apostle attempting to reclaim his possession while reached the throne room Theresia and hides behind one of the pillars upon seeing the monstrous slug before learning it to be her father. When Guts gets the Count's attention again, he uses Theresia as a human shield to inflict a fatal wound on the Count.
After telling Puck not to interfere despite the psychological harm on Theresia, Guts continues to manically stab the Count who doesn't want to die while the apostle's blood activates his behelit. The behelit rearranges its facial features until they correctly placed as though on a human, and it begins crying tears of blood. Guts, Puck, Theresia and the Count are all transported to a dimension seemingly composed only of flights of stairs at impossible angles with the God Hand appearing before them as Guts calls the one in bird-like armor referred to by the others as "Femto" by the name of "Griffith" with utter contempt. As another of the God Hand recognizes Guts to be one branded by him years ago while Puck realizes the two have a history, Griffith overpowers Guts while explaining that the amount of blood from his brand signifies the amount of power of the demons he faces. The leader of the God Hand stalls Griffith's hand to proceed with the Count's wish, telling the apostle that he cannot offer Guts' life even if he was not branded since he has no attachment to him. Griffith points out to Theresia as she learns the horrible truth of her mother's death: That the Count offered her as a sacrifice after finding her willingly participating in a pagan orgy.
Void conjures a fiery brand before Theresia, and waits for the Count's approval before branding her a sacrifice while Guts tries to convince Puck to heal his hand. Pointing to the Abyss in the distance, Griffith tells the Count that either he sacrifices his daughter or join the swirling mass of souls that comprise it and cease to be. While the Count desired life, he took too long to decide as the souls in the whirlpool, Puck seeing Vargas among them, drag the Apostle into the mass. When the souls attempt to take Guts with them, he manages to use a cannon shot at Griffith force the souls to release him. But with the Count no more, Guts exchanges a final glance towards Griffith before he, Puck and Theresia return to their reality.
Though Theresia attempted to commit suicide after what she had been through, Puck slapping him for encouraging it, Guts extends his sword for the girl to grab out of a subconscious desire to live. But Theresia quickly becomes vindictive towards Guts, blaming him for all the horrible things that occurred that night and vows to kill him for what she suffered. As Guts gathers his cloak and the behelit from the surrounding rubble, he invites her to do so when she is ready before he and Puck leave her behind. While leaving, Guts then starts to remember his youth, when he was a member of the Band of The Hawk under the leadership of Griffith.
Anime and Manga Differences
- The first episode of the 1997 anime series is a condensed version of the arc and is based on first two episodes of the manga, taking elements from the Count storyline. Puck is omitted from this adaption.
- The first episode of the 2016 anime series is based on first two episodes of the manga; it also takes elements from the first two episodes of the Conviction arc. While Isidro did not make an appearance in the manga's respective Black Swordsman bar scene, he is added in the anime adaptation's. The Count, meanwhile, is referenced in the anime adaptation, but his overall story is cut. The Snake Baron is not shown in this adaptation.
- Guts vs Femto: although this fight doesn't last long, it marks the only time in the series when Femto has fought anyone, not counting his move in opposition to Skull Knight during the Eclipse.
|Black Swordsman Arc|