Don’t know if you’ve noticed but the world is getting increasingly more difficult to live in these days.
Without even getting into my own personal shit, the planet is rapidly careening toward both socio-political and climate-based disaster as I write this with very little resolution in sight. The so-called “civilized” world is run by sell-outs owned by elitist, wealthy plutocrats. While our leaders send billions in “lethal aid” to Ukraine every month, people here struggle to make ends meet and survive as money continues to be funneled into our bloated military and law-enforcement industrial complex. Gas prices are at an all-time high and oh yea, contrary to popular belief, we are still VERY much in a lethal pandemic that is killing a fuck load of people each day…
With the way the world is, it’s not exactly shocking that the younger generation is deeply cynical, considering we have lived through three recessions, a pandemic, and now an even greater decay of what little democracy we have. In fact, millennials are statistically the most depressed generation out there, as we work largely on starvation wages to cover our extensive bills month to month, often living with multiple people just to cover rent, and our elected officials keep reneging on their campaign promises to curb our crippling student loan debt.
The point is, it’s really fucking tough to feel optimistic these days. It’s really tough to give a damn and have hope. With these depressing feelings come a sense of “what’s the point? Why not just give up?” and statistics there also support that general consensus too, unfortunately…
So why do many of us keep going anyway? What motivates someone like me to get out of bed, put on my clothes, eat breakfast, and go to work each day when the world feels like it’ll inevitably kill me all the same? It’s hard to really describe but part of it is really we have no choice. In the depressing sense, it’s because the minute I stop working I won’t have money to live but also deep down, there is a very mild sense of optimism and more accurately a sense that no matter how bad the world is I’m not going to allow it to kill my will to live. The reason being that there is nothing else. Life in itself is worth living for, even at its worse, because at the end of the day, no matter how much we may say we hate the world we live in or more likely ourselves for having to exist in it, ultimately it’s a love for who we are that keeps us going.
Even when we don’t admit it, deep down we know we are enough as it is to keep living.
This, among many thoughts, is how I felt when I finally made time to read (and also watch) Kentaro Miura’s manga classic “Berserk.” Even if you’ve never read the grim dark fantasy comic book series, the image of lead anti-hero Guts carrying his iconic and comically large sword, slaying “Apostles” and demons alike can be felt across multiple series, animes, mangas, video games, and film in many genres. “Berserk” is a powerful fantasy series that takes our hero and his companions quite literally through hell quite often and rarely gives them room to breath. They often have to face horrifying monsters and mind-shattering, trauma-inducing living nightmares, fighting forces well-beyond their power, and a whole heaping helping of life trauma in between.
Our lead character Guts goes through the worst of this, of course. He is born to a dying mother on the battlefield, raised by mercenaries who ultimately betray and rape him. He goes on living a life largely of pain, death, and fighting until he encounters the Band of the Hawk led by the charismatic and mysterious Griffith. It’s here that Guts begins to find purpose, even happiness and love but as Griffith’s ambition grows so does the distance between him and his friend and leader, eventually leading to catastrophic consequences for all involved. After a series of horrible events, Griffith, in a desperate last-ditch effort to gain the kingdom he seeks, makes a wish to the God Hand leading to perhaps the most brutal sequence in Manga/Anime history…
Guts and his comrade/lover Casca do end up somehow surviving this traumatic event, but with the Brand of Sacrifice upon their bodies, both are destined to be hunted by the Apostles and the darkness of the demon world for the rest of their lives until they are consumed by them just the same as their comrades.
There is no escape for either of them; wherever they go they will always be hounded by evil. The world they live in is relentlessly cruel and it would not shock anyone if Guts gave up not long after this horrifying nightmare and just allowed his soul to be eaten by these ghouls.
But that’s not who Guts is.
Guts is a fascinating character in the Grimdark fantasy world. He is as brash, loud-mouthed, and vulgar as he is deadly capable of killing any who stand in his path. He is simultaneously deeply cynical about his life while also compassionate deep down for the people who end up getting close to him. He can be arrogant, and even deeply foolish but also, with the way his life has gone, wise about the nature of the world and what it takes to live in it.
You see, Guts has quite literally been fighting his whole life. The world has done little to no favors for his poor soul but he demands none. The mercenaries, as mentioned, beat, betrayed, and raped him, regarding him as an inigma and a bad omen since birth. And the only people who he could call a family were ultimately slaughtered by the very man they all pledged their lives to.
It would be easy for most people and characters to be not only extremely bitter but dejected toward life itself because of it. Guts for the most part is this way early in the manga series. He chastises people for being weak in the face of death, talks down to those who choose to lie down and let the evil that chases him consume them, and deeply impatient with those who try to be his friend at least initially.
But Guts, for all the hatred he has for the world he lives in, is if nothing else at that point in the story deeply resilient and why is that? It’s because to him the only choice IS to live. Death is neither an alternative nor a release from the literal nightmares he encounters in his life.
At my lowest, I have definitely felt suicidal or at the very least like if I ceased existing tomorrow it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Though I may not have exactly textbook definitions of traumatic experiences, I’ve had enough bad to terrible things happen to me since I was young that have given me plenty of reason to ask myself “what’s the point?’ quite often. Individual failings in life be it socially, romantically, or professionally have given me a pretty low self-esteem. It’s real work to give a damn for myself most of the time because it does often feel like my efforts are more often than not fruitless. Even as I write this blog, something I am passionate about, I know I don’t have exactly robust readership on this platform and rarely if ever receive feedback on it. It makes me wonder what’s the point of my efforts, what’s the point of me trying over and over again to be seen, heard, and to live?
Why do I keep fighting?
Guts ponders this quite a bit too following the events of the Golden Age Arc. In his quest to ultimately live, Guts has pledged his life to ridding the world of the Apostles and demons alike that hunt him but with each chapter in the series the numbers of evil hardly dwindles down and he knows this. He is dubbed “The Struggler” by his watchful guardian so-to speak, The Skull Knight and it is apt as he continues fight on regardless of any progress in his quest.
His mind begins to turn to metal as he becomes more and more bloodthirsty in his rage and thus becomes more like the evil he seeks to destroy. But within the Conviction Arc we begin to see his mind refocus, become human again, and learn why he truly tries to live no matter what.
In my own life, I wonder why I choose to keep going. Despite the tempting nature of oblivion, as I’ve written about before, I’ve never actually come close to ending it all. Certainly, I have reached some very depressing lows over the years but rarely have I actually sought out a means for my own destruction and why is that? Because as Guts discovers in the Conviction Arc, he not only can learn to heal and love again from his past, but he also learns that deep down as much as he may hate the world he lives in there is one thing he truly doesn’t hate and that’s himself.
It might sound a bit arrogant on paper but what often keeps us going in this harsh-ass world we live in is really a sense that we love ourselves more than we hate it. Think about describing who your ideal romantic partner probably would be in the world if given the chance to choose, and chances are quite a few of those descriptors describe yourself, right? Or at least complimentary to those descriptors. The people you love, be it romantic partners or friends, are reflections of yourself to a certain degree and its why you keep them close. It’s why many of us ultimately don’t pickup a gun or walk off a cliff to end it all because we love them and they love us and thus a part of us knows we are worthy of love no matter how sad we are because they are us too to a certain extent.
Their love tells us why we love ourselves to a certain degree; it validates it.
Guts discovers this meaning in the Conviction Arc when he travels to save Casca from the religious cultists of the Holy Iron Chain. In his quest he discovers what and who he truly lives for and it’s not some sense survival via endless slaughter; it’s to protect those he loves because they love him back.
The trauma Guts lived through as a child began to heal when he joined the Band of Hawk alongside Griffith. When they all perished he wrongly assumed that his life was meant to be alone and regressed back to his childhood mindset. But through the Conviction Arc he redesicovers a passion for others and the comfort they can bring him and thus discovers he can once again heal from that pain.
And it’s not just Guts who experiences this catharsis in the manga as well. Many of the characters across this arc encounter the same evil as he does with the choice to either lay down and die or fight to live. Ultimately many of them choose the latter, leading to this particularly poignant panel at the conclusion of the arc…
We live ultimately for these few fleeting, moments of tenderness. Yes, in a world that is consistently more dark than it is bright that might seem depressing but think about how quickly your day is brightened when you get a moment like this after a series of awful ones. It’s a relief, it’s a release and more than anything it feels worth it. Life might be awful more often than not for a lot of us but there is something about the simple euphoria of moments like this that give life not only meaning but purpose. It’s our love of these moments, things, and people that keep us going, keep us fighting.
Love is more than enough reason to be alive and Berserk posits that it’s truly all you need.
Guts finally finds a certain level of peace from this revelation, an understanding that the reason he fights isn’t simply to survive. It’s because he does love himself and those closest to him and life is, as silly and obvious as it sounds, always better than death. He learns in his struggle to free Casca from the cultists that he can heal, he can overcome the trauma of his existence in the love and embrace of friends and loved ones. He understands that his world, if it can’t get better, can still be a place worth living for because of how he understands himself and his love for people like Casca within his life.
It’s worth living for them and these little moments of joy alone.
It’s a rough world out there more often than it is not these days. War, a pandemic, a rapidly decaying empire, and the increasing rise of fascism within it does not exactly create a world that is particularly pleasant to exist in. But “Berserk,” for as dark and often nightmarish as it is, posits that choosing life is still ultimately enough and worth it. The story illustrates that as cold and relentlessly negative as things get, we can’t lose sight of the fact it is still ultimately worth it to live for both yourself and others.
Yes, it’s going to be a struggle, ala Guts’ own ominous title as “The Struggler,” but we have no choice but to keep fighting like hell to live. That is not so much a bitter reality as it is an understanding that life alone is worth giving your all for. There is no relief, nor release in death; it is just death. We have to choose life, if anything, especially when its hard because if nothing else we should live for ourselves and those we love. We live for those things we love most in life.
And there is victory even in simply defying fate and fighting like hell to the bitter end.
We may not always admit it, nor recognize it at our lowest points but deep down we all really do love ourselves and that should tell you all you need to know if you want to keep going or not…