Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

The Paradox of Tragedy in Berserk

Berserk, a dark fantasy manga, stands out for its beautiful and captivating artwork and, more importantly, for its ability to deeply engage readers emotionally. It features characters with profound psychological depth and explores compelling existential themes. The manga’s narrative complexity and character-driven storytelling give it a unique depth. While it draws inspiration from philosophers like Plato and Hegel, the most prominent Western philosophical influence is Nietzsche.

Additionally, the famous monologue by Griffith in the series expresses Nietzschean ideals of friendship. On the other hand, the anime adaptation leverages the emotional investment it builds throughout the story to deliver a powerful and devastatingly tragic ending. Strangely, after witnessing this soul-crushing tragedy, the anime became one of the all-time favorite series for many.

The paradox of tragedy, an ancient issue dating back to Aristotle’s time and discussed by numerous Western philosophers since then, lies at the core of Berserk‘s appeal. This paradox involves tragic drama presenting intensely horrifying events we would rather avoid experiencing. It confronts us with injustice, cruelty inflicted upon undeserving individuals, and seemingly purposeless suffering. Tragedies often lack resolution, happy endings, or justice. However, people are inexplicably drawn to tragic narratives. While “enjoy” might be too simplistic a term, it is clear that tragedy captures our attention and evokes strong emotions. It raises the question of why the portrayal of life’s darkest aspects provides a unique form of pleasure, distinct from the enjoyment derived from pleasant experiences.

Throughout history, many thinkers and artists have celebrated tragic drama as one of humanity’s greatest art forms, encompassing some of the most noble cultural achievements. Nietzsche was one such thinker who believed that tragedy, with its weighty themes, reveals something fundamental about the value of existence itself. To truly assess the significance of Berserk as a work of art and honor its author, the late Kentaro Miura, we must connect it to profound questions about life and its meaning.

Moving on, the 1997 adaptation of Berserk received only one season and covered just a fraction of the manga’s story. It focused on the Golden Age Arc, where Guts, a mercenary, joins the Band of the Hawk, a mercenary group led by Griffith, who later rises to power by serving a kingdom in war. The arc concludes with the horrifying Eclipse event, marking the end of Guts’ association with the Band of the Hawk. This narrative is exceptionally well-crafted and structured like a tragic drama, and the Eclipse is a profoundly disturbing and devastating climax. It shatters all the emotional bonds established until then, leaving Guts, a symbol of strength and resilience, utterly powerless. This tragic note marks the end of the 90s anime adaptation.

However, the Golden Age Arc’s appeal as a tragic drama goes beyond its unhappy ending. Tragic themes are evident throughout its entirety. Nietzschean scholar Walter Kaufman, analyzing the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, identified five common themes in Greek tragedies, all of which are present in Berserk. The first theme is radical individual insecurity, where characters in Berserk experience sudden and unexpected falls into disaster. Second is individual blindness, as the hero, Guts, fails to predict impending disaster despite hints known to the audience. Third, the curse of virtue, where Guts’ pursuit of certain virtues ultimately leads to disaster. Fourth, the question of justice, as Berserk presents a world often devoid of morality, challenging our understanding of justice. The fifth theme is inevitable tragedy, emphasizing that disasters cannot be avoided. Fatalism, a deterministic view that events are predetermined by cause and effect is a recurring element in Berserk. This deterministic fatalism, where characters are powerless to change the course of events, echoes the theme in Oedipus Rex, where efforts to evade a tragic prophecy result in its fulfillment.

Exploring Nietzsche’s Philosophy Through Schopenhauer

The Golden Age Arc underscores the inescapable destiny through its storytelling approach. The manga and the anime commence later in the timeline, a period post the Golden Age Arc. We observe Guts embarking on a solitary journey, marked by weariness and emotional numbness, his body bearing the scars of one lost arm, one missing eye, and the burden of a cursed brand. When Guts briefly crosses paths with Griffith, his visceral reaction is seething anger. Subsequently, we are transported back to the past, encountering a younger, more optimistic Guts. We traverse his odyssey during the Golden Age Arc, already cognizant of the impending tragedy. From the start, we know that tragedy looms, reshaping Guts from one state to another regardless of the events between them. The curse that ultimately designates Guts as a sacrificial offering serves as both a symbol of fate’s cruelty and a testament to his battle against it. This fatalistic perspective accentuates the enigma of tragedy. If an inevitable tragic ending looms, then tragic drama cannot even provide solace through hope.

Comprehending Nietzsche’s philosophy necessitates exploring Arthur Schopenhauer, the renowned German philosopher celebrated for his unwavering pessimism. Nietzsche first encountered Schopenhauer at the age of 21, a meeting that not only sparked Nietzsche’s interest in philosophy but also profoundly influenced his contemplation of existence’s worth and his understanding of tragedy. Schopenhauer extolled tragedy as the supreme form of literary art, the pinnacle of poetic expression. He alluded to it, asserting that the ultimate aim of this poetic achievement is to depict life’s darker facets. As he delineated the typical content of the tragic drama, he could very well have been describing Berserk‘s Eclipse: indescribable agony, the misfortunes and sufferings endured by humanity, the triumph of evil, the mockery of fate, and the descent of a world beyond restoration to equity and innocence—all are presented before us. Schopenhauer’s unadorned portrayal of life’s darker aspects as a more authentic and unvarnished reflection of the world warrants consideration compared to other literary genres. He lauded the absence of a happy ending in tragedy because the prospect of a joyful conclusion nurtures false expectations that pursuing desires can lead to eternal happiness. He commended the absence of poetic justice, where the virtuous are ultimately rewarded, and the wicked are punished, as it propagates the naive notion of a moral order in the world when, in reality, morality seldom prevails. Schopenhauer regarded tragedy as a realm free from illusion, exempt from the saccharine coating that permits self-deception about the genuine nature of the world. It compels us to confront the reality that the world is not designed for our benefit, that nature remains indifferent to our suffering, that we lack control over it, and that life is fundamentally marked by ceaseless antagonism and conflict. There exists no ultimate resolution, no joyous conclusion, or, in the words of Guts, “There is no heaven for you to escape to. What you will find and what is there is just a battlefield.”

The Universality of Tragedy

Schopenhauer’s interpretation of the tragedy paradox provides a unique perspective, particularly in light of his predominantly pessimistic outlook. So, where does the positive aspect of our tragic experience come into play? To simplify this, Schopenhauer viewed humans as possessing two facets: the specific aspect representing our earthly selves driven by our desires and the universal aspect, a part of ourselves independent of those desires, which, in rare instances, can prevail over them. Keeping this dualism in mind, Schopenhauer’s response to the tragedy paradox becomes quite straightforward. Tragedy portrays elements that counter our desires, conflicting with our will, causing a particular part of ourselves to endure emotional anguish. Nevertheless, because tragedy, akin to all great art, unveils something universal to us, it engages our universal side, transcending our desires. For Schopenhauer, all genuine aesthetic experiences touch upon this facet of our existence, depicting us not as desiring individuals but as beings of pure cognition.

Amid such an experience, we transcend our existence as individuals with desires, leaving our wants behind. This state offers us extraordinary relief since desire is the root cause of all suffering. Consequently, even though we, as specific individuals, may find tragedy deeply distressing, as subjects transcending individuality, we find comfort and rise to a higher perspective. He asserted that when we truly undergo such tragic events, we are compelled to redirect our desires away from life, renouncing life’s aspect of desire and affection. However, it is precisely through this process that we become aware of something different within us that does not crave life. In most cases, this universal state can only be accessed temporarily. However, Schopenhauer believed that if it becomes sufficiently robust, it can permanently triumph over the particular self, conquering all desires through an ascetic way of life.

Tragedy aims to demonstrate that this world is dreadful, but it also reveals that the suffering aspect of ourselves is not our sole essence. Hence, it enables us to detach from the world by our desires. For Schopenhauer, this represents the most favorable outcome it can produce. Thus, he would empathize with the witch Kushan Daiba, who proclaimed that renunciation is life’s initial lesson. He stated that when tragic disasters occur, we become more convinced that life is merely a nightmarish illusion from which we must awaken, that the world and life cannot provide us with genuine contentment and are therefore unworthy of our attachment to them.

Nietzsche’s Perspective on Greek Tragedy

Schopenhauer’s reaction lacks persuasiveness; the ancient Greeks, owing to their limited development, had yet to discern the purpose of the genre they had originated. Consequently, Schopenhauer introduced an opinion that, especially in Germany during his era, was highly unconventional: that Greek tragedy was inferior to modern tragedy because modern tragedy tended more towards a pessimistic retreat. Here is where Nietzsche makes his entrance. While influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche disagreed with one aspect right from the start of his career—Schopenhauer’s rejection of life. Curiously, even though Nietzsche and Schopenhauer concurred on the significance of tragic drama, their justifications for esteeming it were fundamentally different.

In Nietzsche’s perspective, Schopenhauer unintentionally disclosed more about his own beliefs than about Greek tragedy. For Schopenhauer, the fact that Greek tragedy did not conclude with a denial of life was a fundamental flaw. Conversely, Nietzsche regarded it as a testament to its greatness, demonstrating the vitality and robustness of ancient Greek culture—a culture that embraced struggle and conflict, challenged itself, and confronted the tragedy without capitulation.

In contrast, Nietzsche viewed modern Western society as fundamentally ailing, deteriorating culturally and psychologically, and Schopenhauer’s pessimism was merely one manifestation of this ailment. Nietzsche believed that the genuine worth of Greek tragedy had been underestimated, partly because our comprehension of tragedy had been distorted by a specific perspective—a moralistic viewpoint that, in Europe, had taken the form of Christianity with its concepts of sin, guilt, and repentance.

Everything, including art, was assessed through these moral criteria, leading to the blurring of Greek tragedy’s most significant aesthetic accomplishments. What is more, these moral standards could never ultimately be met, and as a result, they diminished the value of tragic drama and life itself.

In manga chapter 83, Griffith encounters God, or at least what he recognizes as God—an entity in the form of a giant heart, seemingly dwelling deep within the collective human unconscious, introducing itself as the Idea of Evil, now, some may swiftly point out that this chapter is not part of the official canon. To clarify, it is a chapter that Miura chose to exclude from the published volumes, making its status somewhat controversial. Nevertheless, he later explained that the chapter was omitted because it revealed too much prematurely and risked constraining his storytelling in the future. He never disavowed the concept itself, and regardless of its canonical status, it sheds significant light on the themes within Berserk.

The Idea of Evil posits themselves brought it into existence; they desired its presence and thus gave it form. However, why would humans desire such a thing? The answer it furnishes aligns closely with Nietzsche’s perspective: humans yearn for a purpose for their existence—reasons for pain, reasons for sorrow, reasons for life, and reasons for death. Why is their life replete with suffering? Why does their death lack coherence? They yearn for an explanation for their destiny that continually eludes their grasp. Essentially, the Idea of Evil emerges from humanity’s hunger for meaning, ignited by the intense negative emotions humans experience when confronted with senseless suffering.

It perfectly coincides with Nietzsche’s assertion that what humans find unbearable is not suffering per se but suffering devoid of meaning or purpose. The Christian worldview, with its notions of good and evil, guilt, sin, and repentance, propagated as it provided people with an explanation for their suffering: We suffer because we have sinned. After all, evil resides within us. In other words, we suffer because we deserve to suffer. Consequently, individuals held themselves responsible for their endured misery yet simultaneously found solace in the notion that their suffering was not meaningless; it constituted part of God’s plan and was indispensable for repentance and salvation.

However, it is worth noting that this sets in motion a perpetual cycle: we suffer and invest meaning into that suffering by regarding ourselves as sinful, yet viewing ourselves as sinful leads to even greater suffering, thus further reinforcing our belief in our sinfulness. It is the mechanism through which the Idea of Evil operates, strengthening itself. It exists to make suffering more bearable while rationalizing further suffering, thereby expanding the rationale for its existence. While sin may be an invention, when deeply ingrained in our psychological and cultural fabric, it assumes an almost divine status, one for which we are willing to endure and inflict the most extreme suffering.

On the Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche sees a more complex narrative. A quest for meaning does not solely drive Christian morality; it is fueled by something more dangerous: a craving for vengeance, animosity, and bitterness. In his work On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche examines what he terms “slave morality,” with Christian morality as a prominent and dominant manifestation. The book presents a framework or overarching story explaining the origins and workings of slave morality.

The narrative begins with the most oppressed segment of society: the enslaved people. These individuals not only endured significant suffering but also lacked autonomy and power. They envied the ruling class of society, the masters, and whenever they felt wronged, they longed for revenge but lacked the means to exact it. Since the desire for revenge cannot be eradicated or satisfied, it becomes deeply ingrained in the soul, growing increasingly intricate and pervasive. The desire for revenge transforms into an insatiable thirst for vengeance, and this unquenchable thirst gives rise to ever-intensifying hatred.

Ultimately, the enslaved people’s hatred becomes so potent and creative that it finds satisfaction in creating an entirely new system of values, overturning the values upheld by the masters. This results in a reevaluation of everything cherished by the masters—wealth, sex, fine dining, power—now seen as vices. The yearning for wealth becomes greed, the desire for exquisite food becomes gluttony, the longing for sex becomes lust, and so on. As the masters have access to these pleasures, they are now perceived as sinful. Conversely, because the enslaved people lack access to these indulgences, their deficiencies are transformed into virtues.

However, Nietzsche argues that this is all a deception, a self-deceptive rationalization. In reality, they are still motivated by the things they condemn, and a thirst for revenge drives this entire system of values. Evidence of this can be found in the concept of hell. Christian ascetics may claim to be free from wrath. However, they satisfy the fundamental urge for aggression, even as they flog themselves for their sins and, more crucially, when they threaten people with eternal punishment.

Before the rise of slave morality, masters may have been cruel, heartless, and brutally violent in the crudest ways. However, it required an extreme degree of vengefulness to imagine our adversaries suffering eternal and extreme torment and to devise a system of enslavement that supported such thinking—a belief system as potent as the Idea of Evil, as horrifying as the Eclipse.

The Hypocrisy of Slave Morality

When we first meet Farnese, she provides a striking illustration of Nietzsche’s critique of slave morality. Growing up in a noble family with emotionally neglectful parents, she grappled with suppressed emotions and a profound sense of powerlessness, ultimately leading to a profound hatred within her. In response to these feelings of impotence and animosity, she exhibited destructive and sadistic tendencies, enjoying the witch burnings near her home. At 16, her father, unable to control her wayward behavior, sent her to a convent. After years of rigorous religious discipline, she ascended to the leadership position within the Holy Iron Chain Knights, a religious military organization. In this capacity, she pursued individuals accused of heresy and subjected them to fiery executions.

It is crucial to note that she remained propelled by the same hatred and impotence that had made her a challenging child. Now, however, she found a way to balance her feelings of impotence by burning heretics—an act that also gratified her sadistic tendencies. Her actions were now endorsed by the Holy See, a prominent religious institution that conferred institutional legitimacy and provided moral justification. It convinced her that her actions were solely driven by religious duty and that those she harmed deserved to suffer for their sins.

This zealous religious worldview transformed her negative attributes into virtues and supplied her with justification and a sense of self-satisfaction, causing her to deny her true motivations. At this point in the narrative, Farnese perfectly exemplifies the hypocrisy that Nietzsche pinpointed in slave morality—a hypocrisy embodied by devout Puritans who denounce selfish desires and sensory pleasures as sins while secretly being impelled by those same impulses. When punishing individuals for their transgressions, they satisfy their aggressive instincts and even derive sensory gratification. When they terrorize people with the specter of eternal damnation, they quench their thirst for revenge. Moreover, when they act confidently in the name of God, they fulfill their hunger for power. Nietzsche articulates this insight vividly when he states that in Christians who have forsaken their sensual desires, “sensuality does not vanish but lives on in the form of an extraordinary and grotesque vampire.”

Mozgus, a devout religious inquisitor who travels with a group of torturers and readily inflicts pain, takes this notion to an extreme. Of course, he justifies his actions by claiming to be carrying out God’s will, using torture to purge humanity of evil. His followers comprise outcasts—individuals shunned by society due to physical disabilities. It is presented as one of Mozgus’s ostensibly redeeming qualities—he employs societal rejects, imbues them with purpose, and encourages them not to harbor self-hatred. However, as Nietzsche demonstrates, benevolence or empathy is not driving individuals like Mozgus. Rather, he recruits societal outcasts because their hatred can be nurtured and transformed into ruthless fanaticism alongside their sadistic inclinations.

Mozgus and Farnese also manifest masochistic tendencies in which Mozgus practices “prostration,” a ritual involving him falling prostrate on the floor as a symbol of surrender to God. In contrast, Farnese engages in self-flagellation. It aligns with Nietzsche’s argument that when our aggressive impulses cannot be outwardly directed, they turn inward, allowing us to satiate them by inflicting harm upon ourselves. Simultaneously, fanatics like Farnese and Mozgus may find meaning in these actions, believing that, like everyone else, they are sinful and, therefore, deserving of suffering. In asserting a worldview that satisfies so many of their unacknowledged impulses, they are even willing to condemn themselves as sinners in the eyes of God.

The Demons as Nietzschean Interpretation

When Farnese initially witnessed the onslaught of demons, the encounter proved so terrifying and beyond comprehension that she could not process it on a psychological level. Her belief system shattered, and her mental mechanisms, ill-equipped to handle the situation, suffered damage, symbolized in the narrative by her apparent possession of demons. These demons, communicating with her as inner voices, effectively corroborate the Nietzschean interpretation of her psyche. They assert that, though she may be unable to articulate it, she harbors dark desires and unusual cravings, and she acts on these impulses when dealing with heretics or inflicting punishment upon herself. Additionally, they accuse Farnese of self-deception, concealing her genuine desires and sensory pleasures beneath a veil of religion and becoming intoxicated by divine authority. These demons might be seen as suppressed thoughts resurfacing or perhaps even as a manifestation of Nietzsche, given his penchant for articulating uncomfortable truths.

In this state of psychological turmoil, Farnese can no longer suppress her inner urges, and she momentarily succumbs to an uncontrolled state of desire as all the pent-up impulses she had restrained come pouring forth. Upon emerging from this state, she demands the death of Guts, possibly because she perceives Guts as a threat to her entire belief system and self-concept. Nietzsche critiques individuals of such personality types for their self-deception, hypocrisy, and the cultivation of hatred. However, it is crucial to note that Nietzsche refrains from passing judgment on them as evil or sinful, as this would ensnare them in the framework of sin, guilt, and punishment that Nietzsche sought to deconstruct. Furthermore, when we label Farnese as evil, we inadvertently treat her reminiscent of how she treats the heretics.

A thorough analysis of Farnese’s character reveals qualities that some may find disagreeable or even repulsive. Nevertheless, it also demonstrates how these qualities emerge as necessary coping mechanisms in response to the circumstances in which Farnese was raised. Thus, Farnese cannot be condemned as someone who chose to be evil. Nietzsche’s critique is not that Farnese is inherently evil or sinful, nor that she developed coping mechanisms to navigate her situation. Rather, the issue lies in the coping mechanisms she adopted, which prove destructive and exacerbate the problems they intended to address. For Nietzsche, Christianity is just one of these unhealthy coping mechanisms, particularly in its worst expressions. Such a psychological perspective leaves no room for moral judgments about evil and sinfulness. Nietzsche, despite his reputation as a sometimes unfeeling or harsh thinker, even in his most critical moments, believed that life, fundamentally, is innocent. He considered the idea of meting out punishment after punishment absurd and argued that moral concepts of evil, guilt, and sin must be transcended due to the harm they inflict.

Coping with Fear Through Religion

We must impart to Farnese an understanding that she has renounced the heretical doctrines she once used to execute people—a comprehension devoid of moral judgment. Indeed, this is what Berserk provides her. Following her encounter with Guts, Farnese clings to her beliefs despite mounting doubts. She awakens when she observes Guts maintaining composure and control even amid attacks, marveling at his capacity for active resistance. Farnese begins to pray in a moment of intense danger and fear, but Guts advises against it, as clasping her hands prevents her from using her weapon. It holds a clear metaphorical significance—Farnese, in prayer, turns to religion as a coping mechanism for her fear. In reality, this is not inherently problematic. The issue arises as it eventually becomes a coping mechanism that renders her passive, increasingly incapable of confronting her fears, intensifying her fear and fueling a detrimental cycle.

Guts instructs her to release her hands and arms to break free from this descending spiral, equipping her with a weapon. Rather than remaining passive, Guts motivates her to confront her fears actively. Moreover, thus, her journey to overcome slave morality commences. Ultimately, under Guts’ influence, Farnese abandons her beliefs and her role as a religious leader, opting to join Guts to become a stronger individual. Deprived of the reliance on her beliefs or institutional authority, she is compelled to acknowledge her weaknesses. Upon introspection, she acknowledges that she sought to appear grand and oppress others to compensate for her impotence.

Ironically, this former heretic executioner embarks on the path of learning magic. As she gains more experience, independence, and new abilities, she becomes a stronger person, not only physically but also psychologically. Throughout this transformation, as she transitions from self-deception to honesty, from passivity to activity, and from despair to acceptance, she grows stronger and more honest and self-aware. She becomes less hateful and even kinder toward others. Nietzsche contends that all these facets are intricately intertwined. She abandons her sadistic inclinations not because of repenting her sins or facing punishment for her transgressions but because she becomes more honest and stronger. By conquering her impotence, she also conquers the hatred it bred, no longer necessitating the act of burning heretics to feel empowered.

Here, we encounter a recurring Nietzschean theme: power and self-assertion are closely interlinked. Nietzsche does not perceive power as inherently negative or merely corrupting; instead, he regards empowerment as a means to transcend destructive emotions like hatred and revenge. Consequently, through Farnese, we are introduced to a character who once derived pleasure from inflicting pain, who was willing to burn people alive—a character who is not solely cruel and bitter but, at times, even evokes pity. In much of contemporary storytelling in popular culture, such characters are typically introduced as clear-cut villains, defined by their malevolent characteristics and intended to be defeated and punished for their wicked deeds.

Embodying Nietzsche’s Principles of Self-Improvement

While Miura’s treatment of Farnese is notably less moralistic, it is not motivated by a desire to label people as evil or to punish them for their misdeeds. Instead, Miura provides an intricately detailed depiction of Farnese’s upbringing and inner life, prompting us to comprehend the reasons behind her current persona. Rather than casting Farnese as a target for poetic justice, he permits her to gradually transcend her negative attributes and nurture redeeming qualities, rendering harsh and moralistic judgments of wrongdoing unjustified. Her transformation embodies Nietzsche’s fundamental principles of self-improvement.

We initiate our exploration with a discourse on tragedy and its association with fundamental inquiries about existence, subsequently transitioning to analyzing individual characters from a psychological standpoint. How we interact with others shapes our perception of the world. When our life experiences are tainted by persistent hatred and if sin ranks among the primary concepts we employ to fathom ourselves and others, our innate judgment of life and the world, in general, is likely to be pessimistic. As exemplified by Farnese, the notions of good and evil originate from a psychology of hatred, fulfilling the desire for vengeance while rationalizing suffering. It enables one to depreciate the value of their adversaries by confronting evil and transforming their helplessness into a virtue.

However, the consequences do not conclude there. To deem all adversaries evil, one must establish a moral standard that not all can meet. In the process, an unattainable standard is inevitably set, even for all of humanity, and those who claim to approach it often do so in ignorance of their motives, ultimately equating humanity with sinfulness. Thus, the concept of original sin emerges. This moral perspective has been disseminated so effectively that even Schopenhauer, who was not religious, upheld a belief in a form of original sin and applied it to tragedy. Despite his opposition to the concept of poetic justice, a semblance of it found its way into his perspective on tragedy, which was particularly harsh. The hero redeemed not his transgressions but original sin, essentially the fault of existence itself. In other words, suffering was ultimately justified, and existence itself was deemed sinful. In this context, we can perceive the harm inflicted on tragedy by moral standards identified by Nietzsche.

Ultimately, we confront a conflict between our moral ideals on one side and the worldly life we lead on the other. Our moral principles demand something unattainable in earthly existence, leading those influenced by slave morality to draw one inevitable conclusion: if the world renders our moral ideals unachievable, then the world itself must be malevolent. Schopenhauer chose this path, and his decision was unequivocal. In a conflict between our morality and worldly life, we should prioritize morality, even if it necessitates sacrificing life. Nietzsche, on the other hand, adopted the opposing path. He had no higher value than the enrichment and revitalization of life. When our moral ideals clash with our existence in the world and lead us to devalue life, moral ideals should be relinquished, not our attachment to life.

Dionysus: The God of Contradictions

Dionysus is sometimes depicted as a deity embodying contradictions, where opposing elements converge. He is often associated with themes of death and destruction, yet also with rebirth and fertility. His symbolism extends to both the grapevine and ivy. Born to a god as his father and a mortal woman as his mother, Dionysus symbolizes both divinity and mortality. Nietzsche found Dionysus particularly significant because he represents exhilarating joy and inseparable suffering. The suffering and rebirth of Dionysus hold special prominence in Orphic religion, where it is narrated that Titans tore Dionysus apart, only for him to be resurrected and bestow divine souls or sparks upon humanity.

Towards the later stages of Nietzsche’s career, he introduces the contrast between Dionysus and Jesus Christ, both religious figures who attribute significance to suffering but embody opposing attitudes. Christians endure suffering in hopes of attaining a sacred existence, while from the Dionysian perspective, existence itself is already sacred, sufficient to justify even profound suffering.

While owing to the prevalence of suffering in Berserk, there are also instances where simple existence appears to radiate with joy in its most mundane details—modest moments like Guts peacefully watching the sunset without fearing the approaching night. These straightforward depictions alone capture the affirmation of life.

Curiously, there are certain parallels between Dionysus and Guts. Dionysus is said to have been born from a deceased mother, much like Guts. Furthermore, as Guts’ caretaker is a woman who has lost her sanity, Dionysus’ caretaker is also said to have gone mad. Lastly, Dionysus is occasionally characterized as a god of blind rage; undoubtedly, few characters embody blind rage more than Guts. It is evident that Guts can be understood not solely as a tragic hero but, akin to Dionysus, as an embodiment of tragedy itself. Like Dionysus, he is a man who endures immense suffering in which opposing forces converge or diverge: life emerges through death, strength is forged through extreme suffering, and the most profound love exists alongside the blindest hatred.

After the Eclipse, Guts is cursed to dwell in the Interstice, the layer of the world where the physical and astral realms intersect and merge. He exists even between worlds where binary categories are shattered. A tragic play, like the Dionysian festival, aims to affirm life, yet life can only be affirmed in its whole. This wholeness is structured around fundamental conflicts that are the source of endless turmoil in specific instances of life. Nevertheless, when we perceive life as a whole, we find everything converging and understand that one cannot exist without the other. Furthermore, life itself would not exist if it were not driven by conflict, tension, and contradiction.

During the Eclipse, the demon known as Slan remarked that, although the situation is cruel, it is genuinely analogous to what we, spectators, might say about Berserk as a tragic work of art. In one narrative, it presents life and death in all their conflicts to us. We appreciate Berserk as a work of art that encompasses the entirety of life, much like how Slan appreciates the Eclipse for the same reasons.

Nietzsche’s Concept of the Free Spirit

We can now grasp a section from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, where he presents the concept of a free spirit existing within the world with a cheerful sense of fatalism and confidence, believing that only wretched individuals can truly redeem and affirm everything. Nietzsche coins the term “Dionysus” for this belief. In this context, we observe the essence of a philosophical thinker with a tragic perspective. While tragedy is not explicitly mentioned, he references fatalism, a prevalent theme in Greek tragedy, and associates Dionysus with the capacity to find redemption within the entirety of life. This totality consistently encompasses life and death, joy and suffering, creation and destruction. It involves the affirmation of death and destruction, which are fundamental aspects of the Dionysian philosophy, embracing opposition and conflict, becoming. The tragedy underscores qualities that Schopenhauer considered as reasons to reject life.

For Nietzsche, a successful tragedy has affirmative impacts on life in at least two significant ways. Firstly, it bestows us a radiant beauty, even when confronted with suffering. It portrays suffering as a vital component of beauty, teaching us aesthetically that the existence of suffering does not negate life. As articulated by Walter Kaufmann, “If there is more suffering in Lear and Hamlet, Oedipus and Agamemnon than in our own experience, then that suffering is also much more beautiful. We are made to feel that suffering is not an unbearable burden, even at its worst. Misfortune coexists with the greatest beauty.”

When we identify ourselves with the suffering depicted in the tragic narrative, our identification does not conclude there. We also identify with the courage, virtues, and glory portrayed in the story and the beautiful aspects presented. In other words, we identify not only with the suffering individuals but also with the magnificence of life itself. Even if certain individuals perish in a tragedy, life remains brimming with triumph and beauty, and we partake in its boundless strength. Tragedy reveals that, despite numerous changes, life fundamentally embodies power and joy. Instead of leading to resignation, it can make us feel audacious and empowered as we align ourselves with the forces of life. For these reasons, Berserk is tragic, not in the Schopenhauerian sense, but in the Nietzschean sense. Undoubtedly, it can be painful, terrifying, and heart-rending, but it occurs in the reverse order. At one juncture in the manga, Guts is aptly labeled “the struggler.” His character, in reality, serves as an encouragement to never succumb to resignation but to persevere relentlessly, even when it appears entirely futile, even when the gods stand against us, even when we are informed that the law of causality is working against us. Guts undeniably embodies the traits of a Nietzschean-style tragic hero. However, it is not solely Guts’ character that breathes life into Berserk. As Nietzsche referred to it, its visual art is so splendid and forceful that it unveils the exuberance of extraordinary life. We can liken Berserk to Nietzsche’s view of Greek mythology: those who approach it seeking morals or virtues will be disappointed, for what it offers are vibrant facets of life filled with spirit and victory. With the passing of Miura, Berserk may never conclude, let alone a happy one. Consequently, we are compelled to confront the tragic essence depicted by Berserk in real life.

The Triumph of the Tragic Artist

Life may be unjust, irrational, and fleeting, yet genuine Berserk enthusiasts would never conclude that their entire journey with the series has been futile due to these aspects. Highly some fans would wish to erase all the time they have invested in this narrative. As Nietzsche articulated in an unpublished note, this reflects an individual’s sense of power and prosperity, their capacity to confront the daunting and uncertain facets of life, and whether they require a resolution. It is the challenge we confront. The worth of a work of art is not determined by whether it culminates in happiness. Nietzsche’s aspiration is that we can also regard life as a work of art, recognizing life as something that does not necessitate a happy ending to validate it because its inherent beauty always justifies itself. It is the lesson tragedy imparts.

What Miura crafted is a celebration of the tragic essence of life. By celebrating his life, we simultaneously celebrate life in its entirety. It, in itself, is an immensely desirable state. Those who comprehend it will hold it in the highest esteem. He conveyed it; he was compelled to communicate it, given his status as an artist, a genius in communication. The bravery and liberty to exert influence in the face of formidable adversaries, amid profound challenges, and when confronted with distressing predicaments is the triumphant state chosen and glorified by the tragic artist. The combative aspects of our spirits revel in their Saturnalia when confronted with tragedy. Individuals accustomed to suffering, those who actively seek it, praise their existence through the medium of tragedy. The creator of tragedy raises the chalice of the sweetest cruelty to themselves alone. This tragic poet harbors no inclination to take sides with life. Through a depiction of their life, they instead declare, “This is the most potent elixir, an absorbing, ever-changing, perilous, somber, and often sunlit existence. It is an adventure waiting to be experienced; embrace any banquet you desire. It will forever maintain this character.”

Transcending Good and Evil

In summary, Berserk, a dark fantasy manga, delves deeply into existential themes and the human psyche, creating a profound connection with its readers. It distinguishes itself through its captivating artwork and its capacity to stir intense emotions and present intricate philosophical inquiries. The manga’s intricate narrative and character-focused storytelling bring forth a distinctive depth influenced by philosophers such as Nietzsche, Plato, and Hegel. The series explores the enigma of tragedy, an age-old dilemma that has fascinated philosophers for centuries. It showcases horrifying events, injustice, cruelty, and purposeless suffering, yet it maintains its allure and ensnares the audience’s attention. This paradox asks why humans are attracted to narratives portraying life’s darkest aspects, providing a distinct form of satisfaction compared to stories rooted in pleasant experiences.

To fully grasp the importance of Berserk as an artistic creation and to pay tribute to its late author, Miura, we must link it to profound inquiries about life and its significance. The series delves into themes of destiny, suffering, and the human condition in ways that challenge established moral judgments and foster introspection. Miura’s portrayal of characters like Farnese and Mozgus embodies Nietzschean concepts of slave morality, self-deception, and the transformation of negative impulses. The characters’ progression from darkness to self-awareness and empowerment embodies Nietzsche’s belief that power and self-assertion can lead to the transcendence of destructive emotions. Berserk urges readers to confront the complexity of human nature, morality, and the quest for meaning in a world filled with suffering. It prompts us to question our beliefs and judgments, offering a narrative transcending conventional notions of good and evil. Ultimately, Berserk‘s enduring appeal lies in its capacity to stimulate contemplation, evoke emotions, and inspire introspection, solidifying its status as a work of art that continues to resonate with readers long after its inception.


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