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Reaper's Reviews: "Goblin Slayer"

Ilan is a huge fan of anime and video games. He is also an aspiring author who wishes to write fantasy novels.


Goblin Slayer: It Began With Controversy

Riddle me this, riddle me that, my dear readers: what will truly skyrocket one’s views and revenue when another anime season starts? Why, stirring up controversy, of course!

Yes, if there’s one thing the wider anime community will remember Goblin Slayer for, it's for the massive controversy and subsequent discussion it caused throughout the Fall 2018 anime season. Or rather, the controversy its first episode caused. One single opening episode managed to split the community in half; although to be fair, at this point it’s nothing surprising.

With so much talk about a single episode, there wasn’t much of a discussion regarding the show itself in a clear, unbiased manner, as detractors would just tear into the series with no plans of watching the rest of the show, while defenders tore into haters and hailed the series as a masterpiece.

As someone who eventually decided to check both the manga and light novel versions of Goblin Slayer, I enjoyed the anime series and what it offered throughout its twelve episode run, but I tried to avoid throwing around my verdict until all was said and done.

And now that the first season of Goblin Slayer has been laid to rest, it is time to talk about yet another controversial fantasy series by White Fox and check how good the goblin slaying business is.

Production: White Fox
Genre: Action/Drama
Format: 12 episodes
Release: October 7, 2018 – December 30, 2018
Source: Light novel


Setting & Story

For the most part, the world of Goblin Slayer isn’t too different from the usual stock fantasy setting. It is a world filled with magic, heroes and monsters, with its slew of villages, hero parties and a generic doomsday and chosen one prophecies that loom over the setting. The majority of monster trouble is often taken care of by Adventurers, with almost every adventurer seeking to slay the biggest and strongest monsters around, primarily because of the reward and glory that come with it.

One particular exception, however, is the titular Goblin Slayer, a stoic and seemingly emotionless adventurer who solely takes on quests involving goblins. This line of work has kept him isolated and rejected by the wider Adventurer’s Guild, not that he cares anyways… And it also led him to meet a young priestess (appropriately called Priestess) whom he saved when her very first quest took a tragic turn due to her guildmates underestimating the danger that goblins may pose.

Goblin Slayer is not a difficult series to understand. Its premise and story are, for the most part, very simple and bare-boned; Goblin Slayer slays goblins. He is so psychotically obsessed with goblins that his spare time involves finding new ways to slay more goblins.

One thing that the series does well is to establish the creatures as truly terrifying beings despite being regarded as the weakest and most pathetic of all monsters. The highly discussed first episode lays down the basics about them: they are a race of deranged and sadistic beings that think of nothing but killing humans, defiling women for breeding, destroying villages and finding more ways to improve their… craft.

It makes them for such truly vile and sinister antagonists, but Goblin Slayer also builds upon these traits by introducing newer, stronger evolutions of them, alongside a dangerous potential for intelligence and what appears to be a hidden myth arc revolving their origins.

The last one doesn’t really go anywhere, as the series is only 12-episode long and gives off the impression that there is far than what we see on the surface. Considering that the manga adaptation that this anime is taking inspiration from is a monthly run and has only 30 chapters at the time of this review, not to mention the original light novel series only recently hitting its eighth volume… It will take a while until a resolution would arrive.

But enough of the negatives for now, because Goblin Slayer is less about the endgame and more about the journey. The meat of the series lies in the different (goblin-related) quests the main characters take and the personal growth of Goblin Slayer and Priestess to a more emotionally open man and harden adventurer respectively.

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Despite its violent and brooding first episode, Goblin Slayer’s later episodes are surprisingly wholesome at times as they focus on comradery and humor. The introduction of three additional main characters make for some scenes and situations that are both amusing and heartwarming.

That doesn’t say that the series forgets its initial premise, as the goblin quests are often chilling and vicious as one would have expected, especially the seventh episode of the series where all hell breaks loose as Goblin Slayer is pushed to his limits. The quests themselves benefit greatly from creative and oftentime brutal new ways with which the titular protagonist dispatches his namesake creatures.

While both aspects are quite enjoyable, I am not too sure what to think about the contrasting parts of Goblin Slayer; clearly the series will reach a more consistently serious tone that will justify its sheer brutality, but its attempt to both eat the cake and keep it whole can make the series look somewhat uncertain over what he wants to be. Granted, Goblin Slayer does a far better job at negating potential jarring shifts than most.

But perhaps the two most interesting aspects about the series’ premise and plot are its subtle exploration of obsession, as well as presenting itself as a merely small story of a far larger narrative that we might never see. The obsession part is mostly revolved about our titular protagonist’s psychotic hatred towards goblins, but I will reserve talking about it until I’ll delve into the characters. Meanwhile, the story within story aspect is worth talking here.

Goblin Slayer’s direct story is - on the grander scheme of things - the equivalent of a very minor side quest in a role-playing as if it was taken by an NPC character. In other words, Goblin Slayer’s personal crusade seemingly holds very little importance to a yet to be explored overarching arc that is led by the setting’s overall protagonist (who appears in the series for about two short scenes).

It’s such an interesting inversion on the usual “hero of another story” trope, where the ones who actually lead minor and relatively unimportant plotlines get the spotlight from a narrative standpoint. The focus on low-level adventurers who mind themselves with early-level quests gives the series a unique, refreshing feeling that may lack the sheer spectacle of its peers, but pays off with a more personal tale.


The Characters

Let’s be honest, the titular Goblin Slayer is the biggest reason why everyone would stick around for the series after starting it. A bizarre mixture between the dutiful Batman, vengeful Punisher and deliciously violent Doomguy, Goblin Slayer proves to be a surprisingly complex and relatable lead character in spite of being incredibly dispassionate and stoic in behavior.

While each one of his inspirations had their fair share of struggling with their personal crusades to bring their brand of justice upon their enemies, Goblin Slayer takes this issue even further. A mentally broken young man hardened through years of experience, he grew so numb and apathetic over time that he lacks any social abilities on top of behaving more like machine than a human when raiding goblin territories.

His character explores obsession and determination in a rather sympathetic manner but still addresses its unhealthy side-effects. In addition, in spite of being incredibly composed and one-minded about his mission, Goblin Slayer is also presented as a genuinely caring person who knows the danger that goblins pose for unarmed and poor villagers, not to mention his soft spot for his few friends and party members who recognize his heroism and good nature.

The only real downside so far is that while his character arc is brilliant with its careful and subtle direction and deliberate pace, the early finale of the season leaves his growth far from finished. At the very least, the season concludes with an optimistic look at the Goblin Slayer’s future.

Aside from Goblin Slayer, the only other three characters that get as much as characterization as him are three of the women who bonded with him emotionally: Priestess who became his sidekick and first party member; Cow Girl, a childhood friend who serves as Slayer’s last connection to his past, and Sword Maiden, a beautiful and powerful adventurer who finds a kindred spirit in the titular protagonist.

Out of the aforementioned three, Priestess is the one who gets the most screentime. She serves as the audience surrogate to the world of Goblin Slayer, being a young, naive and inexperienced adventurer who had the misfortune to almost die horribly on her first adventurer if not for Slayer’s intervention. She serves as the emotional anchor of the main cast, with her more sensitive and greenhorn demeanor contrasting her partner, and as such she also has to deal with his difficult-to-get-with personality.

She arguably forms the second character-focused plotline of the series, with her progress and development to a more capable and confident adventurer, and overall she is likable as a character, with her gentle attitude and sense of humor. I will, however, say, that she can be somewhat inconsistent at times, mostly when it comes to her lack of angst or trauma over her first quest which feels somewhat jarring when it only kicks out when the plot really demands it. To a lesser extent this also plagues the character of High Elf Archer, but it’s far more noticeable in Priestess due to the greater emphasis on her progress.

Now I won’t dwell too much on the characters of Cow Girl and Sword Maiden, mainly because while each one of them deserve some talk about, I feel that their interactions with Goblin Slayer deserve to be watched without much of spoiling or discussions beforehand, especially Sword Maiden who serves as an excellent parallel to Goblin Slayer.

Now aside form Goblin Slayer and Priestess, the other three party members that form the main cast are the aforementioned green-haired elven archer “High Elf Archer”, Dwarf Shaman, and Lizard Priest. I love their characters and how they bring so much humor and personality to scenes, as well as evolving the series into a more buddy-buddy adventure. Sadly, the only one who gets that much of presence is Archer (and even then, she’s more of a comic relief), while both Dwarf and Shaman feel somewhat underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the main characters.

That said, the seventh episode showcases a great deal of their growing friendship and is filled with excellent chemistry and both subtle and blatant showing of how much the five-man party grew to love and care about each other.

Moving on to the supporting characters and the rest of cast, what I love about the majority of the secondary characters is just how distinguished they’re, and despite varying amounts of screentime, almost every one of them manages to get just enough time to shine. Whether it is the kind-hearted guild receptor who acknowledges Goblin Slayer’s heroism, the smug yet highly competent spearman or his seductive yet perspective witch partner, their presence makes you want to watch more of them.


Animation & Art

Frankly when it comes to the production values, I was rather disappointed with the end result. White Fox as a studio has managed to build a reputation for producing surprisingly slick and high-quality animations for their shows, and they are no strangers to fantasy worlds as in with Akame ga Kill and Re:Zero. However, for the most part, Goblin Slayer falls short.

I’m not sure if it’s due to White Fox considering Goblin Slayer to be on smaller scale than their previous outings or is it because their work on Steins;Gate 0 and the Re:Zero short movie/special beforehand drained their pockets dry, but the best way to describe the general quality of the show’s animation is inconsistent.

To start with the good stuff first, what strikes me as surprising with the character designs is just how much of them was borrowed from other works. And not just a handful of works; many of the characters in Goblin Slayer borrow their visual cues from just as many different works, ranging anywhere from fellow dark fantasy anime and manga like Berserk, to other series like Hunter x Hunter, Fate/stay night and Silver Spoon, to games like Dragon’s Crown and Dragon Quest.

Hell, you even have a character whose design is inspired by The Idolmaster. I have no idea how all those drastic inspirations managed to blend in together, but it just works. And honestly, it just adds to the charm of the series in a strange, bizarre way.

And it’s not the only interesting thing about the art, because it has these moments where the entire scenery goes in the monochrome style of Sin City, complete with some specific objects such as clothes or eyes being colored, and to say that I absolutely love this unique kind of color processing would be a gross understatement.

However, back to kicking White Fox for laziness, Goblin Slayer’s visuals on a whole are far below their usual standard. Sure, White Fox was never at the very top of anime studios, but their shows are often very consistent with their fluid animation and attention to detail. Here, however, the animation has its moments, but for the most part it is wildly inconsistent, hampered by off model, uninspired combat stills and rough movements.

And beyond that I would also argue that it lacks some visual flair. Passion would be another word I’d use to describe it. I think a good example is in a shot after Goblin Slayer achieves a massive victory on an unexpected enemy. Now, this is the only time I’ll make a comparison to the manga, but after said victory, Goblin Slayer gets up and threatens the nearby goblins; in the manga, he appears to them as a shadowed and monstrous beast, while the anime simply goes with a bland and shaky zoom in towards the Slayer as he raises his finger, and this is but one example of wasted opportunity here to add some much needed flair to the series’ presentation.

Also there’s the case that the series simply loves switching Goblin Slayer’s models between 2D and 3D and it just looks so jarring and out-of-place. My hope is that at least that aspect would get fixed in a future Blu-Ray release, but even then, it’s hard to forget the junky and stiff movement of a 3D Goblin Slayer. There is also the case of using low-quality and noticeable CGI for several scenes with goblin hordes, which can be a pain in the eye.


Audio & Sound

While still a relatively new composer, Kenichirō Suehiro has already made a reputation for himself for being the composer of both Golden Kamui and White Fox’s own Re:Zero, and Goblin Slayer adds another solid name to his resume. His work here is a lot more intense than Re:Zero, but the rockish tunes and high strings give Goblin Slayer a wild and rough edge that works wonderfully with its dark content. At some point I wondered if Suehiro was told to listen to the 2016 Doom soundtrack to get the inspiration, but either way, the rock guitar-led soundtrack is great.

But Goblin Slayer also knows when to be somber. A standout example is the song “Though Our Paths May Diverge” by Mili, which is such a beautiful and sorrowful melody that occurs as soon as one of the series’ best episodes reaches its end, and it’s absolutely one of the best tracks to come out from anime in 2018. Mili also worked on Goblin Slayer’s opening theme, “Rightfully”, whose melancholic-turned-wrathful style and surprisingly good English lyrics make it one of the most memorable openings themes to come out in recent years.

While the ending “Gin no Kisei” by Soraru features a rather boring animation as it is the case with most endings, the song itself is also pretty good. It also goes after a bittersweet note, and its presentation at the very least seem to reflect upon Goblin Slayer’s lone crusade.

Goblin Slayer was blessed enough to get a simultaneous English dub during its airing, which is pretty nice and shows what of a sudden sleeper hit Slayer was. Now as far as Japanese dub vs. English dub goes… I’ll have to go with the former.

My problem with the English dub probably lies with watching the Japanese dub first, but to me even without the the latter’s influence, the English dub simply sounds odd. Not badly acted or awfully synced, but just plain odd.

There are some voice actors about which I had no complain about, like Brittany Lauda as Cow Girl, Josh Bangle as Lizard Priest and Amanda Gish as Witch, all of whom do their roles well, especially Gish who just nails it as the seductive and gentle sorceress.

At the same time, however, I can’t help but feel that some voices are just misplaced. In Priestess and Archer’s cases, this is probably due to the soft and moe-like design of their characters, because while I have no doubt about Hayden Daviau or Mallorie Rodak will become more prominent voice actresses later (both are rather new to the industry), neither of them feels exactly right as their characters, especially Rodak whose voice sounds too low-pitched and mature for the spicy tsundere kind of character that Archer was.

Also, about Brad Hawkins as Goblin Slayer; I think it was cool that Funimation brought the guy who did the motion-capture work for the Doomguy, because you can never have enough Doom references or comparisons in Goblin Slayer. That said, I personally favor the cold, dispassionate performance of Yūichirō Umehara over Hawkins, which for me sounded like Hawkins tried to give the character a raspier and huskier Solid Snake-like voice but it ended up giving the character a more emotive and uncertain tone, but this is really just my personal opinion.

So, if you like English dubs and prefer them to Japanese dubs, you might enjoy Goblin Slayer’s offering, although I consider it to be bellow Funimation’s normal standards. If you despite English dubs, this won’t do anything to change your opinion on the matter.


Final Verdict

Regardless of the controversies surrounding its initial episodes, Goblin Slayer is a highly entertaining fantasy action series, even if never quite delivers on its ambitions beyond the satisfactory goblin killing. A lot of its charm eventually lies in the simplicity of its premise and story, and most criticisms about the crowded cast or underdeveloped supporting characters can be quite easily forgiven due to how brilliant Goblin Slayer as a protagonist is.

Perhaps a more polished presentation and a couple more episodes to further flesh out the setting would have made Goblin Slayer into a more respected and acclaimed series, but even with such flaws it still stands as a surprisingly fun and intense show. With a truly interesting protagonist, unique take on narrative perspective and an excellent soundtrack that balances action and emotion, Goblin Slayer is a solid beginning for what might be a very special fantasy anime.

The Good:

  • Everything about Goblin Slayer as a character; from his personality, to looks, to interactions and development
  • Interesting, refreshing take on the Hero of Another Story trope
  • While their development varies for the worse, the supporting cast is immensely likable and recognizable
  • Soundtrack is superb

The Bad:

  • At only 12 episodes, the series ends up feeling like a mere prologue for something greater
  • Some questionable balance between and shift between being a comedic companions adventure and a serious fantasy ride
  • Visual direction and presentation is rather flat, a surprising and disappointing outing by White Fox

& the Ugly:

  • At some point you have to wonder how wasn't the original author sued with all of these design expies

Alternate Recommendations

  • Re:Zero - Starting Life in Another World - Yes, go and watch White Fox's previous fantasy series, which can be just as dark and vicious as Goblin Slayer, if not more. It shares several tropes in terms of writing and setting with Goblin Slayer, and has enough shocks, twists and style to be an extremely enjoyable romp of dark fantasy.
  • Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash - This is a blind recommendation, as I haven't watched Grimgar yet at the time of this review. However, I have heard good things about it, especially for its more realistic and pragmatic approach to action and the smallest of obstacles, which I believe people who enjoyed Goblin Slayer will enjoy Grimgar as well. Might be a mediocre, though, so keep your expectations low.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Raziel Reaper

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