Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.
In anime and manga, we find an abundance of characters ranging from smart, dumb, dainty, dangerous, cynical, and more, but there is one character archetype that viewers always seem to be drawn towards and that is the badass. Why? Because they're badass, plain and simple. However, many can agree that the badass characters are usually one-dimensional, not offering much outside of winning incredible fights.
So, with this in mind, can badass characters bring a meatier and more satisfying plate of character to the table other than their usual green bean casserole? The answer is yes.
Enter the incredible Guts. WARNING: from here on out there are spoilers for the manga and the animation adaptations. You have been warned.
ANOTHER WARNING: this analysis is a beefy one.
Guts, the renowned "Black Swordsman," is the main protagonist of the manga and anime adaptation titled Berserk.
Guts has had, probably the edgiest back story of any anime character ever, so buckle up because this one is a doozy. While it is also incredibly edgy, I also have to warn you that it is incredibly lengthy as well. I have to talk about it here because every aspect plays into his personality and abilities.
So, Guts was born from the womb of his deceased mother who was hung from a tree. He was left in a pool of blood and filth to die alone. Sometime after, a band of mercenaries, led by one Gambino, happens upon Guts. Gambino believes Guts is dead before Guts begins crying. Immediately a woman named Shisu takes to him, despite his birth being considered ominous by her allies.
Three years later, Shisu contracts the plague and dies as Guts watches, helplessly. Afterward, Guts and Gambino develop a relationship that sees Guts begin honing his swordsmanship skills at a very early age, officially joining the mercenary band at just nine years old. Guts, at this point, saw Gambino as a father to him, that was until the night of Guts' first skirmish. As Guts lay sleeping in his tent, he is ambushed by a mercenary named Donovan. Guts is raped by Donovan who informs the boy that his body was purchased from Gambino. Following another skirmish, the young mercenary isolates Donovan and promptly kills him.
Sometime later, Gambino loses his leg and his and Guts' relationship deteriorates rapidly. Abuse and constant degrading eventually lead Gambino to try and make an attempt on Guts' life and, of course, Guts swiftly takes out his assailant -- his father figure.
Gambino's men try to kill Guts, chasing him to a cliffside where the young boy is shot and sent falling over the edge. As if that wasn't enough, waiting for Guts below was a pack of wolves that he shockingly fights off. After the injuries and exhaustion set in, Guts falls unconscious where he is discovered by yet another band of mercenaries that enlist him into their army.
Much later, during a siege on a military garrison, Guts is with yet another mercenary band. He gains the upper hand on an opposing leader and dispatches him. Another short time period passes and Guts encounters the Falcons, during his travel, which intends to claim the reward on him for his interference. Guts quickly disposes of a handful of men but is bested by Griffith, the leader of the Band of the Hawk.
Serving as their prisoner for a short time, Guts was suddenly recruited into their ranks and became one of Griffith's closest and most trusted allies. He fought a number of battles under the Hawk banner over a three-year time span and ultimately decided to leave to forge his own destiny, to live alongside Griffith as "a man of equal vision".
Once Griffith intercepts Guts during his departure, Guts is commanded to duel Griffith once more for his freedom. Guts quickly shatters Griffith's sword and leaves.
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A year passes and Guts finds himself crossing paths with the Band of the Hawk once more. He falls in love with Casca and eventually finds himself assisting in a rescue mission to try and save Griffith from his apparent torture and imprisonment.
As the Band of the Hawk make their way down a road, Griffith's once battered body has a sudden surge of strength as he hijacks a carriage, ultimately wrecking it. As Guts reaches him to check on him, he and all of his allies are swallowed up in the Eclipse, finding themselves surrounded by horrifying demons.
To make a long story short, Griffith offered all of his allies up as sacrifices so that he might achieve his dream of running his own kingdom. After violating Guts' lover Casca, Guts is thrown into a frenzy of hysteria, fighting against fate itself, swearing vengeance on Griffith. His arm, which is clenched tightly in the teeth of a demon is torn from its place as he tries to kill Griffith, unsuccessfully of course.
Guts and Casca are eventually saved by the mysterious bone knight and Guts faints. He awakens to find that he and Casca are the only two remaining survivors of the Eclipse, everyone else having died in horrible fashion. This ultimately propels Guts into a long, hard journey to seek revenge against the cruelty of life and Griffith, the man he once called comrade.
Swordsmanship: Since Guts was a child he has fought on the battlefield. With this he is given more than enough time to master the art of swordsmanship, eventually leading to his famous slaughter of a hundred men in a single battle. He and his sword the Dragon Slayer are not a force to be reckoned with.
Physical Prowess: Also developed from the extensive battlefield experience that was dominated by him wielding an oversized sword, Guts is an incredibly strong individual capable of slicing two full-grown, armored men in half. But not only is Guts incredibly powerful, but he is also dexterous and agile.
Death has No Place Here: This one is more of a speculation, as it hasn't been confirmed. Guts is, as they say, a leaping fish, meaning that he is insanely lucky. According to the Bone Knight, Guts "began his life from death" which infers that Guts is really good at escaping it, for some unknown and possibly supernatural reason. It could also be that he might suffer from "anime protagonist" syndrome where, no matter the odds, he is not going to die.
Cannon Arm: Following the loss of his arm during the eclipse, Guts attains a handy (see what I did there?) little contraption that is a cannon. The use of this cannon does not come freely, however, as it usually causes Guts' arm to break, rendering it virtually useless. Even so, Guts will still use his teeth to pump off another round if he needs to.
Berserker Armor: This badass, beastly, bedazzling set of plate armor was gifted to Guts magical old woman named Flora. This iconic armor acts as a last resort for Guts when he is up against almost impossible foes. This armor turns him into basically a God with heightened, superhuman agility and strength that sees him cleaving through hordes of ginormous monsters. There is some massive disadvantages with using the armor, however. For instance, Guts can still be killed and wounded, but the armor prevents him from feeling the pain. As an added measure of torment, if Guts were to sustain a traumatic injury, the armor would grow some spikes and dig into the wound. The wound would then be upholstered by these sharp pieces of steel, causing the wound to be repaired, yes, but also forcing even more blood loss from the user. So you would think that you should be careful in fights still right? Well, the armor also overrides any sense of thought. It takes over and with little to no regard for its user, sets out to kill almost everything in its path. Basically, the berserker armor could prove more bothersome than it is actually worth.
Personality: The Golden Age Arc
Alright, now that we've gotten Guts' incredibly dark and lengthy backstory out of the way, I'd like to dig through his personality a little bit starting with his early years as a small boy.
Due to his horrifying birth, early combat experience and eventual rape, Guts had descended past his inner hatred as a child to become animal-like. He lost his sense of faith, love, and trust, living a life of loneliness and bloodshed as a freelance mercenary.
Some years later, he met the first person to ever affect him in a positive way, this was Griffith. Griffith showed Guts the meaning of allies, determination, and ambition. Following the model set for him, Guts became an approachable man who finally learned how to love. Now I know what you are thinking, "Guts and love? Bah!" but I assure you that love is a factor that plays a major role in his character development. This is because we see Guts overcoming his childhood trauma that had previously plagued his entire life.
So everything is all fuzzy and warm when, BAM, it all comes crashing down. Griffith, the man that showed Guts how to live a meaningful life sacrificed all of his followers, Guts included. This was monumental for Guts' personality because this family that he's loved and cherished was brutally murdered by demons for the sake of Griffith's gain, not to mention Griffith's rape of Casca. So to summarize, all of that emotional development Guts had gone through is completely thrown out the window in favor of a revenge-driven swordsman.
Guts became a man who thrived off of hatred. He hated demons, he hated anyone who got in his way, and, most of all, he hated Griffith.
His sense of friendship was crushed. His sense of love was literally violated. With the sense of loss mixed with Guts' already explosive personality, Guts became a violent maniac. He killed demons, fairies, spirits, and bandits alike; seemingly nothing could quench his bloodthirst and he even seemed to enjoy it.
Aside from the killing, however, Guts was empty. A crazed shadow of his former self. He was drunk on hatred and found his only friend to be his sword, his Dragon Slayer.
Personality: The Black Swordsman Arc
Remember when I said this analysis was going to be beefy? Here's why. What I've described thus far is just the story of Guts in the Golden Age arc, now I'd like to go through his Black Swordsman arc where he undergoes even more dramatic changes.
As the Golden Age closes out, we see Guts as a deranged, violent, skilled swordsman with little to no regard for life as a whole. During the Black Swordsman arc, he calms down a little. Where he was a rabid, wounded animal before we see Guts become a composed beast of sorts.
While he has calmed down and is a little more welcoming, he still never really let go of his savage side because, at this point, it is embedded in his personality. But as he continues this seemingly endless struggle against a violent and demonic world, he reunites with old friends and, most importantly, Casca who was the only other person to make it out of that twisted nightmare realm. This was a rather slow development, but after spending some time on the road with Casca, he realizes the importance of protecting those that you love and that he does, in fact, still love Casca.
In this journey, he meets a number of different people that help him heal and develop following the traumatic events of his life. They teach him to grow from the metaphorical dirt once again like a wilted flower.
Out of these newfound allies, I'd like to focus on Schierke the most. While everyone brought a lot to Guts' potluck of personality, Schierke brought the most, in my opinion. She connected with him on a father/daughter level and seems to be the only one that can pull him out of his darkest moments, for instance, from the Berserker trance.
A Complex and Developed Anti-Hero
At the time of writing this analysis, that is the most characterization Guts has been through.
Guts is the most complex and developed anti-hero I've written about thus far. He is a man literally baptized in blood and has thrived off of the malevolence created by his harsh life. But underneath this violent beast rests a compassionate individual.
The sheer scale of his personality alone is pretty intense, let alone the dark and twisted fantasy journey he's endured.