He’s Not Trying To Save The World – He Just Wants To Slay Some Goblins
If you were on any kind of social media during the last months of 2018 then you probably caught some of the Goblin Slayer rape/infant killing controversy after episode one aired. Fortunately, after the storm died down and more thoughtful posts and commentary started coming out, most people seemed to agree that largely the problem could have been solved by the various streaming services providing sensible classification or warnings prior to the show airing and only a few extremists were still calling for the entire show to be trashed and calling those who enjoyed it degenerates.
Wow, I love it when people make a judgement over your entire existence based on your preference of fictional stories. That said, I don’t want this review to turn into a debate about censorship and I kind of covered my thoughts on this whole thing in a feature about triggers back when episode one first aired so I’m just going to get on with reviewing the anime now.
Still, the need for a warning label on this anime does exist because it does have content that some people will find distressing. I’d strongly recommend not watching it if you know that you don’t like shows where female characters are subjected to sexual assault or if buckets of blood flying about the screen in fight sequences is going to make you feel queasy.
The problem with that though is that while these things are in Goblin Slayer, it isn’t really what the show is about. Quite a few reviews I’ve read have criticised Goblin Slayer for not being as dark as Berserk or for being toothless. While Goblin Slayer does explore some of the darker aspects of adventuring and the less noble side of killing creatures most other consider merely pests rather than facing off against demon kings, the story is essentially about the two main characters: Goblin Slayer and Priestess.
In the first episode we meet the Priestess as she joins up to become an adventurer, gets recruited into a party of rookies and more or less lead to her death by the overconfidence and cockiness of youth and general perceptions about the weakness of goblins. It’s a solid opening encounter that sets the tone for a world where adventurers can and do die particularly early in their careers and goblins might be individually weak but in a dark cavern with numbers on their side if you aren’t prepared you are in for a world of hurt. It’s also pretty confronting in that the fates of these nameless rookies are pretty tragic. Fortunately we haven’t spent enough time with them to feel we know them, but basic empathy for humans and knowing none of these characters were actually bad people, just inexperienced, makes the whole encounter leaving you with a slightly sick feeling in your stomach, which is more or less what it intended.
Fortunately, Priestess is rescued by Goblin Slayer and the two then form a partnership of sorts. The story follows the two as they learn from one another, the Priestess learning how to use her miracles to best effect for a party and about the tricks goblins use and how to beat them, and Goblin Slayer learning slowly how to interact with others and to trust others even if just a little bit.
What this means is the story seems to sway back and forth between life and death encounters in dark dungeons and slower moments where the two go about their days in the guild and town preparing equipment, eating and drinking with others, and generally living their lives. It is this two toned approach that seemed to annoy some viewers who stuck around after episode one. I think they might have expected the violence just to keep going and not let up, but the point of the story isn’t to be violent. Violence happens in the world being constructed but it isn’t all there is to life. That is what Goblin Slayer is needing to learn and his removal of his helmet in the guild in the final episode is a good sign that he is finally starting to realise he doesn’t need to be the armed Goblin Slayer 24 hours a day.
That might seem like a small step but it is some massive character progress for him and it builds on dozens of small exchanges peppered throughout the series.
Priestess is no slouch either really stepping up in the final fight to both immobilise the final boss and to heal Goblin Slayer. She uses his plan and her own decisions to get the outcome she decides is best.
However, in case it seems like I just keep heaping praise on this series, I do have to point out the biggest problem with it. The series works best if you’ve read the source (either the manga or the light novels will do).
And that’s a problem.
An anime adaptation should stand alone. It should show the story in anime form for fans of the source who want more of the characters, but should also be accessible and make sense on its own.
Goblin Slayer fails in that regard in that a lot of the decisions and ideas are kind of hinted at in the anime but don’t make sense without the additional knowledge the source gives you.
One example that stands clear from reading episode reviews was when High Elf Archer asked Goblin Slayer not to use fire and a whole bunch of other things on the goblins under water town. And he agreed. That was all there was to the exchange in the anime.
From reading the books there was a lot more behind both her request and his acceptance. Namely the whole town being above the sewers and potential collateral damage. Now it makes sense why she’s being fairly specific with her limitations (other than she doesn’t want to get set on fire or poisoned) and why he actually listens and agrees. More importantly, it makes sense that in the next episode, when he is about to set off an explosion he checks first that they have travelled beyond the borders of the town before he puts his plan into action.
Now, the sequence makes enough sense in the anime in that you aren’t completely unable to follow it, but it also feels like you are missing something. That isn’t how a story should make you feel and this was only one scene out of many that had anime only viewers tilting their heads and wondering just what was behind a decision.
So while I will recommend this anime, it is an average anime. It isn’t great or amazing. There are definitely issues with how this has been adapted from its source.
Still, I thought it looked great, I enjoyed the characters, loved the sound design, and all and all had great fun following along with these characters and adventures. While it does get dark, there’s also plenty to balance it and from a narrative point of view it makes sense that those moments are as dark as they are.
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