The crux of most fiction is the message portrayed by the main plot. A good story will present a message with its narrative. A great story will ask a question of the reader and allow them to reach their own conclusion. Berserk, the 1989 manga written by Kentaro Miura, falls into the later category.
The plot follows a swordsman by the name of Guts, and his journey for revenge. The message presented is one that is still relevant today: Are small scale atrocities justifiable in the quest for world peace? Guts’ former comrade in arms, Griffith, performs an ancient ritual to summon demons, and sacrifices over one hundred members of what remained of his mercenary band in order to be given godlike powers. While this act could be perceived as selfish, with these powers he ends a longstanding war and unites his country under one banner, achieving peace for the first time in over one hundred years. While it would be easy to say that the brutal sacrifice of people who considered Griffith a friend is wrong and unjustifiable, the consequences of the war continuing would be much greater casualties, and the continued strife of the nation for years to come. Guts’ quest, in sharp contrast to most protagonists in manga, isn’t based in what is right or wrong.
Guts wants to take his revenge on Griffith for killing his friends and allies, and doesn’t even consider the far reaching consequences of killing the leader of the nation. The truly remarkable thing about the story is how the message is presented. Guts may be the protagonist, but he isn’t shown to be in the right at all times. Griffith is the villain, but meticulous care is given when showing his motivations and turning him from what could be a two bit plot device, into a genuine character with just as many problems as the main character. In presenting both sides of the conflict equally, Kentaro Miura leaves the reader to come up with their own conclusion. Is the sacrificial murder of a small battalion of troops worth the peace obtained? There is no right answer, as with most questions in life.