Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: Goblin Slayer
Anime Studio: White Fox
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Released: November 4th 2019
Language: Japanese / English
A young priestess has formed her first adventuring party, but almost immediately they find themselves in distress. It’s the Goblin Slayer who comes to their rescue–a man who’s dedicated his life to the extermination of all goblins, by any means necessary. And when rumors of his feats begin to circulate, there’s no telling who might come calling next.
I’m going to start by broaching the controversy that first brought this series to the spotlight: rape. The opening episode landed on Crunchyroll without any form of content warning when, in reality, it really needed one. You see, the story starts off with our 15-year-old protagonist Priestess joining up with an inexperienced party of adventurers to tackle some low-level goblins. Things go wrong. Terribly wrong. And one of the women is raped. While stopping short of delving in hentai territory, the episode showed enough that there wasn’t much left to the imagination.
I do not believe that such topics should be avoided entirely in fiction. In truth, fiction feels to me like a good vehicle to explore trauma. Even so, this was an uncomfortable first episode to watch. After the first episode, such scenes remain off-screen, though never really far from the mind. Some of the characters bond over these experiences, and it’s something that plays into Goblin Slayer’s backstory too.
One the one hand, it certainly makes the Goblins seem like vile villains that need to be tackled. On the other though, the series doesn’t really deal with the effects of the trauma in any great detail. I do think that, if it had presented a realistic study of the events rather than presenting it as simply a story point, then it would have had less backlash overall.
That all being said, Goblin Slayer does have a lot of things going for it if you can get past that scene. For starters, the general set up is actually quite an interesting one. We see the odd moments where a great hero that defeated the Demon King is mentioned, and even see her once or twice, but our protagonists aren’t on that level. Nor do they head towards getting to that level. This is a tale of low-to-mid-level adventurers dealing with a horde of enemies that are generally thought of as a nuisance rather than a big bad.
What we essentially have is a ‘Hero of another story’ trope that has devoured the entire series, leaving the main hero to be a bit player that we barely see. That gives it a nice hook to make it stand out. In that respect, it will likely live or die by its characters for you too. The stoic titular protagonist held plenty of intrigue for me. He was brutal and cold-hearted towards his main prey, and occasionally similar towards his fellow adventurers. At the same time though, his backstory justified this, and his slow growth from solitary warrior to intelligent party member was well done.
Priestess, being new to the adventuring game, acts as a catalyst for us to learn, picking up tips and lore as she does. She serves that role well, and her innocence counteracts the darker undertones of the main hero. The other party members that they gather too have their moments, and their personalities really shine through during moments of downtime. Cow Girl too, Goblin Slayer’s childhood friend, serves as an anchor to the past for him and feels more important than her screen time would have you believe. Naming conventions will feel strange at first, with characters referred to by their nicknames or job titles rather than real names, but you’ll get used to that.
The action is where the series shines, and not just because of the sometimes striking animation. The plans that are enacted against the Goblins are brutal but fit well with the darker tone that the series embraces. It’s the battles against other entities that really grabbed me though. From the Ogre to the Cursed Beast, seeing the intricate – but risky – plans play out on screen was excellent. Then, in the final episode, we get treated to an all-out war scene where some of the side characters get to show off a little too.
When not serving us blood and action, the show goes for a mix of humour and a general slice of life feel. There are times that it works. The scene with Priestess pointing out Goblin Slayer’s habit of responding with ‘yeah’ and ‘I see’ genuinely made me laugh. Other times, you get gags about liking cheese, or shopping scenes that don’t really work the way they’re intended. They don’t fall completely flat, they just don’t prove memorable.
The voice cast is good, with the subbed cast standing out a little more than the dubbed one. The dubbed cast is absolutely fine though, and nothing in their performance is going to make you want to turn off. The music is similar in that it doesn’t take you out of the story at all, but unlike the VAs, it doesn’t do anything to stand out either. I would say that the opening theme was very good though, and reminded me a little of the ending theme for Vampire Knight.
Visually, the series fits the same category as a lot of modern releases. At its best, it’s smooth, and the scenes really pop. These moments are, as you’d expect, mostly reserved for the battles. The rest of the time, it’s fine but doesn’t stand up well when compared to some of the more picturesque series out there.
The dual-format 4 disc version of the release is also worth mentioning here. If you’re into physical extras, this is a great release. Containing a 48-page art book, art cards, and fabric poster, it’s an excellent option if you want both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the release, especially at the reasonable price it’s listed as.
So, where does that leave the series as a whole? Well, whether you enjoy this will come down to your tolerance of the opening episode and linked themes to some extent. If sexual assault is a massive no for you, then the first episode will put you off, and the revisiting of this theme will not help. If you can get past this though, there’s some enjoyment to be had. Goblin Slayer is a sometimes brutal, but interesting take on the fantasy genre. At its best, it mixes excitement and a likable cast well. It may not be perfect, but it may well be worth a watch. For me, it gets a 4 out of 5. If the darker themes or inconsistencies in presentation aren’t for you, then you’ll score it lower.