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  • Jacob Luegering

Why the Theme of Guts is my favorite character leitmotif.

Warning: References to sexual violence are brought up or alluded to in this discussion. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

I'm going to start this post assuming you never heard of the manga/anime, Berserk.

Berserk is a dark fantasy manga written and illustrated by Kentaro Muira, which has been adapted into anime 3 times. For the purposes of this post, the only adaptation that matters is the 1997 adaptation produced by the Oriental Light and Magic animation studio (as that is the anime that has the leitmotif we're going to talk about). In particular, please ignore the god-awful dumpster-fire that is the 2016 adaption by studio Gemba. (No, I am not going to show you screenshots from that one because I consider that the equivalent of assaulting your eyes).

Anyway... this is Berserk...

...and this is our main character, Guts.

Guts is a dark, brooding soldier with a giant sword. He looks pissed off most of the time, is dressed in almost all black, has a traumatic childhood, and his solution to half the problems in his life involve violence in some way, shape, or form. Also, his name is friggin' Guts!

"Hey! Let's piss this guy off!" Quote from "Stupid Dumbass Jr."

"Wow, typical male power fantasy stuff, huh?" is probably the phrase that's going through the heads of some of my readers. Also "and we're here to discuss his character leitmotif? What kind of loud, blasting butt-rock are you going to grace us with today, Jake?"

Well, first of all, listen to his theme first for a couple minutes

....I'll bet that wasn't what a lot of you were expecting, wasn't it? That should give you a big hint on why I think this is best character leitmotif ever, but let's really dissect this first by stating.

It's Just Plain Beautiful

The distant echoes, the lovely piano, the choir that sounds like wailing yet is still low-key enough to be calming, it's a joy to ears, and something I listen to while drawing.

It Shows Who Guts REALLY Is

I think this theme goes to show that there is more to Guts than just being a male power fantasy with a huge sword. Guts is more than screaming and chopping up nightmarish abominations. He has trouble getting close to people because he's developed trust issues from his past traumas. He's very introspective. And he's only violent to those who are trying to harm him and his allies.

This is Guts's true soul

These moments are what Berserk is really about. For all it's giant battles, revolting horror-shows, massive gore, and sheer amount of sexual violence (mostly done well, but goes a little overboard with it sometimes), Berserk is an emotional story about encounter constant tragedy, constantly losing your purpose in life, and yet still finding the means to keep going regardless.

Guts has lost the people he cared about more than once. He has witnessed people fall to tragedies that he was unable to prevent. He has been a victim of sexual assault. But he still keeps going. Despite having been betrayed by people he thought cared him, he always seems to regain his ability to trust people and form connections. His past failures don't stop him from trying in the present. His moments where he's just being a pal to his friends, his moments of vulnerability, and even the moments where he's goofing off and having fun, are portrayed as his most fulfilling moments. In fact, his theme song plays when he is letting his guard down towards his friends, letting them know he's thinking about them and that they mean a lot to him. Think about that. The theme song for dark, brooding, giant swordsman is not a only soft and mellow, but also plays not when he's carving through monsters, but when he is calm and letting his guard down.

Unlike most other "grim-dark" works, which would portray being a brooding loner as "bad-ass," Berserk chooses to celebrate the emotional, somber, and even humorous moments as the things it's characters should strive for and savor. Berserk's philosophy is that friends can pull you through even the darkest situations and give you reason to keep going. I think that's reflected in music: the male-sounding echoes are like someone wailing out in pain, and the female-sounding choir is a friend responding to that pain. And the song gives off the feeling of looking up at the night-sky and somberly reflecting. And I think for a series that features a giant man carving through terrifying demons to choose to put it's spotlight on a group of friends forging a powerful bond, that's really saying something on the power of such bonds.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to.... *siiigggghhhhh* wait for the manga to come out it's gazillionth hiatus.....

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