Note: All of this essay refers to the Berserk anime, except for the mention of the demon child, where the manga is used in order to show the immediate story line following the anime.
One of the most shocking, disgusting, and reprehensible scenes in the Berserk anime is the scene where Griffith, newly reborn as the demon lord Femto, brutally rapes his former comrade, Caska. The action, for some reason, feels more disgusting to the audience than Griffith’s sacrifice of hundreds of his men in a demonic ceremony just minutes before. Why? Perhaps it is because we can sense the real torment in the mind of Caska and the damage to the psyche of her lover, Guts, who is watching her. Perhaps it is because we know that Caska spent her entire life desperately avoiding the idea of being raped by a man, only to be violated by the one whom she loved and trusted most, the one who had in fact given her the ability and the desire to stand up for herself and avoid being prostituted or raped. Perhaps it is because, during the entire rape scene, the focus of the scene is not even on Griffith/Femto’s pleasure, but rather on Griffith/Femto’s focus on Guts, as if Caska, the victim, is barely even a part of her own torment. But, all this aside, why does Griffith do it? Why would someone rape a woman they had saved from the same fate, a woman who had been their friend and comrade, a woman who had saved them from torture, and a woman whom they could have had any time they wanted, given even the slightest desire on their part?
One possibility is that Femto is not Griffith, that the entity who rapes Caska is not the same being who saves her. It is possible that the being who was Griffith was fully abandoned when he made the demonic pact to sacrifice the Hawks and that Femto is an entirely new, fully demonic being. This seems unlikely, however. For one, it seems unlikely that Griffith would be willing to sacrifice himself and his men totally to spawn a being that he had nothing to do with. After all, what would be the value to Griffith in sacrificing the people he loves the most just to spawn some creature that has nothing to do with himself?
It is possible that Griffith was being deceived by Gods Hand into believing that he would be reborn when, in fact, Gods Hand only intended to use his body and sacrifice to sire a new demon lord. However, it seems unlikely that Gods Hand would do this. Griffith, from childhood on, appears to have been guided by the Gods Hand. They gave him a pendant, possibly saved him from a poisoned arrow, possibly gave him abilities to read people extraordinarily well, and did unknowable other things. If it is true that Gods Hand has guided Griffith for years and years, why destroy him? If Gods Hand only needs a body and a sacrifice to make a demon lord, why spend years and years as well as tremendous effort in molding a person to be a suitable candidate? It would be a waste of time. Therefore, it seems most likely that Femto is still mostly Griffith, if not entirely Griffith.
Other demonic possibilities include the use of Caska either as a source of ritual power or as a way for rebirth for Griffith, via the demon child (found in the manga). Both of these seem unlikely as well. Certainly sex magick (properly spelled with a "k") has been used as long as people can remember as a form of power, particularly in demonic ceremonies. And certainly it is possible that in raping Caska, Griffith was just "looking ahead" to the time when he would want to be reborn and need the demon child spawned from that union as a way to be reborn. Although these possibilities might explain why Griffith did not look particularly interested in Caska as he violated her, they would not explain why Griffith so intensely watched Guts as he raped Caska. If the purpose of raping Caska was purely pragmatic, either as a way of gathering still more power or being reborn in a human body, Griffith wouldn’t bother with Guts other than overseeing that he was stopped from interfering with the process. As Griffith intensely watches Guts through the entire scene, it seems likely that Guts, not pragmatism, was part, if not all, of the reason for the scene.
So why does Griffith want to affect Guts by raping Caska? A first response might be that Griffith wants revenge on Guts. Why would Griffith be so angry with Guts? Perhaps Griffith blames Guts for his two-year long torture where his face is destroyed and his body crippled. But the question becomes, why would Griffith blame Guts for this torment? Maybe Griffith believes that Guts caused his torment by abandoning him and the Hawks, leading to a fall of Griffith’s confidence and Griffith’s eventual downfall. But evidence for this theory seems a little sketchy. Guts did leave Griffith, and this "abandonment" obviously did affect Griffith. But, alternately, Griffith seems introspective enough (based on the rest of the series) to realize that Guts did have some right to leave him and that Guts leaving Griffith was not the direct cause of Griffith’s torment. Griffith’s mind may have been warped in jail, but even if it was, Guts still did help to rescue him from his torment. Although Griffith probably does partially blame Guts for his downfall, he probably also realizes that such blame is irrational and poorly placed and therefore most likely feels that acting on such behavior would be inappropriate and likely demeaning to his sense of pride.
So it would seem likely that if Griffith feels angry with Guts, he feels angry primarily for reasons other than his downfall. Are there reasons for Griffith to feel this way? Yes. After Griffith is imprisoned, Guts does essentially take Griffith’s place in the Hawks. Guts becomes the new beloved leader of the Hawks, Guts becomes the new person Caska loves best, and Guts becomes the best warrior in Midland. Even Guts becoming capable of beating Griffith in swordsmanship was difficult for Griffith to handle, even though Griffith must have known at the time of the duel that while he had been politicking, Guts had been practicing fighting, and that he (Griffith) had many more important qualities than being able to swing a sword. (Not to mention that when Griffith does beat Guts in a duel, the age differential between the two is most likely larger (in favor of Griffith who appears older) and the size differential is decidedly smaller (where Guts grows from about Griffith’s size to significantly larger than Griffith). Watching himself doomed to live the life of a cripple as Guts became the new victorious leader of the Hawks must have been difficult for Griffith to stand. Even watching Caska fall in love with Guts must have been difficult for Griffith as it was one more thing that Guts had that Griffith no longer had, and now wished he had (judging by Griffith’s dream about living a peaceful life with Caska).
So did a desire to take revenge on Guts for "stealing" his life, and on Guts and Caska for falling in love motivate the rape in Berserk? Perhaps partially. Griffith certainly did not appear happy over Guts taking the life he used to have. He certainly felt resentment over Guts’ success that happened simultaneously with his failure. But, did this motivate the rape? Again, perhaps in part, but not primarily. Griffith does feel resentful over Guts and Caska taking over his life. He would rather have leadership of the Hawks be his. But he also knows that Guts and Caska saved his life. That they bandaged his wounds. That they fed him. That they bathed him. That they attempted to be friends with him. He knows that they, in charge of the Hawks, have spared him and cared for him in a way that he would not care for them, if they were found in a similar situation. They have utter power over him and, rather than torture him, they pity him. And therein lies the reason for Caska’s horrific rape.
Griffith cannot stand to be pitied, cannot stand to be powerless. All his life, he has been the best, at the top. He has been the star. And he is used to it. The few terrible losses that he has incurred he has endured from being strong, or at least pretending to be strong, in pretending to still be the best, the most powerful. He survives that Caska knows of his prostitution because he can speak calmly about his experiences with Gennon to her, demonstrating his emotional strength and pragmatism, not because he empathizes with her or wants to compare experiences. As a strong NT (ENTJ), Griffith most likely can survive pain better than pity. He survived torture in the Tower of Rebirth because he knew that he had to endure, that he was not being weak by surviving, that it was his job to survive, to prove his strength by surviving. However, freed from the tower, the only thing that he can prove is his weakness, his uselessness, his powerlessness. Griffith cannot stand that.
And he cannot stand that anyone else know that he is weak, that he is powerless, that he is futile, nor can he stand that he knows that he is weak. In the scene directly before Griffith finally betrays the Hawks, sacrificing them to Gods Hand, he is revealed for being weak, crippled, and irrecoverable. This is the turning point, not the torture, not Guts taking over the Hawks, not Guts and Caska falling in love. It is his weakness, his powerlessness, that makes Griffith decide to turn to Gods Hand. And it is as proof of his new power, of his lack of powerlessness, that he rapes Caska.
Ultimately, Griffith rapes Caska not because he expects to get "something" out of it and not because he hopes to take vengeance on Guts, at least in a conventional way. He rapes Caska because he hopes to prove that, despite that he used to be crippled, that Guts used to control the Hawks, that Caska and Guts used to love each other, that that old Griffith is finished and that a new Griffith who can do whatever he wants reigns. Why does he need to rape Caska to prove his power? He needs to because otherwise there might be a misunderstanding. Many viewers can forgive Griffith for sacrificing the Hawks to Gods Hand as it is semi-justified by the fact that, without the sacrifice, Griffith would have remained a mute cripple for the rest of his life. Similarly, Guts might also be able to comprehend Griffith’s decision, even if he does not (obviously) approve. However, as long as this "understanding" remains, Griffith is still thought of, at least in part, as a cripple and is pitied and excused for his weaknesses. Griffith cannot stand this. And so he does instead what makes him unforgivable, what makes him loathsome. He rapes his comrade, while forcing another to watch. He proves, in one scene, that he is definitively not a cripple, that he is not powerless. This is the new Griffith, this is Femto. This is a man who can take what he wants, when he wants it, no matter how terrible the taking. This is someone who needs no justification for his actions, who is so powerful that he cannot be stopped even from the most loathsome atrocities. With one act, Griffith puts himself beyond understanding and beyond redemption. He simultaneously puts himself beyond being crippled, beyond being powerless. i
Would Griffith rape a defenseless woman for a mental reassurance of power? Is this an action that we can believe of him? Yes, it is, for we have already seen him rape a woman to prove that he has power at a time he was feeling powerless. (We have also seen him prostitute himself to a man when he felt powerless, again probably a manifestation of the emotions that brought him to rape Caska.)
Although it is generally not seen as this, Griffith’s sexual escapades with Charlotte fall under the legal, and emotional, title of rape. To understand, let us look at the scene more carefully. Griffith climbs into Charlotte’s window and begs her to open the window, emotionally blackmailing her that if she does not, she will have "her honor sullied". Charlotte opens the window to have Griffith fall on her, kissing her. Charlotte murmurs "no" and turns her head away from him, blushing. Griffith pushes her into her bedroom, proceeds to force her into her bed, and begins to remove her clothing. Charlotte again says, "no" and blushes, turning her head away from him.
Essentially, Charlotte says "no", Griffith says "I don’t care" and overpowers her. Charlotte does not struggle particularly, true, nor does she call out loudly. Charlotte also likely knows that any loud noise could get Griffith killed. She is overwhelmed; she does not know what to do. Again, she is in a state of emotional blackmail. She does care for Griffith, she does not want him killed, but she does not want to have sex with him either. Legally, this is rape. Realistically, Charlotte quite likely would not report the incident, and only rarely would our proto-Griffith go to jail in our modern world. Still, Charlotte is forced to have sex by Griffith, and forcible sex is the definition of rape. Why does Griffith do this?
Again, power is the issue. Griffith assaults Charlotte only after he has lost his duel with Guts. He feels weak, powerless. He has lost. So how does he make up for the lost power, prove himself once again to be the victor? He decides that he must sleep with the princess. Earlier in the series, Griffith says, that, although once a commoner, "Now I can talk freely with the princess". If talking with Charlotte is a sign of power, what greater sign of power is there than sleeping with her? In order to reclaim the power lost in his duel with Guts, Griffith subconsciously (or consciously, but irrationally) decides to rape Charlotte.
The same rationale applies in Caska’s case. Griffith loses power due to being crippled. Even after his body is rebuilt, people (Guts, himself) still know that he was crippled, that he was powerless. He must make up for this lack of power. To do so, he rapes Caska, proving his power over her and Guts, proving that he can take back what once was his easily. It is the same principle, applied in a more demonic fashion. In each case, Griffith loses power and makes up through it by coerced or forced sex.
So ultimately, Griffith does not rape Caska because it will "benefit" him in some way. He does not rape her either because of his fury with Guts. He does it, instead, because he wants to convince Guts that he is powerful, that he is not weak. And, unfortunately, he finds the best way to do this is to torture and rape the woman who earlier idolized him for sparing her from the same fate he now inflicts upon her.
i. This may be even more
clear in the manga, where Femto/the reborn Griffith do not seem particularly
hostile towards Guts, and may even be friendly (considering that Guts keeps
trying to kill Griffith and Griffith does not return the favor).
If Griffith believes that Guts did something terrible to him earlier on,
he appears to have forgiven it by the time he meets up with Guts again,
at least to the extent that he does not want to kill or torture (beyond
taunting and some pain that inevitably results from Griffith being a demon)
Guts. On the other hand, if Griffith’s primary struggle with Guts
is over power, not vengeance, then Griffith’s actions make a little more
sense. In the Eclipse, Griffith proved that he was the winner, the
one who had power. Killing or hurting Guts would not further prove
that point. The point has been made and Griffith essentially seems
to let it go at that. Guts, who has been horribly tortured by Griffith,
needless to say, does not feel that all is
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