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Berserk – Philosophy of Guts

Hello Enthusiacs. Now that I’ve spoken about the 2016 Berserk series, I’d like to go into some more depth about the main character, Guts, and some of the philosophical themes that permeate his story. Be warned, there be spoilers ahead.

Determinism and Fate

The first, and biggest theme in the world of Berserk is that of fate, and how everything must follow a predetermined course.  This has shades of the philosophy of Determinism, which states that everything that defines who we are, our actions and decisions, come from outside of us.  This means that free will is an illusion.  This is told in other words in the 1997 anime series’ opening sequence:

 

In this world, is the destiny of mankind controlled by some transcendental entity or law? Is it like the hand of God hovering above? At least it is true that man has no control; even over his own will.

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Many events in Berserk are implied to be unavoidable, no matter how much the characters struggle against them. Even the supernatural God Hand seem to be bound to fate, even as they weave the fates of the lives of humans. The lives of humans are described as reflections on the surface of a river of causality, completely incapable of altering the course of the river in any way.

All in all, events must play out as they are predetermined to, and no one can do anything to stop it. In fact, trying to stop it may be what causes the events in the first place. There are many examples of this in the story, from magical items called Behelits finding their way to the intended people at the correct time, to Griffith’s great successes in battle, to Griffith’s ambition building him to the point where he must abandon all hope at the eclipse, to the demon emperor Gashinka and his army being powerless against Griffith’s reformed Band of the Falcon.

Here is where we must consider Guts. If Guts were to be described in only one word, it would be willpower. No matter what he is faced with, he will never give up. The character Skull Knight routinely refers to Guts as Struggler, seeing that he is constantly bucking against his fate, trying to carve out his own path. How do you present a character with an unbreakable will in a world where will is, apparently, irrelevant? That disconnect itself questions how deterministic the world of Berserk actually is. In the same way that humans are described as reflections on the surface of a river, Guts is described by Skull Knight as a fish, able to break the surface of the water of the river of causality, causing ripples.

Guts is a struggler, and isn’t a normal person in this world, but what does it mean, the difference between a reflection on the water, and a fish causing ripples? Throughout the story, Guts leaves an indellible mark on people he interacts with.

  • Rickert, survivor of the Band of the Hawk, becomes his own man, a blacksmith, inventor, and has someone to care for. 

    He even smacks Griffith across the face later on!

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  • Silat, who believed himself to be without equal in combat, is humbled by Guts, opening his eyes to a few more truths about the world.
  • Diaba, a sorcerer, is defeated by Guts, and winds up outside of Demon Emperor Gashinka’s favor, possibly saving his life when Griffith shows up.  Diaba in turn sees things in a different way.
  • Even larger characters are influenced by Guts.  Skull Knight, Nosferatu Zodd, and Griffith all seem to have their lives altered slightly because of Guts.

This seems to suggest that Guts is having a subtle influence on the world of Berserk. The characters that have been influenced by Guts will, in turn, alter that flow of causality. The whorls of Karma have been altered in Guts wake. They don’t wholely bend to him, but over time those changes may add up and cause the events that the God Hand take as predestined to falter, or be prevented all together.

Why would Guts be different? Perhaps he exists outside of causality. When he was born, his mother had been hanged from a tree.  His body fell out of her dead body.  He was born from a corpse. This birth is gruesome, but could also be a sign that his existence is a rejection of this unalterable river of causality. Fate never expected him to be involved in anything. Nothing in his life has ever been easy. Here’s a short list of the trauma he’s experienced:

  • Born from a corpse
  • Adopted by an abusive mercenary father
  • Scarred by mercenary father
  • Adopted mother died, blamed for this by abusive adoptive father
  • Forced to be a child soldier
  • While still a child, sold by father to another mercenary for a night to be raped by that mercenary
  • Killed mercenary father in self defense, and forced to flee mercenary camp, shot with a crossbow, and forced to fight a pack of wolves while wounded.  Still under 15 years old.
  • Stabbed and near bled out in a duel with Griffith
  • Forced to murder a child to cover an assassination
  • Got stuck in a 1 vs 100 fight.  He won, but it was rough on him.
  • Forced to watch as his lover was raped and all of his comrades were murdered by demons, as well as his left forearm arm being cut off and right eye gouged out.
  • Lover’s mind broken from the trauma (unfortunate implications of Chickification or of Caska here, but this did also have an effect on Guts as he desperately tried to care for her)
  • Left with very little sleep for years as he was pursued by demons, mostly at night.
  • Repeatedly fought to near death against many tremendously powerful demons.
  • Has developed a reputation that falls in line with a prophesied evil, or anti-christ type figure in the Berserk world, meaning even the normal people are often against him.
  • In a constant struggle to not allow the viscous, vengeful element of his personality, which may have dissociated from his personality, from taking control and causing him to harm his friends.
  • Heavily traumatized from use of magic/cursed armor that pierced his body

While many people in Berserk have difficult lives, the trauma and tragedy that Guts goes through is head and shoulders above the others. For that matter, where some people in Berserk turn to religion to find meaning, Guts has seen through the veneer of reality in that world, and rejects their religion, preferring to have an active role in deciding his own fate. As he said to someone at one point while in the midst of another fight with demons:

“DO NOT PRAY! If you pray, your hands will close together. You will not be able to fight!”

Prayer is what you do when you have nothing else. When you can do something else, DO IT

Prayer is what you do when you have nothing else. When you can do something else, DO IT

Religion

Religion, within the world of Berserk, is not based on anything real. It has Christian/Catholic overtones, (Pope, priests, vatican, etc) but is clearly not the same thing. It is more along the lines of every negative image of the inquisition, mixed with medieval torture, wrapped in the Church’s clothes.

For example, I’m not sure putting your faith in this guy is a good idea anyway. This is Father Mozgus.

Father Mozgus, imagine every medieval faith based torture and purge and slam it into one guy.

Every medieval faith based torture and purge slammed into one guy.

Mozgus is the worst kind of hypocrite, the sincere one who doesn’t see his own hypocrisy. He claims to want to help people, but sees witches and evil everywhere. He withholds food from refugees while letting the military have the first share of the stores. The military in turn assists in witch hunts within the refugee camps, or abroad. To find witches, Mozgus legitimately goes Medieval.

Because this is the stuff that God wants, right? Especially vile and tragic because that God DOES NOT EXIST in the world of Berserk.

Because this is the stuff that God wants, right? Especially vile and tragic because that God DOES NOT EXIST in the world of Berserk.

This comes to a head in the story when Guts killed Mozgus. Mozgus hadn’t even realized that he had been altered by a demon, thinking his power was a gift from god. Guts cast him down to a crowd below, and they revered the fallen Father Mozgus while thinking of Guts as a villain. Remember Mozgus ordered the torture in the picture above. The people fell in line with the role for them, and followed it, while Guts struggled against everything. They look to Mozgus for truth, but he knows only lies. Guts on the other hand knows the ugly reality of their world all too well.

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No one listens to him, but to be fair, he does sound crazy.

Revenge, Redemption, Rebuilding

After the events of the eclipse, Guts is CONSUMED by the idea of revenge. He even abandons Casca in order to pursue his revenge on Griffith. Eventually he manages to reject this, realizing first that it may not be possible, but also that even if he succeeds, it won’t give him what’s important to him. Casca has been left broken, and he wants to help her. At first he tries to keep her with him at all times, and distrusts others, but the challenges of caring for her quickly prove to be too much for him. This forces him to open himself up to trust others in his life, to help him with his quest to help Casca.

As a child, he didn’t want anyone around him. The original Band of the Hawk broke through his walls and he felt a part of a family. The eclipse brought the walls of pain and distrust back, but Guts was able to claw his way through them again, and eventually collected another band of his own. Guts even has the self awareness to realize this.

Guts eventually abandons the world and quest for revenge that he had invested so much in. He realizes that he can’t get help Casca as well as avenge her. So, the lifelong warrior who feels most at home in a fight abandons his fight to seek out help for Casca. Even in this, there are questions of fate and causality. If and when Casca’s mind is repaired, what will she actually want? Does she actually even like Guts anymore? Guts felt at home in a fight in part because his enemy is in front of him and can be seen. In helping Casca, he faces a much deeper fear that she may reject him and his efforts for her. As the possibility of this grows closer, we see Guts be fearful of what may happen, but willing to take the chance anyway to help the woman he loves.

 

Painful Truth

Guts, in the world of Berserk, represents not only will, defiance against fate, and even against his own nature. Guts also shows the unvarnished truth of the world to those around him. To illustrate this, here is a sequence from one of the earliest story arcs.

Guts fought and killed a demon who was also a count, in the presence of the count’s daughter. She was a normal girl, traumatized by the events, learning her father was a demon and seeing him slaughtered. She was in hysterics, saying she didn’t want to live like this anymore. Guts, battered from the fight, said then she should just die. Maybe then she could go to heaven, or better yet hell to be with her mother and father. She was upset, and ready to slit her wrists, till the floor below her gave way. Guts was able to reach out his sword for her to grab, which she did, by the blade. He lifted her to solid ground, and she was able to get away with her wounds, and her hate of Guts driving her to keep living. Guts, even with his harsh advice, was not happy with how everything went.

Every illusion this girl had was stripped away. Her life, her vision of her father, even that she wanted to die. Guts had her face every one of them, and showed her the truth. Not by any grand design of his, or any great insight he speaks, it’s just how he is.

 

There’s plenty more to talk about for Guts, but there are more characters and angles to look at too.  Next time we’ll look at Guts’ friend, rival, commander, and mortal enemy, Griffith.

3 Responses to Berserk – Philosophy of Guts

  1. Faisal says:

    “Forced to murder a child to cover an assassination”

    I disagree with that, seeing Guts face he was unaware that he killed a child until he puts the sword through him.

    • Axalon says:

      Yeah, I agree. Guts was aware of a presence there but didn’t know it was the kid until it was too late.

      • Kynetyk says:

        Didn’t mean that as to say “Griffith forced him to murder the child”, rather “In that position he had to kill someone who turned out to be a kid, which was traumatic for him”

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