Berserk: The Prototype is the precursor to and basis for Berserk, and is not part of the official canon. It was made in 1988, while Kentarou Miura was still in college. The prototype was released in English on December 6, 2006 as a bonus in volume 14 by Dark Horse Comics.
Though Berserk: The Prototype greatly shares the same intent as Berserk, various details, world views, characters, etc., differ noticeably from those of its successor.
A man wearing a black cloak and an eye patch over his right eye, Guts, walks along a road lined on both sides with impaled skeletons. He opens his satchel and asks an unseen Puck whether he is frightened. Further down the road, three bandits have cornered a young, white-haired girl, Frikka, with obviously malicious intentions. As the main bandit advances on her, an arrow pierces him in the back of the head and emerges from between his eyes. He falls dead next to the frightened girl. The two other bandits are also killed by arrows to their heads.
Frikka's savior, Guts, walks directly past her to scavenge through a nearby overturned wagon. Though his back is turned, Guts is fully aware of an approaching fourth bandit, and draws his massive sword to slice the bandit in two. Finding nothing of value in the wagon, Guts turns to leave, though he changes his mind and reluctantly decides to bring Frikka with him, demanding that she reward him with food when they arrive back to civilization.
On the way back to her village, the white-haired girl stares at the Guts' prosthetic iron hand, and is startled by the voice of a third person – the elf Puck – who Guts explains is simply a pest. While Guts and Puck bicker, Frikka decides that Guts is not as scary as he appears to be.
Guts and Frikka arrive at Frikka's village, where she is greeted by her family and explains to them that her wagon was attacked and that she was saved by Guts. Later at night, in Frikka's house and after Guts is given the food he demanded from Frikka, her father tells him about the fief lord that rules over the village: a cruel man called Vlad Tepes, who is the one responsible for the impaled bodies along the road. The bodies on the road are ten years old, enemies of a long-past war. But, currently having no enemies to fight, Tepes turned on his own subjects to torment and torture. A rumor now circulates that Tepes gathers young girls to be his personal maidservants, but those who have been taken have not returned.
Guts surmises that Frikka was to be Tepes' next maidservant and then insensitively asks for more drink from Frikka's mother. Before she can respond, there is a knock at the door. Several people enter and ask Guts to listen to their proposal: they want Guts to kill Vlad Tepes. Guts dismisses the idea as ridiculous, since he'd have to fight Tepes' entire force of guards before being able to kill Tepes himself. An old woman begs Guts to avenge her granddaughter; Frikka's father explains that the granddaughter was one of the girls Tepes made into a maidservant, and that her body was found impaled in a river. Guts still declines and leaves.
Puck urges Guts to reconsider the villagers' offer, but Guts will not hear any of it, despite Puck's saying that he should understand their suffering more than anyone. Frikka joins them outside and apologizes to Guts for having put him in such a position with the villagers, as she was the one who told them stories of his prodigious fighting ability. Then, knowing that she will be taken once more to Vlad, she asks to be given one of Guts' possessions. He decides to give her his eye patch, and then leaves with Puck, who voices his suspicions that Guts wants to save Frikka from being taken. Guts denies this, and Puck accuses him of being too uncaring toward the living. Guts retorts that, as a child, he saw his own mother be torn apart, and so he no longer cares for saving people if his own life is put at risk.
As the sun sets, Guts and Puck watch Frikka be carted away to Vlad's castle. However, Guts notices a familiar symbol on the carriage that carries her away. Frikka arrives at Tepes' castle, where she meets Tepes himself – a bald, portly man. He inspects Frikka from his throne and orders her to approach him. As he touches her face, she notes that his skin feels cold and smells rotten, and she can tell by his eyes he is not human. Suddenly, a crossbow bolt is shot into Tepes' eye. Guts arrives, crossbow in hand, standing atop the doorway leading into Tepes' castle. The doorway suddenly crumbles, sending Guts falling to the floor, and the ornamental spears and metal pieces of the gate behind Guts spring to life, seemingly flying toward him of their own accord, and impaling him. Thinking he has won, Tepes turns to leave the room, but Guts manages to extricate the metal from his body and draws his sword, prepared to fight.
Tepes becomes enraged after Guts addresses him as "dog of Vuana", and transforms into a giant "hog bull". The floor around Guts begins to collapse, but he manages to run across it to reach Tepes. Before Guts can deal a finishing blow, however, Tepes manages to catch him in with one giant hand, and tears Guts' shirt. Though Puck and Frikka appear terrified, Guts reveals his secret weapon: he pulls a string attached to his mechanical arm with his teeth; his prosthetic hand flips downward, revealing a wrist cannon. A cannon ball bursts from it and into Tepes' face, stunning the monster, who drops Guts. The latter recovers quickly and slices Tepes in half with one swing of his massive sword.
The still-living Vlad Tepes is stunned that a mere human has defeated him. He then sees an odd mark on Guts' right pectoral – the same mark that was emblazoned on the carriage that brought Frikka to Tepes' castle. The castle's ceiling begins to collapse, and Tepes' body is crushed, but Guts, Frikka and Puck manage escape the castle and return to Frikka's village. As Frikka greets her family once more, Guts and Puck set off on their own, and Puck silently notes that, during the battle, Guts was briefly more scary to look at than the transformed Tepes.
- There are several noticeable differences between the prototype and the current manga:
- Guts' appearance is slightly different. He wears an eyepatch over his right eye before discarding it later on in the story, and his sideburns are longer. Furthermore, the crossbow he carries doesn't attach to his mechanical arm.
- Personality-wise, this Guts is more brash, cocky, and whimsical. He is also on amicable terms with Puck, as opposed to finding the elf annoying as he does during his personal war against apostles in Berserk.
- Guts is referred to as "Black Knight" rather than "Black Swordsman".
- The Dragon Slayer bears a slightly different design, with the blade tapering outward toward its hilt to form something resembling a crossguard. Additionally, Guts only wields the Dragon Slayer with his right hand, never wielding the sword with both his right hand and left mechanical arm.
- The Brand of Sacrifice is noticeably larger and more rounded in shape, and located on Guts' right pectoral rather than on the back of his neck. The brand also does not bleed in the presence of an apostle.
- In a conversation between Guts and Puck, it is revealed that apostles brutally killed Guts' mother before his very eyes, which is implied to have been the impetus for his personal war against them.
- The idea of the God Hand is not present in the prototype, as a conversation between Guts and Vlad Tepes reveals that apostles work for an ancient god of darkness named "Vuana".