Today we have a guest post from an old and familiar friend, Matthew, who in addition to having written many articles for us during his time on staff, formerly hosted the Team Anchester portion of the TangleCast. I hope you enjoy his brief return to the blog as he discusses on his favorites, Berserk.
Hey, everybody. I haven’t spoken in a while, but BtT was gracious enough to let me nerd out about the most recent chapter entry in the Berserk manga, chapter 362. The manga, Berserk, has now been in production for 30 years and, as amazing as it is to say, many fans who’ve followed the manga from its beginning, and newbies alike, have finally gotten answers to mysteries unaddressed for decades. I’d like to discuss some of those revelations, but one particularly, and its possible implications. Think of this as my personal fan theory about where Kentaro Miura may be taking the story from a philosophical angle. Because, understanding these new developments affects the way we will read Berserk as, hopefully, the series is entering a more consistent release schedule (Lord, may it be so).
The new chapter is short, but shows Guts meeting the smith who created the berserker armor. The smith activates Guts’ armor and the memories stored in it from a time when the Skull Knight—whom we’ve now seen confirmed to be King Gaiseric—used the berserker armor. The smith hopes these memories will be a warning to Guts of the armor’s dangers and self-destructive power. Guts has certainly experienced enough of that already through trial and error, but these flashbacks allow us to see not only how the armor affected Skull Knight, but also the enemies Gaiseric, as the Skull Knight, faced.
In the flashback, one of the glimpses is of Skull Knight’s nemesis in the Godhand, Void. But, instead of the members of the Godhand readers are accustomed to seeing, we see four very different members.
Fans of the series will likely have read how Miura’s inspiration for the Godhand was from the horror series Hellraiser. Quite dark, quite grotesque, right up Miura’s alley and you can hardly argue its effectiveness in prompting the desired reaction. However, the Godhand members seen in chapter 362 are entirely different, with the exception of Void. These members are allusions and references in their own right, but to something much older—pagan gods of antiquity and various cultures. Though we are not given their names in this chapter, their respective appearances seem to indicate that, in Miura’s world of Berserk, gods of antiquity, which we would recognize, are demonic apostles and numbered among the members of the Godhand. This was quite interesting to me as I have written for BtT before on the topic of a Christian theology of world religions and lowercase gods.
But what does this mean? Well the first part I can say for certain and the second ambles into my own personal theory. First, it tells fans of the series that the Godhand can be defeated in some way. Quite clearly, the Godhand is limited to five members and the four members we see in the flashback were likely killed somewhere along the line and replaced by the four we are familiar with. Also likely is the possibility that Skull Knight played a large hand in killing the four previous members of the Godhand. It explains his preoccupation with Void, as the last surviving member, but also answers the question of whether Guts is even capable of taking on members of the Godhand. Turns out, the answer is affirmative.
But all of that simply addresses the logistics. More interesting to me were the philosophical implications. Why did Miura choose recognizable figures like Poseidon and Artemis? I think he’s trying to show a marked change in the nature of evil—in even the strategy of evil—between the old guard and the new. And I think it’s a point that applies to not just the world of Berserk, but also our own world. Here begins my fan theory.
In the infamous chapter 139—whose infamy prevents me from using many of its panels for reference—we see a pagan orgy in which the members of the religious festival become possessed by the demons they are worshiping. The master of ceremonies, The Great Goat, is a man wearing a massive goat mask, referencing the pagan god Pan (among other goat deities) known for deviant and unbound sexuality. When the worshippers become possessed by evil spirits in chapter 148, so is The Great Goat who is transformed into, get this, a Great Goat. This is all to say that the idea, “you become like what you worship,” has precedent in Miura’s writing. There’s also precedence for Miura’s use of recognizable pagan deities.
But, remember, these allusive members of the old Godhand are surrounding Void, a member without mythological referent. I suspect that Void is new management. The Great Goat incident saw people giving themselves over to sinful pleasure and then having their bodies completely taken over in a possession. It’s like being promised cookies at grandma’s house but instead being eaten by the wolf in grandma’s clothes. That’s a very demonic story in flavor. But the way things have worked under Void’s leadership, with the use of behelits, it’s more like getting lost in the woods without any hope of reaching grandma’s house when the wolf emerges from the shadows offering, not to eat you, but for you to become a wolf like him. That too is a demonic-sounding promise, but a noticeably different one regarding approach. That’s what Berserk fans were introduced to at the start of the series: Behelits end up in the hands of a fateful few who, when they find themselves at the end of their rope, in perfect despair, are offered supreme power at the cost of all that is dear to them.
The very name, Void, implies a lack, emptiness, nothingness. The most appropriate word in this case is nihil, as in nihilism, as in the belief that there is no ultimate value in life and that all is meaningless. So, Void is a rather fitting name really. If I’m right and this connection is what Miura intends for the reader to understand, it might be possible that Void is somehow responsible for the creation of Behelits and their intended use of turning men into demons in the depths of their greatest despair, when they feel life is most hopeless and “void” of meaning.
It’s interesting, then, that Skull Knight who, by all appearance, looks like death himself cannot cast out or destroy Void. It makes sense that death isn’t very good at casting out despair. Instead, victory is a responsibility that Skull Knight seems to be passing to Guts, who is progressively learning more and more that he cannot protect the ones he loves alone, that he must rely on others, and that being the “struggler” Skull Knight labeled him as isn’t going to be enough to stop the evil around him and the evil threatening him from within.
One of the things Freidrich Nietzsche, who’s most often associated with nihilistic philosophy, said on the subject was that nihilism would eventually lead to an utter breakdown of all standards and cultures completely because it attacks our very ability to believe and communicate meaning. But, he thought there might be a chance that, once everything was burned to ash, a new beginning might come about where people build on the ashes of the old in recognition of meaning’s loss. While terrifyingly bleak and clearly un-Christian in nature, the sentiment he expressed seems to be the game plan of the new Godhand. Griffith’s return to the land of Midland after the eclipse is witnessed by many as a hawk of light descending upon the despair of utter darkness. He’s challenging all norms, uniting demons with mankind, enemy nations with one another, and all fighting together in battle under the same banner. Why take advantage of pagan worshippers or the downtrodden when you can approach them as an “angel of light” with hope in hand and have them join you of their own free will? That too is an historically diabolic strategy.
So, that’s my theory. I think we’ve been given a glimpse of the old Godhand as an indicator of how things changed in Evil’s strategy from one administration to another. Things moved from a simplistic “tempt the humans with pleasures of all kinds and take them by force when they are numbed by their ecstasy” to “burn their world down and, when they are aghast in despair, offer them a shining hope with dark intentions hidden out of sight, below.” Despair is a terrible and destructive thing, but not least because of its knack of leaving us vulnerable to false solutions. That’s what I think Miura is reinforcing with this new chapter. But I think it’s also a rather timely topic. Not just in our own lives, in our own problems, of which I’m sure there are plenty, but Miura mentions in an author’s note at the end of this chapter that he is struggling with some despair and loneliness of his own. So, if you are a Christian, it would be good and right for us to include Kentaro Miura in our prayers. I’m sure the man would appreciate knowing, if ever he heard of our little corner of the internet, that there’s a plucky band of misfits who don’t mind standing alongside him in his struggles, just like Gut’s own friends. And may it be that, one day, Miura comes to know the eternal hope offered in Jesus Christ if he hasn’t already.