by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Goblin Slayer ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Goblin Slayer ?
The intent of Goblin Slayer is pretty clear straight away. It's self-styled as a dark fantasy-action series, a breed apart from those colorful adventure anime where heroes use flashy attacks and spells to fell magnificent monsters in glorious combat, always emerging victorious. In this story, the main character is a stoic man of few words who uses relatively simple and reliable methods only to dispatch goblins, those most basic of fantasy enemies. It's a methodical task that he must undertake, or else the land will be overrun by the little critters, who actually pose a serious danger in large numbers, as less-savvy adventurers immediately find themselves overwhelmed and gruesomely murdered, and in the case of the female adventurers, captured and raped.
Oh yes, in case you were living under a discourse-free rock for the past week, one of Goblin Slayer's most notable attributes is its full-on display of goblin rape. So fair warning, I'll probably be discussing that element regularly in these reviews. The scene in the first episode is pretty graphic and gratuitous by TV anime standards, seemingly around mostly to make a strong first impression of what kind of subject matter this series will be dealing with. Things are significantly more restrained in the second episode, with only allusions to sexual violence. Still, showing off its grim fantasy world and the consequences of living there in gritty detail is the only notable thing about the series at this point.
Narratively, the entirety of the show's ambitions are right there in the title. The first half of the first episode is spent demonstrating what goblins are and why they must be slain, and then the second half shows the Goblin Slayer slaying goblins. And that's it. The second episode has marginally more going on, defining the Goblin Slayer a bit more as a character, but it's still very much about gritty world-building for its own sake. The main problem is that once we're over the initial shock of seeing all those critical roll failures in all their horrific glory, there simply isn't much to the Goblin Slayer experience. There's actually a pretty good gag in the post-credits sequence of the second episode, where we see a bard recounting the Slayer's adventures in sweeping dramatic detail, when we actually know how dry and simple his process is. Showing a monster-slaying adventure in this way is a neat idea for one or two episodes, but that isn't going to be enough to carry a full-length series. Goblin Slayer needs to find an actual story in all this carnage and fast.
That's a dubious prospect, since what we get so far doesn't instill me with much confidence for the storytelling quality. I don't want to get all pedantic, nitpicking every plot hole and inconsistency, but there are still some glaring issues that mostly come as a result of the disparate fantastical sides of this story being at odds with each other. This is primarily evident in the case of the goblins themselves. One central conceit of this story is that other adventurers look down on the Goblin Slayer for only taking jobs exterminating weak monsters that no one takes seriously, which flies in the face of what the grave danger we're shown that these goblins present. Inexperienced heroes getting caught off-guard by the horrors of trying to face goblins doesn't work when we've already seen how clear it should be to any adventurer worth their salt that there's plenty of danger to the prospect of confronting a goblin horde. It makes the lack of regard that the denizens of this world have for goblins and the Goblin Slayer come off as arbitrary, just to force him into the role of misunderstood loner.
This brings me to my major takeaway from Goblin Slayer so far. So much of it revolves around playing up a misanthropic power fantasy. The hero is looked down upon by society at large, but he gets to be an unstoppable badass in his chosen role of goblin-slaying. The elaborate social revenge angle is hilariously palpable in one scene where he's being mocked by other adventurers, and you can practically hear the story bitterly seething over whatever graphic goblin-based fate should befall anyone who doesn't respect this underappreciated badass. At least he's understood by his cute companion Priestess who helps him slay goblins, his cute childhood friend who loves being protected by him, and the cute Adventurer's Guild clerk who doesn't judge him for taking goblin-slaying jobs. Goblin Slayer isn't subtle about pandering to the fantasies of its target audience.
Despite the too-transparent setup, Goblin Slayer is still technically fine in many regards. The dry and methodical battle scenes are decently impressive to watch, giving us a strong idea of how effort and experience have informed the Goblin Slayer's methods. Generally the animation and art are nice, though the CGI Slayer looks wonky when overused, and a lot of the cartoonish anime-girl designs clash with what's supposed to be a grimy and understated fantasy-world aesthetic. But the show's good production work can't cover up how little there is going on. Many anime fans, myself included, have had that watershed moment where we caught some of Ninja Scroll or Wicked City when we were fourteen, and I have no doubt that Goblin Slayer will find an audience to revel in the grisly pleasures of its premise, but that's all it's got going on right now. Goblin Slayer is a one-trick pony, and the trick isn't that great so far.
Goblin Slayer is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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