{Berserk I} – The Black Swordsman Arc

~ an essay on the Berserk manga, volumes 1-3, The Black Swordsman Arc

~ The beginning of the Berserk manga (1989-present), by Kentaro Miura, drops the reader into a fully fleshed out medieval fantasy-horror world, wielding the brutal perspective of an apparently similarly established “hero” named Guts. The first three volumes of the manga are so-named The Black Swordsman Arc, because that’s what our protagonist’s title is at this point in the saga. The reader is cast into the middle of his story, with preceding, unknown events accumulated to create this swordsman we see at present. Over the course of this relatively short arc of events, Guts, aka ‘The Black Swordsman,’ wanders into a town with an intensely stoic demeanor and a brazen desire to slay demons. And that is exactly what he does.

But in being introduced to the dark world of Berserk, and its titular hero’s violently murderous conflicts, the reader is also thrust into an internal sort of conflict: Is Guts a hero? What is his true role, and its efficacy, within this harsh world full of death and demons being presented to us? Is there hope for this world? And should we be championing him?

The Character of The Black Swordsman

Guts berserk eyes

Instantly, we witness the wandering, wayfaring “Black Swordsman” in action in a duo of locales. The very first scene of the manga features him naked and grinning, having sex with a woman who transforms into a monstrosity right at the moment of climax. A succubus, it intends to ‘send him to hell while tasting heaven,’ as succubi are wont to do. However, he gets the better of their hellish communion as he is swift to deal death to the demon with his mechanical hand-cannon. All the while, he himself appears as something resembling the thing he has just fucked / killed: a demon!

After, the Black Swordsman dons his cloak and sword, and leaves his camp, his ‘work’ done. This introductory vignette certainly sets the stage for the nature of our wayward protagonist, and the coming content of his journey…  

The Black Swordsman - guts and succubus
guts and succubus - looks like i've got you

Immediately following this, he arrives in the town of Koka, enters a tavern, and starts killing some human thugs from the castle with a crossbow attached to his mechanical arm. They just happen to be terrorizing a small elf, who we later learn is named Puck, and {they / the elf} are freed. But that is not why this dark warrior does it. Guts wishes to send a message to the castle, that he, The Black Swordsman, has arrived in town. His intention in both of these acts — the killing of the sex-demon in the forest outside of town, and the casual murder of these goons within it — both appear as acts of ‘business as usual.’ The killings are performed relatively effortlessly; the reader can discern they are mixed with a sense of business and pleasure for him. And both actions are performed with his mecha-arm, from the versatile utility of the steel where his flesh presumably used to be. Of course, the reader does not yet know what happened to his arm, or anything else about him other than these violent acts. Everything is action so far, he speaks very little. 

The final kill of this opening escapade is achieved with a single flourish of his giant blade to devastating effect. It displays Miura’s beautiful art and ravishingly detailed style and an uncanny penchant for making extreme violence look utterly marvelous. 

Tell him that the black swordsman has come
black swordsman giant sword swing
That thing was too big to be called a sword.
Too big, too thick, too heavy, and too rough, it was more like a large hunk of iron.

To the reader, only a few pages in, perhaps The Black Swordsman’s actions thus far, and the intentions behind them, matter less than Miura’s beautiful art style and the strange medieval world inhabiting this story of sex-demons and tiny asexual fairies. That is fair. But over the course of The Black Swordsman’s travails within this arc and the beginning of this legendary manga series {spanning from 1989-present day 2020!}, the primary mystery is of his character. This traveling warrior’s current intentions and his unknown past seem to be inextricably connected, and they inform his overall character and motivations. As the main character, this is vitally important to the tale. And as we uncover more about this man — Guts — more questions arise. 

We learn that Guts, apparently widely renowned as this killer mercenary, is in the town of Koka because he is hunting a demon. He sends that message to coax this cruel ‘Snake Lord,’ the demonic ruler of Koka, and one signified as an apostle, into battle with him. It is easy to see that Guts is intimately well-acquainted with demons, of both the figurative and literal kinds. From that first interaction with the succubus, and his speaking with the townspeople of Koka, it is clear he is on a personal quest of some kind to hunt these demons. One can guess they are the beings responsible for his missing arm, his missing eye, and the myriad of scars all over his body {and soul}. And we see throughout the arc’s events that he has zero qualms when it comes to killing humans that get in his way and/or work for the demons in seats of power that he hunts. With this development, the questions of Guts’ moral character become necessarily more difficult to reconcile. 

I know. That thing is a monster that eats humans...

The answers to the questions presented are up to the reader; they must be informed by a combination of behavior and psyche in sincerest observation. We witness the dark majesty of The Black Swordsman’s violence up close and personal, but we are only allowed into the psyche of the character via Puck, the fairy he inadvertently saves and then follows him. Through Puck, who serves as both an excellent source of comic relief and a philosophical conversational partner for Guts’ inner psyche, we learn of the man within The Black Swordsman persona. 

My name's Puck. Nice to meet you...

The Black Swordsman, to the fictional townsfolk who know of his legend and initially to the reader as well, appears as an unstoppable fighting force wielding an impossibly large sword — an overman. But as we progress in the story, we find that Guts is really just a man, capable of genuine emotion, of bleeding, and of potentially being killed. Guts is a warrior and a loner; a wanderer among men who only ever seeks the company of demons. Guts fights to win, but he doesn’t seem too concerned with death, his own or those of his fellow humans. The reader surmises that all of these aspects of his psyche, and his resulting aberrant behavior, must have links to a hellish past. No one comes from nowhere, even The Black Swordsman. 

Guts - Berserk - You cannot escape us.
Guts Berserk naked in a hall
Guts eye you cannot escape us

Guts’ has an extreme aversion to being touched, as revealed by Puck, who only wishes to heal his injuries. This seems like a minor detail, but I believe it pinpoints a wealth of information about his emotional character. To Guts’ mind, revealing any semblance of vulnerability seems to be a step towards death. And perhaps for good reason, based on his own traumatic experiences he carries, Guts believes, if only within his body – to be touched is to court tragedy.

He is branded with a strange symbol on his neck, which begins to bleed and burn when Guts is nearer to demons in the world. It also attracts them; he “cannot escape them.” We later learn this is a sacrificial marking, from a member of the Godhand known as Femto-Griffith, who Guts wishes to carry out an absolutely berserk dose of vengeance upon for unknown reasons. 

Guts Berserk Don't ever touch me!
Guts and Puck - Berserk - What is this thing on your neck that looks like a coat-of-arms?
Guts and Puck - Berserk - It's the brand...

Guts sees Puck initially as nothing more than a nuisance, an ’insect’ who is too small and weak, and talkative, to be of any use to him. He repeatedly flicks them around and sends insults their way. Puck takes all of this in stride, berating Guts for his cruelty while at the same time wishing to remain around him. This is perhaps out of a sense of duty to the one that liberated them. Or it could be that Puck feels emotionally connected to Guts’ inner pain, since they seem to be the only one that knows or cares about it, other than Guts himself. Puck wants to be Guts’ friend, and to learn more about him. Guts has no idea what a ‘friend’ might be anymore to him {or has forgotten}, and he definitely wants no part of Puck’s presence. 

These seen and unseen scars within his psyche, and Guts’ overt actions in the world as demonslayer, convey his character. He is a man alone in the world, stoic and powerful. The only way he knows how to reliably communicate his will within it is through exercising that power via violence. Battle seems to be the only way Guts, as The Black Swordsman, knows how to express himself. 

Guts - Berserk - Of course one day your life has to end... And it's better to die in the glory of a battle.

Killing demons, and pursuing the strange beings known as the Godhand, is the only fulfilling activity left to him {if it can even be considered so}. And by his own admission to Puck, he does all this for himself; he fights only for himself, and not even with an especially high concern for his own life. He essentially tells Puck that those too weak to live in this harsh world simply deserve to die. And with that in mind, he himself is leading the life he absolutely wants to lead, with no regrets or concerns outside of his singular mission. “Whatever happens to other people happens.” 

Guts - Berserk - I'm only interested in drawing that bastard out and killing him. Whatever happens to other people happens.
Guts - Berserk - People who get caught up in others' battles are fools who lack the strength to really live...
Puck - Berserk - Rage, sadness, fear!! There's so much mixed together. It's dark... the root, is deeper, somewhere...

Guts’ absolute amorality and stoicism are a force field to any potential vulnerability. This man is selfish. He slays demons and excels at it. But from his words, we can harbor no illusions about Guts’ fighting “evil” forces to protect the people, or so that “good” can somehow triumph over its opposite. Guts slays demons because that is what he wants to do. It has something to do with his path to vengeance against Griffith. But it also has a lot to do with the fact that he enjoys it so damn much. He willfully reciprocates the sadism of demons towards humans, with his own brand of it towards them. Even if Guts’ hatred of demons is well-founded, is there any moral basis for this kind of enjoyment from inflicting pain — even upon evil beings? Can a demon slayer remain uncorrupted? Can a good man ever derive pleasure from causing pain?

Looks like I've got you.
Guts - Berserk - I've been waiting for this...
Guts - Berserk - It must be tough. It's taking a while for you to die...
Guts - Berserk - Let me sacrifice you to 'til my heart's content, with this immortal body of yours!
Guts - Berserk - No wonder you are higher than us humans. Don't know how to fuckin' die!

Despite these extreme bouts of barbarism, at other times, Guts harbors a sense of responsibility within his dangerous mission. We find when he is on the road and is petitioned to hop aboard a carriage to speed his travels, he initially refuses, citing the fact that demons are chasing him and his very existence attracts them. By being around others, Guts implicitly puts them in mortal danger. Knowing this, he does not wish to put other humans in undue circumstances through no fault of their own. “I’m saying this for your sake.” 

But ultimately, Guts recurs to his mantra, unconcerned with what happens to others. He hops onto the carriage to expedite his travel. Soon after, disaster befalls the man and his daughter. Such interactions force the reader to bear witness to Gut’s latent humanity. When the daughter is killed by unearthed skeleton soldiers, she reanimates and attacks Guts. But he hesitates — he does not wish to kill a little girl, even in the throes of undeath. When he is forced to, he is immediately repulsed by his own actions and vomits, while still in pitched battle with a regiment of reanimated skeletons, putting himself in mortal danger against necessarily lesser foes. The terror of this occurrence ends up sending Guts into a rage, cutting them all down in renewed animation.

At the end, Guts repeats his uncaring mantra to Puck, reinforcing it if only to himself. But the words seem to contrast his unconscious reaction during the heat of the battle. ‘If I have to worry about the ants I crush beneath my feet … I couldn’t even walk around.’ 

Guts - Berserk - I'm saying this for your sake.
Guts - Berserk - I'm being pursued by evil spirits.
Guts - Berserk - It's not my concern what happens to other people.
Guts - Berserk - skeleton battle
Guts - Berserk - If I have to worry about the ants I crush beneath my feet, I couldn't even walk around.

Guts says that those that cannot protect themselves are worms, and ‘might as well die.’ But does he believe it?

One can surmise that perhaps if he could’ve protected the girl and her father, if he could’ve saved them from their deaths, he would have. In the end, though his negligence contributed to their demise, their fates in the moment were out of his direct control. And Guts seems to harbor his harsh philosophy only in post, and in an explanatory way, as a form of coping.

Or he means exactly what he says…

Who knows? 


After defeating the Slug Lord only by using Theresia as a human shield — Theresia, his young daughter narrowly not sacrificed to the Godhand and his own ruined form instead swallowed by the spirits — she is in despair at the revelations that her father was a demon and had previously sacrificed her mother to gain his dark powers. Guts tells her that if she truly wants to die, then she should. Puck’s dismay at the extreme callousness of Guts leads them to finally attack the berserker with their tiny little fairy hands.

To Guts, there is conviction in the words considering the young girl’s new reality. She has lost everything, her despair is real. Guts’ belief that those without the will to live in this world should just die has come to terminal fruition before us within the narrative. ‘The way of death is better than living without purpose’; Death is favorable to an unresolvable continuation of suffering. 

Guts - Berserk - takes a little girl hostage
Guts - Berserk - just die then
Guts - Berserk - that's why dying is better. If you can't stand it, end it now.
Guts - Berserk - you might be able to go to heaven
Guts - Berserk - It's your life. Do whatever you want.

Puck even says — you should understand how she feels, from personal experience. And Guts responds — exactly. Implicit in his response: Death is probably better for her. Believe me, I know. {Death might be better for me, too…}  

His own purpose, of vengeance against Griffith, is still intact — and he is still alive today — through the power of his strength with the blade alone. Without that, like the situation Theresia currently finds herself in, one can assume Guts would be dead, or would’ve committed suicide long ago. {Of course, Guts would also be dead right now without his willingness to use little girls as shields against demons who can still feel vestiges of their humanity within them… but that is another sentiment.} 

Guts seems to subscribe to this ultimate sense of personal responsibility we know he wields, because he can. Because he has the power to survive in this world.

It’s your life. Do whatever you want with it.” The subtext of that mantra: If you cannot live the life you wish to, then you are better off dead. 

In a twist of fate, moments after this exchange, Theresia nearly falls into the chasm at her feet. She is saved by Guts’ blade, which gashes her hands but catches her from the fall. At the end, she moves her thinking away from suicide and towards revenge, against Guts. In her own tearful rage, she proclaims that she will kill Guts. She blames him, since if he had not come to their home, none of this would’ve happened. Her father would still be alive, their strangely, strained relationship still intact.

That’s true. But in reality, we know Guts just exposed what was already going on, chaotically and violently, and ultimately did some good in vanquishing a demon lord ruling over a sect of humanity. Theresia is simply no longer living under the tenets of her isolation and of the lies which dominated her life just previous. In this case, the truth is simply much more devastating than the blissful ignorance of her locked room; but it is the truth and that should carry some kind of weight. As Guts says, whether or not she can handle that truth, and find the will to live, is left entirely up to her. 

This is Guts’ existential code, and by way of his lifestyle of battling demons in repeated bouts of mortal combat, his blade arm is a kind of arbiter of truth in this way. The latest to be indirectly affected by the chaotic trail of his personal war is Theresia, this child. And she finds her purpose through a new lie she crafts all on her own — that Guts is her true enemy.  

Guts sees this development in Theresia as a good thing and seems at first to be more than happy to be the source of her new wicked will to live. ‘You can come anytime…

But once again, in these final panels, we glimpse into Guts’ humanity, through Puck. Guts’ face, turned from Theresia, is tragic. One way or another, he does feel the weight of his actions on another’s life. 

Puck - Berserk - Let me heal you.
Theresia and Guts - Berserk - I will kill you!
Guts - Berserk - You can come anytime.
Guts - Berserk - sad face

From Puck’s innate ability to sense the emotions of humans, from his face in the final panels of the chapter, after Theresia declares her hatred and desire for vengeance against him, and from the reader’s own intuitions throughout, we come to understand that the pain within Guts is something deep and dark, and continuously at work. The origins of his current character lie within the tenebrous folds of a mysterious past likely full of personal tragedy. And this tragedy is at the hands of demons of one kind or another. Femto-Griffith, the hawk-like member of the Godhand that Guts pursues and then encounters in a rage, seems to be the primary culprit of his suffering. But as of yet within this arc and the story told thus far, we do not know the details, or why he was so branded by him for a sacrifice never consummated. Guts is most empathetic to children {these interactions are the only ones where we see he is capable of feeling empathy}, perhaps because he remembers his own childhood and the traumas therein. 

The result of this black box of a past is the person we see; someone who — while still wielding pieces of his humanity — increasingly mirrors the murder, depravity and sadism we find within the demons of this world, just in reverse {against demons}.

As Nietzsche proclaimed, Guts appears to have stared too long into the abyss, battling with monsters so much so that he has become one himself — a being named The Black Swordsman

Guts - Berserk - Enjoy your slow death. I think I'll let you burn.
Guts - Berserk - Puck watches Guts walk through the flames

And so, in continuing the series in the hopes of finding out more about Guts’ past and his dark origins, the reader is doing more than just experiencing the rush of unraveling a mystery. They are also discovering within themselves what kind of past for this character might justify him. Is there a single event, or progression of events, that might amply rationalize Guts’ current actions and his current self through to the conclusion of this character before us? Is The Black Swordsman vindicated somehow in his brutal and selfish quest to vanquish evil by the evils that have been performed on him previously? 

The character of Guts is the locus of the story being told by Miura within Berserk, and so it is imperative that these questions are explored. 

The World and The Black Swordsman’s role in it

The world of Berserk, taking place in the kingdom of Midland, is full of an enduring harshness. The harshness of the peoples, the politics, and the elements of a supernaturally influenced reality make for an interesting context for the tale to be told. This darkly medieval state of play provides an effectual canvas for the character of Guts to work from. His role within this world as The Black Swordsman is marked by both a sense of reflection and disruption. 

As in, The Black Swordsman is a reflection of his surroundings, and a disruptor of them.

Guts battles ghosts

It is the time of lords and peasants, of the stark extremes of extravagance and poverty at the ends of society. At the top of the hierarchy is decadent selfishness, and at its base is mere survival. It is a time of empires and campaigns of wars between regions and their armies of armored horsemen. With special warriors not unlike Guts himself, a lord’s accumulated military might makes up the best way for them to change or expand their influence in the world. 

This kind of world is not unlike the ancient kingdoms of our own non-fictional past, save for one important difference. Supernaturalism — in this world, demons are real, they are strong, and they are in control. Both of the individuals we see within this arc that sit within seats of power {The Snake lord and The Slug lord} are humans that have been transformed and corrupted by such magical creatures. In their demonic state, they carry out mass murder, public executions, torture, and regulated, casual destruction of portions of their own communities, and worse – all within their own halls and communities. The Snake Lord and The Slug Lord both devour human beings. And their underlings — the human priests and soldiers — stand by to carry out their bidding. In spite of their leaders’ relatively clear inhumanly atrocious, truer aspect and motivations, the underlings themselves are driven by power and fear, self-interest / self-preservation, and as a result are beholden to this profane authority. 

guts - berserk - aren't you confusing "this town" with "yourself"?

In a word, the world of Berserk is bleak.  

As we see explicitly from Guts’ travels, it’s a harsh life, in a relatively lawless land, where death is awaiting one around every corner. Along the roads of civilization, as well as within the wilderness, monsters lie in wait. At the hands of humans and demons alike, people drop like flies in Midland. Death of all the worse kinds is commonplace. We see Guts, The Black Swordsman, as relatively comfortable within it. He braves this world and has persisted for all this time, only the one way – as a killer, a survivalist, a prolific specimen of enduring violence. 

Guts and Puck - Berserk - He's so strong!

As we see, Guts doesn’t seem to blink at the stark rates of mortality in the world, embracing his ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. But perhaps in speaking this sentiment aloud — of an uncaring world where the weak are readily culled — to Puck, in more ways than one, Guts is still trying to convince himself this is the truth. And that’s because, in this world — a world chocked full of constant death and suffering — he needs it to be

Inadvertently, this is where Guts’ true role within the story manifests itself, in a myriad of contrasting ways. 

Guts is strong. Strong enough to survive, and continue fighting against evil {even if he doesn’t do it strictly for good}, continuing to slay demon after demon, on his way to his mountain of a goal. Whereas the human frame is weak, fleshy and frail, and so easily destroyed — by contrast, Guts is strong. He is capable of fighting dozens of armored men at once and prevailing. More importantly, The Black Swordsman can face up with demons — the ultimate manifestations of evil and of power — with trusty sword and hand-cannon, and actually bring them down. This is no small thing in a world full of ceaseless mass suffering and subjugation at the hands of these demonic entities. The rest of humanity must simply bear their burden, helpless to prevent their eventual devouring into some dark maw from the denizens of daemonia. 

Despite the relatively obvious differences between man and demon — speed, strength, intellect{?}, long-livedness — there is also one important similarity between the two. We learn of it early in the story, and often throughout Guts’ movements and at the end of his giant blade’s slashing.

Demons and humans both share a primal fear: that of death.

Both kinds of beings can die, they do not want to die; both often desperately — at the cost of everything dear to them — drive to keep themselves alive. Thus, this weakness of humanity {sometimes a strength}, is also just the same for the demon. The primary difference being that the conditions of imminent death, and the despair and suffering along with it, are much more difficult to produce for demons {due to their aforementioned superiorities}. This stark asymmetry is what makes witnessing The Black Swordsman’s triumph over evil so satisfying. 

Guts - Berserk - It's true what you say. Humans are weak, and we die easily. But no matter how weak we are, no matter how much we're tortured or trampled upon, no matter how much pain we feel, we still want to live...

This is where The Black Swordsman plays his role as a difference maker in this dark world. Regardless of his intention in going after them, Guts is just plain strong enough to succeed in his mission of killing powerful demons — and causing them genuine, reciprocated suffering — where nearly no other human being in sight can. Like a hero in some darkly wayward mythological tale, Guts is “The One.”

He is the one to make the difference — slaying dragons and saving people. Unlike a prototypical hero, however, Guts pays no heed to those he saves. He never asks for any help or thanks. He seems to enjoy the hunt itself, and the game of finding out how to maim and kill his nigh invincible targets. Most explicitly, and disturbingly, Guts revels in watching these ‘dragons’ die, choking on blood and hypocrisy in the final moments of their tyrannical existence. 

Guts - Berserk - If you want to stop me, you got to smash my head or take out my heart. Just like you...

Despite the violent deaths and the gratuitous gore so often gracing the pages of Miura’s masterwork, the reader must feel some dark satisfaction at these scenes. Their depictions garner a feeling of vindication, or victory. This is because those falling to The Black Swordsman’s blade are worthy of their death. The deaths of these demons are their just deserts. In a world where they rule over and kill humans like insects, and subject everything around them to suffering through their will, their fall is hard and warm-welcomed. As a result, Guts’ cynicism and amoral maneuvering through the lands of Midland are much more easily overlooked, or understood. In his stead stands only ‘The Black Swordsman’ — a strangely motivated, extremely powerful force of nature, willing to go at humanity’s seemingly immortal evil masters … and win.

The Black Swordsman’s journey, ironically, introduces hope into this bleak world.

FAte, The Godhand, and Guts

As I said before, Guts’ personal code is marred by a past we cannot yet understand. A prior, clearly eventful life lived before the events on the page makes him appear as cold and selfish, unfeeling to the suffering of all {even and especially himself}. 

Berserk - The Godhand - the eye of Femto

We find out near the end of the Black Swordsman Arc that Guts’ inner tragedy lies at the hands of this individual — Griffith {Femto}, a member of the extra-dimensional Godhand, {a collection of ascended, God-like demon overlords}. Guts demon-slaying journey is tragic in a grandly personal way. A drive for a final vengeance against this dark god is the ultimate passion for our dark swordsman. His tragedy never ended {he is still marked for sacrifice after all, and that can only end one way or another}. It is ongoing, like his travels and his rage {and Berserk itself … we await the next chapter even today}. 

As we come to find out, his task of killing this being is nigh impossible. 

Thusly, there is a case here for Guts’ absurd heroism. In his bloody ventures through Midland, he is an archetypal Sisyphean figure. Moving from one demon lord to the next, taking his licks but living on through a mix of martial competence and iron will, Guts’ determination never falters. He unseats these demoniac leaders on his personal quest, freeing communities of humans suffering under their thumb in the process. But only as a byproduct. He does this in the hopes of getting a shot at Griffith via behelit or otherwise, and with no altruism in his heart.

And yet, Griffith is much more powerful than all of those he kills on his way, and these lesser demons seem countless in number… The sheer difficulty of his potential victory, and the lack of meaningful progress, makes Guts that much more absurd of a hero. 

Guts wants to kill Griffith more than anything. It isn’t difficult to surmise this act is worth as least as much as his own life, if not much more. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the swordsman. And in this opening arc, through a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events, Guts gets his chance…

But as we come to see, it is not really a chance. 

In the final events of the arc, Griffith is far beyond the reach of Guts’ sword arm. Even under better circumstances, uninjured and at full strength, consummating his vengeance seems to be nothing more than a childish fantasy. The Black Swordsman, this mysterious avenger against demon lordlings, is a man. And Femto, formerly this ‘Griffith!’, is much more than that. Guts seems to chase his dream of revenge against an impliable foe. This Godhand is far above The Snake or The Slug that Guts has managed to bring down in hard-won fights. Unfortunately for our hero, his nemesis happens to be an all-powerful Demon-God. Relative to these entities, our hero is weak and insignificant.

Before Femto and his gang, that image of Guts’ strength built up over these volumes is instantly shattered.

The five fingers of the Godhand - berserk
Guts - Griffith!

We learn that Femto-Griffith’s current existence is somehow contingent upon Guts’ himself, and his very blood. Their past is inextricably intertwined. One can guess that Griffith ascended to Femto via this mysterious ’sacrifice.’ Guts seems to think he can find a way to kill him, and his marked role in his ascension might be the key. At the same time, Femto thinks of Guts now as nothing more than an insect, as he might think of any other mere human. This comes in spite of their former relations, whatever they were back then… 

Maybe this is what the series of Berserk is all about — this quest to meet and understand Griffith, the true tenets of their bloody rivalry, and Guts’ march to this singular showdown. 

And yet, from this arc of events, such a goal feels hopeless

Guts may get every other demon in the world. But the Godhand, and Femto, appears untouchable, indestructible, unable to be defeated by mere human hands…  

Guts’ pursuit of the Godhand, and his desire to enact his murderous vengeance upon Griffith feels impossible here at this moment. Despite his immense strength, Guts’ giant sword cannot pierce these bodies of sheer otherworldly power. 

Guts - Where are the five members of the "Godhand"?

Guts - Berserk - Behelit!
Berserk - I have tirelessly researched Gods, religion and the occult
Guts - Berserk - A key to summon the 5 god hands.

This circumstance in Berserk wields aspects of cosmic horror. In this terrifying condition, there are the ever-present themes of human ignorance and powerlessness, and a resulting nihilism. Hopelessness. In such a world as befitting this kind of horror, there may be entities out there — within the stars far and wide {alien elder gods from distant galaxies}, or even amidst us {demons from the abyss} – and they are beyond our comprehension, far exceeding us in power. They may be in control, capable of exacting their wills and designs in a myriad of strange ways upon the universe. And they may be doing this with a completely benign indifference to the existence of Mankind’s presence within their machinations, for good or ill. Or — they may be well aware of us, and acting within the universe against us, using us as slaves or merely as playthings. We do not know – or we do — and there’s just nothing we can do about it. There is no role as difference maker for something so small as a Man. This is the horror of the cosmic kind. 

Through the threshold of the behelit’s portal, and before the Godhand, this is the world where Guts finds himself. He has had, now and in the past, a front row seat to such horrors. 

In Berserk, Guts and the rest of humanity inhabits a world where God-like forces {the five fingers of the Godhand} reside in the shadows, controlling human fates as pieces upon a board. They do this with at best, callous indifference towards humanity and their lives, and at worst, direct interventions of the purest evil upon the masses. Naturally, in a world like this, hope is not something easily gathered up for any member of Mankind.

In Guts’ dark heart, he only has room for one such hope. And he wields it in tandem with his blade. 

Guts - Berserk - Godhand - Femto is the one that branded him.
Guts and Griffith - Berserk - You can stand til today because of this "useless" man

The Godhand appears to the Slug Lord via the use of an object known to Guts — a behelit. They do not so much as come to the mortals, as Guts and the others are transported to them through some inter-dimensional portal full of impossible stairwells. Femto, Void and the other floating, grotesque, cenobite-esque demon God-folk come with an express purpose. The behelit, and the Slug Lord’s call for survival, bring about their attention into the mortal plane for a specific transaction. 

Their presence seems all-powerful. After all, they come from some unseen and unknowable plane of existence – from a zone like heaven or hell. They hint at their shaping of world events, and their capability of corrupting humanity towards their own mysterious ends. Femto-Griffith telekinetically waxes Guts {albeit an injured, nearly broken version of himself} without even moving. In this demiplane, the Godhand are all casually floating

One of them even boldly proclaims that no matter how many of ‘their’ apostles that The Black Swordsman kills they will never be affected. Nothing in the way of human concerns seems to play into their personal livelihood. Truly, they wield a cosmic {omniscient? omnipotent?} perspective. It isn’t difficult to see that from Guts’ perspective, this holds a degree of existentially cosmic horror. {His remedy for this particular malady? Yep. Pure, unadulterated … rage. Berserking seems utterly justified against such forces…}


Godhand - Berserk - No matter how many apostles died, it won't affect us at all.

The Godhand’s arrival, and their existence, is not without a certain degree of lawfulness. The Godhand’s presence seems to be heeded by the mechanism of the behelit, perhaps even forcefully, without any of their volition. The Slug Lord, their dutiful servant, can call on them to save his life, and have his wish be granted, for a cost. The cost: a sacrifice. Not so high a price, for a demon. For a human? It depends. Unfortunately for the Slug, he cannot make his desired sacrifice of Guts, his hated antagonist and the person responsible for his current position of being mostly slain. Guts is already marked for sacrifice. 

But that isn’t the most important part of the rule disallowing Guts as a choice. The form of salvation that the Godhand offers this demon lord is bound in wickedness. Guts also cannot be sacrificed because he is merely an enemy to the demon. As a hated foe, such a sacrifice holds no value, to the Godhand. In their wayward view of the terms of the deal they offer, or merely operating from within the universal tenets of their dark powers, the sacrifice must be more significant. In order to save his own miserable, bleeding self, the Slug Lord must sacrifice his precious human daughter. 

As Femto says, he must sever his final connection to humanity and fully embrace his demonhood in order to persist in life. ‘Cut your love now, count.

Godhand - Slan - Berserk - It has to be someone dear to you... someone who's a part of your heart.
Godhand - Berserk - the evilness will possess your mind...
Griffith - Berserk - Cut your love now, count.

At the conclusion of this arc, the reader is met with the ironic realization that humanity is not so powerless after all. There is an open path to ascension before the mortal man: through descent.

In consorting with the Godhand, and at the price of one’s soul, someone like Guts, or Griffith, can finally control their own fate. 

Undoubtedly, in human terms, the Godhand’s designs range on a spectrum from indifference to destructiveness to evil. Through temptation, corruption, desecration, they will humans under their wing. By casting away everything that makes one human, the Snake Lord and Slug Lord {and apparently, Griffith}, have met their aspirations by tapping the well of their own shadow. By embracing the dark power proffered by the Godhand, and via the sacrifice of their most ardent love – a weak and wretched human being’s dreams of survival and of power can be consummated. 

Tragically, in this world, a tip into pathology and evil seems to be the most accessible path to personal efficacy. 

For those in the universe of Berserk, evil offers hope

The Godhand’s gift of demonhood gives a human being a way out of suffering. But it is only for themselves and is only achieved by multiplying it for everyone around them. By sacrificing the life of your love, embracing that innate sense of self-interest that human beings hold, and taking on grandiose, cosmic aspirations, the ascension beyond humanity is secured. From the strength of these enmeshing shadows, one is no longer so easily sent unto despair or into death. 

However, as we see for the Snake and the Slug, {and hopefully for Griffith}, there is a whole other kind of suffering awaiting those who deal with the Godhand and in the realm of evil. As a demon, you can still feel pain; you can still die; and you will never, ever want to. {The bigger they are, the harder they fall}. It is a hallmark of our inborn, human hubris to miss this outcome before the irreversible deal is struck. 

And yet, in the end, from our view of things, none of these considerations seem to consciously fall upon The Black Swordsman’s mind. Guts is focused solely on his vengeance. There is a simple kind of freedom in this. He slays demons, ever as a human, ever at a disadvantage. From his direct travels and experiences, it is a disadvantage that Guts – at least implicitly – knows he could rectify if he wanted to. And yet, he endures. As a human. He entertains the concept of demonhood as nothing more than adversarial meat to be ripped and torn asunder… If anything else, his death-defying berserk drive toward his singular revenge, forged out of the characteristic, mortal smallness of his relatively short personal past, protects him from the darkest path. 

Our hero is secured at long last before the sovereign, evil Godheads of Berserk‘s universe:

The Black Swordsman, a flesh and blood human being, mired in the weakness and suffering inherent to mortal existence – ‘just one useless man’ relative to these demon kings – who’d still rather rage and die before ever seeing his shadow win out. ~ 

Griffith and Guts - Berserk - He's just one useless man.
Griffith and guts - Berserk - You are only good as a sacrifice.

~ Maybe one day, Guts.