So let me set the scene. I’m browsing my local HMV for a new anime series to watch (I’m old-fashioned so I like to own products outright instead of renting them from streaming services) when season one of Goblin Slayer catches my eye. Huh, Goblin Slayer, I thought. That’s Funimation and Crunchyroll’s little project. How bad could it be?
A little bit of controversy adds spice to any new anime. Goblin Slayer landed itself in hot water for its depiction of sexual violence against its female characters, which critics claimed was insensitive, misogynistic and in poor taste.
Let’s start with the most obvious question. Is Goblin Slayer worth the watch?
The first half of the season. So far, so good!
Goblin Slayer is a classic table-top RPG brought to life. The D&D-inspired high-fantasy world is like a melting pot of nerdy, weeby, geeky cultures. Bands of wide-eyed adventurers spend their days hitting up the local Adventurers Guild for quests; grinding those sweet reputation points for exclusive loot and Guild clout.
Despite sounding pretty generic on paper, in practice the familiarity of Goblin Slayer’s world offers a solid foundation upon which to launch into the story without having to spend much time setting the scene. Goblin Slayer follows many of the Immutable Laws of Fantasy (ie, healing spells and potions, magical scrolls, the idea of mana or cast-limits, the concept of ‘questing’ as a whole – stuff that anybody who’s ever played a fantasy RPG will know) which need no explanation. This makes Goblin Slayer easy to dive in to.
What’s most amusing is that whilst most fantasy anime try their hardest to hide the fact that they’re using common fantasy tropes, Goblin Slayer revels in its own tropery. Almost as if to say ‘Yes, we’re doing the fantasy thing, you got a problem with that?’ At least they resisted the urge to make the dwarf Scottish.
Goblin Slayer is rated 18 due to its gratuitous gore and sexual violence (more on that later), and the first episode in particular reeled me in with plenty of both. Goblin Slayer seemed like it was trying to be the anime’s Game of Thrones, showing a darker, more sinister side to common fantasy concepts, revelling in shocking, gruesome, unexpected deaths.
Goblin Slayer himself is a man of few words, which is a great change of pace when compared to other anime protagonists who can’t help themselves but soliloquise over every little thing (*cough cough* Eren Jaeger *cough cough*). He definitely runs the ‘tortured soul’ aesthetic which is probably by people simp for him so hard.
The dialogue as a whole follows the aesthetic of the entire show; it’s all “Hail, travellers!” this and “Hark, the enemy approaches!” that. Characters aren’t even referred to by their names, only their vocations, like “Mage” or “Elf” or “Goblin Slayer.” Sure, it’s a little cringy, but it’s faithful to the conventions of the genre and shows us that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The show as a whole is very well-paced (in fact, a little too well-placed in the end). As someone who has neither the time nor the patience to sit through season upon season of show, no matter how good it is, I really appreciate that A) That there’s only 12 half hour long episodes in a season, and B) that something significant happens in each and every episode. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to wade through pointless filler episodes just to get to the good stuff. Goblin Slayer did well to avoid the temptation to draw plot arcs out just as an excuse to release more episodes.
The elephant in the room: let’s talk about Goblin Slayer’s depiction of women
You don’t need to be otaku to know that the depiction of women in anime is an acquired taste, to put it generously. If big-breasted, semi-naked, semi-pubescent cartoon girls are something that makes you uncomfortable then anime might not be the genre for you.
But it wasn’t Cow Girl’s comically huge rack or even the ‘resurrection’ bed scene that got everybody’s pigtails in a knot, it was that Goblin Slayer went where no TV is allowed to go and dropped the R bomb – the bad guys raped someone.
In Goblin Slayer lore, goblins will kidnap female civilians/adventurers and turn them into sex-slaves. It is intimated that this is how goblins reproduce, by forcefully impregnating a female humanoid host. Undoubtedly, this was meant to destroy any sympathy the audience might have for the goblins and let us know they’re the bad guys, if it wasn’t already obvious enough.
A lot of people asked, is it really necessary to portray the goblins as murders, thieves AND rapists? Isn’t murdering and thieving enough without singling out female characters and humiliating them sexually?
No, it wasn’t strictly necessary – but they’re the baddies, aren’t we supposed to hate them. There was a rationale in lore behind designing them that way; the animators never actually show the private areas of the female characters being assaulted either, so it clearly wasn’t just an excuse to show boobs or turn Goblin Slayer into another pervy hentai.
Of all the depictions of rape I’ve seen in media, Goblin Slayer’s is one of the least humiliating: it is never intimated that the victims enjoyed the experience in any way (which is more than can be said for a LOT of adult content, animated or otherwise, on the internet.)
As a culture, the taboo around sexual violence is very much alive and well. We insist on exorcising any references to rape from our history and from our popular media. Whilst murder, torture and genocide are kosher, rape is totally beyond the pale and any references to the act itself or the victims of the act are swiftly brushed under the carpet for being too unsightly for viewing. Why do you think that is?
Being a victim of rape is not a shameful thing – that much is beyond doubt – yet still we insist on erasing victims from existence by refusing to tell their stories on-screen. How are we supposed to end the stigma around sexual violence if we keep plugging our ears, covering our eyes and pretending it doesn’t exist?
[SPOILER] High Elf Archer is one of the female character to be molested by a horde of goblins. Does the fact that she was raped make her ‘dirty’ or ‘spoiled’ or ‘less-than’ just because she was sexually violated? Would her character have been better in some way if she hadn’t have been sexually violated? Think about what this says about our attitudes towards victims of assault.
Unfortunately, people are made into victims of sexual assault every day. Think about how isolating and othering that experience can be. Now think about how much worse it might feel if the media refuses to acknowledge that you exist, even in a fantasy anime, as if what you experienced in real-life is somehow less believable, less real than a fairy-tale?
Something to think about.
The second half of the season. Where to even start?
By the time episode 6 rolled around, I was completely immersed into Goblin Slayer’s dark fantasy world. I couldn’t wait to see the next development in the story and was eagerly setting up calendar reminders in anticipation of Season 2.
But then the second half of the season began, and it was like everybody who had worked on the first half of the season had suddenly keeled over and died, to be replaced by a group of trainees who didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
Immediately, the storytelling started to fall apart. Important plot devices were just abandoned; promising potential plot arches just crumbled into nothing. It’s hard to explain, but it started to feel like the writers were setting up for a big reveal or twist in the story, but such a twist never materialised – we were just lead into more dead-ends.
It’s hard to explain, so I’ll give you an example. In about episode 7, the party find a portal to the goblin home world. Knowing what we know about the Goblin Slayer (clue is in the name) I was sure they would try and go through the portal to stop the goblins at the source – seems like a sensible thing to do, right? But it never happens! They just seal up the portal and throw it into the sea, off-camera, just to add insult to injury. Are you serious? This flies in the face of everything the Goblin Slayer stands for!
By the time I reached episode 8, I was no longer certain of what the ‘point’ of Goblin Slayer’s story was. Just when I thought I knew the direction that they were going to take the story, it was snatched away. I got whiplash from being thrown in so many directions with no clear end in sight.
But I still had faith that the final 2 episodes would blow me away with the amazing twist the writers had obviously been setting up behind the scenes – the epic conclusion to the story, where everything would make sense.
What I actually got was the most anticlimactic, ridiculous finale of any TV series ever since Game of Thrones.
Without giving the game away, we are introduced to a nameless, faceless “final boss” villain. He has no backstory, is given only a handful of lines and is never even mentioned until he miraculously appears in episode 9. The writers seem to be wholly unfamiliar with the concept of a “final boss” and how villains are supposed to work, so let me spell it out. Without a long, deliberate build-up, there is no epic, emotionally-charged final-showdown. You can’t introduce your final boss in the penultimate episode.
Not that it matters, given that this end-game villain is torn a new one within the space of an episode. Goblin Slayer absolutely wipes the floor with him like he wasn’t even a challenge. Wow, what a worthwhile payoff. Definitely a satisfying and hard-won victory.
Not a single person in the final battle died. Literally not one, not even secondary characters or nameless NPCs – they were perfect goblin-fodder, too!
The goblins, on the other hand, get taken to the cleaners. What happened to the formidable, dangerous goblins of episode 1, that we were all advised for 8 episodes not to mess with? Were they all castrated between episode 1 and 9?
I expected that the final battle would end like the first episode did, with unexpected twists and turns… and something unexpected did happen. Nothing happened, and that was certainly unexpected.
Videogames Make Me Happy concludes… Goblin Slayers writers bottled out at the final hurdle
Never in my life have I seen the quality of an anime drop as suddenly and unexpectedly as in Goblin Slayer. It seems to me that either:
- there was a major problem in development that meant the story had to be haphazardly re-written
- the writers had be to replaced mid-production for some reason
Something fishy is definitely afoot.
The difference between the first and second halves of Goblin Slayer season one is like night and day. Whereas the first half starts out with a great concept, likeable characters and a dark fantasy world to get lost in, the second half is manages to turn everything that I liked about the previous episodes on its head.
I couldn’t be more disappointed. I thought I’d stumbled upon a hidden gem, when really, it was more like a piece of dirty broken glass. You might think that you’re twitching and sweating because you’ve found something exciting, but really it’s just because you have tetanus.