The first eight chapters of Berserk featured in Volumes 1-3 have become known as the Black Swordsman arc. This opening arc of the series has come to be undervalued largely by the wider Berserk community. It has largely been ignored by all anime studios in their adaptations and its importance to the structure of Berserk is also commonly undervalued. This is massive mistake on all anime adaptations of Berserk. The Black Swordsman arc is seminal to the overall structure of early Berserk (Black Swordsman and Golden Age) and the arc is designed to be shown entirely and then be followed up by the Golden Age, which should be presented as a prologue.
The Black Swordsman arc is an introduction to the world of Berserk, therein introducing the tone, characters, themes and imagery present in the main timeline of Berserk. This is necessary because it is seminal in that the Golden Age is presented as the tonal outlier of the series. The movies entirely present the Golden Age without the necessary juxtaposition which undermines the intention of the original manga. Everything from the characters to the tone to the overall world is juxtaposed between the Black Swordsman period and the Golden Age. Pippin, Judeau and Corkus have virtually nothing in common with Vargas, Theresia, Puck and The Count, those unfamiliar with Berserk may even initially believe they are from different stories entirely. The worlds are completely contradictory, one has monstrous demonic evils seemingly around every corner and the other is one of traditional medieval fiction, with Kings, Knights and Princesses and no magic or monsters anywhere. This instils in the viewer an unwavering intrigue making them wonder how we go from a normal medieval setting to one of dark fantasy, something terrible must happen?
Thematically there is also an essential justification for the series to be structured with the Black Swordsman arc preceding the flashback to the Golden Age, because a central theme of Berserk surrounds fate. Whether it’s called fate or causality that is what Guts is truly fighting against, this is visually represented from the beginning with the brand on his neck and how he struggles against the will of fate. Additionally, the entire cast of the Golden Age arc is fighting against fate, the audience is positioned in the same way they are. We know that due to the absence of Judeau, Pippin, Corkus and the other members of the Band of the Hawk, that they will likely die before the flashback concludes, but still the audience wills against fate, we don’t want these characters to die but secretly we know it is unavoidable. Technically the audience somewhat wins their fight against fate through the unlikely survival of Casca and Rickert, many likely assumed they would also perish. This highlights Berserk’s most important thematic element hope. Casca and Rickert struggle to survive and in their survival the audience is rewarded with maintaining them in the story. There is hope in the world of Berserk.
Ultimately, the Black Swordsman arc is necessary in any adaptation or read-through of Berserk to truly get the clearest picture. Muira wasn’t dicking around when he wrote these opening eight chapters and it grates on me that they are continuously overlooked and downplayed by would-be adapters and some in the Berserk fandom.