In the Autumn season of 2018, the premiere of Goblin Slayer came out and clearly rubbed some viewers the wrong way. I’m not going to try and tell you that there’s nothing objectionable about Goblin Slayer or that it is something that is fine for everyone to watch. Quite clearly it isn’t and quite clearly it is going to trigger certain viewers. And also, yes, I do agree that streaming services needed a lot more in the way of content advisories present so that viewers at least were warned about the nature of the content in the episode – though that was added for additional episodes.
The discussion went on, bloggers typed furiously either pushing for the idea that Goblin Slayer was emo-edge-lord-whatever and shouldn’t be watched, or defended the story and characters against whatever the most recent claims were against it, and the anime community divided with a whole bunch of people just watching from the sidelines and wondering just why a couple of scenes in the opening episode managed to get that many people off side.
And then it passed.
Except, it really didn’t, because Winter 2019 revealed the premiere of The Rising of the Shield Hero and this time we didn’t even need an actual rape. We just needed one character to falsely accuse another of rape and apparently that was enough to convince some viewers that the story was pushing an anti-‘me too’ agenda or something and was providing an excuse for misogynistic attitudes. Far be it from me to tell people what message they should take from media but this one was blown well out of proportion and taken well away from original context, and once again there was a fury of fingers on key boards as everyone wanted to have their say.
With all of that out of the way, I’d like to turn the discussion to the idea that what triggers one person doesn’t necessarily cause the same reaction in someone else which is why comments such as claiming that Goblin Slayer or The Rising of the Shield Hero shouldn’t exist or is only enjoyed by people with questionable moral values kind of rubbed me the wrong way (keep in mind, I’m not trying to change your mind about your opinion on either show as the content will not sit well with some people, just having a discussion about why a personal objection doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy content).
As a fan of the action genre, the horror genre, the sci-fi genre, among many others I’ve seen all manner of gore-fest, characters with murderous intent, and plenty of scenes in live action and anime that have made me feel a little squeamish. And I enjoy that feeling while watching a fictional entertainment, because it is safe. All of those horrible things are happening on a screen and not to me and not in my real life or to someone I know, or even to a real person. That distance of fiction is really an important element. Watching them play out is entertaining, but it also raises questions and makes me wonder about the motives and whys and wherefores of the characters and their actions and when well done can even make me curious about the real world and the implications of such events for real people.
The main scene that has been criticised in Goblin Slayer is the rape scene. For victims of assault or just for people who are quite sensitive to that sort of content, it crossed a line that they have drawn. The content is not for them.
For me, watching this scene was difficult because it was brutal. I couldn’t look away as that poor girl was overwhelmed by the hobgoblin and thrown to the others before being pinned. The look on her face as she knew exactly what was happening to her was intended to be and is distressing to say the least. It was horrific and it made me horrified for her. For me, this scene didn’t glorify anything. It didn’t condone the actions. If anything, the exact opposite.
It made me feel that the story believed rape was a monstrous act committed by monsters. And that put it firmly in the camp of acceptable viewing for me. There was none of the uncomfortable moments where they tried to later justify the rapist as anything other than a monster. Admittedly, it does this by making the perpetrators actually inhuman monsters so subtlety might be lacking, but the message was clear to me and its purpose of showing the danger, the terror, and the way things can go so horribly wrong worked within the episode.
However, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to view it that way, nor does it mean that everyone is going to want to view that kind of content regardless of the message or how the scene is framed. For some people, this scene will most definitely trigger that fight or flight response that will make them hit the stop button and walk away from the screen and not want to come back.
Reading other bloggers thoughts on the scene, there’s been the suggestion that the scene is fan-servicey (and that’s something I’ve seen in a number of blogs this week as the myriad of goblin slayer reactions, defences, and rants have come out). I’m not going to disagree but I wasn’t seeing it when I watched the scene. I was seeing a horrible nightmare play out and a victim in need of a rescue that would come too late.
With The Rising of the Shield Hero, I didn’t have any issue with the content. Clearly the accusation is being used as a plot device. It isn’t the most nuanced of devices but it gets the job done in terms of setting Naofumi on the path from naive and optimistic to resentful and bitter, as it would if you were on the receiving end of such treatment. I do get that in the current social context there are some less than great parallels that can be drawn, however the story was written well before the current climate, and it does not claim that all women are lying about sexual assault, only that one character that has been framed as fairly repugnant has done so. I don’t feel this is something that should be generalised into a message about an entire gender, though the absence of female characters that aren’t morally questionable or enslaved is an issue the story in general has and I kind of get why some viewers might not like the story.
But back to that idea of hitting the stop button and walking away, I know that feeling. I don’t get it very often because my big trigger is fairly specific but when it gets set off it gets set off.
And do you know which anime is the only anime I couldn’t finish because I was triggered and absolutely could not watch another episode of even though I know from reading episode summaries they don’t repeat the event ever again? It’s an easy guess given the first image in this post.
Yep. It’s ‘Free‘.
I actually wrote a post (linked above) almost exactly two years ago about why I was putting my watch of Free on hold. I haven’t gone back. I can’t. Even looking for the image I’m about to include in my post caused me to break out in a sweat and feel my stomach tightening into knots. There’s no way I can watch it.
Drowning in the ocean shown, outside of the context of a horror or thriller where it is so over sensationalised there’s a disconnect from reality, hit me hard while attempting to watch Free. And I have plenty of reason to feel that way about that sort of sequence.
That said, I don’t discourage anyone else from watching Free. I don’t judge the entire rest of the show to be of lesser quality simply because they chose to be overly dramatic in the mid-season in a manner that managed to trigger me. And I certainly don’t claim that the show is encouraging unsafe practices in the water just because someone nearly drowned.
Free has every right to exist as a story and it is one that many people enjoy. However, for me it brought about a memory I don’t want and emotions I’m still not really equipped to deal with and that most certainly is not what I am looking for in my ‘entertainment’.
I think sometimes we need to be careful when we call for bans on things or for things not to exist. Because, it is usually worth remembering that our reaction isn’t the only one and what triggers one person isn’t necessarily going to have the same impact on another. Now, I still stand by what I said at the start about including warning labels. Going in blind without at least someone giving you a heads up is not a pleasant experience.
But to say that something created as entertainment shouldn’t exist just because it doesn’t entertain you creates a very slippery slope where the opinions of some group (whichever group it might be appointed to determine which entertainment can and cannot be viewed) get to exert their influence over everyone else. I find that to be more objectionable than occasionally crossing paths with a piece of entertainment I personally object to.
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Goblin Slayer, Vol. 1 (light novel)