Berserk... where do I start? Berserk is one of the best anime and manga series of all time. It combines a dark Clive Barker-esque horror aesthetic with a tough epic fantasy world reminiscent of Robert E. Howard. It has some of the deepest and most profound themes about human nature that I have ever seen in a fictional work. But the mortar that holds the show's castle walls together are its characters. Here is a glimpse into the Band of the Hawk and a few notable people they come across.
The Band of the Hawk
Guts was born from his mother's corpse as it hung from a noose on a withering tree. His village had been destroyed and all its inhabitants were dead. All that remained was this infant, alone on the dead leaves. His body was discovered by a band of mercenaries. The band's leader, Gambino, became Guts's adoptive father. Gambino taught Guts how to fight and showed him how to master swordsmanship. However, Gambino was a careless parent, even selling Guts as a prostitute to one of his soldiers at one point. Guts and Gambino got into a physical altercation, leading Guts to run away.
After leaving, Guts would fight in tournaments to make money. Then one day, he met a man named Griffith. Griffith was the leader of a mercenary band called the Band of the Hawk. Guts's prowess in battle soon caused him to move up in rank. With Guts's help, The Hawks managed to become the most accomplished mercenary band in the world and helped the Kingdom of Midland win their war.
However, Guts felt that he needed to find a dream of his own, instead of just working towards Griffith's. He left the Hawks to search for a purpose as to why he fought. He retreated into the mountains to train with a man named Godo. On his existential journey, Guts found out that he fights because it's what he knows and what he feels comfortable doing. He doesn't have a clearly defined reason, it's just something he has to do.
When he returned to the Hawks, they were in desperate times. Griffith had been taken prisoner and was severely injured. Guts managed to help set him free, but the Hawks' glory days were over. Griffith then betrayed the Band of the Hawk during the Eclipse and joined the God Hand. It was proclaimed that Guts would die during the Eclipse, but he managed to survive.
After the Eclipse, Guts was cursed. He was haunted by demons every night that he would have to kill in order to make it to the next day. Referred to now as "The Black Swordsman," Guts travels the countryside looking to exact revenge upon Griffith.
Guts is the most skilled fighter of the Hawks. He carries a giant sword referred to in the manga as "a heap of raw iron." His sword is so large because he learned to fight at a young age. This meant he trained with adult sized blades that progressively got larger throughout his life. He never has any difficulty using a sword so massive and obliterates his enemies with it. He isn't just a brute however. He is put in many situations where he has to outsmart his enemies and/or be agile, both of which he does successfully.
One of the things that makes Guts such a great character is the dichotomy in his personality between being tough and being sensitive. Guts is brash and has harder edges than a brick. He kills his enemies without remorse and finds comfort in fighting. However, he isn't a cold stoic hero like Conan or Hercules. He goes through intense periods of emotional pain. He also feels intense romantic feelings for Casca. Guts always looks out for her and tries to protect her. Their relationship is never based around Guts's dominance. He also expresses sincere concern for his men that fight under his command. You despise some of the harsh decisions he makes that are of questionable ethics, but you also admire his compassion and respect his bravery.
Guts represents strength and perseverance against the backdrop of an oppressive world. He has had to deal with tragic circumstances and immense pain throughout all of his life. Whether it be his abusive childhood, watching his best friend betray him, or having to fight off demons, Guts is no stranger to the horrors of life. However, he always manages to fight through it. He is always able to overcome the darkness, no matter how overwhelming. He never gives up or gives in to weakness, despite how much pain he feels.
Guts also represents the concept of individualism. He had to push through life alone until he met the Hawks. The Hawks represent companionship to Guts. Casca then represents love and romance to him. However, Guts decided he had to leave this to focus on bettering himself. Guts's actions then show us that surrounding yourself with people that you care about will contribute to your happiness, but becoming dependent on others will lead to weakness.
Along with individualism, Guts also embodies free will. Nosferatu Zodd, one of the series' supernatural forces, prophesizes Guts's death during the Eclipse. Guts's strength and determination led him to fight his way out and spit in the prophecy's face. This shows us that your life is not controlled by metaphysical entities or predetermination. You control your own fate and make your own decisions in life.
Griffith is the Band of the Hawk's charismatic leader. All of his mercenaries deeply respect and admire him. He expresses concern for his soldiers and never seems to act above them. He is dedicated above all else to accomplish his one and only dream - to have his own kingdom. He believes the Hawks will lead him to achieving this. He also possesses a Crimson Behelit of the God Hand. It is an egg shaped jewel with a human face on it. He acquired the Behelit from a fortune teller when he was young who told him that the jewel would assure him his own kingdom.
Under Griffith's command, The Hawks earn the trust and respect of Midland's King. He is officially knighted and moving up in the Kingdom's ranks. This does not sit well with some of the Kingdom's other higher ups however. A man named Julius attempts to assassinate Griffith because of this. The assassination failed and Griffith soon found out about it. Griffith then employed Guts to kill his assassins for him.
Another reason for Julius's attempted murder was Griffith's relationship with Princess Charlotte. Julius had his eyes set on her for his whole life. Yet, when Griffith begins to earn the King's trust, he makes his interest in Charlotte clear. The princess is enamored with Griffith and obsesses over her feelings for him. This is bolstered by the King's admiration for Griffith, causing him to support their romance.
Griffith creates a strong relationship with Guts that is deeper than his relationship with any of the other Hawks. He is awed by Guts's extreme physical strength in battle. He realizes how valuable Guts is to accomplishing his dream and as such, takes strongly to him. Some have argued that a homosexual subtext exists between the two. I don't agree with this however, because Griffith always puts his dream as the top priority. His infatuation with Guts is based around how he feels Guts can help him gain his own kingdom.
After Guts leaves the Hawks, Griffith feels betrayed and one step further from his dream. To compensate, he beds Princess Charlotte that night to establish his dominance. However, he is caught and jailed. The King feels his trust was abandoned and subjects him to the most brutal torture possible. Guts and the others come to rescue him, but he is so physically weak he can't move or speak.
Just as Griffith thought his dream was dead, the eyes on his behelit started to bleed. This starts the Eclipse, where a brutal swarm of demons come to attack the Hawks and welcome the God Hand. The God Hand tell Griffith that if he joins them, they will make sure he has his own kingdom, but in doing so they will leave the rest of the Hawks to the demons. Griffith's choice is clear, having always prioritized his dream above everything. Griffith joins the God Hand and leaves the Hawks to a bloody massacre.
Griffith epitomizes ambition. He is determined to achieve his goal no matter what the cost. He will do anything to see his dream realized, even betraying those who cared for him. At one point in the show, he even prostitutes himself to the ruler of a kingdom to gain his assistance. He also tells Guts at one point that in order for him to consider someone his friend, they would need to have an equal amount of ambition as he does.
He also represents selfishness. He is willing to throw his companions to the demons in order to get what he wants. The Hawks thought that their relationship with Griffith was one of true mutual friendship. Princess Charlotte thought he actually loved her. It turns out though that Griffith was just using them to attain his desires.
However, it could be argued that Guts also acted selfishly towards Griffith by leaving the Band of the Hawks. I think by having both characters act selfishly, it shows us that human beings are innately selfish creatures. Every act an individual makes is a selfish one. It's a philosophical concept explored by these characters that one's entire perception of reality is based around their interactions with the world as an individual. However, this is not always a bad thing. Guts acts selfishly in a positive way, whereas Griffith acts selfishly in a negative way.
Casca is one of the strongest and most valued members of the Band of the Hawk. She was Griffith's second in command until Guts joined. This created some tension between them when they first met. Casca was jealous of how much Griffith valued Guts. This caused her to yell and lash out at Guts constantly, claiming that he was reckless and didn't care about his men.
Casca idolizes Griffith more than any of the other Hawks. She is willing to do anything for him and will cry out if even the slightest ailment befalls him. She puts him on such a high pedestal because of how she first met him. When she was a child, her parents sold her to a nobleman because they were poor and couldn't afford another child. One day when traveling, the nobleman tried to have his way with her. Griffith happened to be passing by and saw the situation. He threw a sword on the ground and told Casca to use it if she pleased. She drew up the sword and killed the nobleman.
She doesn't idolize Griffith because he saved her. She idolizes him because he made her realize her own self-worth. He saw that she had the strength to persist through that experience. This trait carries over to her personality after she begins following Griffith as well. Guts saves her in battle once and she gets upset with him for it. She tells him this is because she doesn't like other people to save her. She has the strength to save herself as Griffith proved to her that day.
However, Casca and Guts eventually warm up to each other and bond over how much they admire their leader. This ultimately leads to a romance between the two of them. I think Casca falls in love with Guts because she sees that they both have the same qualities of balancing strength with compassion. They can both be cold-blooded killers on the battlefield and show no contrition for doing so. At the same time, they both care about the Hawks that fight under them and most importantly, they both care about and respect Griffith.
Judeau was Guts's first friend when he joined the Band of the Hawk, and arguably his first friend ever. Given his history, Guts was understandably reluctant to join another mercenary band. He had a cynical attitude and bleak outlook on the situation at first. However, Judeau would always make an effort to come and talk to him. He would tell Guts about why the Hawks do what they do and why they follow Griffith. Judeau is the type of person who never gets mad and says everything with a smile. This caused Guts to eventually make friends with Judeau. Judeau's friendship also provoked Guts to make friends with the rest of the Hawks.
Judeau has a different fighting style than the other Hawks. He prefers to use his throwing knives rather than a sword. He can still fight decently with a sword, but his greatest skill comes from his accuracy and marksmanship.
Judeau also displays an admirable self-sacrificing characteristic. He is always willing to save someone else before himself. He will put himself in danger to protect the other Hawks. I think this is a clear continuation of his friendly personality.
When the Hawks are resting, Judeau is often playing his lyre. He is a skilled musician and used to be part of a traveling group of players before he joined the Band of the Hawk. There's a scene where Judeau gives Casca a bag of fairy dust, saying he picked it up from his musician days.
Corkus is a strong and valuable member of the Hawks. However, his temper has a very short fuse. He gets mad very easily, often at Guts. He will yell at Guts about how he doesn't contribute anything to the Hawks and how he shouldn't have joined them in the first place. I think deep down Corkus knows this is not true, he just lets his anger get the best of him. Jealousy of Guts's fighting skill and how quickly he moved up in the ranks of the Hawks are the most likely causes of Corkus's outbursts.
However, Corkus will also lash out at Casca. He will undermine her skill as a warrior because she is a woman. I think the same reasons and causes for his arguments with Guts are true of his arguments with Casca as well. Despite this, Guts and Casca never reciprocate Corkus's rages. They never fight back with him and are always composed and collected when they respond. Another contributing factor to his demeanor could be his alcohol consumption. Corkus loves to drink and is often seen with a large pint in hand whenever the Band of the Hawk are in a tavern.
His bitter ways have some benefit however. They make him a ruthless fighter on the battlefield. If he has a hard time getting along with his companions, how do you think he responds to his enemies?
Zodd the Immortal:
Zodd the Immortal, or Nosferatu Zodd, is a demon and a servant of the God Hand. He is considered to be a god amongst warriors because of his immense physical strength. He is the most vicious and bloodthirsty fighter in the world. The mere mention of his name is enough to strike fear into the hearts of a warrior.
Nosferatu Zodd has two forms. In his human form, he is taller and more muscular than most humans and carries around two massive swords. He still has a demonic look to his face with purely white eyes. When he turns into his demon form, he grows immensely. In this form he has giant wings, two horns coming out of his head, and a furry body.
Early in the anime, the Hawks encounter Zodd in the midst of a battle. Guts goes in to face him alone and the other Hawks all tell him it's a bad idea. He walks past halls of dead bodies that were made by Zodd. When he finally reaches him, Zodd transforms and the two fight. It appears that Zodd is going to be the clear victor until Griffith shows up out of nowhere. Guts and Griffith put their strength together to land a few fatal blows on the demon. Before the battle is over, Zodd notices Griffith's behelit. This is when he tells Guts to beware of Griffith and predicts his doom during the Eclipse. Zodd then flies off.
Princess Charlotte is the daughter of the King of Midland. It is clear that she has lived a very sheltered life. She is very shy and awkward around people, especially when first meeting them. She doesn't enter a social situation without an introduction from her father. She is usually hiding behind his back and clinging to his cape when she is out in public.
One of Midland's nobleman, Julius, has wanted to wed Charlotte for a long time. However, Julius is a very confrontational and hard-edged person. He isn't easy to get along with. He also wants to marry her for status rather than love. Marrying the princess will obviously improve his own political position. For these reasons, Charlotte has always ignored his advances towards her. His brazen personality would not match well with her timidness.
When Charlotte meets Griffith however, she falls in love instantly. Griffith seems to show concern over how she reacts to social situations. He doesn't want to pressure her into doing something she is uncomfortable with. Instead he wants to show her he is there to support her. By the end of the series we know that Griffith just wants to marry her for status as well. His ulterior motive is to rise in rank and become king, which would be the realization of his dream. He starts to show this side of himself when he deflowers her the night Guts left. However, Charlotte was so enchanted by him that she did whatever he asked of her.
King of Midland:
The King is an upstanding and loyal ruler. He genuinely cares about the well being of his people and his kingdom. Although his days in battle are in the past, he can still display some aptitude with a sword. He is married to the Queen of Midland although Charlotte was born from a different mother. The King is a smart man, but he also seems oblivious to the underworld plotting that goes on in his kingdom.
The King loves his daughter more than life itself. It is apparent that he would do anything to protect her, even if it meant risking his own life. He seems comfortable sheltering her and being in control of her. He doesn't really push her to go out and do more. He likes having Charlotte be his perfect little baby.
Midland had been at war for one hundred years with the opposing Kingdom of Chuder. The King was at his wits end and didn't know if there was anything else he could do to bring the war to an end. Both opposing armies seemed to have reached a stalemate, and it appeared the war would continue indefinitely. This is why he enlisted the help of Griffith and the Hawks. Thanks to their contributions, Midland was able to finally defeat Chuder and bring an end to the Hundred Years War.
After Chuder's defeat, the King showed only the greatest admiration towards Griffith. He had Griffith officially knighted in one of Midland's churches and had the Hawks participate in the army's welcoming home parade. He also showed Griffith support for romantically pursuing his daughter since he respected him so much. Things all changed though when the King found out Griffith was having an affair with Charlotte. He sent Griffith to the lowest level prison in the Kingdom and sentenced him to extreme physical torture for his crime.