The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Goblin Slayer ?
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How was the first episode?
It's time to revisit that infamous first episode of Goblin Slayer! This premiere does still have its issues, be they internal to the series (Guild Girl tries to tell Priestess's party that a goblin-slaying quest isn't for beginners and more experienced adventurers may come along to tackle it, which we know from later episodes is the opposite of how that works), or to the tone of the presentation for obvious reasons. Upon a rewatch, there's a very palpable feeling of 'These adventurers are inept, cocky losers and deserve the fate that befalls them' which isn't a great feeling to project on an audience who gets to watch them get brutally murdered, poisoned, and raped. But even with all that potentially off-putting grit, the episode is still undeniably impressive at what it does. There's an effectively portentous tone as we follow the team into the cave before they're ambushed, and watching the Slayer himself work for the first time is still quite the strong spectacle. I'll at least give Goblin Slayer credit for being exactly the kind of show it wants to be with no compromise.
So even while this first episode is just fine, where the dub of Goblin Slayer runs into trouble is the actual dub part. Of course, many of the characters in this first episode will only be appearing in this episode for what are now obvious reasons. Warrior, Wizard, and Fighter introduce themselves in their ‘cocky loser’ roles effectively, and they deliver their various panicked screams and anguish quite strongly by the end of the first half, with Hayden Daviau's Priestess standing out as well; it's all as harrowing as it needs to be. But the script, whether it's a case of how it's been written for the dub or just a consequence of hearing this kind of writing in my native tongue, doesn't come off as well. The first part of the episode at the Guild is overly dry and descriptive, coming off like someone reading straight from a D&D manual, not feeling natural at all. At least we get an amusing unintentional rhyme out of a line about 'filthy goblins, no problem'.
But then in the second half of the episode, we get the biggest problem of Goblin Slayer's dub, the Goblin Slayer himself. I'll preface this by saying that Brad Hawkins' performance is not bad. He acts well for the material given to him, with a consistent tone that generally sounds good inside the trademark tincan helmet. The problem is just that his voice is a poor fit for the character as seen in the show. He's too high-pitched, and his voice wavers and emotes far more than the character is supposed to when he's doing his ‘inhuman goblin-slaying machine’ routine. He sounds like he's actually trying to be a badass, rather than letting his curt words complement his actions so the whole package can speak for itself. Little extra quips like his ‘See ya’ when rolling the hobgoblin's body into the cavern don't help with that trying-too-hard feeling. It all clashes with the tone and style that the episode works so hard to set up. Between that and the aforementioned script not working well with the style of the series, the dub of Goblin Slayer is definitely a sub-par way to experience one of this season's most talked-about shows.
I often say that it's not the shoddily produced shows that most frustrate me - it's the fundamentally mean-spirited ones. Shows treating their characters as dolls to be ripped apart for visceral effect always strikes me as dramatically clumsy and viscerally unpleasant. Infusing your show with bloody ultraviolence doesn't make me take it more seriously, or assume you possess a more serious understanding of drama - it just makes me assume you've got a misanthropic teenager's sense of what constitutes seriousness, and also that you just don't feel much empathy for fictional characters. Personally, I really like fictional characters, and seeing them butchered for drama fuel makes me tune out basically immediately.
That description pretty much covers the whole first half of this episode, which is a deeply misanthropic, brutally violent, and altogether incredibly unpleasant time. Like in a slasher film, we're basically just waiting for the goblins to start murdering people we've just met, and the process of their deaths is as shrill a cry of “this is serious, take me seriously!” as you could imagine. There are two separate on-screen rapes, a point where our heroine pees herself while the camera just watches her crotch, and a bloody mercy killing, leading into our titular slayer telling our heroine to “get used to the smell of blood.” It's graphic, it's juvenile, and it's basically everything I dislike in fiction. The recent Grimgar managed to make fighting just one goblin into a genuinely thrilling, pulse-pounding experience; this show uses twenty to establish a grey tone of blood and grimness with no emotional impact beyond “when will this author stop trying to prove this point.”
Fortunately, while this episode's first half is basically a misery altogether, its second half is actually quite strong. The show's character designs, animation, and general visual aesthetic are all expressive and appealing, and director Takaharu Ozaki (recently of Girls' Last Tour) nails the atmosphere of trudging through a dank cave in a Dark Souls game, just waiting for someone clobber you. Watching Goblin Slayer methodically disarm the goblins' traps and snare them himself felt genuinely satisfying in its own right, the encounters weighted by the clear thought he put into each of his moves. You could really sense that this guy had mastered this sort of dungeon crawling through hard-fought trial and error, and his competency wasn't expressed through empty strength, but through diligent caution and preparation. I'm not thrilled by the gamification of basically all anime fantasies in general, but I feel like Goblin Slayer aims for a specific enough “what if we lived in Dark Souls” appeal, and seizes on the engaging element of that premise well enough, that I was pretty darn engaged with the Slayer's journey.
Of course, by the end we had to return to that whole “this is a world where everyone is assaulted and murdered and everything sucks” tone by the end, which leaves me split on Goblin Slayer. I'm giving it a middling score because the entire first half was punishment, but if the show going forward emphasizes more of the tactical stuff from the second half, and cuts down on both its miserable tone and the ultraviolence, Goblin Slayer could be a solidly entertaining watch. I personally don't have much faith that getting into the meat of the narrative will change this author's style enough to keep me watching, but if you're less turned off by ultraviolence and looking for a gritty fantasy, Goblin Slayer definitely has some points in its favor.
Because wallowing in the ugliest side of RPG worlds doesn't suit the spirit of heroic high fantasy, titles that take the grimmest possible angle on fantasy RPGs don't come up often. For better or worse, Goblin Slayer is one such story, and that sets it in stark contrast to its contemporaries in the genre.
As a long-time tabletop RPG player, I know all too well that you can never afford to get cocky as a low-level adventurer, as it's all too easy for a single bad decision or die roll to lead to an ignominious death. This story is fully predicated on that notion. Come in without proper equipment or planning, relying only on your ability to overwhelm your opponents, and disaster can strike. That's exactly what happens in Goblin Slayer. Any gamer can probably tick off the list of basic mistakes that the Priestess's first party makes that leads to their demise, but I was especially pleased to see the point about how weapons with longer blades can actually be a detriment in narrow cave corridors, as this is a detail which all-too-often gets ignored in RPG stories.
What distinguishes the story most, however, is how graphic it gets. The action both before and after Goblin Slayer shows up is brutal; it pulls some punches in showing the absolute worst, but not by much. It also goes at least partway down the path that the franchise is probably most infamous for by depicting female adventurers getting mercilessly raped. The episode doesn't go quite as far as the manga does in depicting this, more heavily implying than actually showing, but it's still intense.
Amidst all of this, the heavily-armored Goblin Slayer lumbers, not with overwhelmingly powerful or flashy moves but with simple stark efficiency and an utterly merciless streak that won't even spare goblin children. Rarely has a display of experience, rather than just power or skill, been so effectively put on display in fantasy RPGs. While the Priestess might be grateful to him for saving her life, I also got the impression that she respected the experience and thoroughness he possesses that her party didn't.
The technical merits handle all the scenes in the dark caverns well, creating an effective ambiance, while the backing musical score does a wonderful job of playing up the mood without getting too heavy. If you like the darker side of fantasy RPG action, then this title may well be worth checking out.
The first thing you have to know about Goblin Slayer is that it is NOT isekai – it's plain old swords and sorcery fantasy. The other thing? It's absolutely brutal. In this regard it draws equally from the original source novels and their manga adaptation – the novels certainly don't shy away from implied sexual violence and descriptive gore, but the manga positively revels in it, and the anime version lands somewhere in the middle. Largely it lingers on a few key moments to let up know that Fighter Girl is being gang raped by the goblins without devoting the amount of time the manga does to the scene, and most of the violence is done in shadows or just off-camera, leaving the grim details to our imaginations, which actually probably makes it much more gruesome, because generally speaking, that means we can tailor what's going on to our particular fears. What this all boils down to is the fact that this is really not going to work for everyone, but if you like your fantasy dark, there's a greater chance that it will.
The story is told through the point of view of Priestess (that's how the characters are addressed in the series, incidentally, by their defining professions), a fifteen-year-old girl just embarking on a life of adventure. She's sheltered but not unobservant, as we quickly see when the party who approaches her mentions that slaying goblins is no big deal and Guild Girl visibly flinches – and only Priestess notices. From that point on she's clearly more unsettled than any of the other three members of her group, and when things go south, she also seems to be the one to keep her head. She's not more competent than the others, per se – she's just been expected danger where they've assumed that the goblins won't be a problem. That's what makes Priestess such a good match for Goblin Slayer when he shows up – she keeps her head and listens to his directions. She doesn't always like what he does or tells her to do, but she also understands that if she wants to live, she really does need to listen to him. The result is that he basically takes her under his wing, forming a partnership with her at the end of the episode which can only benefit them both – he gets a healer and she gets a tutor, ensuring that both of them have a better chance of survival.
That's a chance they'll really need. The world of Goblin Slayer is a vicious one, and the visuals and sound design do their level best to make sure we understand that. The fact that three-quarters of the episode happens in near-total darkness makes it hell on screencaps but definitely reinforces the point: Goblin Slayer, and now Priestess, function in the dark corners of the world in order to preserve the light. In the novels, we do see that light shine through on occasion, but this really is a story that revels in its darker moments. If that's good with you and you can handle the squelch of blades into flesh and slightly-more-than-implied rape, well, this first episode does a decent job with it as far as adapting the original novels goes.
Goblin Slayer isn't an isekai where the main character is sent to a fantasy video-game world, but it sure does feel like it in spots – the characters all referred to by their roles instead of their names, parties venture out on very traditional RPG quests, and the whole world feels not too far removed from an animated adaption of the really early Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest titles. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of anime fantasy worlds that feel more like video games than fully realized settings, but Goblin Slayer seems intent to dispel my preconceived notions with what seems to be its central gimmick: It's an ultraviolent and very grim story, the kind of “This Ain't Your Grandma's Fantasy Anime!” with a hero who is the kind of hardcore badass that will do whatever horrible things it takes to get the job done and survive in a shockingly “realistic” fantasy world.
If you can't tell already, Goblin Slayer's premiere was not exactly my favorite thing that I've seen so far this season , and it isn't even because of the edge-lord levels of violence, despair, and needlessly graphic implications of sexual assault. I wasn't a fan of any of that, mind you, especially the assault bit, but I'm no stranger to grim and bloody fantasy trappings; I love Berserk, for example, and Made in Abyss is one of my favorite anime of all time. No, my problem with Goblin Slayer's premiere is that it feels too calculated with its presentation of this world's “dark” and “serious” nature, so much so that it ironically feels like a very safe and uninspired story so far, in spite of all the prolonged sequences of maiming, poisoning, and goblin rape (and seriously, did we really need the goblin rape?).
In shows like Made in Abyss and Berserk, the graphic violence and subversive story beats work because the worlds are well-crafted, and the characters are worth caring about; Made in Abyss 10th episode was unbearable to watch, not just because the cute anime kids were getting jacked up by monsters, but because the audience was invested in their story and wanted to see them overcome their trauma. In Goblin Slayer, though, the characters don't even have real names, and nothing about this story or world feels like something we couldn't get from a dozen other dark fantasy shows. Priestess is our obvious audience insert, an innocent waif who needs to be exposed to the “true darkness” of the world by our masked antihero and taught to real way to survive. The other members of Priestess' party are so clearly telegraphed as being hopelessly naïve themselves that their deaths only register as plot devices, not emotional beats. The warrior keeps knocking his sword against the cave ceiling and doesn't keep track of his team, the made fails to account for a sneak attack, etc. The episode uses their sad, pointless fates to practically scream at the audience “You see? These idiots had no idea how to really work as a party of warriors! Let the Goblin Slayer show you how it's done!”
All of this is to say that, to me, Goblin Slayer felt like the kind of grimdark “subversion” anime I might have come up with as a moody thirteen-year-old, back when I thought that gratuitous violence and unfettered cynicism automatically made a story well-written and “mature”. This is a well-produced show, I will admit, and I 'm not saying there's anything wrong with enjoying violent spectacle and riffs on classic fantasy tropes. The Goblin Slayer has arrived and shown us all just how evil goblins really are; he even murders a bunch of baby goblins for good measure. I got the point of his lesson, I think, and that's probably all the goblin slaying I'll be needing for the rest of the season.
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