Guts the Black Swordsman
By: Art of War
Price Varies on Seconday Market
Sorry for the delay folks, but I’m back!
Since the release last week of NGE 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance, I’ve been in a very anime mood. Thinking on all my favorite anime, my all-time top show until TTGL was Berserk. Berserk is a deceptively complex story that starts with a Black Swordsman cutting through demons with a gigantic sword in a medieval style village. I remember when the Dreamcast game was released the reviewer said it was about “a gigantic sword attached to a tiny man that kills everything.” Ostensibly, that’s not far from the truth.
But past the first episode, we find that the Black Swordsman was once a young mercenary named Guts. Without any living family he is forced to start hiring himself out to the highest bidder on the battlefield. Eventually he hooks up with another young merc named Griffith who leads a stellar group of fighters called the Band of the Hawk. To make a long story short, they begin as rivals but become fast friends and Guts finds a place for himself in the group, always owing his life to a lost battle with Griffith when they first met.
Now the manga is a very long comic series that entails the entirety of Guts’ story, but the anime focuses only on how he became the Black Swordsman. And what a tale it is! Excitement, blood, romance, political intrigue, mystery, magic, demons, swordplay, blood, assassination, blood… I feel like I should tack on another “blood” to drive the message home, but I’m sure you get it. The core of it all comes down to identity, how we see ourselves and our destiny and whether that vision fits in with the world around us. The anime series ran from 1997 to 1998 and was well-received. The relatively unknown company Art of War seems to have retained all the rights to action figures, props, statues, etc. and created a handful of figures back in the day. It actually took a bit of research to figure out exactly where this toy came from. When I bought it all those years ago it was just “Guts action figure.”
There were some variations on how he was released, so I’ll point out that I have an early version and as near as I can tell this is the figure I own:
On to the toy!
“Let’s put it on.”
“Put what on?”
“The last suit you’ll ever wear.” – Men In Black
Okay, okay, so he’s more of a brown swordsman. Or rusted bronze swordsman. Still, he’s pretty rad lookin’. Guts features a pretty cool sculpt, with lots of plated armor and leather straps. His arms are left mostly exposed so that he’s not hindered in using his sword. All the leather looking parts are made from a softer plastic and glued in place, except for the strap on his back that helps to hold his sword in place.
Guts’ appearance is a little more representative of the manga than the anime, with a narrower face and lankier body type. He still maintains his massively tall form, just lacks some of the muscle present in the anime. You could say he has some slight pin-headedness, but I think that’s a trick of the armor. He still looks great, and I like that the armor looks like it’s bulky. It doesn’t look like his legs are made of armor, there’s somebody in that stuff. Nice work. His feet and legs feature much of the plating, and it all looks fantastic, with rivets to indicate that the armor is supposed to move, a wonderful detail.
Guts’ left forearm was taken from him before he became the Black Swordsman. In place of it he has an automail or manual armor gauntlet/cannon/crossbow thing. What’s interesting is that they decided to use a real metal coiled spring to run down the brace above it. In fact, every place on the toy that features a raised piece like clasps or the chain on his back are all real metal. At this scale, the design of it all is impressive and the metal work is neither weak nor distracting, complementing the paint job perfectly.
As you can see, Guts here is about eight inches tall. Considering how he towers over friend and foe in the anime, I’d say that puts him in a bit of an odd 7.5 inch or so scale. He’ll fit in fairly well with 7” figures. The real beauty here is the sword. It would have been so easy for Art of War to pump out a “good enough” rendition of his famous sword the DRAGON SLAYER, but that is certainly not the case. At around 9.5 inches, the sword is much taller than Guts himself, and features a removable pommel to get it into his left hand. Unfortunately, the pommel is very heavy metal. Even with the super glue trick I still have trouble getting that thing to stay on.
Love, love, love. Art of War didn’t have to, but they made the cape removable. It features two long tabs that really stay in place on the figure so well that I didn’t realize until this review that it could be removed. Once it’s off, you get even a better idea of the sculpt including pouches along the back of his belt and even a sculpted in sacrificial brand. They easily could have gotten away with just painting it on, which shows a true love and respect for the character and property. The flesh also features a lot of little nicks as well, some with very important stories behind them.
Thankfully, the paint lives up to the sculpt quite nicely. While my eye would love to see a bit more differentiation in color between leather and steel, the truth is that after as many battles as he’s seen the rust, dirt, and blood would kind of make the various materials look a little homogenous. Some of it is a trick of the lighting, it actually looks better in person.
What I’m really glad they avoided was the temptation to go with black. For the Black Swordsman, very little of the figure is painted in stark black, giving a nice richness and depth to the figure that black can’t create on its own.
You can see with his cape lifted that even his back is highly detailed, with beautiful washes on the leather pouches to make them look like they’ve really been used. Bravo! Also, you can see the straps on the back of his calves painted a dark maroon/brown color. This is just another example of something Art of War could have easily overlooked and I might not have noticed, but since they gave it their attention it certainly catches my own.
“All hail Casiodorous Rex, dragonslayer!” – Dragonslayer (Peter MacNicol FTW)
But can he hold his sword?
If I had to knock anything on the figure it would be articulation, but let’s think about this. Marvel Legends came out the same year as this toy, and both ML and Spider-Man Classics had hit and miss articulation while it found its legs. The new He-Man toys came out the same year. So while this guy may not sport double knees or a swivel hinge neck, he does have some nice articulation that is a lot more functional than it looks at first.
Guts features a swivel neck, swivel hinge shoulders (with a spring mechanism that allows them to pull slightly from the body at the socket for better sword stances and to reduce armor impediment), swivel mid-biceps, hinge right elbow, ball and socket right hand, swivel left forearm (at the gauntlet), ball abdomen, swivel waist, T-crotch, swivel thighs, hinge knees, and ball and socket calves (under the boot cuff). The articulation is used artfully, hiding itself in the sculpt where possible. The right leg is only very slightly impeded by the knife attached to his belt, the swivel cut being below its range. The pouch which appears to hang from the right side of his belt is actually attached to his hip and moves with the leg.
Both the elbows and knees have a nice clearance to them similar to Square Enix’s old PlayArts figures so they get a nicer range than they might seem at first. You can get him into some nice natural poses both standing and sitting. While sword poses are possible, they’re hard to pull off.
The problem is two-fold. The first part is that the sword is very heavy. The toy has very tight joints, but when the shoulder has to extend a bit, they can get a bit loose under the weight of the DRAGON SLAYER. The other is that his right hand is in an open position. For someone who is a right-handed swordsman, you can see where this could be a problem, but it also doesn’t have the necessary support for holding it with the left hand either. You can make it work, but I wouldn’t leave it on a stacked shelf, if you get me. Later releases dealt with this issue by giving him an alternate right hand with a hole similar to his left to better grip the sword. Other versions also came with an alternate left gauntlet, featuring his fold down fist cannon.
Guts the Black Swordsman comes with a removable cape, five throwing knives, a dagger, and gargantuan sword that would make Cloud Strife blush like a little bitch.
Japanese toys are expensive. That being said, I have no idea how much I paid for this guy. I know I’ve had him for around maybe 7 years, though. At the time, I was not what one would consider a serious toy collector, so I doubt I paid much for him, but I do remember getting him from Ebay. Some of the info I found about him suggests that he was imported for around 15 to 18 bucks a pop, so I’d say 25 is the most I’d have paid after shipping. The number 17 is sticking out in my head, but who knows.
For that price, he is absolutely and certainly worth it. Right now, you’re paying 10 bucks minimum more than that for a Revoltech figure. Even in Revoltech’s heyday most were over the 20 dollar mark. I would say in today’s market he’d still be a good deal if you could find him for 30 bucks. Unfortunately, the rarer an item becomes the more its value increases so expect anywhere from 70 to over a hundred bucks on this guy right now.
Be patient and keep an eye out, try different combinations of words in your searches and don’t forget to always check dirty old comic shops and the like, you’d be surprised what you can find there.
While not the most articulated, he is one of the very few Guts figures on the market today. Hopefully the new anime that is supposed to be out sometime this year will yield new toys, but only time will tell. The sculpt is fantastic, the paint is beautiful, and the mixed media works much better than you’d think.
If you like the show, he’s a pretty nice rendition of the character. If you just want a massive swordsman to ravage your 7” medieval or fantasy countryside, he’s got the chops. All over, he’s just a pretty cool figure.
Thanks for reading and as always, it’s just a toy. Open the darned thing.