Hello, fellow otakus!
With much, much further ado, I am pleased to present to you all my first scholarly essay for this site, which I have creatively dubbed Sex in Berserk: The Act of a Beast. Thrilling, I know. Doesn’t the name send chills down your spine? You know, I’m just willing to bet…that it does!
However, I must admit that this was one monster of an essay to tackle (Get the joke? Perhaps I needed a giant sword instead of my reading glasses!). But I have finally, after forty days and forty nights, emerged victorious from my study, having successfully perused all 369 chapters. I assure you that my glasses-encased eagle eyes have scanned every last page for the right x-rated content to include in my comprehensive, highly organized essay!
Please note that for the sake of brevity alone, I have decided to limit my scholarly focus to situations in Berserk in which characters actually have sex or where rape occurs. I apologize in advance for any rape attempts, sexual harassment and assault, and orgies that I had to leave out. Perhaps we can give these incidents the analyses they deserve in another essay at a later date.
Feel free to type any resulting thoughts, opinions, or questions in the Comments section below. Also, as many of us Otakus are well aware, the Berserk manga is entirely the property and creation of Kentaro Miura. Enjoy the read!
Sex in Berserk: The Act of a Beast
Throughout Kentaro Miura’s ongoing manga Berserk, graphic depictions of sexual activities abound. However, almost none of these is portrayed in a positive light. Regardless of the relationship or situation of occurrence, sex is consistently portrayed as barbaric and revolting. This rule remains in place even for characters who love each other or are able to derive pleasure from sex. In the world of Berserk, pleasure is a possible side-effect of sex, but it is not the end. For humans in Miura’s epic saga, sex is an act of conquest, an act by or between animals that is the ultimate physical manifestation of the darkest aspects of human nature: the strong triumphing over the weak.
As early as the first chapter, Miura shows us that sex in Berserk is simply another way of fighting: someone will win, and someone will lose. Chapter A0 opens with Guts and a beautiful “woman” depicted in the act of sex. At first glance, the picture appears serene. The reader assumes that the two characters are either making love or having fun (or both). However, the “woman” reveals herself to be a demon. The sex was a ploy to lure Guts in. As she transforms into her true form, she screams, “You fell into my trap, fool! This is your last taste of heaven before I send you to hell!” However, Guts is no fool. He knows exactly what he is dealing with. Battle-ready, he shoves his metallic arm down the demon’s gaping throat, roaring back, “The only one trapped is you, bitch!” before finishing her off. This scene, while short, sets the tone for the theme of sex as conquest in Berserk. In Miura’s world, sex isn’t about love, pleasure, or duty, but a simple measure of strength vs. weakness. Guts and the demon were at war all along, from the time they began having sex until their rougher battle began. They were trying to kill each other from the start. Now, the only question is who is smarter, faster, and stronger. Guts fails to fall into the demon’s trap. At this stage of his life, he has had years of experience fighting both humans and demons. A battle-hardened warrior with almost god-like abilities, he triumphs over her with little effort before continuing his journey.
The theme of sex as conquest is further explored and solidified in Chapters I0 and J0, which portray Guts’ childhood rape at the hands of Donovan, a fellow warrior in Guts’ foster father Gambino’s mercenary band. The depraved man creeps into Guts’ tent in the dead of night. His face is twisted with lust as he slowly reaches for the boy. Realizing what is about to happen, Guts puts up a desperate fight. However, at this point in life, he is no match for the much larger and more battle-hardened adult. Notwithstanding his inferior might, Guts manages to hold Donovan off, until the latter reveals that Gambino agreed to pimp Guts out. He yells at Guts, “Enough o’yer wrigglin! I paid Gambino good money! I bought you for the night. Paid Gambino three silver coins! Gambino sold yer ass out!” After his foster father’s treachery is revealed, all the fight goes out of Guts. He lies frozen, unable to move as Donovan makes good on his transaction. The next morning, Guts encounters Gambino, who acts as though nothing has occurred. Guts momentarily considers confronting his foster father anyway. He stammers, “Ga…Gambino…”, but hesitates and gulps before giving up, muttering, “Nevermind”. Guts decides to play Gambino’s game and pretend that nothing has happened because inside, he feels deep shame for being raped. Although young, Guts is a member of a mercenary band that adheres to a kill-or-be-killed mentality. They have chosen to prove their strength against the odds of their harsh environment, and anyone who fails to deliver doesn’t deserve to live. Therefore, Guts can’t hold up his head and admit to his foster father, whose love and respect he craves above all else, that an adult male vanquished and used him like a woman. In the end, Donovan’s crime would likely be viewed as simply a poor reflection of Guts’ current prowess. With no one to turn to for justice, Guts does the only logical thing he can do in his wretched situation without giving in to it: He decides to kill Donovan. This allows him to accomplish the joint goal of regaining his masculinity through violence and putting an end to possible future rape attempts. However, Guts kills Donovan using a stereotypically feminine method: stealth. He knows he has no chance of winning against the older man in a direct struggle, so he shoots him with a crossbow while the rest of their group is engaged elsewhere. Gut’s revenge on his rapist is a perfect blend of traditionally masculine and feminine elements, being both violent and pragmatic. Hence, Guts is able to turn the tables of conquest onto Donovan, reversing his own position from prey to hunter.
Griffith is yet another representation of Miura’s twisted depiction of sex as a tool of dominance. This is first illustrated (though less directly than his later conquests) in his sexual relationship with Gernon, a wealthy nobleman who agrees to fund his army. As Casca reveals the story to Guts, we see via her flashback in Chapter 17 that she once caught Griffith and Gernon in a compromising position. In her memory, a shirtless Griffith stands alone on a balcony. Although he looks slightly unsettled upon spotting Casca, he appears serene and submissive as Gernon appears beside him. He passively allows the nobleman to place a possessive hand on his shoulder. However, despite his outward complacency, Griffith reveals his true feelings about the relationship to Casca. When she sees him again he is bathing in a river, perhaps trying to rid himself of Gernon’s stench, as his question to her, “Am I dirty?” implies. Although she declines to ask why he is seeing Gernon, Griffith tells her anyway. “Money,” he says, a brazen expression suddenly replacing his listless one. He goes on to explain the costs of raising his army. Employing ordinary means, it would “take too long” to grow it. Therefore, he needs Gernon to speed up the process. He explains, “I seemed to appeal to that old man. And I was interested in his fortune. Our interests coincided.” This shows that Griffith is willing to temporarily surrender his masculinity and accept the stereotypical role of “whore” if it provides him a faster route to power. In other words, he will allow himself to be degraded for the moment so that he can be all the more powerful later on. However, Griffith resents the blow to his pride that being Gernon’s plaything entails. Although their arrangement is consensual and mutually beneficial, Griffith cannot allow anyone who has witnessed him lower himself to live. Therefore, he kills Gernon on the battlefield. This parallels Guts’ earlier revenge against Donovan, except that Griffith wasn’t forced to have relations with Gernon. Other than his ambition, Griffith’s pride is his most important driving force, and this is what prompts him to dispose of the man who has used and dominated him in exchange for money. Thus, Griffith skewers Gernon with his sword, symbolizing a reversal of the dominant and submissive roles in their past relationship.
Griffith shows this side of himself once again when he decides to ravish Princess Charlotte in Chapters 37 and 38. After losing his second duel with Guts, Griffith feels the need to reassert his masculinity and tighten his grip on power, and he decides to use the princess to achieve this outcome. Griffith climbs unceremoniously into Charlotte’s chamber and without warning, smothers her in a kiss. Charlotte is a virginal teenager who probably knows little to nothing about sex. She is lonely, depressed, and naive, with marked self-esteem issues. She is also completely alone in her chamber, and very loosely attired in a thin nightgown. None of this bothers Griffith. It just makes his goal of seducing her all the easier. He wastes no time. Charlotte barely manages to squeak, “N-no,” before Griffith launches her onto the bed. She freezes up as he begins to undress her, murmuring, “Are you afraid? Take all the frightening and sad things and cast them into the fire.” By ravishing Charlotte, Griffith makes the selfish and reckless choice to risk both their political futures because he has grown tired of waiting for power. He wants it all now. Sex with the princess is merely a tool for his self-esteem and a means to an end. Here, Griffith is the conqueror, and Charlotte, the conquered. His dominance of her body and mind is easily accomplished.
Griffith’s unhealthy use of sex as proof of prowess comes to a head during the Eclipse in Chapters 86 and 87. This twisted scene serves as the ultimate example of sexual conquest in Berserk, of which both Casca and Guts are victims. Having decided to sell out his underlings in exchange for unimaginable power, Griffith starts to shift into his demonic form, “Femto”. The demons who serve the God Hand, known as “apostles”, begin the process of annihilating The Band of the Hawk. Guts manages to survive the carnage but is shell-shocked after seeing all his friends die so suddenly and unexpectedly. He doesn’t want to believe what has happened. As the newly created Femto rises in dark majesty, Guts calls out to him with tremulous uncertainty, “Gri…fith? Grif…” but stops cold as he catches sight of Casca. Her weapon was shattered as she tried to avenge Judeau’s death, leaving her defenseless. The demons are now offering her to Femto, naked and senseless, with demonic tentacles restraining her arms as she dangles helplessly in the air. Meeting Guts’ confused gaze, Femto brazenly starts to sexually molest Casca. He strokes her face, cups each of her breasts, and squeezes her bottom, then turns her around to face him. Guts’ eyes widen in disbelief, his face clouding with fury as he realizes what is happening. Casca slowly awakens. She stares up at Femto in confusion, murmuring “Grif…”, but Femto cuts her off with a domineering kiss. An enraged Guts starts to chop off his own arm with his broken blade so that he can reach them and save her. Casca stammers, “N..n…No,” voicing a clear refusal, but Femto ignores her pleas. She closes her eyes in horror but reopens them quickly, tears streaming down her face as Femto plunges in. Although she isn’t a virgin, Casca’s nether regions start to bleed, suggesting that Femto isn’t holding anything back. For him, she is simply a body upon which to test out his newly acquired prowess. Succeeding in losing his arm, Guts rushes toward the pair, but the demons restrain him. He watches the rape continue in helpless rage. Femto returns Guts’ gaze with a leering, sadistic stare. Casca continues to weep, bleed, and refuse. She begs Guts, “Don’t look,” but his eyes are fixed on the horrific scene as Femto finally concludes the rape, thrusting his tongue into Casca’s mouth as a final insult before letting her battered body drop to the ground. This brutal scene is a perfect demonstration of Griffith’s most negative characteristics, which now dominate him entirely as Femto. All that is left over is Griffith’s injured pride, desire for vengeance, and will to dominate. Griffith’s pride is injured because Guts and Casca saw and pitied him in his post-dungeon state when he could not even walk, much less grasp a sword. He desires vengeance on the pair because they stopped being his perfect, mindless tools and developed a romantic relationship, no longer viewing him as their sole purpose in life. And he has always possessed the will to dominate, from the days when he watched the castle in the streets as an urchin to the moment he trades his minions over to the God Hand and becomes Femto. In the end, Femto rapes Casca simply to show that he can. He is reasserting himself as their master and the decider of their fates. They are tools who have failed him, so he punishes and prepares to discard them while proving his superior strength. In this way, sex is once again used as conquest as Femto rapes Casca in a clear display of dominance and revenge.
Another character who uses sex as a method of conquest is Wyald, the leader of The Black Dog Knights. He exhibits this behavior in Chapters 58 and 59. We first see him in the act of throttling a whore he has just finished with, testing her weak strength against his. Her smaller body collapses onto her fellow prostitutes. His giant, muscular frame stands out as he towers over the women, preparing to take on The Band of the Hawk as ordered by the king following Griffith’s rescue. In the next chapter, Wyald goes even further, raping the village girl who refuses to give him information about The Band of the Hawk’s whereabouts. He tears off her clothes and rapes her from behind, philosophizing, “It’s my motto. Make it stimulating. Make it fun.” This is a classic example of sex’s function as proof of dominance in Berserk. Wyald is the leader of a band of “able-bodied criminals” whom the king reluctantly handpicked to enact his will as the result of a shortage of decent soldiers. According to the king, “their inhuman cruelty [is] intolerable” because they are willing to “plunder, violate women, and butcher even the old and the innocent”. Wyald’s men are ready and willing to do anything, no matter how low. Also, unlike the villagers they are attacking, they are all armed. Wyald himself is a formidable opponent, an apostle in disguise who is nigh unbeatable. The small, weak village girl has no chance against him. She is unable to even put up a fight as he gleefully rapes and murders her.
Even the love scene between Guts and Casca does not escape Berserk’s sex-as-conquest theme. Although these two characters have a genuine connection, Guts’ troubled past prevents him from engaging in healthy sexual behaviors. As they start to make love, the sex becomes rougher and rougher. Guts ignores Casca’s directive to be “a little gentler.” In a sudden fit of violence, he thrusts her against a tree. She begins to cry as Guts plows into her. He begins to hallucinate about his childhood rapist, imagining himself as Donovan (the dominant) and Casca as his childhood self (the submissive). (He likely makes this connection based on Casca’s smaller physical size and her sexual role as recipient rather than her personality, which is far from meek.) At this point, Guts’ knowledge of sex is entirely limited to his experience with Donovan, so he sees it as a test of dominance where one party is proved the stronger and the other, the weaker. Now that he is a grown man, he inherently feels that it is his turn to own Donovan’s role as sexual dominant. He begins to throttle Casca, as though he were punishing his childhood self for failing to defeat Donovan. When he finally snaps out of it, he breaks down in front of Casca, detailing how his foster father Gambino sold him out to Donovan. He tearfully describes his rape, saying, “A big, black shadow hovered over me…He forced me…Pinned down my arms and legs…I couldn’t resist…Not as a child…I couldn’t do a goddamned thing!” This speech reveals that while Guts understands the logical reason why he couldn’t prevent his own rape from occurring, he still blames and loathes himself for not doing so. The incident has warped his perception of sex, causing him to view it as a test of strength where one person wins and the other loses. And even his feelings for Casca can’t override this perception.
Finally, the story of Nina and Joachim in Chapters 138 and 139 shows sex used as a physical weapon in order to gain psychological power. Nina wants to test her sway over Joachim, an awkward and shy customer who appears besotted with her, in order to raise her low self-esteem. She tells him, “If you’re really brave enough…Come to the riverside tonight when the midnight bell tolls.” When he obeys her summons, she continues to grill him, asking, “Do you love me? Then…Can you lie with me? Can you die with me? Could you fall into hell…if it was together with me?” Joachim looks terrified as he listens to the unexpected flood of intense and scary expectations, but after a moment of hesitation, he agrees, “Yeah…if I’m…with you.” However, his discomfort soon returns when Nina guides him into an orgy. He watches in confusion and fear as his lover gets involved, but obeys her directive to make love to her. Half-believing himself to be in a dream, Joachim acts on Nina’s orders and submissively kisses the celebrated goat god’s “heart and member.” However, he stops short when she presents him with a strange-looking liquid, instructing him to drink it in order to finalize his initiation ritual. Realizing that the drink contains human remains, Joachim panics and runs away with the intent to expose the group. Realizing she has failed in her quest to sexually dominate her lover, Nina doesn’t hesitate to order her fellow cult members, “Kill that man! He means to betray us!” Nina’s fear for her own life overrides her feelings for Joachim, just as his fear of cannibalism eclipses his regard for her. Hence, her attempt to use sex as conquest fails because Joachim is simply too cowardly to deal with her madness.
Only once does Berserk deviate from the representation of sex as a battle. In Chapter 136, Luca and Jerome are shown in the midst of a relaxing and peaceful sex romp. Their encounter is consensual, playful, and friendly. Luca isn’t even thinking about what she’s doing, so Jerome jokingly remarks, “Hey, how about a little focus.” Luca apologizes, smiling as she touches his shoulder. It’s almost as though they are ordinary lovers. However, it is soon revealed that Jerome is actually Luca’s customer when she says, “You’re special…You come here this way every day” and Jerome responds, “Glad I’m not just a job.” When a “mad” Casca interrupts their tryst, the sight of Luca and Jerome atop each other fails to trigger her memories of the Eclipse. This suggests that her sexual trauma is based on the kind of sex she sees, rather than just the act itself. Since Luca and Jerome’s sex session lacks violence, Casca thinks nothing of it. Thus, ironically, the only example of healthy sex we see in the entire manga (so far) occurs between a prostitute and her customer.
Therefore, in almost all major sexual encounters in Berserk, sex is used as a tool to demonstrate physical or psychological dominance over the weaker subject or participant. It is, in effect, the perfect representation of the twisted reality that humans in Miura’s world live in, where only the strongest of all (Femto, so far) can shape the course of destiny. Those who fall even slightly short of this ideal (such as Guts and Casca) end up, at best, as rape victims, beset by demons, with threats of imminent death lurking around every corner.