Wordcount: Just under 4000
Spoilers: Manga up to the Eclipse with only a bit of current chapters. The manifesto is based on the manga, as many details are understandably censored from the anime (violence, rape, rape, violence, rape, more rape...).
I started reading Berserk purely by chance – I'd finished reading a whole slew of lovey-dovey shounen-ai manga and needed to clear my system with some good, clean violence. It was a toss-up between a few different bloodbath titles that I'd heard of (which included Gantz and Elfen Lied, if you must know), and I picked Berserk.
Boy, was I surprised. Besides discovering what has become my favourite manga of all time, I certainly didn't expect to run into such deep and complex character relationships. When I read the scene where Griffith first meets Guts I immediately emailed a close friend and fellow slasher and went “OMIGOD, you have to read this! This guy just said straight-up, 'I want you' to this other guy, and it's a seinen manga!!' More than anything, though, what attracted me to the pairing really happened later – after everything started to fall apart and the level of their connection is revealed in the strength of their obsession and hatred.
But I digress. Onward and upward...
Berserk, the Story:
Berserk is a dark fantasy, set in a location loosely based off medieval Europe. When the story begins we are introduced to Guts, a muscle-bound, giant-sword-toting lone warrior hell-bent on a quest for vengeance against a black-masked man named Griffith. Bitter, angry, and often cruel, the Guts we are introduced to is only sometimes shown in a more positive light by his fairy-like elf companion, Puck. After the exposition of the story which features Guts traveling to different towns and slaying various demons called 'Apostles', we are treated to an extremely lengthly flashback of his life from his birth until the present.
The young baby Guts, very near death, was pried off the body of his dead mother by a young woman who had recently suffered the death of her baby. Despite the protests of her husband – a superstitious warrior in a band of mercenaries – she kept the child for her own. She would die from disease only a few years later with the toddler Guts holding her hand. Guts would then be raised by his adoptive father, a sword thrust in his hand the moment he could walk, and put on the battlefield as soon as he could pass a lance. The harsh and often abusive training he received would leave physical and emotional scars, as it became apparent that no matter what Guts achieved as a warrior, he would never gain any approval from his adoptive father. Still, his adoration of his adoptive father never ceases, even after Guts is raped by another mercenary and told by the man that his 'father' had sold him. Later, his adoptive father comes into his Guts' tent and admits to selling Guts' body before blaming the boy and his bad luck for his own crippling injuries and the death of his wife. In self-defense, Guts accidentally kills his adoptive father and is run out of the band of mercenaries and left to survive on his own.
Guts then wanders aimlessly from battle to battle, never serving one lord or staying with one group of mercenaries – that is, until he runs into the Band of the Hawk.
Griffith is the captain of a group of young mercenaries called the 'Band of the Hawk', represented by they banner of the winged sword. With a charismatic and even princely air, Griffith is highly regarded by his subordinates and respected by his enemies. With his skills in swordsmanship and tactics, Griffith raised the Band of the Hawk from a group of thieves to a band of highly skilled mercenaries.
Behind his public face, however, Griffith hides a multitude of fears and uncertainties. Above everything in his life he is wildly ambitious, and desires to elevate himself from his birth as a common-born street rat to the status of a king, and he will do anything to do so – whether it means stabbing someone from behind in the dark or selling his body to get the money needed to outfit his mercenaries. Along with this Machiavellian attitude comes a deep sense of shame and guilt for his actions, one might say to the point of self-loathing – but he's a driven man, and he won't ever stop until he can “find his place in the world” and the destiny he feels he was meant to fulfill.
Guts is walking away from a victory against an enemy captain, having turned down a secure and prestigious position in service of a lord to go in search of another battle. He is detained by a few members of the Band of the Hawk, who aim to kill him and steal his winnings. Guts wins easily, killing one soldier and maiming another, and even besting Caska – Griffith's second-in-command and a rare female mercenary – in a fair fight. Griffith then appears and defeats Guts to collapse.
After Guts wakes up the next morning, Griffith approaches Guts and asks him to join the Band of the Hawk – shocking Caska, who knows that Griffith has never asked anyone to join the band before.
Griffith's first words to Guts are ambiguous - “I want you.” Guts, confused and slightly disgusted, asks Griffith if he is gay, to which Griffith does not reply. Griffith makes a number of observations about Guts' fighting and his personality, but still Guts refuses Griffith's offer. Griffith, however, is insistent, and they quickly agree to settle it with a fight. Guts agrees to be Griffith's “soldier or [his] fag boy or whatever” if he loses, and promises to severely wound (or perhaps even kill) Griffith if he wins.
Needless to say, Griffith wins, asserts “Now you belong to me” and Guts joins the Band of the Hawk.
Griffith immediately places a large amount of trust in Guts and Guts' abilities, placing him in dangerous positions in battle and quickly giving him the command of his own unit. Guts fully lives up to his captain's expectations and becomes a respected figure among the Hawks even despite his prickly and foul-tempered nature.
Guts and physical contact:
Right from the beginning of Berserk we can see that Guts has an unusually violent reaction to physical contact of any sort, even from the harmless and benevolent Puck. He swats off any hand with a vehement yell of 'don't touch me!' every time, often repeating the phrase for emphasis.
While it is easy to chalk this up to his rape by Donovan (and this certainly leaves lasting scars), there's more to this than meets the eye. The first time he throws off a touch is not after his rape, but after he kills his father. He continues to act like this for quite some time, but his guard gradually falls as he spends more time with the Hawks and begins to feel more comfortable with them. After the Eclipse, however, his guard snaps up again and he refuses even the most casual and friendly physical touch in a violent and angry manner.
Again, though, with time his guard begins to drop with Puck and then Farnese, Serpico, Isidro and Schierke as they join him on his journey.
It is this that makes me believe that Guts' aversion to physical contact is greatly emotional - when he wants to cut off emotional contact, he will cut of physical contact. Guts is a man of battle, action, and very rooted in his physical nature. Many of the things that happen to him physically are mirrored in his emotional state and vice-versa, and this is especially notable once he acquires the Berserker armor that manifests his internal state physically.
With all this in consideration, it is well worth noting that Guts never once throws off Griffith's touch, even when they first meet. After their initial and second fight Griffith, in a very intimate gesture for someone he has just met, puts his hands on either side of Guts' face to stare straight into his eyes to tell him "Now you are mine." Guts doesn't even flinch. This, more than anything else, displays how much Guts instinctively trusted Griffith right from the start.
Guts and the search for acceptance:
Like all children do, Guts craved acceptance and validation from his father-figure, and devoted himself entirely to gaining that acceptance. In swordplay he pushed himself further and in battle he attempts to prove himself worthy of his 'father's' time. Once Gambino was maimed in battle and could no longer fight, Guts took care of all his 'father's' needs and gave him all the money he won. For all of this, however, Guts received nothing more than violence, rebuke, and blame. At times when Guts has been abused and is alone, he turns to his sword, the one thing which eventually will become the constant in his life. One of the most meaningful panels in the entire work regarding Guts' character - in my humble opinion, features a very young Guts, unable to sleep because of his injuries in training, cradling his sword as most young children might cuddle a stuffed toy.
After Guts kills Gambino and leaves the mercenary band, he travels to seek only battle - not the glory, not the money, only the heat of battle. Griffith's offer to Guts stands as the first offer he's ever had based not only on his skill as a soldier, but his merit as a person. Griffith describes Guts' attitude towards battle - that he intentionally risks death in order to struggle for his life - and this angers Guts quite a bit. Griffith has not only hit a nerve, he's angered Guts by making arrogant assertions about Guts' personality.
While Griffith's victory means that Guts would have to stay with the Hawks, if Guts had chosen to leave in the middle of the night he could have easily done so. He stays with the Hawks because of an initial fascination with Griffith's character and the bare fact that someone is interested in him, personally.
While Guts makes friends and begins to gain a sense of belonging while he is with the Hawks, his situation is thrown off-balance by one conversation between Griffith and the Princess, with Guts and Caska eavesdropping just out of sight. It's fairly obvious by now that Griffith is wooing the Princess, seeking to marry her and gain the crown. She tells him that her rank makes her lonely, and that she envies his relationship with the Hawks. Griffith tells her that he has no friends in the Hawks, for none of them are his equal – they just follow his dream instead of having their own.
Personally, I think it's fairly obvious that Griffith was bullshitting to win the Princess' favour, but Guts certainly never learns this.
Guts takes this quite badly, and there's a rather painful shot of Guts looking up the staircase at Griffith, the angle making Guts seem far above him. Guts begins to question what he's doing with his life and eventually decides to leave the Hawks in order to discover what it is he lives for... all so he could be considered Griffith's equal, and his friend.
Guts and fate:
If there's one thing you could pin down as the 'theme' of Berserk, it would probably be the struggle against fate. Certainly Guts' life is one ongoing struggle against fate - he was found on his mother's corpse and surrounded by bodies, having survived through nothing less than a miracle. Life on the battlefield is always a risky one, especially for a child, but Guts always pulled through. Before Guts kills Gambino, the man says a few words that will dog Guts' steps for the rest of his life: "You should have died."
When Guts runs from his former home he has already given up on his life and wonders what the point of even trying anymore is - and yet still, somehow, he survives. He survives and continues to survive up until the most fate-sealing moment of his life when he is marked with the Sacrifice Brand.
While the death sentence that goes with the Sacrifice Brand would certainly be bad enough for anyone, for Guts it is worse - it is an echo of the words spoken to him by his adoptive father when he was told that he should have died. Again the person who is closest to him is putting the sword to his throat.
With Gambino, Guts only intended to threaten and to scare, but with Griffith the bonds are deeper and the betrayal is much more harsh. While Guts unconsciously mirrors his past actions in seeking to kill Griffith, it becomes obvious to the reader that killing Griffith would not yield Guts any sort of satisfaction. Rather, his revenge is the backlash of rejection, manifested as anger. It leaves one to wonder what will be left of Guts if he ever achieves his revenge. He really wouldn't have any reason to live anymore, as his life from meeting Griffith was devoted to seeking Griffith's approval and his life after Griffith's transformation was build entirely on revenge.
The defining trait in Griffith's character is his ambition: it has shaped his character and his life as well as the lives of those around him. He seeks to gain the highest status in life to define his purpose and meaning for existence – when he reaches the peak, then he'll know that's what he was meant for. Griffith's ambition is his life.
Griffith's emotional dependence:
... Griffith comes to Charlotte after Guts leaves
him the Hawks and begins to take her by force, and she really doesn't resist much. Griffith is a smart man and he knows exactly what will happen if he wantonly fucks the princess of Midland - it will mean his head. He certainly holds no special love for a sheltered and naive princess that he is blatantly using to get the throne. One of the greatest questions in Berserk is why, precisely, does Griffith take Charlotte's virginity when he has nothing to gain and everything to lose?
This is one of the most-frequently asked questions from Berserk fans, and the answers I keep hearing drive me absolutely insane. First of all, it had nothing to do with Charlotte. Absolutely nothing.
The answer I hear most frequently from Berserk fans is that Griffith considered Guts to be his possession, and the twin demons of losing to Guts in battle and losing a valued item made him snap.
No, no, and no. This just leaves far too many gaps. Griffith may seem like a cold, calculating conquering machine, but he human nonetheless (...for now...). After fucking Charlotte's brains out, Griffith curls up into the fetal position and cries while clasping the scar that Guts left him. This isn't about losing a toy, it's about losing a relationship, for God's sake! Guts had left him, rejected him, and Griffith felt like he had nothing left.
Griffith fucking Charlotte was a very deliberate action designed to destroy everything he had built for himself. Griffith knew full-well what the consequences of his actions would be and did not care because the most important thing in his life had up and left. Without Guts, nothing in his life had any value and in his anger Griffith toppled the tower he had so carefully constructed.
Anyway, so Griffith is imprisoned and tortured for what would to him seem like an eternity, only to be rescued by Guts and the remnants of the Hawks. Since Griffith's tongue is cut out and he is barely able to move, it is largely up to the reader to infer what might be going on inside his head at that point. Griffith's mind is still there – he's aware of his surroundings, most notably the new relationship between Guts and Caska. He watches them on more than one occasion, possibly jealous but definitely feeling isolated. His body is an irreparable wreck, his ambition is hopeless and the people who had been most loyal to him have now suddenly found each other. Griffith attempts to flee using a horse and cart, and I'd say it isn't a far stretch to say that he was looking for some place to end his life. It seem like it was either fluke or fate (..OK, the latter) that led the Behelit to him once again and set in motion the Eclipse.
This would be the most important decision of his life and the turning point for the story. Griffith choses to end his mortal life and ascend to a position of godlike power... at a price, of course. The price is the lives of all his men... including Guts.
This makes Griffith a very... unpopular character to say the least. He is often painted as ruthless, Machiavellian, heartless... as bad as it gets. But consider Griffith's situation: Physically, mentally, and emotionally, he had nothing. He was barely alive, most likely severely fucked up mentally from living in a torture chamber, his personal relationships were zilch... but that wasn't enough. What pushed him over the edge were the visions presented to him by Godhand of his past, his soul, his ambition as the metaphor of a castle in the sky, and his possible future. In the chapter removed by Miura (he said that it was premature, and I have to agree), he freaking sees God.
It was by no means an easy decision. Griffith's internal monologue at this time is the most revealing in the entire series, a seemingly unbreakable man at his most vulnerable. While we see Guts frantically trying to approach Griffith, Griffith's mind screams for Guts to stay away, because he knows if the other man were to touch him he would not be able to make the decision that he did. Right before he turns over, he thinks to himself, “Only you were able to make me forget the castle”. Griffith held Guts in higher esteem than he did his ambition – his ambition that was his entire life.
And then, of course, everything goes to hell. Quite literally.
Griffith as Femto and re-incarnated:
Well, Griffith as human is one thing, but him as Femto or 'neo-Griffith' is another thing all together. How much of his human identity he still retains is shrouded in mystery.
There are very few times when we really get to look at Griffith as a member of Godhand – the kicker for me, though, is when he rapes Caska.
Really, there's no reason for him to be doing that. Sure, he's 'evil' and evil beings do evil things, but... why do it? And why force Guts to watch?
It's largely conjecture on my part, but I think he was proving to himself that he wasn't human any more. He came up with the worst thing he could think of to betray the closest people to him in the worst way... and he did it because he could.
I like to think that there is a tiny shred of humanity left in Griffith – after all, numerous Apostles have shown to retain the deep emotional bonds they had while human. Godhand, however, is on another level, and Berserk being as dark as it is, I wouldn't have much hope... although there is definitely wiggle-room for fic.
Griffith and Guts' relationship is undeniably deep. They both relied heavily on each other for emotional validation, and the events of the Eclipse has basically destroyed both their lives – Griffith's quite literally as he died and was reborn, and Guts' metaphorically as everything he had had was destroyed and his entire life's meaning did a 180. Corny as it sounds, they're definitely bound by 'fate', and their lives have been drastically re-arranged by each other. It's not light fare by any means, and there's more than enough material to keep a shipper occupied for years.
Extra! Griffith's sexuality:
Purely because 99.9% of the Berserk fandom are (straight) males and I am so, so sick of the voice of ghei even gayer than Phoenix Wright being ignored...
Despite the vehement protestations of the vast majority of the fandom, I am convinced that Griffith is one hundred percent canonically sexually interested in Guts.
Point the first: Griffith's invitation to Guts to the Hawks.
Contrary to what you may have seen in the official translation of the anime, Griffith's original words to Guts in the manga said nothing about the other man becoming his soldier. He compliments Guts' skill, yes, but he only uses this as a lever to try and dredge up details about Guts' personality and lifestyle. In his entire conversation with Guts he talks only about a very personal interest in Guts - while Caska notes that this is very uncharacteristic of Griffith, who is usually so cool and detached.
Furthermore, Guts immediately interprets Griffith's interest as sexual, which could mean that either he thinks that he has no value personally so Griffith must be thinking sexually, or that sex is on his on his mind too.
Point the second: Griffith's invitation to 'bathe' at dawn.
Guts gets a message from a member of the Hawks that Griffith is waiting for him in the courtyard. He finds Griffith there, naked, and Griffith asks if Guts wants to join him... in bathing in cold water. Naked.
Oh, please. Yes, Griffith's speech about his ambitions was brilliant and moving, but the entire situation was a sexual proposition from start to finish, thinly-veiled as a casual activity so he would not be humiliated if his offer were to be rejected.
And, of course, there's Guts standing there, blushing and awkward at seeing Griffith naked. Yeah, no sexual tension there, boys. Let's diffuse this non-existent sexual tension with a waterfight...
Point the third: Griffith's sex with women.
Both times that Griffith has sex with a woman, it has nothing to do with the woman in question.
As I went over before, Griffith taking Charlottes's virginity had everything to do with Guts and his abandonment of Griffith. Taking this even further, however, Griffith is thinking of Guts as he's fucking Charlotte.
When Griffith, as Femto, rapes Caska, he's staring straight at Guts the entire time, the torture truly meant for Guts and not Caska. He may be raping Caska physically, but he rapes Guts emotionally.
How many heterosexual men are fixated on the same man every time they fuck a woman? Please inform me, I am very curious.
The Berserk fandom is very male and very dead. You will be sickeningly lucky to find any fic at all. The hub of the fandom is the forum at SkullKnight, and if you bring anything up at all your reply will probably be, 'We discussed this already in another thread. Have this link, and next time use the search function before you start a new topic.'
Fanfiction.net is pretty much a dead end. Hott has the best Guts/Griffith fics there, and Yami White Rain has a couple Guts/Griffith drabbles. Toxictattoo's fic journal also sports a few Berserk fics that are well worth reading.
I feel rather guilty for providing so little fic, so have an AMV! It's 'Die For Me' by Wonka, very spoilery and Guts/Griffith centric, and one of the best thematically-arranged videos I've ever seen . HypeOdermic Studios' site is down at the moment, so you get a sendspace link, yay.
Honestly, if there's any more good Berserk fic out there – never mind specifically Guts/Griffith, I would very, very much like to know.