Goblin Slayer (ゴブリンスレイヤー) is a seinen, dark fantasy anime adaptation of a light novel series written by Kumo Kagyu and illustrated by Noboru Kannatsuki. It aired during the Fall 2018 simulcast season with twelve total episodes with production from White Fox Studio and direction from Takaharu Ozaki. This is an anime that I was originally hesitant at picking up due to the high influx of controversy it stirred up during its respective season. But, a few months ago, my curiosity got the best of me and I gave it a shot. In the end, I’m happy that I did so, despite its many shortcomings.
Goblin Slayer is about a silver-ranked adventurer who steps into a very dangerous situation to save some newbies from being completely decimated by goblins. From here, we learn that he only ever hunts goblins and usually solo. However, a quirky blonde priestess, whom he saved, is so thankful for his heroics that she joins him on quest to protect the realm from the vile monsters that are goblins, working as a healer and offering a helping hand wherever she’s able.
As a whole, Goblin Slayer is a generic fantasy series that follows a bunch of adventurers as they take on quests to hunt down goblins and goblin-adjacent creatures. Between the sexualisation of the female characters and the inherently predictable progression, the series would be heavily off-putting to many otaku watchers. I know that I battled the urge to drop it on many occasions. Nevertheless, beyond all the elements that make it so damn hackneyed, I actually loved watching it for one main reason: the focus is placed on Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and what is essentially the foundation for every RPG out there, particularly JRPGs and table-top RPGs.
Essence of RPGs
Role-playing games are my favourite genre of video games, whether it’s on a console or a PC, especially JRPGs; they’re even more near-and-dear to my gamer heart and soul. There is something special about them that’s so bloody addicting and satisfying. Even if the some of the tales become repetitive—the needing to save the whole world from doom-and-gloom bit, I’m looking at you Final Fantasy—and the characters are roughly all similar, the pleasure that I get from playing them is almost always so exhilarating and uplifting. Goblin Slayer is, in essence, a giant homage to the genre, specifically table-top RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which I also fucking adore.
There are a couple of distinguishing facets that highlight this tribute. One of the biggest examples are the characters’ names. No one has a typical name, like Shirō, or Hirō, or Takumi, or Rin and Rei, etc. Everyone’s name is their chosen class type. Such as Goblin Slayer, Priestess, Lizard Priest, High Elf Archer, and more. Goblin Slayer’s name is actually even more unique because in a typical TTRPG, he’d be more akin to the class of Fighter. His is the only character with a specialised name, which makes sense given that he’s the protagonist and needs the spotlight to set him apart somewhat. But for anyone who is familiar with the RPG set-up, knowing that name or title provides us with most of the information that we will need to know about that specific individual.
For example, when I look at High Elf Archer, I know that she will be phenomenal at ranged attacks, particularly when it comes to utilising a bow-and-arrow or crossbow (depending on their preference and specialisation). Sneak Attacks will be another skill in their repertoire that they will be quite fantastic at executing. Other well-trained skills may include their perception (particularly to traps), having low-light visions, and being extremely nimble or dextrous.
Each character has their own set of strengths and weaknesses that complements the rest of the party members. For the High Elf Archer, while’s she a badass motherfucker with a bow-and-arrow, she may not be as great with hand-to-hand combat as her strength (how hard she hits with a sword) and constitution (how many hits she can take before she goes down) may be significantly lower. In that situation, the fighter, or in this case Goblin Slayer, would make up for those shortcomings.
Seeing all of these aspects in play for the duration of the anime was quite a lot of fun for me. There are scenes throughout Goblin Slayer where we hear them discuss the amounts of spells that they have available to them for the day, or how they had to save up so much gold to buy a powerful scroll or spell. They drink potions to regain hit-points or renew spiritual energy. All of these are building blocks in a standard role-playing game.
Role-playing games took off in Japan in the 1980s. Even though they had been around for years prior to that, it wasn’t until they invented the FamiCom (or the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West) that the generation of console RPGs became a reality. It made the genre more accessible and even more interesting for people who couldn’t engage with table-toppers for whatever reason. With the original Final Fantasy, we received a party that is almost identical to Goblin Slayer’s party. I remember that the Monk confused me the most the first time I played FF because he worked best without any gear, even at the highest levels. Everyone else needed gear but putting gear on him actually made him weaker.
Even in the modern age of RPGs, we still have these same class systems and basic groundwork for the characters to build off of. Although, crafting that character can become far more intricate with things like specialisations of skills and sub-sub-classes, and contemporary weaponry. In Persona 5, Joker is pretty much a ranger with his dextrous movements and stylish gunplay.
RPGs to Real Life
The main overarching theme in Goblin Slayer is that you have the ability to roll the dice on your life and choose the number that it lands on rather than waiting around for your luck (or lack thereof) to lead you forward. Our protagonist is always portrayed as pushing the bounds of his fate, or whatever the dice rolls for the day, and surviving a situation that he really shouldn’t have. For example, in one of the episodes as he approaches death, he ends up pulling an Arya Stark and says, “Not today,” refusing to let that be his last battle.
For folks needing a bit of context, in D&D, you have a set of dice that you roll and the number determines whether or not you’ll have the strength or skill to successfully complete whatever the hell it is you’re trying to do (like backflip off a balcony onto a dire wolf to chop its head off; oh yeah, I did it and it was fucking awesome). In some cases, you’d need to a roll a 20 on a d20 dice (a Critical Hit) if the task is super fucking hard (I managed to roll two 20s to dance with the dire wolf like I did; which has never happened to me again, at least not yet).
Because of all that, Goblin Slayer tries to be an allegory of how life is one gargantuan RPG and that we as individuals with free will don’t need to listen to or follow because of whatever may be laid out for us by this idealised notion of Fate. So long as we have the conviction to do so, we can accomplish anything, even cheating the fuck out of death. We can break away from the expectations and carve out our own path, to keep the dice rolling until we are satisfied with the numbers or end result. It’s really fucking cheesy, and it does come off as being quite on the nose. Nonetheless, it’s a theme that worked for the anime and for more than just the main character.
There is so much great stuff in Goblin Slayer, however it’s buried very deeply beneath its biggest downfall: the sexualisation of female characters, which is further frustrating when rape is used as a narrative device to incite feelings of discomfort and fear.
The series is constantly objectifying its females, to the point where I couldn’t really take any of them seriously, even when they are being attacked, and it’s just such a shitty fucking feeling. Whenever a woman was raped, or the mention of rape occurs, it’s usually promptly followed by a heavily dosed up scene of fan service. Are you trying to tell me that women get raped because they all have big breasts and wear provocative clothing? Because that is precisely the message it sends out, and it pissed me the fuck off on more than one occasion. As someone who was born female and spent too much of their life identifying as one, I felt like Goblin Slayer had no respect for women and treated them as nothing more than tools for comedy, which is morbidly ironic considering they are the ones who faced the worst kind of violence that can be inflicted on a person. Putting all of that together made me feel like those rape scenes were fetishized more often than not, or that it really isn’t as terrible as people make it out to be.
The women are shown to be terrified by their expressions of terror and their desperate pleas for the abuse to stop, which when combined with how uncomfortable and disturbing the sequences of rape are, can be used to argue against rape being fetishized. However, when you take all of that and in the very next scene focus on the outrageous size and bounciness of breasts, or the tight-fit clothing around a woman’s hips or arse, it completely defeats the whole fucking point of including that traumatic event to begin with. It basically screams out that these women are effectively asking to be raped because of how sexual they are, and that’s not okay, bro.
I’m not a prude, by far, or easily dissuaded by fan service or sex. I actually have an appreciation for it, but when it’s used unnecessarily as nothing but shock value to the point where it completely devalues all of the other brilliant facets of a narrative, including the dark and disturbing atmosphere it’s trying to build, I don’t have any respect for it. Even with all of its other clichéd qualities, I would have adored Goblin Slayer much more if it didn’t have such godawful use of fan service, specifically with its audacity at objectifying females around the sexual violence committed against them.
With all of this being said, the one thing I do disagree with that arose during its initial reception was all of the hatred it received for including rape at all. Many people complained that the series was pushing anime too far and it was turning this “wholesome and great medium” into something trashy because it included rape. As someone who reads a shite ton of fantasy in general, I call bullshite. I mean, how many people fucking live and breathe the trash-fire that is Diabolik Lovers? But you can read my musings on this topic in my First Impressions post, if you’d like.
Anyway, a long ass fucking novel later, Goblin Slayer is an interesting anime to watch if you are interested in or a fan or role-playing games, or if you just want a basic and visual understanding of what bareroot RPGs look like. It is extremely violent with tons of hacking-and-slashing and sprays of blood galore. Additionally, there is one or two rape scenes and many mentions of rape from beginning to end. So, if those things, along with incessant fan service, aren’t things that you’re okay with watching, I’d stay way from it. But watching Goblin Slayer’s development as a character was fascinating and the camaraderie of the adventurers was also wonderfully endearing and quite charming. Those things alone, combined with the tossback to RPGs, made me enjoy the anime on a decent level.
Goblin Slayer isn’t a bad series, but it’s also quite far from being as stellar as it could’ve been. It’s pretty average across the board, yet I did appreciate it for what it tried to accomplish, given that RPGs were my gateway into becoming such an aficionado of video games.
6 shield bashes outta 10.
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