Welcome to The Right Tool For The Job, a column series where I attempt to give a highly objective analysis and review of a weapon from an anime series, eventually leading up to the question of whether I myself would use it. Because you know, anime weapons are cool.
Big. Giant. Swords. Today it’s a staple in anime and JRPG’s for characters to wield swords that should give them back problems. While it has no definite origin, one of the obvious initiators is Kentaro Miura’s popular and long-running Berserk series. The main weapon of the cursed protagonist Guts is known as Dragonslayer. Far from being an object to slay dragons, it is a heavy metal club for slaying everything.
Guts does not wield Dragonslayer for teh lulz, or because he’s really badly overcompensating for something. He wields it because he’s slaying the closest possible thing to a dragon, demons, in a quest for bloody revenge. His sword matches the burden he must carry.
Built to maybe slay dragons
In a fantasy setting, swords used to slay dragons usually fall into certain categories: legendary, blessed, forged with a rare iron and enhanced with jewels. That is not Dragonslayer. Indeed, it’s anything but:
Massive, thick, heavy and far too rough. It was much too big to be a sword. Indeed, it was like a heap of raw iron.
Forged by the blacksmith Godo, Dragonslayer was created when a king commissioned all the local blacksmiths to make a blade that could slay a dragon. All of those commissioned made fancy, good looking blades which would probably break if they ever faced off against a dragon. Godo, of a more practical and snarky mind, went against the grain and produced a big heavy metal club in the shape of a sword. It’s not the blade of the sword that kills you, but rather its weight. Current estimates have put the weight of the blade anywhere between 400-500 pounds. It was impossible to lift, and Godo was nearly hung for his arrogance.
For years Dragonslayer sat in Godo’s shed of weapons, serving as a constant reminder of what hubris can bring about in a human being. And then Guts came along, broken and angry (you could say he’s gone… Berserk!) from having all his friends sacrificed and consumed by demons after being betrayed by his closest friend. As one of the few survivors, Guts is branded and forever hunted by demons. Used to wielding giant swords all his life, the Dragonslayer is nothing to Guts.
Actually built to slay anything and CLANG!
Despite being made to slay dragons, it fits Guts’ use perfectly: slaying humans, demons and everything in between. Nothing can stand unbroken when the giant club of iron swings; soldiers armored in plate mail suffer bisection when hit by it, and even demons suffer immense damage when struck. Due to being a giant iron club, even though at the time of writing the weapon hasn’t been worked on in four in-universe years (but too many real life years) it still works due to design. It’s nothing short of a “big lump of iron”, it could chip, crack, burn and it would still be the same giant sword Guts began his quest for revenge with.
While the 2016 Berserk anime was not well received at all (understatement), it did give the fans of the series a meme. Perhaps to add to the inherent “pleasingness” of it (see below), the series creator decided that with each hit, the Dragonslayer should make a vibrating sound that can only bee described as CLANG! It has been memed many, many times.
And it’s gotten even better over the years. Due to constant use slaying demons, the iron has soaked up their blood, causing it to exist simultaneously in two different dimensions. This has led some fans to theorize that it could be used to damage the body of the main protagonist of the series, Griffith, who ascended to god-hood.
Putting aside all the lore reasons, we can also consider why Miura decided to give his main protagonist such an impossibly sized blade. Guts went through many variations in his style until Miura settled on his design for him. In an interview he stated:
Interviewer: –I see. How about the sword, then? It’s one of Guts’s main features. Did it not come from Violence Jack?
Miura: That comes from Shinji Wada’s Pygmalio. Also, I think it was in the Guin Saga spin-off The Snow Queen, there was this illustration of a two- or three-meter-tall giant wielding a sword. Guts’s sword is a cross between those two. It’s just the right size to be still somehow carryable, while giving that close-to-the-action feeling of violent men’s manga. I couldn’t make up my mind for a while, though, and Guts’s design went through quite a bit of change — long hair, wielding a katana, etc. After agonizing over it for a while I ended up with what he is now, and I felt like I really nailed it. All I had to do was somehow capture the swinging around of that sword and that pleasingness of it. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about given that I’ve only created the story for one manga, but when you do manage to hit upon that crucial something before you start, I feel like it works out.
Dragonslayer is as much a part of Guts’ character as his closed eye. It’s what makes him the monstrous beast he is. Having such a giant sword is what distinguished Guts from all the other muscled up guys in anime.
This can be shown using the silhouette test, which I learned about thanks to Reddit. To know if you made an interesting character design, fill in the character’s outline completely black and see if they stand out. Without the Dragonslayer, Guts looks like any other muscled up anime dude. Sure, you could make the hole for his singular eye, but without it, the Dragonslayer is the defining detail of Guts’ visual character.
Lastly, swords are symbolic in the Berserk universe. Take Griffith’srapier. It’s tall and slender, beautiful but deadly. It symbolizes Griffith to a T, and when the sword breaks, he breaks. Guts, surviving the Eclipse, has Dragonslayer. A sword which no man should ever be able to carry. Just like Guts, having survived an ordeal which no man should be able to walk away from. Unbreakable, unshatterable. Rough, hard and terrifying.
In the end, would I use it?
Er… could I? I mean, let’s ignore the fact it weighs well above what any normal human should be able to use; Guts, who is “peak human” wields it like it was nothing. But I suppose if I COULD use the weapon I WOULD because the sheer size gives it an almost universal use in everyday life. Need a jack for your car? Dragonslayer. Need to cut some trees down? Dragonslayer. Decide you can’t take any more of this user who keeps giving you trouble at your IT job? Dragonslayer (On the computer of course… probably the desk too).
But in the end, Dragonslayer shows itself as an anime weapon that can stand above the best and memorable, despite being fairly plain. What makes it a badass anime weapon is not that it can shoot laser beams, but that it works, in nearly every situation this world (or Berserk’s world) can throw at it.
Special thanks to /r/berserk for helping out with some of the finer details of Dragonslayer.
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