A fantastic character design is driven by clarity. One look is all you need to figure out what that character is all about. From the obvious giveaways to the subtle details, everything should give some sign as to their personality, beliefs, backstory, or motivations.
Or you could do what Kentaro Miura (rest in peace, king) did with Griffith: create a mystery.
Griffith is a living enigma. Nobody, not even those closest to him, ever truly knows what’s going on in the man’s head. His ultimate objective is no secret; he wants to become a king. But the how, and even the why, of it isn’t known to his peers. Most people don’t even know how he truly feels or what his real personality is like. All they know is that he’s larger than life. Angelic, almost.
His design supports this perfectly. At first glance, you can’t really figure anything out about Griffith. His white armor and curved sword make it clear that he’s at least a fighter, and an elegant one at that; dude almost looks like he could glow. But that’s about all it tells you. It’s hard to figure anything else out. Hell, upon first glance, you might even confuse his gender, with those long silver locks of his. His face gives nothing away, as he almost always maintains an expression of silent alertness.
Essentially, Griffith’s design is a deception. He has the appearance of a knight in shining armor, a hero out of a classic story. It’s such a convincing facade that everyone in the world of Berserk buys it hook line and sinker. But anyone who knows about what he does later on in the story know that for the lie that it is.
The truth is clear for everyone to see in Griffith’s other character design.
Griffith’s demonic appearance is a reflection of the man beneath the divine deception from before. Where once he was a beautiful man clad all in white, now he is a heartless monster enveloped all in black. He maintains the shape of his signature helmet, but now it’s his true face, with his human-like features hidden beneath. Unlike before, however, his human face puts his emotions on full display; in this form, Griffith doesn’t bother trying to hide his contempt for others.
It’s in this form that the real Griffith emerges. His human face is the deception, an enigma of divinity he uses to trick and manipulate others. Up to this point in the series, he’s only revealed the demon form to a scarce few (Guts, Casca, Genishika), and all of them have suffered at his hand in each instance.
Most of them either end up dead, insane, or… whatever the hell you would call Guts.
Griffith’s character design (both of them) is a testament to Kentaro Miura’s genius. It’s so simple, yet it does so much with that little amount. It’s a deception, a mask designed to hide the monster the character truly is. And if his impact on the fanbase tells us anything, it’s that it worked.
I still yearn to see Guts put the Dragonslayer through the smug fucker’s face…