This ICHF was written by Lydia, who you can find at https://lydiathespiderqueen.tumblr.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
We’ve talked about Berserk here a couple times before. And by “we” I mean one of my friends who’s a veteran fan, compared to my relatively recent delve. But isn’t that half the fun of introducing your friends to new stuff? We’ve all still got different things to say.
You’ve probably at least heard of Berserk, and likely know the basics: Dark fantasy manga, super-influential, helped popularize heroes with comically oversized swords, gritty as hell.
We’ve(He’s) already covered the main hero, Guts, and main villain, Griffith, as well as the cultural perceptions of the series versus its actual content. So let’s move onto the most iconic monsters: The apostles!
In the real world, an apostle is essentially a religious ambassador: Someone who spreads the message. And in a series where the gods are openly malevolent, the word has some pretty ominous implications.
In the world of Berserk, apostles are people who, for one reason or another, have utterly hit rock bottom; Their worlds have crumbled, the things they live for are lost, their last shreds of hope are gone. There is nothing left for them. And when they hit that point of absolute despair, the godhand appear before them and offer a deal: Be given the power to rise from their ashes, in exchange for sacrificing the person or people they care most about, body and soul, to the demons.
Now, most of us reading this are fortunate enough to be disgusted by that notion. As a generation, we often have trouble clinging to hope, but few of us have ever fallen so low as to be willing to do something like that. It’s laid out for us pretty clearly that every single apostle has done something horrible in their lives – and most continue to do horrible things.
That brings us to Rosine, who is… well, not exactly an exception. She made that sacrifice, and she uses her powers to do some pretty nasty things. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t bring us to question our assumptions about the kind of person who does this.
The world of Berserk is not kind. Even before the sudden appearance of demons and fantasy creatures, it was a dung heap for most. Nobles conscript armies to fight battles for petty squabbles, territorial disputes claim the lives of thousands at a time, the wealth imbalance is almost as ridiculous as today’s, bandits prowl the wilds, and DEAR LORD the rape.
Rosine’s life wasn’t any better. Growing up, her family consisted of a violently abusive father, and a mother who’s advice to her basically amounted to “ride it out”. The other adults in town weren’t a whole hell of a lot better, as her friend Jill could attest. So when Rosine developed a bit of an obsession with changeling fantasies, feeling that she was really an elf who was switched at birth with a human baby, it didn’t exactly come as a surprise. As abominable as the human world is to her, it must surely mean that she needs to return to the land of elves, to join her own kind.
Sadly, when she tried to make that dream a reality, her parents caught up to her. And that was the last anyone heard of them for several years.
Oh, but that was in the past. When Rosine next appears, it’s with considerable fanfare, heralded by a swarm of what she insists are elves. Elves in this series are closer to what we usually think of when we hear the word “fairy”, appearing as tiny, naked, insect-winged humanoids. And that certainly does describe Rosine and her swarm now, but it’s an imperfect facsimile. They have far more insect-like features, which only become more prominent the angrier they get.They’re also a lot more prone to eating people than one generally associates with elves.
By this point, we’ve been spoiled to her nature as an apostle, so it’s not hard to figure out what happened when her folks caught up to her. They crushed the one hope she had in life, and sealed their fate as her sacrifices when the Godhand came for her.
But you don’t drive a child into that kind of despair without leaving some wounds. Even when granted her powers, there were still no elves in the forest. She was now alone. And so she decided that if she couldn’t find a society of elves, she would make her own – out of the village’s children!
Indeed, numerous children have already been taken by the time we actually reach the village in the story. And each time this happens, the swarm grows larger. All doubt is cast away when our hero kills several of them, only for the bodies to revert back to those of human children, in a DEEPLY uncomfortable moment. Guts is now a blood-soaked swordsman surrounded by the corpses of several missing kids, and that’s a damning thing to behold, even if you DO know exactly what happened.
Make no mistake, Rosine is a villain now. But as hostile as she is to the adults in town, she mostly just seems happy to see Jill again. Which means, Jill figures, she might be able to be reasoned with.
And she’s right! Rosine is, in fact, ecstatic to welcome Jill into her new kingdom. And it most assuredly is her kingdom. That means that she makes the rules. That means the swarm won’t harm her. If the queen says Jill gets the VIP treatment, then Jill gets the VIP treatment.
And it certainly does seem like Rosine’s telling the truth. The elves frolic and play without a care in the world. They’re no longer human, no, but they seem happy. Happier, perhaps, than they ever could’ve been back at the village.
At least, until we find out how the elves “play”, that is. We’ve all roughoused as kids. We’ve all liked to pretend to be monsters and robots and superheroes, and beat up our friends. These kids are no different in that regard – they’re different in the sense that they actually kill and mutilate one another. A game of “adult attack!” quickly turns into a game of “rectally impale Joe with my stinger, which I have btw.” And yet those who do die from it don’t seem to be upset. Even as heads are ripped from bodies, they sport only psychotic, satisfied smiles.
Needless to say, Jill is freaked out. And Rosine understands wholeheartedly. But that’s part of the fun, y’know? They’ve all lived in fear for so long, isn’t it kind of nice to just go all-out, with no fear? Rosine can’t create a kingdom where no one dies, but she CAN create one where no one is afraid of it. I mean, if you’re gonna be violently dismembered, wouldn’t you rather it be at the hands of a friend?
As messed up as it is, there is a certain logic to Rosine’s perspective. The world out there – the only world she’s ever known – is vicious, cruel, horrible to people like her. Children suffer the worst from it. She’s taking them away from it and turning them into beings who are strong enough to fight back. Instead of growing up to be soldiers and dying for someone else, they can at least ensure that they’ll die on their own terms.
Rosine understands Jill’s worry though. And she promises to turn her into something extra special, that no one will mess with unless she wants them to. The wasp drones are the easiest to create, but she’s willing to go the extra mile for her BFF.
And that’s the thing. Rosine does care about Jill. And in her own weird way, she cares about her subjects. Some have died, yes, but they did so happily. Being turned into a flesh-eating wasp monster with no sense of self preservation is a pretty nightmarish fate for us, but doesn’t it sound an awful lot like something a child would come up with? Doesn’t this feel a lot like a little girl wanting to be a princess, and letting her classmates be her servants, while granting her best friend special privilege?
When we follow Guts during this arc, we see what becomes of the “elves” he kills. Their ghosts become wandering souls, desperate to find warmth and comfort, yet unable. Horrible things are happening to children in this arc, let there be no mistake.
And yet, it seems almost accidental. Rosine is living out what she believes to be her best life. She sincerely believes that she’s helping the village’s young ones. When Guts follows her into her kingdom, she brings up her sentries describing them as “adults, but they’re not like the others. These ones protect kids.”
In many stories, a villain like this would have a climactic breakdown where they show their true colors. And I was expecting at every turn for her to reveal herself as an uncaring tyrant who’s simply playing make believe, like prettymuch any other story would. But that never happens. When Guts arrives for that final battle, Rosine fights to protect her forest, to protect her kingdom, and to protect Jill. Sure, she accepts a certain amount of losses. She taunts Guts that she can rebuild. For every one he kills, she’ll just make more. But, well… she’s still a kid.
As previous and subsequent apostles demonstrate nicely, the transformation into a demon grants a person tremendous power, and power corrupts. But there’s no “Dark Side” mechanic in play here. There’s no malignant force affecting a person’s mind, because there doesn’t need to be one. Apostles are created when a person is completely destroyed, and then built back up. Human corruption and human cruelty are MORE than enough to carry these baddies.
But again, Rosine is a child. Children do not understand empathy in the way we do. Rosine doesn’t have the understanding of bodily autonomy and individuality that we adults take for granted. In her mind, she’s saving children by turning them into things that can fight back. In her mind, she’s where she belongs because, I mean, have you seen the other options?
And that really is the tragedy of the character. No one is going to argue that kidnapping children and turning them into monsters who murder and mutilate one another for fun is a good thing. But with the world beyond as horrible as it is, with everything Rosine’s been through, with everything that the adults in her life have done to her, can you really blame her for this? Can you really blame her for wanting something better? For fighting to get something better? For trying to extend that to others? And can you even blame her for making the choice to sacrifice her parents in the first place? What does a child know of Hell? WE don’t even know what Hell is like in this universe. How could she understand what she’s done to them? Thanks to them, every day of her life was Hell, so what’s a girl to do?
And after the final battle is done, where Rosine is defeated, the forest is destroyed and the wasp-elves are slain, Jill confronts that same question. As nasty as all of this was, it was a reprieve from the life she has in her village – a violent father, an unhelpful mother, neighbors who treat her like a piece of meat. She finds herself sincerely weighing the pros and cons of following Guts versus going back. And while she ultimately chooses to go home and fight her own battles, the question is now in our minds; Is this really worse than the life she’s stuck with?
Jill decides to return, if only because it’s the devil she knows, and can therefore fight. But it’s a pretty somber and humbling moment. She’s going back to the sort of life that drove her best friend to do what she did.
The tragedy of Rosine is that she was so close to being a good guy. When she shows Jill around her kingdom, it’s not a tyrant showing their wealth. It’s a little girl who’s excited to be able to share this with her friend. And when Jill freaks out over it, her reaction isn’t “how dare you side against me,” it’s “Okay, I get it. So I’ll work with you to find something you’re happy with.”
In a way, seeing the way she treats her best friend is one of the nicest moments in the story up to this point. When she’s joyfully reuniting with her, there is of course, an ominousness. But mostly, it’s just a teenager who escaped a horrible home life, seized her own destiny, became the person she wanted to be, who’s now happy to share that with someone she cares for.
By this point, you might’ve noticed, there’s some pretty serious LGBT applicability to this arc. Which is kind of fucked up when you’re dealing with a demonic monster whose powers are portrayed as a corrupting force that winds up damning countless innocents. But I mean, that’s the 80’s for ya.
Escaping cruel authorities and becoming your true self are beautiful, wonderful things. And it’s sad that this girl was unable to do these things without consorting with (demonstrably evil) demons, and getting people killed. She should not have had to do this. She should have been allowed to have a childhood. She should have been allowed to be the Rosine she wanted to be. But the world of Berserk is cruel, and the Godhand prey on those who suffer from it.
Having said all that, we don’t ever technically see Rosine die. She’s cut up badly, and knocked out of the sky, where she has her obligatory manga villain “where did I go wrong?” lament. But when apostles die, there’s a show, as demons rise from the bowels of Hell to drag back all that infernal flesh, leaving behind only the husk of the person the apostle once was. We never see any of this for Rosine.
It’s a long shot, but there’s just enough room for some of us to imagine that maybe she survived, and maybe she gained some maturity and became a better person. That maybe if other apostles like Nosferatu Zodd can be multilayered, sympathetic characters, then there’s hope for this girl. Y’know. If it makes us feel better. It does for me.