The Horrors of War  

“Maybe my dream is what killed this boy.” Griffith, Vol. 7 Ch. 1

Griffith’s private world was a lot more turbulent than the perfect persona he projected to his soldiers. He took time to get to know each of his soldiers, but that was sometimes too much to bear. A particularly poignant moment came when he found the body of a young boy on the battlefield. Few people would think much of a nameless corpse, but not Griffith. He recalled that this boy joined the Hawks half a year ago to train, and idolized Griffith as if he was the hero of an epic story. Now he was dead. Did he dream of becoming a knight? Was he living these dreams in death? Was his death Griffith’s fault? As battles escalated and the stakes got higher, Griffith had to remodel his thoughts.

“When suffering so profound as to make someone rip himself apart is confronted, a heart is frozen." Idea of Evil, Vol. 13 Ch. 3

He realized that in order to preserve his own sanity he must keep an emotional distance with his soldiers. He could not let himself feel guilty for their deaths. After all, he was not responsible for lives given freely to his cause. It could be said that Griffith cared by not caring. A leader distracted by sentimental anxiety would cost more lives than one guided by a clear vision to victory. Griffith’s single-minded pursuit of his dream was the reason why so many followed him. They looked up to him and piled upon him impossible expectations that he was under constant pressure to meet. The only way to do that was to keep on winning. The only way to keep on winning was to stay detached.

“My dream can only be realized by building upon their corpses. It's a blood-smeared dream after all. I have no regret nor remorse about that.” Griffith, Vol. 7 Ch. 1

Facing death on the battlefield is the definition of war. There is no way around this. The only difference between Griffith and the other Commanders was that those who fought for Griffith did so eagerly and of their own free will. In return, he gave them a life more glorious than they could ever have imagined. They went from the dusty streets to the glamour of the palace! They were greeted by cheering crowds and danced at royal parties. And what could he do for the dead? The only thing he could do to justify their sacrifice was to keep on reaching for his dream as hard as he could, by any means necessary, so that they would not have died in vain.

“But... for hundreds, thousands of lives to hang in the balance and myself alone not to be unclean... What I want... won't enter my grasp so easily as that.” Griffith, Vol. 7 Ch. 1

Griffith actively worked to suppress his emotions in favor of cold logic. Though it was possible to raise money for supplies through raids, those cost precious lives. Griffith found a less risky way to raise funds by selling his body to an old perverted Baron for one night. This was a very rational thing to do in theory, and it certainly helped acquire money, but it wreaked havoc on his mind. He denied that it had any effect on him, and insisted it was just a mutually beneficial business agreement, but the image of Griffith obsessively trying to wash himself clean the next morning before clawing his arms to blood is worth a thousand words. He never went back to that Baron for easy war funds again.

“Just when you think it looks like he's got some strange wisdom, he seems just like a kid. Just when you think he has a spine-chilling look on his face, he smiles innocently like a baby.” Judeau, Vol. 5 Ch. 2

Griffith rose to power at a very young age and had a lot resting on his shoulders. It was hard for him to balance the expectations of his troops with the mounting death toll of his army, and stuffing his feelings deeper into his subconscious didn’t come without a price. While his intellect soared, his emotional growth was stunted. He simply never had the chance to properly socialize and develop it past the ego of a child! This gave way to a kind of split personality that swung between innocent charm and absolute creepiness. Woe to those who misconstrued Griffith’s friendly conversation as a weakness, for he could then dislocate their shoulder without batting an eye.

“To me, a friend is something else. Someone who would never depend upon another's dream... someone who wouldn't be compelled by anyone, but would determine and pursue his own reason to live. And should anyone trample that dream, he would oppose him body and soul, even if the threat were me myself. What I think a friend is, is one who is my equal.” Griffith, Vol. 6 Ch. 6

Another transformation in Griffith’s thoughts was more subtle, but much more profound. He could no longer afford to see his soldiers as “friends” in the true sense of the word. The way he figured, the world was driven by the extraordinary wills of special people. Special people like him, who thought for themselves, fought for themselves, and worked to establish their own identity. These were the only people that mattered, and everyone else were willing pawns in the games played by these great beings. Yes, to a force such as Griffith, this whole undertaking was a game and the entire world his playground.

DISCLAIMER: Berserk and all the characters, story, and art therein is copyright Kentaro Miura. No copyright infringement is intended, and I hope that this essay inspires more people to read/watch Berserk! Translation in the text is by Dark Horse, translation in the images is by The Band of the Hawk, unless otherwise specified.