Understanding Gambino

Walter

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This was a post I'd written back in January, but never got around to finishing. Now that Gambino has risen in popularity again, I figured I'd revive it and post it for others to read through and respond to. It's still only what I'd consider half-finished. But it has room for growth, and I'm curious about what others have to say about the character.

Raise your hand if you’ve noticed Miura setting up parallels between Gambino and Guts as father figures. For those who didn’t raise your hands, how many of you sympathized with Gambino? I think the lack of empathy for characters like Gambino can enshroud people from what Miura is trying to convey.

The way Miura humanizes his antagonists is among the reasons I love and respect him as a writer. But for every Griffith fanboy there are a thousand who disregard lesser characters like Carcus or Gambino who are also portrayed with a balance of realistic personalities and traits, not all of them agreeable.

I 've encountered many readers who are too quick to write Gambino off as a monster for trying to kill Guts. Is he a villain? Maybe. But his motivations are grounded, and his portrayal as an abusive father is nuanced just enough that we get glimpses of the man beneath the abrasive persona he's cultivated as a mercenary.

I believe Miura embeds enough humanity in him to leave astute readers with, at worst, conflicted feelings about his life and death. Not hatred. So, bear with me a moment as we take a fresh look at Gambino’s scenes, and try to understand who he was.

What kind of man was Gambino?
He puts on a macho, sarcastic air as leader of a band of ruthless mercenaries. The kind of gang he runs is fundamentally different from the Hawks. When Guts joins the Hawks, he comments that he’s surprised by how friendly and open they are with each other. It's markedly different from the mercenary camps he'd grown up around. Those were filled with the kind of people who are comfortable spending their entire lives chasing killing fields for money. If there was a dream, it was to survive the next day. That’s the kind of environment that produced Gambino.

In this kind of mercenary camp, there's no place for children. But Gambino was thrust into fatherhood because of his feelings for Shisu. The couple's first child was miscarried, but as chance would have it, the two found and adopted Guts shortly afterward. Shisu clearly transferred her motherly feelings onto Guts. Gambino appears wary, but willing, to adopt Guts. But we don’t get a scene between the two before Shisu died from plague, three years later. And that event forever tarnished Gambino's relationship with Guts.

After Shisu’s death, any fatherly feelings Gambino may have harbored were scoured away. Guts’ existence was reduced to a living memory of that tragedy. Combined with the superstitious circumstances that they found Guts in, he becomes an easy excuse for Gambino to blame for how his life ended in such turmoil. It’s why he’s able to rationalize selling Guts to Donovan, and why he ultimately tries to murder him.

More Human than Monster
There’s something peculiar about the way Miura chose to handle Gambino. As an author, he certainly doesn’t take the easiest path. Miura seems to go out of his way to humanize Gambino on three separate occasions, and I’ll lay out each example separately.

  • The distinctive scar Guts has across the bridge of his nose came from a moment of rage in Gambino, during training. He lashed out at Guts, who surprised him by being able to get past his defenses. Initially Gambino plays it off like what he did wasn’t a big deal. But days later, he seeks Guts out, and delivers an ointment for his face. The narrator points out that this may have been merely to soothe his guilty conscience. But that notation in and of itself implies there may have been more to this act than mere guilt. Of course, it’s never elaborated on beyond this.
  • Despite his behavior, Gambino is shown to genuinely care for Shisu. In her dying moments, he was away in battle. A nurse chides him for not being by her side. Three years later, delirious after having his leg amputated, Gambino calls out for Shisu, remembering that night when he was away. He says, "Wait ... Shisu. Don't die. I'm on my way back," as he reaches out for Guts' hand.

    Conveying that sense of loss is a small, but significant moment for our understanding of this otherwise emotionless character. In his line of work, there must have been other women. But six years after Shisu's death, it continues to haunt him, and she's still who he goes to in his mind for comfort. Fevered or not, he reaches out for his one link to her: Guts.

    For a character destined to try to kill the protagonist, a scene like this is not necessary. So why include it, and why portray it in this manner? Functionally, it serves two purposes. The first being that it shows Guts responding to the impending death of his father-figure, drawing closer to him despite his treatment. But it’s also the lone emotional moment we get from Gambino.
  • When Gambino enters Guts’ tent with the intent to kill him, he does so while drunk. Miura could have chosen to simply have this man driven by rage, finally pushed over the brink after reflecting on his shitty life. But no, Miura humanizes Gambino, and somewhat distances him from the monstrous act, by making him drunk in the scene.

    These moments of compassion bind Gambino to Guts. Despite his rough treatment, and the murderous intent he ends his life on, Guts genuinely regrets what happened. He’s not able to cast his death aside, or feel remorseless like so many of the other deaths he’s caused. The death of the man he considers to be his father is the most significant in his life, until he loses his friends.

Sins of the Father
The differences between who Gambino was and who Guts ultimately became is something Miura has touched on a few times in the series. Furthermore, I think Miura bolsters the circumstantial similarities between the characters with direct visual parallels.

In volume 3, when Shisu first finds Guts, she is draped in a robe and appears to be mentally challenged, at the very least she's not all there. She draws Guts close to her breast, but Gambino pulls her away. She screams, and clings for it.

In volume 14, when Casca gives birth to the demon child, she is wearing a small, thin sheet, and has become mentally challenged. She draws it close to her breast, but Guts pulls it away. She screams, and clings for it.

Mercenaries chide Guts for trying to use a long sword at the age of 6. Guts insists. Gambino agrees, holding his own long sword draped over his shoulder. He says that there aren’t children’s toys around here.

Fast forward to volume 18. Isidro finds Guts sleeping, and tries to take the Dragon Slayer. Guts wakes, picks up the sword and stows it away behind him. His arm is still over his shoulder when he tells him that it’s not a children’s toy.

These aren't concrete, but they visually imply things that readers should already have noticed narratively about the connection between these two characters.
 
Very well written piece Walter. Gambino really was simply a product of his environment and the tragedy's of his life. (Losing Shisu, becoming a cripple)
Steve Largent once said that "When a child grows up without a father, there is an empty place where someone must stand, providing an example of character and confidence"
Even though he was hard on Guts, Gambino made Guts into a man that could preserver through terrible tragedy’s and survive as long as he has.

I had a half-awake idea come to mind yesterday, but it seems that as Guts nears Elfhelm and regaining Casca. Do you think we'll see more of Gambino as Guts seems to be reflecting on the people and paths that have shaped him to this point? We are entering an area of high magic; Miura has a whole lot of toys he can play with to craft some incredible moments in this series.
 

Grail

Feel the funk blast
A very thought-provoking post Walter, I've been anticipating the arrival of this thread since you mentioned it on the podcast. :ubik: Gambino is, like you've mentioned, a character who brings up a lot of conflicted feelings in me as a reader. He's a great example of a Berserk "villain" - not all bad, but certainly not the nicest person in the world (almost by necessity in this case).

One other interesting parallel between Guts and Gambino is their negative feelings towards their children. It always seemed to me that Guts despised the Demon Child because it reminded him of the Eclipse in the same way that Guts reminded Gambino of his loss of Shisu. I got the feeling that the Demon Child got slapped with the "bad luck charm" label when he just wants to hang out with his dad, just like Guts did. :judo:
 
nice post its always nice to compare an re-examine different elements of Berserk the fact that the manga is layered enough to support this is one the things that makes it great in my opinion anyway

as for Gambino yeah there were glimpses of humanity in him though I suppose all things considered it can be hard to like the character but the idea that Gambino was to some degree shaped by his surroundings and environment and that some of him is found in in Guts later in life seems fitting. Though environment and surroundings are a heavy theme in this story(I mean look at their effect on Guts throughout his life) So while I guess more paralels between guts and gambino could be expected I expect them ultimately to end differently simply due to the different elements that currently nourish Gut's character
 
Great post, Walter! I need to ruminate on it a bit, but after I do, I'll post any thoughts that come to mind.

For now, I'll say this: I love the way Miura handles the "villains" in Berserk. Every human being in Berserk is just that: human; there is no good vs. evil, just human vs. human. The truly good and truly evil characters, in my opinion, have always been Elves and the God Hand, respectively. But the non-supernatural beings have always felt real to me, because I'm such a firm believer in the nonexistence of good and evil in our world.

There is no such thing as "black and white"; just a whole lot of gray.
 

Gobolatula

praise be to grail!
Gambino definitely is complex. Though, I'd say the most "monstrous' thing we saw him do was when he sold Guts to Donovan for that night. And he did that sober. He became pretty despicable to me right then and there. Though I wonder about the glance he gave to Guts after Guts *almost* confronted him about it. That over-the-shoulder look that almost says, "Ah jeez why'd I do that..?"

Though I cannot say I hate Gambino as a character. He is very human and very interesting. A shitty dad, but a fantastic character.
 
Walter said:
The way Miura humanizes his antagonists is among the reasons I love and respect him as a writer. But for every Griffith fanboy there are a thousand who disregard lesser characters like Carcus or Gambino who are also portrayed with a balance of realistic personalities and traits, not all of them agreeable.

I believe Miura embeds enough humanity in him to leave astute readers with, at worst, conflicted feelings about his life and death. Not hatred. So, bear with me a moment as we take a fresh look at Gambino’s scenes, and try to understand who he was.
I completely agree Walter. Miura could've made him a stereotype but he actually does go lengths to humanize him for both us and for Guts. These details of Gambino's softer moments are likely things Guts remembers that keep him from thinking of the man as a monster. They probably fill him with guilt.

It's interesting that Gambino keeps Guts around and actually trains him after Shisu dies. He seems to resent him early on but can't help but feel responsible either. It's an interesting dynamic.

Plus the guy is such a gruff arrogant bastard, it's hard not to be fascinated by him.

I love these type of posts. I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on the character. Or on Carcus, another unsung hero. There's a guy who'd always say the truth no one wanted to hear.
 
Here's an odd question I couldn't find an answer to on the forum. What do you speculate was Gambino and Shisu's relationship. He doesn't seem the type to be married, and when ask if the miscarried child is his, he asks how he should know, as if she's slept with many men.

Was she the company prostitute? Both her and the other women in the wagon with her seemed to be dressed fairly conservatively so it seems unlikely. Maybe they were servants and nurses brought along to cook and tend to domestic duties? Does anyone know what was typical among medieval era mercenaries? I know Berserk is it's own world but it might be a jumping off point.
 

Walter

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ApostleBob said:
Here's an odd question I couldn't find an answer to on the forum. What do you speculate was Gambino and Shisu's relationship. He doesn't seem the type to be married,
Hahaha, no shit :void: It's a group of rough mercenaries.

and when ask if the miscarried child is his, he asks how he should know, as if she's slept with many men. Was she the company prostitute? Both her and the other women in the wagon with her seemed to be dressed fairly conservatively so it seems unlikely.
Of course, we can't know for sure. But I think prostitute is the wrong term for Shisu. More likely, she was a slave, or someone captured. That's the impression I got. Not too uncommon during that time for women to be used like that. Ever see Flesh and Blood? But Gambino probably made her his own, and later showed that he did care for her and felt guilt over not being by her side when she died.
 
The image I had of Gambino has improved in the last episodes, but he clearly was not an exemplary foster parent. That being said, Guts owes him a lot and may well not have survived without him.
 
Great writeup!

One thing that always caught my attention was how Guts never really blamed Gambino for what happened, to the point of actually excusing him for all the bad things he caused to Guts.

The link they have, being Gambino the one who taught Guts how to use the sword, appears to me like something extremely important for our main character. More than once he has stated that the sword is all he has, and if Gambino is the one who gave him that, then it's not hard to imagine why he still has affection for him.

The scene that impressed me the most is the one at the end of volume 9, when he's talking out of his mind to Casca, explaining her what had happened. He feels responsible and sorry for what happened, even though we know he just did it in self defense. This really caught my eye, since I would have thought that Guts would be mad at Gambino for attempting to murder him. But on the contrary, it looks like he doesn't feel like that at all.

Very intriguing and interesting to me.
 
I don't post very much, but after reading Walter's comments I started (probably incorrectly) connecting some dots from his argument. Anyway, if you'd like to hear me out, I think there is an interesting parallel between Guts, Gambino and to some extent Griffith.

The biggest parallel is this: Gambino loses the woman he loved or at least cared about, and was injured and given a handicap, according to him because of Guts being cursed (and in his own mind, Guts betraying him as well, or something along those lines). Gambino dealt with this by becoming bitter, losing his desire to live and generally giving up, climaxing with Guts murdering him in self defense after Gambino attempted to take revenge.

Fast forward to the end of the Golden Age/beginning of the Black Swordsman arc. Griffith is mutilated far worse than Gambino, and resigns himself to a similar fate. He first becomes despondent and blames Guts for his condition (or something like that, I'm inferring from those glances he gave so obviously I can't quote him) culminating in his attempt at suicide on the rocks. The God Hand then arrive and offer Griffith a choice, take their help and escape his condition or keep living his life as little more than a bug. He can't deal with his physical condition either, and sacrifices Guts.

Now, Guts is of course sacrificed, and rather than losing his leg as Gambino did loses his eye and arm. He also loses the people he cared about, as Gambino lost Shisu, and (rightly!) blames Griffith and seeks revenge on the person who caused his loss and suffering as Gambino sought to kill him. The big difference between Guts and Gambino is that while Gambino gave up and turned to despair, Guts embraces his handicap (who knows, maybe Gambino would have gotten a decent replacement leg down the road) and fights onward. By the same token, he differs from Griffith in that rather than escape his fate, he embraces it and his hatred much as Gambino succumbed to his rage when he attempted to kill Guts (and as others have noted before, Gambino tries to kill his adopted son while Guts tries to kill his actual, albeit deformed and evil, son).

So then, maybe an issue to examine going forward is this: will Guts ultimately become more like Gambino? I think it's feasible to imagine a future where Guts embraces his rage and hatred, resulting in the death of his son (in the form of Griffith) while abandoning the future he might have had with the people he cares about. After all, Gambino may have been damaged goods, but he could have kept on living with Guts and given up chasing after battlefields. Perhaps Guts will give up his battlefield to save the people he cares about, or maybe he will keep chasing after it in order to destroy Griffith and avenge the Hawks, just as Gambino attempted to avenge Shisu. He will also become like Griffith, as the Beast suggested, by abandoning his humanity in order to gain the one thing he desires over all else.

I know there are a lot of flaws in my line of reasoning, I just thought it might be worthwhile to mention.
 
I like the recurring themes and similarities you've pointed out so far TelegramSam, but honestly I feel Guts has become less and less like Gambino and Griffith since the beginning of the Berserk Saga. He tried dedicating himself to a dream (albeit briefly) and he tried losing himself in his hate at the cost of his friends (see volumes 1-3) but eventually he found new friendship, and dedicated himself wholly to preserving what is precious to him and fighting to reverse the damage done to Casca.

Of course he is now in a physical (mental?) battle with his hatred as embodied by :beast: , but I feel he has succeeded where his father figures failed and gone beyond simply despairing or sacrificing the most important things for his own satisfaction...time may of course prove me wrong though.
 
Gambino was just a shitty human being, brute mercenary without any good morals at all. I cannot sympathize with him after what he done to Guts and I'm very glad Guts killed him with his own sword - although Guts felt regret, he shouldn't. It's very hard when the only person you can rely on in your life is shitty person like that.
 

Walter

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Gambino was just a shitty human being,
This is just a shitty take, and 7 years late.

The entire purpose of this thread was to highlight the ways in which Miura didn't just make him a shitty person, and if you don't see that still and would rather minimize him to a single-sided character, that's your prerogative, but it is reductive to say the least.
 
I didn't said he for example isn't important for Guts character and thus impacting Berserk story. I'm saying he's just a shitty person. English isn't my native language so maybe sometimes I say things that are understood in different way than they were meant. But that's truth about Gambino character, he was very shitty person blaming little kid for all bad happening to him and his crew. His character was not strong, it was rather very weak. There was literally nothing good about him, no good qualities. Just a mercenaries chief selling a kid ( who relied only on Gambino and Gambino knew this very well ) to some pedophile mercenary. That's all about his "qualities", however do not make a mistake, I consider him to be important but very negative in impact on Guts.
 
I think Gambino is an expertly crafted character. Like you said Walter, Gambino is a terrible human being, but like even the worst examples of humanity, there is a reason for why he is, the way he is, even though its not justified in any way. But he does have his good points and moments of decency. Like all abusive parents, their moments of decency and small redeeming qualities create confusion in their children that usually torment them throughout life.

I definitley believe Miura was calling back to Gambino after the Eclipse with Gut's own relationship with his demon son. Both Guts and his son are born under horrific circumstances and the stigma around the events of their birth. Casca and Shisu also suffer a similar fate after the birth of their children with both women going insane... serving as fuel for the fire of both Guts and Gambino's resentment. Its a tangled set of parallels but they are definitely there in my reading of it and wouldnt be possible if Gambino was totally 1-dimensional.

Gambino is an absolutley reprehensible character that goes without saying, but his few decent moments, and how much those stayed with Guts really enhance the empathy you feel towards Guts, because it makes him all the more human. Hate for your father is a terrible thing to live with, even if he is worthy of that hate. If not for that nuance it would've taken away from the depth of Guts' backstory considerably.
 

Walter

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I didn't said he for example isn't important for Guts character and thus impacting Berserk story. I'm saying he's just a shitty person. English isn't my native language so maybe sometimes I say things that are understood in different way than they were meant. But that's truth about Gambino character, he was very shitty person blaming little kid for all bad happening to him and his crew.

What you're saying is coming through loud and clear, I just find it comically reductive (he's just a bad guy, so who cares?).

But I don't think you understood what I was saying at all. If you somehow feel that I'm giving Gambino a pass, or normalizing his behavior, then you've fundamentally misunderstood. I'm demonstrating that there are layers to his character, and there's a reason Miura took those extra steps.

If you go through Berserk labeling everyone good guys and bad guys and bestowing your empathy to them according to their assigned categories, then you're ignoring a huge part of what makes Berserk special -- the effort Miura has taken in humanizing all of his characters, even the ones who are set up to be unsympathetic, in all the ways I've already described. By giving even these characters layers, his world is made more real, because he has populated it with people who, like real human beings, possess more than one facet.

Your take above is precisely the kind of limited perspective that set me off to make this thread, because I feel that some readers are blind to the the craft that goes into Miura's characters. All that effort on his part was for nothing though, because Gambino may as well have been a one-dimensional villain, right?
 
If you ask me if there's a reason why Gambino acted like that and not differently then I will answer - yes, he had his own reasons which aren't for me enough justification for such behavior. We have seen what could've been important to Gambino, we have seen how he blamed Guts for the loss of it, I don't mind mentioning it, I did not, with it or without, my judgement of him in the end must be one-dimensional.
 

Walter

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Staff member
yes, he had his own reasons which aren't for me enough justification for such behavior.
Wow.

It seems not only have you not read this thread, you haven't even read my replies to you, in which i expressly said that wasn't the point anyone was making... So... did you just see the name Gambino in a thread title today and need to shout about something?
 
I'm not saying anyone said such thing! Not even implicating it. There's no reason to discuss it because that never was my intent.

Meh, editing posts like this is not fun, now my post looks like it's a response to something that's not here :puck: I've read the topic and I've decided it's the one I will write a post about Gambino and how I see him.
 
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Walter

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Staff member
I'm not saying anyone said such thing! Not even implicating it. There's no reason to discuss it because that never was my intent.
No one was arguing that Gambino's actions were excusable. But apropos of nothing, you wanted people to know that you didn't excuse his actions. Pretty pointless, but fair, I guess? Except...

I've read the topic and I've decided it's the one I will write a post about Gambino and how I see him.
But this thread wasn't for sounding off on Gambino ("boo! he's mean to Guts!" That wouldn't be much of a thread...). Instead, this was the purpose:

I've encountered many readers who are too quick to write Gambino off as a monster for trying to kill Guts. Is he a villain? Maybe. But his motivations are grounded, and his portrayal as an abusive father is nuanced just enough that we get glimpses of the man beneath the abrasive persona he's cultivated as a mercenary. I believe Miura embeds enough humanity in him to leave astute readers with, at worst, conflicted feelings about his life and death. Not hatred. So, bear with me a moment as we take a fresh look at Gambino’s scenes, and try to understand who he was.
Yet your opening salvo was:
Gambino was just a shitty human being, brute mercenary without any good morals at all.
So in the midst of my attempt to expand the generally reductive conversation on the character and draw attention to the many ways Miura employs to show he's not "just" a dirtbag, you reduce the character to "just" a dirtbag. Do you see how that's problematic? This is the problem when you wade into a thread without fully understanding it and try to revive it with your take, disjointed from the overall conversation that's there.

As a reminder here are a few relevant Forum Rules, many of which exist to prevent these kinds of interactions from happening:

Before replying, please ask yourself: "Does my reply offer any significant advice or help contribute to the conversation in any fashion?" If you can answer "yes" to this, then please reply. If you cannot, then refrain from replying.

Stay on topic. When posting a new thread, make sure it fits with the category you are posting in. When replying to a post, make sure to stay on the topic of the thread you're posting in.

Read the thread to which you're replying carefully and in its entirety before doing so.
 

Walter

Administrator
Staff member
This is the only topic about Gambino I've found tbh.
Threads are short for "threaded conversations." If your post doesn't fit in the conversation (which itself predates the birth of my 6-year-old son), you should consider starting a new thread that better focuses on your idea, not find one to mutate.
 
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