Edited title because FUCK YOU you never read Berserk properly.
Berserk is a spiritual text for a secular world.
Berserk had been in my consciousness since college but nobody around me exposed me to good taste. Back in 2013, I tried reading what I remembered as a 'dark edgy manga' and thought its first 25 pages were a bit lame. What is important however, is the context in which I came crawling back to this manga.
It was late 2015. I had just moved back to Australia after a massive college ordeal and Pixar internship. I had not been offered any amazing job in LA, despite being 1 out of 5 interns doing storyboarding at Pixar. I found a job at a tiny game studio and was getting excited about strolling down some sort of pleasant art path.
I had barely settled down into my new apartment, when the entire studio fell apart at the seams. I have always been lucky for having a well-to-do family as a safety net, but it doesn't stop the hurt of wanting to be independent by myself. Just successful. For any bit of peace of mind I was worthy (of a job).
I was sheltered from real art during my time at LA-farts-institute. I craved the darkest the most depraved stories I could find, otherwise my head would implode from exposure to cheesy post-Up Pixar movies. Only in manga, I knew I would be entertained. I Googled 'dark edgy manga' and what would you know, Berserk always popped back up. Hmm. Yeah that one with the guy with the silly name. Apparently it's good or something. So I began re-reading from the Black Swordsman arc, the most crude of the arcs.
Around that time it was the holidays, and of course everyone begins to slow down and don't post things related to jobs. I on the other hand, have always needed to keep working at things. I withdrew into myself and tried to think of what I must do to find a new job.
Must do. Gotta do. Gotta draw more. That's it. Better portfolio. Work harder, make more things. Yeah. It's ok. I'll find worth someday. Find. Get. Maybe I need to move back to LA? The hustle is so hard though.
Such was the way my mind worked in my early twenties. I felt like I hadn't proven myself as an animation artist. Maybe I wasn't good enough? In downtime to escape from such worries, I turned back to monochromatic world of Midland.
A strange phenomenon happened to me unlike any comics I had read, nay it was unlike any film or game or book. After churning through chapters of the edgy swordsman hacking through beasties, something began to soften. Gradually the Golden Age arc overtook me, I began to slow down and pay more attention. Everything from Gut's childhood trauma to the blinding white visage of Griffith, this arc of the manga had absorbed me so much I felt I was living between those panels.
Now, here is where I come to say, within the story I saw myself as Griffith. Why does the fanbase get upset over that? An undesirable girl that likes twinks? Well, I have strong reasons for seeing myself in Griffith.
Firstly, Berserk can give any religious text a run for its money. Within its pages are defined the boundaries of good and evil. More than violence and pacifism or black or white, Berserk is about the frightening grey area. Hoping an evil character might have a bit of good left in them, and praying for our hero to not yield to evil. Those vague areas make us uncomfortable, full of tension pulling us both ways. We are used to bright angels and dark demons. Things to idolise as above us, or to scorn for their evil.
Where it differs from the bible is Berserk mocks God. Berserk intentionally sets out to upset anyone who follows ideologies like sheep.
The master of the sinful black sheep, the king of the blind white sheep. The one who shall call upon the world an age of darkness.1
The sheep are common folks who flock to Griffith, because they are blind to thinking for themselves. They don't think or fight for themselves, and so they die as sacrifices for him both in the Eclipse and at the Tower of Conviction.
I knew Guts was great, I knew he was the protagonist, but I didn't understand him yet. He is a 'mad dog' and does everything out of impulsiveness and anger. When we are introduced to Griffith however, not only do we see an effeminate counterpart to Guts, we see a deeply ambitious man who calmly has everything under control.
This is where I explain how Griffith initially struck my younger self as more aspirational.
He has charisma. People flocking to him. White and pearly otherworldly beauty desired by men and women alike. He has everything so it seems. On the other hand, Gut's earns his title as struggler and his coldness tends to annoy the people around him. When fighting Griffith for the first time, he bites down onto the sword in desperation, a final flailing attempt to win even if he just miserably wounds his mouth.
Those who flock to loving Griffith don't do so simply because of his iconic looks, but because his way of seeing the world is almost rigidly autistic in some ways. Except autistic people don't know how to manipulate.
That external layer to Griffith is not the reason I love him. When we progress into the story we see his psychopathic tendencies and horrifying ability to intimidate, as in the above moment2. When I saw that conniving nature, I realised that was his true self and could not stop reading. It was setting us up all along, hinting at the fact Griffith will get away with whatever he so pleases.
What I want to highlight is, there is nothing wrong with respecting Griffith/Femto as a villainous icon. To respect him for the evil and the discomfort he strikes in your heart. I even own this massive Femto statue. I wanted it for years and impulse bought it when manic. Even when manic I went on about feeling like Femto, because to a psychotic person who loves Berserk, what other insane evil power fantasies ya gonna pick from?
Maybe I need to explain what straight female Berserk fans might see? We are torn between two boys that are very different, and may have more capacity to admire both of them. Unlike a male perspective, we are not intimidated by Griffiths fluffy and effeminate appearance. When coupled with how threatening, powerful and sexually desired he is, I believe Griffith is intended to makes insecure men uncomfortable. They may slowly realise much to their horror that yes my dudes, sometimes women go for the femboy.
In pre-eclipse Griffith we see traces of real smiles and even laughter from him. Sometimes these smiles are deceitful, still they express concealed malice and glee, as when used to intimidate Count Julius. After his rebirth in the Conviction arc as featured above, he loses this ability to emote. He is reduced to nothing more than an ivory classical sculpture, an icon of elegance but 'free' of human baggage.
Some people have claimed Griffith completely lacked empathy from the start, which is false. We see a smidgen of humanity in the flashback moment when he stops remorsefully to consider the dead boy on the battlefield.3
'Perhaps my dream is what killed this child.'
It is only a moment, but it shows him reconsidering his desire for victory in battle. It's one of the few times we see genuine emotions from him.
In the few moments before Griffith sacrifices, Guts screeches up at the God Hand, holding a wounded Griffith in one arm and telling them he would never do such a thing! He believes in his friend up until the bitter end. Guts wasn't willing to break but Griffith on the other hand did break, enough to discard his friends. Griffith couldn't endure forever, he was already physically wrecked. He even blamed his torture on other people. He chose ultimate power over friends, believing they all were there to back him up even at the cost of their lives. Who could blame him? We are however encouraged to love Guts more because such lofty ambitions never once crossed his (simplistic?) mind.
Evidence of Griffiths' last scraps of humanity is the beautiful page right before he sacrifices. Here we get this amazing double page spread of him and Guts. Both of them actually smiling, something they both seldom do. In his last moments he realises maybe he could have just settled for human connection. Friends, love...something like that? In the end his pride made him unable to be chained to this earth by petty mortal things. He needed to fly away. He could not do what he thought was 'selling out' to himself by backing down now.
There was a point in time in recent years, where I started to realise post-Eclipse Griffith/Femto truly made me uncomfortable. As in, I no longer even tried to see any reason or humanity in post-Eclipse Griffith. I had been hoping for so long that maybe he had some shred of regret in him. I accepted that this new Griffith didn't have depth. Much like an empty egg shell with a dark bird long flown out of it.
This is around the time we see Guts take the spotlight yet again, and only becomes more mature and human.
Guts is not only a massive aspiration for many characters around him but is a saint-like comic book hero in reality. Just posting any image of him from the manga will evoke the oppressive burden of his martyrdom. It is not simply a male power fantasy. It is all too common for straight men to get the brand tattoo but completely miss the point of the symbol and get it large to show off. They say he's 'badass' and aim to obtain his muscular physique.
I argue there are certain life experiences that allows someone to truly understand what it means to 'be like Guts'. It includes but is not limited to...
Witnessing actual death, social ostracization/betrayal, grief, sexual and/or violent assault, extreme disorders and any truly traumatic experience. Gut's story is about overcoming unfathomable trauma, everyone he knew and loved was taken from him in one way or another. His body parts were also taken from him.
I read on a Berserk Discord someone whining about 'not knowing what to do with their life.' A normal whinge of a young teen who feels insecure about what they are going to study in College. Do they understand how that question can be triggering to others in different and more unfortunate walks of life?
How can one be so daft? It was as if that newly released thick hardcover tome of Berserk volumes 1-13 was flung right over their heads.
I hope more people can take away from this post that sometimes in life, misfortune sets us back to stage zero. Taking the monopoly piece and placing it back 20 spaces. Wiping a hard drive with all your finished uni assignments on it. Spilling an XL coffee on the floor, but more.
Things that strip people of comfort, belonging, safety, humanity and pride.
Their ability to smile, to sleep soundly at night, to get out of bed and to trust others.
Their limbs, their mind, their cherished people. Taken.
Absolutely everything can be taken. Maybe someday you will understand, but if you don't understand...
The moral to be taken from Guts is no matter what you have been through, keep struggling onwards. We don't suffer for reasons because this is a Godless world. Nobody is inflicting trials upon us, that is the unpopular truth. Even with the Godhand, they are watching from afar and not directly the cause of all the chaos that has befallen him. Griffith chose this path. Unlike Guts we aren't cursed with demons stalking us to kill us, there is beauty in his enduring. So can't it be beautiful for us too?
Gut's isn't about you breaking up with a girlfriend. He isn't about normies saying they know true loneliness or sorrow when they have been single 2 years. Regardless of gender, if you don't know the fortitude it takes to overcome...
That is just how it is. Get used to it.
Flowing from Golden Age to Lost Children arc, we see a once naïve Guts metamorphose into the embodiment of rage. He has nothing but raw seething resentment and wont hesitate to rip apart fairies resembling little girls. With the following arcs he grows and hardens, calms down a bit but still carrying what I would call grief. Grief even for losing his comrade Griffith, because Griffith does die, he is no longer the man Guts respected and trusted.
Griffith is the easy path to follow. Don't you want it all, o' Blessed prince of longing? The long sought after glittering enigma of a kingdom on the horizon, where your suffering will vanish. If only you reject all that binds you to this wretched earth. Once you have it, now what? Now you are the white dove in a large cage, without the capacity to regret. How purely empty you are, with those beady pale eyes staring far off into the distance again.
Griffith didn't want to be free from longing, he wanted to completely sate it. This trait was what made him beautiful amongst men, but then he offers it all up. Maybe someday we will see him get bored with what he has. Neo-Griffith's emptiness is shameful and pathetic, unlike Guts whose resigned sadness is poetic. Where the white hawk rises the mangy dog wanders bound to the dark filthy earth, scrounging just to see another dawn.
I initially saw myself in Griffith because I admired following a goal, achievements and status. The idea of working myself up from nothing and hoping I may someday make some animation that really mattered, have a studio and making bigger and better things, to do something that matters.
Even if I denied it, to be valued and praised was at the top of my list. I didn't really think of fostering connections with others as the thing that got me out of bed in the morning.
If you really want to grow, you will accept that we all are a bit like Griffith. Do not lie or shy away from it, we will always be a lot like Griffith. In a modern sense, Griffith is a cautionary tale of 'selling-out' and not realising that all our striving can destroy us. On the other hand, Guts lives by a mantra consisting of two things. Through his emotions as expressed with his limitless rage, and expressive and explosive movement shown by all his brutal swinging. He does not think, plan or try to exist out of the present moment. He feels things with his body and is almost mindful to some extent.
For those who haven't read it and are wondering why they should bother, I'll have you know, Berserk's spiritual aura isn't in one chapter. Heck, it isn't even in one arc. Once you are hit by the magnitude of Guts' spirit, I believe he will linger in your soul. For me, such feelings have smouldered for years and continue to do so.
I haven't always been able to understand Guts, but being in my late twenties and having life fuck-me-over-sideways, I think I can safely say I understand now. I think this is what makes Berserk a spiritual tale.
Instead of grovelling, wondering 'what am I doing with my life', pick up your sword. Survive every day. A metaphor for anyone that has lost reason to live. Live not for fame, not for power over others but just for the sake of being born into this world. Although morbid at first, this story is extremely hopeful and expresses a love of humanity once you understand its core.
This is me barely touching the surface of my love for Berserk, I haven't really blogged a whole post about it before. I don't feel the need to write massive essays. I'm keeping it at this for now.
After the long nightmare I have experienced following trauma, I can safely say all I crave is to feel content and to get through every day. To be happy, loved and safe like I was before trauma. Nothing more. I had been focusing on all the ways I felt broken and not on my strength for enduring.
For months into my despair, I somehow outlasted pain by playing Susumu Hirasawa's Forces and singing it. Over and over and over, when I hear it, I feel a sense of something greater than me reminding me I'm not alone. It is greater than a Christian God. It is a feeling that real people know this sadness and think that strength is beautiful.
I just hope I have not forever tainted the song with my misery, but it does remind me of those gruelling few months.
So as always, wounded and trolling the night roads, "I walk alone" Seeya later.