If there is one thing that I think annoys me about the anime/manga community it’s the belief that anime should simply be viewed in a bubble onto itself. Digibro, (someone who for the record I respect a lot and enjoy his content) has often stated that anime is a very incestuous medium. While that I think is very true it’s also overstated and ignores a lot of influences that anime take in from other sources. For example EVA in addition to referencing many anime also references tons of stories from the New Wave of Science Fiction with End of Evas iconic final image being a straight up reference to a cover of a Sci-Fi short story compilation book.
This unfortunately leads to an environment where many people tend to view anime only within the context of its medium and not its wider genre. At best people view the influence on anime by other mediums as solely skin deep references. Which to me is a bit of a shame as there is so much anime that when viewed in a broader context say a lot about wider genres.
One of these in particular is Berserk which when viewed in the broader context of fantasy delivers some incredibly cogent statements on the genre and more specifically the concept of the hero. Berserk tears down the fantasy hero through the simplest and most effective way possible, by making the hero the villain.
Griffith is the true hero in Berserk. He is not the protagonist but he fits all the tropes of a classical fantasy hero straight up to going through the heroes journey. He gets a call to action from an old character with implied spiritual connections, a mystical boon in the form of the Behlit, and is tempted by women through his encounter with the Princess of Midland (though in Berserk the temptation is not one of sexual gratification specifically rather it is of Griffiths need to reclaim his feeling of control). The Eclipse is an example of what the greeks called the katabasis, the journey into the underworld. Usually the protagonist journeys into the underworld to gain some boon such as knowledge in the case of Odysseus, or a lost love on in the case of Orpheus. It also can be seen as a metaphorical rebirth of the character.
In the case of Griffith its both metaphorical and literal as he gains mystical powers, knowledge about the true nature of the universe (though this was somewhat retconned out later), and transforms from a battered, shell of a man into a horrific godlike being. While the Band of the Hawk and by proxy we, the audience may view this as a waking nightmare through the lens of the heroes journey it clearly places Griffith as the “Hero”.
While this is a fun bit of trivia, many may ask “what does it all mean”. Well in my opinion Berserk tries to deconstruct and tear down the classic ideas of Heroism in the fantasy genre. It points out that things like government, religion, and heroes are all corrupt things that we put our faith in despite the fact they will always let us down. It’s a warning sign that tells us to not trust cults of personality like the one that surrounds Griffith. This stands in contrast to something like Lord of the Rings were monarchy is upheld and lauded, religion and mysticism is something that always has our back, and heroism and cults of personality about great men are justified.
This is also shown through how Berserk treats on of the most prominent aspects in many fantasy tales, Fate. For the Greeks fate was an inescapable thing, it was to them the driving force of their legends for good or ill. It was unchangeable and no matter how much Oedipus struggled he would always fall to it. In more modern fantasy fate is seen as a force that will put the righteous back in charge. Aragorn being the true king of Gondor will reclaim his throne and all will be right with the world. But in the world of Berserk it shows just how truly terrifying fate can be with Guts being accosted by Apostles constantly, all seeking to kill him as he is fated to die. But despite all that Guts still fights on at one point compared to a fish trying to swim upstream. It may be a losing battle but it’s one that Guts is determined to win.
Berserk is the story about how one should not put their faith in any outside forces but only in themselves. No matter the odds we are the arbiters of our own destiny and through sheer force of will can overcome what is ailing us. Berserk pulls no punches on how this is a very, very, tough struggle but it also shows how we can achieve these goals none the less. It shows that while our heroes may let us down but we can never let ourselves down, if we put the determination and effort into it.