This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work.
Image borrowed from http://berserk.wikia.com/wiki/Griffith.
Lets talk about the concept of the Chosen One for a minute. Its so fucking contrived right? I mean we’ve all seen it before, the prophesied hero who will bring balance to the world, is the ultimate beacon of light to destroy the evil of the evillord or some shit. And no matter what, since fate and prophecy is utterly INFALLIBLE no matter what the villains do it won’t matter because the Hero is fated to accomplish his destiny. Really your just a pebble in their path, a mere stepping stone, another body on the pile for them to climb to their preordained reward.
Really, at this rate why even struggle? To fight against the chosen one is to fight against the story as it’s being written. It’s honestly really fucking terrifying to think about. What if, for whatever reason your entire existence was simply to serve as a stepping stone for the Chosen One? That no matter what you did, fate bent backwards on itself to correct your entire existence? And even more terrifying of all…. What if… the chosen one was your *antagonist*?
Imagine that, that no matter what you did you would be vilified by the world, as your life crumbles around you into hell while this upstart rises further and further. Your loyal companions being prophesied as ‘blind sheep’, you being a prophesied destroyer and your antagonist being the one to bring the world into a new golden age.
Now, imagine if this… chosen one was an unfeeling monster. A man, no, an EVIL, who sacrificed all that he loved to gain his desires. A man who manipulates, murders, controls, and abuses his way to the top. Using any means necessary. A man who cursed you to live a doomed existence. A man who ascended into an near-omniscient entity prophesied to bring the world to order. A man who inflicted an irredeemable evil to one of his closest compatriots for seemingly little other reason out of spite to YOU, his former brother in arms who, in the pool of his (and said chosen one’s) slaughtered friends blood watches in horror as his eye is slowly gouged out.
Now imagine if half the fandom of the story kept saying he “did nothing wrong”.
Oh hello, Griffith you complete despicable bastard. Oh how I’ve wanted to talk about you for a very, very long time.
In my opinion, Griffith from Berserk is inarguably one of the most compelling and influential anime villains on the entire genre, also one of the most successful. The foundations he laid in fiction cannot be understated and everything from Digimon, Final Fantasy (specifically FF7), Dark Souls to even Marvel Infinity War can trace their influence back to him. This is some bold claims to make I know, but I am going to try to back them up in short order.
From there we need to start from the beginning.
In both the original 1997 anime and the Manga of Berserk we are met with Guts, the protagonist of our story, years after being left to wander cursed and fated to die a horrible and painful death by the hands of demonkind condemning his soul to suffer in the maelstrom of the abyss for all eternity. While it is framed different ways, both narratives convey the same thing: Guts wants to kill a man named Griffith. It is as simple of 80’s Fantasy story premise as you can get.
In the Manga we are shown Griffith not as what we will know him, but what he has become. Femto of the God Hand. In their opening arc they are referred to as the subtext of the “Guardians of Desire”.
The God Hand are five” angels” that fill a similar role to the Cenobites in Hellraiser. Using a magical artifact tied to fate itself those who come across said artifact will do so in their absolute lowest moment of despair and in that despair they will be summoned to offer the bearing of the artifact a boon in exchange for the sacrifice of what they love the most. Said boon turns you into a horrible demonic entity known as an Apostle, a demon whose only command is to “do as thou wilt”.
And their sacrifice? Most often your closest loved ones.
The artifact, the Behelit, is a creepy thing in of itself. If this was not Iconic Characters of Horror fiction I’d do an article on those things as good god, concept alone is terrifying. But more on those later. Behelits summon the God Hand, or more specifically, temporarily fuses their plane of existence with the Material Plane to establish their meeting with the person in need. The God Hand as we are quickly shown are sadistic to the extreme and almost entirely omnipotent and nearly omniscient. Capable of reading minds and manipulating reality itself to their whims.
Before we go anywhere there to what monster he becomes, let’s talk about how he got there and look at the ride closely.
We first meet Griffith’s Mercenary Band, the Band of the Hawk (I go by dub and Dark Horse translations here) who in an off-chance encounter at one battle they are fighting run into Guts who is fighting on the enemy side and thanks to Guts their entire band is routed after Guts kills another mercenary named Bazuso, a monster of a man who had been said to have killed over thirty men at once.
After the battle is over, Guts while wandering to another battlefield is accosted by some rogue Band of the Hawk members who had been angered that he had killed their comrades. Guts… makes short work of them but is stopped by and heavily wounded by Griffith.
When he comes too, he is treated rather jovially by his would-be assailants as we are introduced to the Band of the Hawk proper. His mercenary band he holds are all wide-eyed idealists and one who speak of Griffith’s graces. Most them are teens, children and even a woman, and even then they have a diverse ethnic backdrop in contrast to the standard European standard we had previously seen. The Band of the Hawk having seemingly gravitated around Griffith. And that’s not even talking of his design, Griffith’s design of striking blue eyes and long white hair and his hawk-like beautifully embroidered armor all give him a striking backdrop of white and blue.
Even despite forcing Guts to heal and essentially forcing him to be apart of his band, we quickly grow to like this band and with one or two exceptions like Caska (more on that later) and Corkus (just a dick) the band accepts the wandering merc and former enemy as apart of their own family.
And…. we grow to love them as family too, as does Guts. And Griffith and Guts in their time together grow essentially to become as close as brothers. Guts despite his recklessness was deeply inspired by and enthralled by Griffith and sought to pursue him as equal, as friend, as his purpose. However before that, Guts free-spirit and abrasive temperament prompts him to to buck being forced into this group and challenges Griffith once more to a duel.
Griffith handily defeated Guts. And in a move that will be harkened back too, claims ownership (literally) over Guts life. Griffith commanding him to serve under him as well as deciding where Guts dies. However despite this initial hangup they quickly become close.
While Guts is the protagonist of Berserk, his role in story is actually in terms of narrative structure very geared to be a supporting character too Griffith, or at the least the abrasive rival who despite all odds form an unbreakable friendship and may or may go evil, the typical five-man band tropes. Guts is very much the *Lancer* to Griffith’s Hero archetype.
The Band of the Hawk is very much Griffith’s five-man band.
Griffith’s entire story in the Golden Age Arc and even afterward is told as if it was a Hero’s Journey in model of old classic literature. Heck the Golden Age Arc is modeled beat for beat off the Epic of Gilgamesh with Griffith in question being the Gilgamesh. A rising star of a man who in a chance of divine fate is met with a wild-man (Guts). Seeing this wild-man sends out a temple-prostitute to lay with him and civilize him (Caska) which brings this man into conflict with the King. This tempers his hubris and despite defeating this wild-man establishes a deep friendship with him. Only once this wild-man is gone after slaying the demon Humbaba (Nosferatu Zodd), a divine force of destruction (Battle of Doldrey), and spurning the goddess Ishtar (Queen of Midland) realizes his loss, grief and mortality. From there he sets off to attain immortality but loses it and is humbled by the gods and accepts his destiny by them living out the rest of his days as the king of his kingdom.
Now, of course it doesn’t exactly play out exactly like Gilgamesh’s legend does the parallels and symbolism is there. Likewise Griffiths’ messianic return at the end of the Conviction Arc and his bringing the world out of a dark age is likewise one that is prevalent in many heroic journey stories and of the “King under the Mountain” motif.
On top of all this this isn’t done through overt destiny or dumb-luck but at least, initially, it seems as though much of what Griffith does is done out of his intelligence and talent. A mere commoner who crawls his way to the top and becomes a noble, a classic success story.
However unlike say a Steven Moffat helmed Sherlock series, or other brilliant strategist series tend to fail in, we see the *how* in Griffith’s methods: He is incredibly manipulative.
This is key to note as this is used wonderfully in conjunction with another facet. Part of what is especially compelling about Griffith beyond all of the thematic tie-backs to heroic epics and myth structure is, well, *he is so damn likable*.
Griffith has incredible chemistry with Guts and other Band of the Hawks and we see him from the perspective of Guts as a bubbly, cheerful, almost childlike dork. This is a man who is incredibly comfortable with his sexuality and approaches everything from bathing, the creepy trinket he wears around his neck to an ancient medieval pornographic manuscript with a charming dorkish qualities that most introverts and nerds can relate with.
Metatextually, Griffith is a character which checks off every box of a fan-favorite. From his wonderful cunning, his charming personality, and appearance which has seen in so many goddamn yaoi doujins as well as all doing all the ‘awesome’ stuff that helps shounen characters win popularity polls.
This is crucial as everything about Griffith we are built up, from his backstory, to his motivations to his charm and personality help us forget…. Help us forget that he will become a monster.
Throughout the story of the golden-age arc we are given the view of Griffith from different perspectives and all of those perspectives are clouded. Everyone around the Hawks paints Griffith as some brilliant tactician, members of the band proper see him as a big brother to look up to, the man every man should strive to be, a success story in the making. Caska sees him in a near-messianic fashion as the person who helped her break free of her gender-role mandated fate and become a warrior and Guts sees him as a distant, untouchable force, a force Guts wishes to bridge beyond all else, Guts wishes to see Griffith as a true friend… and equal.
However, being put on a pedestal has consequences, and since we see this man from everyone around the pedestal, the times we see the true Griffith we don’t see the forest for the trees. Griffith beyond all else desires one dream. Griffith’s dream and ideal is what guides him beyond all else and achieving that dream, damned the consequences, is his ultimate goal.
His dream is that own his castle and be his own King.
This is as cut-and-dry shounen as you can get. With protagonists like Naruto or Bakugou echoing similar sentiments (becoming Hokage and Best Hero respectively). However in this we don’t see the inner going ons in Griffith’s head, his distance and detachment from his men, and especially Guts and Caska ultimately lays the foundation for the pedastal he had been built upon to crumble. Griffith (for now) is only human with all the faults that apply.
And those faults from his callous reaction to the murder of a child of a rival noble (which he ordered) to the kidnapping of a noble’s daughter to manipulate them to do as he pleases and internalizing all of the trauma and spurring the true affection and camaraderie he has ultimately builds up and crystalizes in the form of one man:
Guts, is the only person Griffith takes pause of. Immediately upon seeing Guts, Griffith immediately desires him to be apart of his army, damned all the consequences. Guts, the person Griffith would risk his entire army and campaign for to save. Guts, the only person who Griffith has ever truly relaxed around and who helped lead Griffith to where he is. Guts, most of all, the only person to stand in front of and obscure Griffith’s dream.
And this all comes crashing down when Guts at the end of Griffith’s rise to power, decides to leave him at the culmination of everything. Griffith, like Guts had erected unsiegable walls around himself. Griffith’s detachment from the person who was essentially a brother to him ultimately lead to Guts to leave him and the Hawks, seeking to find his own path, as Guts feels, Griffith would want since that would make them true friends and equals, echoing words Griffith once told him.
For Griffith had once stated, unbeknownst of Guts and Caska listening in, that to him a true friend is not one who blindly follows or supports the dream of another. A true friend follows their own dream and stands alongside of Griffith as an equal, and cannot stand the lifestyle of someone without a goal of their own. Which in turn would prompt to Guts to set out on his own spurring Griffith’s desire to claim him. Griffith naturally doesn’t take this well and they have one final duel:
However in a brutal subversion to their first encounter, Guts defeats Griffith in a single-stroke and sets off without another word leaving Griffith broken, awestruck and with a broken sword in the snow. Guts feeling that Griffith in his grandeur and temperament will recover, the Hawks will move on without him. Surely Griffith can’t fuck this up right?
This is where the tragedy REALLY begins. Griffith in trauma does two-VERY stupid moves:
He goes to the Princess of the Kingdom he’s knight too and he steals her virginity. A maid see’s him do it. And he’s captured by the guards ant taken to a dungeon.
He insults the king to his face in said dungeon and in a way that sends the King of Midland to spiral into a possessive insanity of his daughter for years to come.
The Band of the Hawks, for all their successes are now branded as traitors of the state and are attacked by the very army they were fighting alongside for years and Griffith for an entire year is tortured relentlessly without the light of the sun in the lowest dungeon of the castle.
However, this is not the end of the Hawks, as one year later, they would try to save their commander with the help of Guts once more. Which, with the help of the Princess of Midland no less (who, bless her, really does love Griffith), helps break out Griffith and escape.
However, Griffith is a broken husk of a man. His tongue is cut out, his tendons severed, beautiful face scarred beyond recognition, starved and emaciated and shriveled heap of whom only his hawk-like helmet which is bolted around his head is the only recognizable element he has left.
Griffith cannot talk. He cannot ride. He cannot even pick up a sword.
The Band of the Hawk while loyal to him are at the seams, knowing how much of a broken husk he is. Caska bequeathes Guts to leave the Hawks and forge his own destiny but Guts insists he takes her with him. Griffith seeing first hand their friendship now becoming a full blown romance. His fallback plan of having living with Caska quietly now gone from him too.
He has nothing left.
Griffith falls to the deepest depths of despair aftet trying to use his teeth to ride a cart away from the camp… tries to kill himself on the stump of a log, but is unable to even do that. Griffith breaks down, for one of the first times, we see him in all his humanity break down. He sits in a shallow lake, too shallow to even drown himself and unable to end his now crippled existence.
However, the chosen one’s fate does not end at an Eclipse… it is forged during it. As in a chance encounter of fate, he stumbles across something, something during his torture he has lost… the Behelit. The thing about Behelits is… when they are given to someone, no matter what, if that person was meant to have it, it will ALWAYS find its way to them, no matter what… and always be there at the moment they are needed.
When Griffith see’s his band coming to ‘save him’ running down the hill and Guts running towards him, Griffith, his inner resentments and despair billowing… and his blood pouring upon the Behelit… the Behelits disjointed features shift… forming a face. This face opens its mouth and eyes… and screams.
Blood pouring from its eyes and in an instant our heroes are transported to a true-hellscape. They have been summoned to the Nexus, a plane of existence closest to the Abyss and where the God Hand themselves manifest freely.
The Behelit Griffith had, the Crimson Behelit, was one specifically made for him: the Egg of the King. And through this artifact it was meant to bring him to his true destiny… at the price of sacrificing all his companions. Surrounding them is hundreds upon hundreds of demons, eagerly awaiting the chance to feast upon the sacrifices presented before them.
Griffith is seperated from the group as the other four God Hand warp reality and space and time to show Griffith the true-state of his soul, and laying out everything else we as an audience have been shown before. Griffith’s dream and his damn-all-the-consequences means of achieving it. His dream is represented by a distant castle in the sky… and how he has been reaching that castle was an ever piling amount of bodies. His hundreds of fallen comrades, his tens of thousands of fallen enemies.
What’s a few more bodies on the pile?
But of course we love Griffith. He loves his comrades, he loves Guts, surely someone as beloved as him wouldn’t do such a thing? That’s narrative suicide!
Griffith’s choice however is foregone. Even without the in-media-res showing what he will become, the foreshadowing was always there. Seeing Guts trying to save him and claw after him one last time seals Griffith’s peace of mind:
“Amongst thousands of comrades and tens of thousands of enemies, only you…only you… only you … made me forget my dream…this I sacrifice.”
Let me tell you. Never in my years have seen an opinion of a character shift so drastically from ‘utterly beloved’ to “FUCKING REVILED” so quickly in my life. Not even “If only there was someone who loved you” came close to that.
And this is the moment which propels Griffith, nay, Femto to the pantheon of horrific monsters. Griffith, as we know him is no more, as any humanity he once had he abandons with the blood of the family we come to love, as the Band of the Hawk is relentlessly slaughtered beneath him. Their souls condemned to Hell for eternity and their despair and their blood and shattered hopes flowing into him creating his new body.
The horror imagery of the Eclipse is, unparalleled. Every monster designed is uniquely designed and looks as if it crawled straight out of a Medieval Demon Manuscript or a Yokai Night Parade scroll (The Eclipse being called a Night Festival of 1000 Demons is a direct cultural parralel) and marks the moment in Berserk where the tone of the whole story shifts to where its reputation presents it.
And it is the culmination of Griffith’s story as he is reborn into the absolute. An entity unfettered by the binds of mortality or morality. A being who exists to pursue his own goal.
Griffith’s sacrifice of the Band of the Hawks is one of the most defining character moments of his life as well as marking his descent into complete monsterdom. When he is reborn as Femto and comes across Guts and Caska once more with both at his mercy he spites them in inflicting an act so spiteful and cruel it further entrenches his descent.
This is especially an asshole move, since Griffith is omniscient and knows full well of the trauma both Caska and Guts had as sexual assault survivors and uses it as cruel-twisting of the knife and to lay claim over both them once more and showcase his new dominance.
It is a level of betrayal so deep that really few other stories of recent memory even come close. It’s a multi-leveled expression of pure hate, spite and domination fueled by one broken man’s crippling inferiority and pride. A man that no longer exists except as a lingering sentiment of malice inside the vessel of a perverse ‘angel’. What is even crueler is that the Brand of Sacrifice the Hawks all have react with pain when near Evil beings, and gets crippling amounts of pain when near someone like a the God Hand. Femto was as intimate as you can GET with Caska, and it was likely she was in impossible amounts of pain the entire time.
From there and the miraculous survival of Guts and Caska which see them both broken by the events that they had been subjected too and seeing Guts reborn as well as a monster who kills other monsters.
However this only covers the lead up and context for Griffith, not what he is and what he amounts too. It is long-winded yes, but I feel it is necessary to get the full scope of what he amounts too.
Over and over, Guts is paralleled and contrasted with Griffith portryaing both how far apart each other are, how their characterization subverts the tropes they both invoke, and how they both tackle the arc word’s of Berserk as a whole:
“Don’t abandon what you can’t replace.”
Griffith in spite of everything and supposedly becoming an absolute being, still clings to the past. Despite him sacrificing the Band of the Hawk, he instead replaces them with better, superior versions of their roles and archetypes. Recreating the literal five man band of the Hawks he had, replacing even Guts and co. with those who temperaments and superficial role were identical to the core companions Griffith once hand. Quiet gruff big guy, lone quiet but charming rogue, token evil teammate who is an asshole, abrasive leader of the raiders, and an undyingly loyal female warrior who front-lines his troops.
Which marks one of the key things to note about Griffith, is that in spite of everything he abandoned to achieve his destiny he still clings to the past, the things he abandoned he so desperately seeks to replace but… it will never be the same.
This marks the chinks in his beautiful, overly designed hawk-themed armor and contrasts everything else around him.
Griffith in spite of his dark-resurrection is viewed very much as the messianic figure of Berserk, the individual who will bring the world out of the age of Darkness and bring it into a new bright utopia. Reincarnating on earth in a new physical body and heralded by a dream that is seen by every living person on the planet (of a white hawk sweeping across the land) Griffith marks the beginning of the Fantasia. A world where fantasy and reality merge and the reason of the world is undone.
Griffith’s subsequent rise to power to his own Utopia is done without hiccup as he as everything falls to him with barely a fight. Arrows arc-around him missing him by a mile, the winds suddenly shift direction on his whim, the dead commune with their loved ones with him as the catalyst. He can manipulate space and time on a whim and is immune to any and all physical threats. And he even caused every plane of reality, from dreams to hell, to astral planes to merge all together into one plane in a single-stroke.
Several times, it is said to fight Griffith is to fight the author of the story one is apart of. To fight him is to fight fate-itself. Griffith is truly an absolute. And that is TERRIFYING.
Which marks the key crucial contrast of Griffith: From Griffith’s birth he was meant to ride along the curtails of Fate and be destined for greatness no matter what. Compared to Guts who was struggling against the fate laid against him from day one.
Like Guts, Griffith embodies another Nietzchan Philosophy, one of the Ubermensch. Everything Griffith does is seen as doing the work of the Greater Good. Tying into the Greater Good aspect, it shows that if going by the Ubermensch ideal, then what malicious actions that Griffith does, by virtue of his messianic status, is symbolic of being beyond humans and traditional morality. Or in the Berserk world, becoming truly and totally “evil” by abandoning any sort of humanity one may have. Griffith’s dream and goals are above the needs of others, and as such any sort of action he does will ultimately tie into the betterment of the world.
Which in turn ties into the meta-narrative of Berserk, which must be addressed as well and how Griffith affects the overall discourse of the Berserk fanbase and those discussing Berserk.
Griffith, is a very polarizing figure amongst the fandom of Berserk. There are two base camps in the Fandom, the people who hate Griffith’s guts and what him to SUFFER for what he’s done, and reasonably so. And the other being the Griffith’s Apologists, who say that everything he’s done is done for the GREATER GOOD. This is an oddly profound and CHILLING idea in of itself. On one hand, you have the fact that these people, IN REALITY are swayed as sheep by a fictional characters actions and forgive him even though he commits gratuitous acts of evil. (Which shows incredible writing on Miura’s part) On the other hand…maybe they are right. There is an instinctual gut impulse in the more morally sound lot of people to instantly deny this, however I believe, from an the stand point of a (mostly) objective purveyor of fiction, maybe that gut impulse is because we as human beings are too scared or ideologically rooted against the idea of admitting that such evil acts are necessary for the greater good. Looking at the world of Berserk, and taking the lost chapter into consideration, maybe Griffith really IS the Messiah.
This is further backed up in the Lost Chapters of Berserk, which we meet “God”. Which in Berserk is the literal concept of Evil. For you see, Griffith was ‘created’ by the strings of causality to answer one question: the collective desire of humanity which is to rationalize why suffering exists in the world. As such, the mere concept of “Evil” is in fact the desire of humanity bringing it to life and as such it is devoted to answering that collective desire through Griffith and the other God Hand.
Griffith was created as a way to realize Humanity’s wishes. Fate is a force in Berserk, and Griffith’s entire existence was weaved together by the Idea of Evil so that he can become the absolute one and realize humanity’s true collective desire. Sounds awfully Christ like huh? Depending on the interpretation of the Bible, Christ was created so he could absolve mankind of his sin and make it so that Mankind can then realize God’s original plan.
As mentioned Griffith’s fall (and thus Guts being the betrayer having left him) and eventual “rebirth” into a powerful new form during the Eclipse could be resemblance of the resurrection of Christ (hell the Church’s symbol in Berserk is a Hawk with outstretched wings…which is Femto’s silhouette…which contrasts Christianity whose symbol is the Cross), especially in Griffith’s rebirth onto the material plane.
With this in mind, the protagonist and messianic imagery of Griffith forces us to face a very uncomfortable question… is Guts the antagonist and his new friends the blind sheep who follow him?
This is mere speculation at this point but as is the failing of an ongoing story, if only Miura updates more frequently. But Griffith is a character whose cruel charisma and enthralling presence and how he is framed is one that raises a very uncomfortable question and covers an angle that so far is mostly unprecedented in fiction as a whole.
The messianic Chosen One being the Antagonist of the story.
There is pages upon pages more I could do about the symbolism Griffith possesses, his intricate relationship with Guts, Rickert, Caska or his religious connections to the Book of Relevations to even his Japanese cultural roots or the base roots of his imagery (his iconic hawk helmet is based on the helmet from “Phantom of the Paradise”, BTW). But I do not have the time nor the space to do so. Griffith is my favorite villain in any medium period.
But one thing is clear, Griffith has influenced the course of fiction through his standing in Berserk. As Guts had inspired many brooding swordsmen and dozens off giant sword knock offs, Griffith inspired many white-haired pretty boy rivals with sociopathic tendencies and smooth rapier-skills. And his influence on horror can be felt too through stories such as Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma and other tales.
And to this day lesser writers like Reki Kawahara try to invoke Griffith in their villains but fail mercilessly, like many in-universe characters before Griffith, not even coming close to the pedestal Griffith stands upon. When an anime wants to do a cheap-gut punch “LETS HATE THE VILLAIN” moment or they try to copy what Griffith did with none of the build up or context. (Seriously, we can all blame Griffith for what happened in SAO Season 02, if that isn’t horror I don’t know what is) Griffith has cast a massive shadow over all of Japanese fiction, and even a scene from Marvel’s Infinity War, where after making a great sacrifice, Thanos holding a red-stone while kneeling in very shallow lake water mirrored by an Eclipse is identical to one of the most iconic images of the Eclipse:
So overall his influence cannot be understated and his iconography has permeated through fiction beyond the limits of simply just Anime, Manga or Video Games. Griffith as a character is one of the frighteningly complex characters I have ever read of and is the subject of internet analysis and navel-gazers across the net.
In that regards, in the words of the fandom: “Griffith did nothing wrong lol”
Editor’s Note: We end the Fan-Written ICHF jam with one of the nastiest characters ICHF has ever seen, even if his cruelty comes from a complex blend of motivations. I think that’s a very fitting note to end the Jam on.