Anime Series Review: Goblin Slayer (Season 1)
In a fairly standard RPG-style fantasy world, one man is not an adventurer and does not wish to be a hero. He is the Goblin Slayer, and all he wants to do is kill goblins. These creatures live underground and are commonly underestimated by newbie adventurers. Many people have gone into their caves hoping for some easy experience, only to never come out. The military almost never does anything when goblin raiders attack people. So the Goblin Slayer, who will reliably take on any quest that allows him to kill goblins, becomes a bastion of hope against the corruption and cruel indifference of the world.
Originally, the Goblin Slayer only wants to work alone. But eventually, he becomes notorious around the local adventurer's guild. He meets and teams up with characters like:
- Priestess. A 15 year-old blonde girl who is naive. She wants to help the Goblin Slayer because he saves her when her first goblin hunt goes awry. She does healing and protection spells.
- High Elf Archer. In it for the pure love of adventuring, she doesn't consider goblin slaying to be a 'true adventure'. But, she just happens to have a problem involving goblins, and becomes awed by the strength of the Goblin Slayer.
- Dwarf Shaman. A spell caster who is very knowledgeable. He's younger than the High Elf Archer, but she looks younger, and he seems to be wiser and less hot-headed.
- Lizard Priest. A lizard man who, like Priestess, can heal, but he can also fight with a sword. Often mediates between Elf Archer and Dwarf Shaman. He loves cheese.
The guild is rounded out by a lot of characters who aren't as important, but all have their own strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and individual approaches to adventuring. They serve to not only make the guild feel like a genuine organization full of people with needs and desires of their own, but to contrast with the Goblin Slayer's stoicism and single-mindedness. The Guild Girl, the guild's receptionist who hands out quests, is compassionate to the plight of rookies who commonly die trying to take down goblins.
They also show Goblin Slayer's home life. He grew up as an orphan on his uncle's farm, and his sister-like childhood friend called Cow Girl always waits for him when he's off on long goblin-slaying excursions. Her family, and the Goblin Slayer's sister, were massacred by goblins during their childhoods. Even though Cow Girl seems to love Goblin Slayer, he doesn't return her affection. Perhaps he only sees her as a sister-like figure. Perhaps he doesn't notice her romantic interest in him. But I think it's that he's so focused on his vendetta against goblins above all else.
The idea that he wears blinders to anything not goblin-related is symbolized by his constant wearing of his helmet, which narrows his field of vision. It's also possibly a symbol of the way he, by hiding his face, is hiding his true self from others. He also constantly wears full body armor, further enhancing our perception of him as standoffish, afraid to get close to people.
Light Novel by Kumo Kagyu, Illustrated by Noboru Kannatsuki, 11 volumes
This is a deconstruction, which means that it's about exploring what happens when reality sets into a normally fantastical genre. Numerous 'isekai', or 'other world', anime present fantasy worlds, the worlds dreamed up by the makers of role playing games, as places for light hearted, escapist entertainment. The protagonists in such shows go to a fantasy world, become heroes, defeat monsters, and capture the hearts of impossibly beautiful women. It's a nice time.
Goblin Slayer is set in an anime fantasy world that, on the surface, seems like it's just that - a playground for boyish adventures. The adventurers deliberately resemble stock fantasy/RPG characters more than actual people.The adventuring system sounds an awful lot like the mechanics that drive any ordinary quest-based, open world RPG like Skyrim. It's a world many anime and/or fantasy game fans have seen a million times.
But quickly, and jarringly, the reality sets in. The reality that even 'low level' monsters commonly thought of as not threatening can actually be very threatening, if you don't take them seriously. Nature is more like that in real life, as many animals that seem cute or at the least not intimidating have defenses, and can pack considerable punch when threatened. The reality is that a lot of headstrong young people only think they can take on the dangers of the world, but in action, nature drives home the point that they're not as invincible as they thought they were.
Instead of brooding on the darkness of this reality, the Goblin Slayer focuses on one task he can do, instead of trying to take on everything. This helps him reach a pinnacle of combat prowess and strategic expertise. His character arc actually resembles the 'four stages' of Morita therapy. That is, he starts out in the darkness and isolation of despair, then starts taking action. Eventually, isolated work leads him to open up to and trust others, forming new friendships. Goblin Slayer gives us a model for working through trauma, which makes the ending of the anime especially inspiring.
It's a heavy work, and it might not be for everyone. But as an emotional boost to people who are suffering, who feel weighed down sometimes by the world's darkness, this work is nearly priceless.
And, they understand how to do realistic fantasy combat, better than the people behind the most popular fantasy series on Western television to date. And with presumably less of a budget of Game of Thrones. If you're a fantasy fan who wants to see something hardcore like Game of Thrones, without the rotten, nonsensical final seasons ruining everything, I'd definitely recommend Goblin Slayer.
Controversy Over the Rape in 'Goblin Slayer'
When the first episode of the anime came out, there was a bit of an uproar over the graphic depiction of sexual violence in the anime. Goblins rape human women. They kill the men, and rape the women. It's a world where foolish adventurers think goblins are no threat, only to get swarmed by them, disarmed, and killed quickly, if they're male. The first episode contains a graphic depiction of what happens to females in similarly foolhardy adventurer parties.
For some people, this is too much. America is still fairly dominated by Christian thinking, and still fairly squeamish about any sex or nudity, and now that squeamish Puritanism has taken on a feminist masquerade. We can, as a society, celebrate movie after movie where seas of enemy soldiers are mercilessly mowed down by "good guy" bullets. But if anyone shows a tit, a movie is automatically rated R. In this kind of cultural climate of fear, degradation, and shame surrounding anything remotely related to sex, of course a rape scene in any show or movie is going to be controversial.
But, some people raise good points about how rape should be handled by the media. We don't want it to be glamorized or sensationalized. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey makes it seem like an abusive, demanding, non-consensual BDSM relationship is sexy and desirable, because of the glamorous setting and the wealth of the man doing it. In Goblin Slayer, by contrast, there is no romance. No glamor. Only horror. But even that approach to depicting rape has been criticized by some, too. It might be seen as using rape to cheaply create horror. It might be thought of as a writer's cheat code to making a work of fiction more gritty and realistic.
The question we have to ask is, was the rape scene added for a reason other than to easily accomplish the task of making the setting tonally dark? I believe in Goblin Slayer, it was. The series centers around trauma as a theme. Many of the women in the story are rape survivors. The protagonist does not condemn or 'slut shame' them for it. Instead, he treats them very compassionately; to the extent that anyone rendered stoic and nearly mute by his own trauma can be compassionate. It's not only a depiction of how to heal from trauma in healthy vs. unhealthy ways, but also about the important, but often difficult, lesson of how to console a victim of violence.
For some traumatized people, this anime might be inspiring, even healing. For others, the depiction of rape might be disturbing, even triggering or re-traumatizing. So, exercise caution here, but I'd encourage people to watch this anime regardless of the content. It's really just that one scene in the first episode that's the worst, you could skip that and the story will still make sense. But there are references to goblins raping human women throughout the story. As I said, it is part of the central themes of the story. It doesn't sensationalize it the way a hentai (pornographic) anime would. But it doesn't shy away from it either.
Rating for Goblin Slayer: 9/10
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© 2019 Rachael Lefler