Spoiler: he does. Multiple times. And he’s not doing it to play hero or for the sake of doing good. How and why he does it is mostly revealed by how Guts’ motivations back in the Golden Age arc are build up and presented to us. I will elaborate in the following and as you will see, I am staying close as possible to the source material.
Though I have to admit, he is not self-conscious about this and he is not always doing it. There is still a certain element of practicality rather than true altruism in this. Still, he will protect if he sees it fit, bonus points if you’re a friend, weak, a woman, or a child.
Self-Defense turned Avenger of the Weak
Guts’ will to protect others at his own expense and risk of life is already shown early in the Golden Age.
Because Guts was violated by Donovan as young boy, he refuses to sleep without his sword and gained a strong drive to become stronger than those capable of hurting him. What you also see here is that Guts is taking revenge on someone for hurting him. He will do this many times again in the manga (him going after Femto after the eclipse included).
With Guts joining the band of the Hawk, merely protecting himself from stronger enemies shifted towards protecting those he learned to value.
The encounter with Zodd was similar to Donovan in that Guts was facing a force stronger than him, which encouraged him to push even farther.
But the big difference is, that it was not HIM getting hurt, but those who took him in and treated him like family. He bore witness as they got butchered and it filled him with insane rage.
After this encounter, he swore himself to become even stronger. The waterfall scene with Erica from the Wyald chapters almost 5 full volumes later comes to mind (yeah, that’s how consistent this theme is!)
Also remember that before the encounter with Zodd, Miura first set up an argument between Guts and Caca, with Casca accusing him of not caring for his men and only caring about swinging his sword.
Guts was mad about this because it simply was not true. And this isn’t only him stating it, Miura would demonstrate this to us later too!
Then directly after this, Guts actively attempted to reduce causalities among his men: instead of sending in another troop of Hawks to their certain death, he went into the castle himself in order to defeat Zodd.
This right here is also the reason why Guts’ current traveling party arrived at Elfhelm without causalities. So it’s consistent too! He basically went from Raider Captain that suffered some causalities, to independent Black Swordsman with zero causalities.
Guts and Casca Bonding: The Cliff Incident
When Guts and Casca fell off the cliff during battle, Miura takes this to a more personal level for Guts. Guts respected Casca’s authority, even if she visibly hated him. The fact she was in danger and in a vulnerable spot had him help her out as much as he could. He does so out of empathy and to show her that he actually isn’t that much of a bad guy as he seems at first glance.
The funny thing: remember before this, they had this argument and probably that’s why she lashed out on him so hard. After all, you can’t have the person you criticized for not caring for others, save you. She even said so herself:
During the 100 Man Slayer Scene, the fact that Adon’s men intended to take Casca and violate her was another way to make it very personal: To Guts, this is the worst thing you can do to someone since he has experienced sexual violence first hand. And after they threatened to do this to Casca, he just so happen to kick their butts and downright slaughtered them (like Zodd did with the Hawks). A theme that happens many times again in Berserk: Rescuing Puck in the Black Swordsman Arc, Donovan, the Iron Chain Knight Captain whiplashing Pepe, the Goat at the heretic’s cave, Trolls. It’s almost like every time Guts takes down another monster (whether metaphorical or literal) he’s cutting down another Donovan once more.
When Casca asks him why, he also states very clearly he doesn’t necessarily do it for her: He just claims he likes fighting. By slightly downplaying this by his phrasing he makes it very clear he doesn’t do it to play the hero for her. He’s even contemplating about his intentions, asking himself whether he is doing it for her. Looking at this, it seems a bit like Guts is slowly becoming aware of what Casca truly means to him, but is still in denial, as proven by the campfire of dreams scene. There is a very good reason for his denial as well! But, Casca x Guts development in the Golden Age is subject of another lengthy future article (by the subtle Casca/Guts things I’m currently finding out as I write this article I can already tell you’ll love it!).
Either way, I believe one of the OTHER reasons for Guts to protect Casca during the 100 Man-Slayer-Scene is because he empathizes with weaker people and possesses a deep-rooted desire to protect and avenge them; because as Miura has repeatedly shown very clearly to us, fighting – for him – always meant being capable of fending off those who mean harm to him or those he values. This is his deepest motivation and drive right there and many of his actions, be it past or present, can be explained by this.
Boscogne: interfere or Die
Look what happens when Boscogne enters the scene during the Battle of Doldrey.
Look how the Hawks want to help Guts out after his sword broke, and die because they tried.
Look how he mows down his comrades and how stressed Guts looks as a result.
This right here is why Guts hates others meddling in his battles, because they would only get hurt or die (The ant-crushing quote from the Black Swordsman Arc comes to mind!) Something that happens quite a lot in his life as well, that has him developing a strong protective instinct as a result.
What happens next can be seen as sweet revenge. After Boscogne killed his men, Zodd threw his horse chopper sword. Guts instantly grabbed it, Boscogne saw this and struck him with his axe, but Guts deflected his blow with the sword, then decapitated both Boscogne and his horse.
Disconnecting from Griffith’s Dream: a step towards protecting his loved ones
During the Battle of Doldrey, he was still fighting under Griffith’s banner, but internally, he has already disconnected himself. Why did Guts want to leave?
On the surface, it looks like he lost the sense of belonging in the Hawks, mostly due to Griffith’s fountain speech.
- Guts was left devalued and degraded by Griffith’s fountain speech, which left him utterly disappointed in him.
- Guts realized that by continuing fighting for Griffith, he is being a tool to be used for Griffith’s own goals.
What Guts did not realize during the Golden Age is that it wasn’t necessarily Griffith that made him stay, but the sense of family he found in the Hawks, and the fact protecting them (by decreasing causalities) gave him a purpose.
Fighting for the sake of fighting isn’t what really drives him. He appreciates companionship and friendship more than anything and has always desired for a place he could belong to. Once he has found that place, you find him protecting those he values at the expense of his own well-being. This is why he later acknowledges that no matter what happens, what he will experience it through the sword will feel true to him – this as much he has realized so far. In the Sea God arcs he would reveal he does care when or where he dies, because his companions gave him a reason to.
Given his motivations I pointed out above, that’s basically him saying that no matter what happens, he will fight for those precious to him. During the bonfire of dreams chapter, he reveals that he usually lets others decide the reason why he fights – Guts will take care of the rest (like making sure everyone is arriving at Elfhelm unharmed). And because Griffith sacrificed the Hawks, the very thing dear to him, he would antagonize him later.
At some point Guts will notice that he has to oppose Griffith if he wants to protect his new companions. Leaving the Hawks was just another step towards this realization.
It is funny that the moment Guts realized the importance of companionship also happens around the same time when he started to detach himself from Griffith’s dream. It’s almost like he found his dream already. Or at least, is about to find out!
Guts does NOT protect to play hero but rather protect out of empathy and because he considers people as family. It is not his primary role and goal yet. And even if he decides to take up on the role of a hero knowingly in the future, I doubt he would ever see himself as one.
But that’s exactly what makes Guts so relatable. There isn’t much difference between Guts and a normal person who experiences companionship, loss, betrayal, sadness, rage – and the will to protect those he considers family.
His actions are more comparable to him giving a couple of bucks to a beggar when he sees one, or meeting a crying boy on the street and buying him an ice cream to cheer him up, rather than someone who shallowly donates a million to charity every month. The spontaneousness, intent and subtlety of Guts’ actions is what makes a vast difference between him and Griffith.
Instances of Guts saving or avenging others
To complete this article, here are a couple of other instances where Guts saved or avenged people spontaneously, more out of empathy, less out of heroism:
- Guts was making sure Casca can escape and doesn’t get violated by Adon’s men (vol. 6)
- Guts sees a mutilated Griffith and impales his torturer as reaction (vol. 9)
- Guts was getting pissed at Wyald for violating the farmer family who helped the Hawks. He sees the beheaded corpse of one farm girl, then turns to Wyald, says: “sure, I’ll play with YOU” and strikes him with his sword in rage. (vol. 10 or 11). Notice how his facial expression is similar to when avenging tortured Griffith.
- Guts sees Femto violating Casca and cuts off his own arm as an attempt to save her (vol 13)
- Guts was going on a 2 year rampage after the eclipse, making sure to make every single apostle pay for harming what was dear to him
- Guts is saving Jill *thrice* for no reason other than she’s a vulnerable child (from fire spirit children & the forest fire during the Rosine fight). He was at his lowest here, being a giant asshat to her but still saved her. During Lost Children he also attempts to ignore his soft spot for children, just so he could kill Rosine (vol. 15). More of this part of the manga here.
- Guts saves Farnese twice when he kidnapped her: one time he saved her from falling off the horse and splitting her head open (he claims he had questions and couldn’t let her die – guess what, he never actually questioned her. Weird, isn’t it?). The second time from rapehorse which triggered his PTSD from the eclipse (vol. 16-17). He could have let her die given what she’s done to him before this, but he did not.
- Guts saves Pepe and Luca from the Iron Chain Knight whip-lashing them (vol 18 or 19). He gave him a pretty hard time for doing that too.
- Guts saves Casca from the cave of heretics, taking on the goat pseudo-apostle who was about to violate her (vol 19)
- Guts saves Farnese and Casca from the Troll den (vol. 26). He mostly did it to get Casca back, secondly to keep the promise to Serpico. The fact he also saved a bunch of women getting raped was a side-effect
- Guts saves the nobles at Vritannis after Schierke pushed him to do so, since Farnese’s family was present. (vol 29-30) This shows his actions are still more pragmatic than truly altruistic
- Guts killed the Sea God, so they could continue their journey. This also happened to make sure the crew of the seahorse was safe and the mermaids also profited from this (vol. 37)
- Guts safely arrived at Elfhelm, without any of his companions harmed (vol 38).
Other instances where Guts was in a stronger position and could have done harm, but decided not to but because he is a better person and refuses to become a monster that harms the weak:
- Before leaving the Hawks, Griffith and Guts dueled. Guts has obviously gotten much stronger and stopped his sword in time before he could do any harm to Griffith. For contrast: Griffith had no shame in killing him (vol. 8)
- When Isidro was tasked by Guts to get Casca out of the cave of heretics, Casca was caught by the Iron Chain Knights. Guts was greatly enraged by this and grabbed Isidro by his collar, and for a moment it seemed like he’d harm him. Thankfully Guts didn’t because he knew better. (vol. 19)
- Guts defying the Berserker Armor’s od and becoming better at preserving his consciousness when going berserk (vol. 26 and onwards). He does this so he won’t end up killing his own companions.