“No matter how strong, for a human to fight a monster means he has submerged his humanity and transformed himself into a greater monster.” – Schierke in Berserk.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher who was well beyond the comprehension of other philosophers of his time or even those of modern times. He had, to say the least, an interesting childhood, which transformed him into what he was as an adult, and also metamorphosed him into a lunatic during the later stages of his life. His biography largely signifies what it is to be a human dangerously close to the Truth and yet so far away. This is what makes his works all the more interesting and true gems in the realm of literary masterpieces. Little did he know how much he was going to inspire a certain mangaka named Kentaro Miura to script a saga. This saga is Miura’s visualisation of the struggle Nietzsche refers to as the journey of a man to defy his limits and be, what he considered to be, the future of humanity, Ubermensch, roughly translated to ‘Over Man’. Thus begins the journey of Berserk and its protagonist, the most bad*rse anime/manga character in history, Guts.
Berserk is a story which encompasses the journey of an individual, against the very flow of his fate. Causality plays an integral part in the tale. The story is clear on how a man is bound by his fate and whether he likes it or not, fate will overtake him and he will be entwined with his future, with what is already pre-decided for him. It is a brutal reminder that our free will is not always free.
Nietzsche was a sceptic about causality and his views are well illustrated in Twilight of the Idols, where he referred to causality as the cause of humankind’s general inability to accept the unknown. Humans are always yearning to explain the ‘logic and reason’ behind events. Nietzsche calls this the cause behind ‘The Four Great Errors’; arguing that causes are reimagined in order to support the reason for our existence. Nietzsche denied in Twilight that free will is free at all and rather argued that it is a method by which theologians exert their control over humanity. The invention of a human free will, Nietzsche thought, was rooted in a human drive to punish and judge.
Berserk challenges the very concept of faith or judgement through a protagonist who faces the vicious current of fate and still goes on defying it, at every turn. Guts was born from the corpse of his dead mother, who had been hanged. He was found by a mercenary and his wife, who then took care of him. When his adoptive mother passes away, his adoptive father tries to kill him. Guts is forced to escape the mercenary camp and the only family he has known, to survive in the wild.
Ironic though it may be, our protagonist, Guts ends up joining another mercenary group that was under the leadership of a charming leader called Griffith. He falls in love with a female soldier named Casca. Several events take place, and the ‘causality’ of events ultimately leads to a betrayal, whereby Griffith sacrifices all the members of his group in order to gain power.
The sacrificial event, commonly referred to as Eclipse, is a momentous image of Nietzsche’s views on human struggle. Guts helplessly watches his comrades get killed and devoured by monsters and is forced to watch the love of his life get violated by the same person he once considered to be his friend, Griffith. He does eventually find his way out of the situation but not without sustaining several scars of his own.
Guts’ story is a struggle of achieving the unimaginable. Nietzsche in, arguably his most interesting piece of work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra introduced the concept of the ‘Overman’. He discusses how we are spiritually and philosophically entwined with the struggles of our mind and overcoming them is an integral part of one’s journey. He discusses man’s journey in three steps: The Camel, The Lion and The Child.
The Camel is the first step of one’s journey. The Camel yearns to gain the knowledge of the Dragon (the essence of the ultimate knowledge) and therefore listens to whatever everyone says and acts on it, without listening to himself. As Guts put it himself, “One who does something he hates just because he is told to…is called an errand boy.” This is the nature of the Camel.
When the Camel finally sees how futile it is to lose one’s own will to others’ demands and begins to challenge himself is when the transformation to become a Lion takes place. The Lion is a symbol of aggression and rage against the system in order to challenge the themes which are generally considered rightful. The Lion challenges concepts of right and wrong and is a passive aggressor, most of the time presenting his views against the system, whilst remaining within the system himself.
That is until the final transition to being a Child takes place. According to Nietzsche, this is the final transition, when the Lion transcends into a being who is above the constraints of society, and is therefore powerful enough to struggle and overcome. I believe this is how Kentaro Miura too visualises Guts’ transition, whose change from a person who fought for no reason and wanted to integrate with society to someone who is ready to challenge everyone else who defies his goal, which is to protect the person closest to him. Guts is the very epitome of the Overman.
A very interesting philosophy of Nietzsche is presented in the dynamics of the Higher Man and the Common. According to Nietzsche, all company is bad company, unless it is the company of the equal. Nietzsche stressed on the philosophy of a society being divided into two parts; the Higher Man and the Common Man. Nietzsche says that it is very difficult for either of them to understand the other, however, the Common Man places his trust in the Higher Man as a part of this ambition. Berserk, in the same manner, brings about the reference of Higher Man, which is Griffith. The men, who are led by Griffith, do not understand him completely and Griffith, in the same manner, does not understand the wants of his own men. The only thing that mattered was Griffith’s goal, the light of which is “strong enough for every one of them to bring together all their goals and dreams as one.”
Nietzsche once said, “There have been two great narcotics in the history of Europe. Christianity and Alcohol.” He saw religion as a restriction to resentment and envy, which he believed to be the driving source of one’s true goals in life. He saw religion as a way for Common Men to cling to their beliefs and demonise and ostracise whatever they could not gain. This symbolism has been highlighted in Berserk, where we are informed of the existence of a monotheistic religion, termed as the Holy See, whose ideals bear similarity to Christianity. The greatest proponents of the Holy See were hideous creatures who could go to any lengths in order to protect their faith (duh much). Kentaro Miura, yet again, portrays the meanings of resentment and struggling against all odds, through Guts.
Berserk has given us a character whom we all can understand, someone who is all too human; made up of faults like the rest of us, truly embodying the spirit of a fighter. Berserk, in its own uncanny ways, could be discussed and deliberated upon as a testament of Nietzsche’s greatest influences, all compiled under a single saga: a struggle of one who is always destined to be the ‘Higher Man’, despite not being from the nobility.
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