Friday, May 8, 2020

Green Phoenix - Goblin Slayer Review

Goblin Slayer (TV Series 2018– ) - IMDb NOTICE: GOBLIN SLAYER CONTAINS CONTENT THAT DEPICTS EXPLICIT ACTS OF VIOLENCE, INCLUDING SEXUAL VIOLENCE. I WILL DISCUSS THE TOPIC AT LENGTH AT SEVERAL POINTS IN THIS REVIEW. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND VIEWER DISCRETION IF YOU CHOOSE TO WATCH THE SHOW.

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Last week, I did a review on the first season of Dr. Stone, an incredible anime for anyone who is a massive fan of science and technology. Which I am. So as you can imagine, I absolutely adored that anime and wanted to talk about it months after it first premiered. But there was another anime that I wanted to talk about for almost as long, but I was limited by circumstance and personal issues that I have with the anime, specifically in its first episode.

But I just love the concept behind Goblin Slayer way too much to not at least give a basic review on the show. It is somehow both a loving tribute to and a criticism of many of the underlying narrative elements present in the fantasy genre, especially in fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. As a D&D nerd myself, the concept immediately grabbed my attention, and barring the first episode, I was immediately hooked on the show. This was due in part to the word of Mother's Basement and other anime reviewers, which brought the show to my attention.

Such a grimdark and gritty exploration of a fantasy world, Goblin Slayer is not for the faint of heart but it is a realistic portrayal of the horrors of war and battle, and a criticism on a society that does not value those who engage in menial or necessary labors. So lets a dive into this controversy-ridden anime.

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  • Directed by Takaharu Ozaki
  • Produced by White Fox
  • Based on the light novel by Kumo Kagyu
  • 12 episodes available on CrunchyRoll

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SUMMARY

In a fantasy world heavily inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons game, a young Priestess finds her small band of inexperienced adventurers attacked and utterly annihilated by a hive of goblins. As one of the last survivors of the group, the Priestess is saved at the last minute by a mysterious adventurer known only as Goblin Slayer.

Goblin Slayer is considered a high-ranking adventurer, but only ever accepts missions to wipe out goblins; much to the chagrin and amusement of his fellow adventurers who see the creatures as only a minor nuisance for inexperienced adventurers. Appreciative of Goblin Slayer's help and desiring to help him herself, Priestess joins his party. They are soon accompanied by a Lizardfolk Priest, a Dwarven Shaman, and an Elven archer. Together the band of adventurers must face and overcome numerous challenges in a dark D&D world. But the greatest challenge may be convincing their fellow guild members of the true danger that goblins pose to the world at large.


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REVIEW

So I'm actually a little conflicted about how to best put my feelings about Goblin Slayer into words. For the most part, I truly do enjoy the gritty fantasy story of Goblin Slayer. The story is deeply fascinating and covers a concept that I think is rarely explored in fantasy gaming but would clearly result in a realistic setting.

The story is coupled with wonderfully designed animation and great music, as well as dynamic characters. Anything that would make for a nearly perfect show.

But there is an issue with the show regarding its controversial first episode. And my recommendation of the series will have to come with a single caveat which I will state here and explain in the Story and Visuals segment of the review.

Skip the very first episode and begin watching Goblin Slayer with episode 2. I promise that you will miss absolutely nothing about the core narrative and character interactions and will avoid the most egregious and controversial elements of the series with regards to its portrayal of sexual violence, which forms a core subtext and context throughout much of the show.

VISUALS - 7/10

This section will cover two specific aspects of the visuals of Goblin Slayer which I feel are incredibly important. The first is, of course, the quality of the animation. But another aspect that must be stated is how that animation is used and designed and how these aspects reflect on the controversial nature of the first episode of the show.

The animation for Goblin Slayer was produced by White Fox Co. Ltd. White Fox is the studio behind anime such as Akame ga Kill, The Devil is a Part-Timer, and important for my second part, Arifureta: From Commonplace to World's Strongest. On the whole, Goblin Slayer's animation is quite good as far as the studio's previous work is concerned.


The show mixes hand-drawn and CGI imagery quite effectively and is absolutely spectacular at utilizing darkness in animation to convey the sensation of horror and claustrophobia which is so vital to the thematic tone of the show, especially with regards to the goblins themselves. Another fantastic element is the distinct nature of the character designs. I will go into further detail in the Characters segment, but the visuals can be touched upon.
Let's Have a Discussion About Goblin Slayer's First Episode | The ...
Seriously, fuck this first episode.

None of the characters have specific names. Each is given a specific title or class, much like a D&D game filled with player characters. To that end, we as an audience must identify with the characters through their unique visual aesthetics. And Goblin Slayer is absolutely stunning in its ability to say so much about a character from their visual appearance alone.

If I had to compare Goblin Slayer to any specific anime when it comes to battle sequences and physical violence, the show has a very similar thematic tone to Beserk, aiming for a portrayal of a more realistic sense of war and violence. Though Goblin Slayer is generally more optimistic than Berserk in terms of the outcomes of battles and does relish in the enjoyment that comes from a good D&D battle. Goblin Slayer does have its moments where it does seem to relish in the concept of violence though, especially with regards to how the titular Goblin Slayer battles his namesake prey of choice. In terms of blood and gore, this is not so much of a problem for my American sensibilities, but will definitely turn off some more of the squeamish viewers. But the topic of violence does force me to go into the first episode and my many, many problems with it.

A lot of White Fox animations have a tendency to oversexualize their female characters specifically. This is a quality of Japanese anime which is so prevalent that it almost wouldn't even be worth mentioning as extraordinary, save for one very specific and critical difference.

Sexualization of a character is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Titillation can be enjoyable and even help to express certain narrative, character, or thematic elements of a show. And sexual violence, as a concept, should be expressed and discussed in media for the purpose of helping victims of violence find avenues to deal with the trauma and perhaps help those who have not dealt with it before to empathize and understand those who have.

But absolutely never should sexual violence and titillation mix. Sex in media, when used for the purpose of titillation, must be mixed with unmistakable and active consent from all associated parties, and sexual violence, by definition, removes consent from the equation entirely. And it in this fact where the first episode of Goblin Slayer royally fucks up.

The first episode of Goblin Slayer portrays a scene where several female adventurers are gang-raped by the goblins. This is a narrative and thematically critical element of the goblins, playing directly into Goblin Slayer's backstory, and needed to be at least mentioned to properly portray the danger these creatures represent to the wider world. And throughout most of the show, they manage to express this danger tastefully and effectively through context and subtext, allowing implication to fill in the viewer's mind as to what exactly happens to female prisoners of goblins. But in the first episode, Goblin Slayer makes a serious error in its portrayal of sexual violence by framing the shot in a manner similar to how most animes would use for a fanservice shot.

Framing is the art of how the camera captures the images in front of it. In live-action, you are often limited in framing by the actual camera itself. But in animation, the camera is not a physical object so the viewer's eye becomes the camera. This gives a lot of power to the animator, but if you frame a shot poorly it can send the wrong message. The gang-rape scene is supposed to be horrifying, as it should be. The audio and context of the scene imply that quite heavily, but the visual framing doesn't match and as a result, the message is muddled.

And a muddled message should NEVER occur in any portrayal of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a troubling topic that affects millions of people and needs to be handled carefully in order to respect its victims. Throughout the rest of Goblin Slayer, they are generally very careful about how sexual violence is portrayed. But the first episode drops the ball and when coupled with points about the first episode that I will explain in Story, my point about skipping the first episode entirely will hopefully become much clearer.

But leaving the faux pas of the first episode, Goblin Slayer is a generally well-animated work, with great integration of hand-drawn and CGI elements, fantastic battle scenes, and distinct character designs.

SOUNDTRACK - 8/10

The soundtrack of Goblin Slayer, much like the show itself, just kicks so much goddamn ass. The composer of the soundtrack was Kenichiro Suehiro who was the composer behind Golden Kamuy and Fire Force, both anime with notoriously powerful and action-packed soundtracks that also managed to capture a great deal of pathos and underlying tragedy in their notes. Goblin Slayer is an incredibly dark show, rarely shying away from the horrors and violence of the world it creates (sometimes to its detriment) and the soundtrack perfectly captures that with heavy operatic sections and clear inspirations from numerous different genres of metal music, which has long been associated with the fantasy genre.

Beyond the in-show soundtrack, we also have the opening song "Rightfully" by the Japanese indie rock group Mili, and the ending song "Gin no Kisei" by Sorasu. "Rightfully" beautifully expresses the sense of tension and hopelessness that underlies Goblin Slayer's own feelings about his crusade and his mission against the seemingly endless hordes of goblins, as well as the hope of Priestess in being able to help heal some of the hurt that defines everything about Goblin Slayer. The Goblin Slayer is a fundamentally tragic character who feels like his goal of wiping out all goblins will ultimately fail due to a lack of interest in fighting them that his fellow adventurers possess. This feeling is only amplified with the ending song "Gin no Kisei". Where "Rightfully" is, ostensibly from Priestess's perspective about Goblin Slayer and the quest, "Gin no Kisei" is probably the closest the show gets to putting us directly into the protagonists head.

The soundtrack of Goblin Slayer, like so many anime, stands on its own in terms of entertainment value and I feel like it would make an amazing workout playlist. Listening to Goblin Slayer always makes me feel like I'm playing a really good game of Doom, which is actually rather appropriate given the context and content of the show.

CHARACTERS - 8/10

As mentioned in Visuals, the characters of Goblin Slayer are rather unique in the fact that none of them have actual names, largely being referred to by their adventuring class or some other major characteristic. So the audience is introduced to characters with names like Cow Girl, Swordsman, Draven Shaman, and High Elf Archer. At first, one might be worried that this method of naming might make it difficult to remember who is who and what each characters thematic concept is.
Goblin Slayer Characters Of The Controversial High Fantasy Anime

Thankfully, Goblin Slayer's solution to this is two-fold. First, White Fox made sure to give each and every character a unique character design, with those design elements helping to shape every aspect of their character's overall personality from appearance alone. A great example of this comes in the titular Goblin Slayer as well as the pair of adventurers known as Spearman and Witch. The Goblin Slayer's character is one that exemplifies brutality and pragmatic efficiency in all aspects of his life. An individual who is totally obsessed with their mission. By consequence, Goblin Slayers' armor is dirty and simple, lacking any form of fashion beyond pure function. Even his weapons further the perspective of a simple exterminator, an expert of his craft.

By contrast, the Spearman is introduced as a vain and preening individual. Wearing shining armor and constantly wearing a brash and confident smile. And the witch's laid-back, devil may care, attitude is expressed when her stance and the way that she moves throughout any scene (alongside her dialog).

Secondly, Goblin Slayer ensures that their characters are actually pretty simple in their general personalities and, in the case of the Dwarf and Elf, stereotypical for most fantasy Dwarf-Elf interactions. The only characters that really are allowed a great deal of narrative complexity would be Goblin Slayer, naturally, as well as the Shield Maiden and Priestess, as these three characters' storylines are inextricably linked by tragedy and they become reflections of each other.

The characters are incredibly dynamic and fascinating, and you find yourself drawn into the drama of being an adventurer quite easily, as well as frustrated by the egos and pride at play in many of the guild members. It definitely makes for an interesting narrative ride.

STORY - 7/10

The story of Goblin Slayer is one that is steeped in tragedy, oozing pathos in nearly every moment. But the greatest emotion that you will likely feel throughout the series is frustration, and that is by design. The character of Goblin Slayer is a skilled adventurer, with those that understand what he does holding a great deal of respect and awe for his abilities. But an unfortunate fact is most of the adventurers in the guild don't understand the true danger that goblins represent to society, and as a result look down on Goblin Slayer for his crusade against the creatures, feeling like it is beneath the skilled adventurer. This is coupled with Goblin Slayer's general lack of social skills, which makes his attempts to explain the threat widely ineffective.

So the key narrative drive of Goblin Slayer is the efforts on the part of Goblin Slayer to get people to realize the danger of goblins, whilst at the same time slowly begin to regain his own humanity through his friendships with Priestess and the rest of his party. And in this objective, Goblin Slayer is an incredibly powerful story. I actually liken Goblin Slayer to a garbageman of sorts. He does a filthy thankless job that earns him little respect, but because he is the only one doing it if something were to happen to him; the world would inherently be worse off.

Kukikaze on Twitter: ""HE DOES NOT LET ANYONE ROLL THE DICE." Ah ...
When you see red, you know shit is about to go down.
Another piece of the puzzle is this story's numerous D&D references. The imagery of rolling dice is incredibly prevalent throughout, with many fans of the show theorizing that the "gods" of Goblin Slayer's universe are actually the players of a tabletop game. A theory more or less confirmed by the visual novels creators. This notion of rolling dice and the role of the chance in the universe really plays into the sense of hopelessness in many battle sequences. But like any good D&D campaign, Goblin Slayer has those moments where he roles a Natural 20 and those moments are just so goddamn cool! Watching Goblin Slayer and his party overcomes unbeatable odds through either exceptional wit or sheer brutal strength is so incredibly cathartic, especially given how clever and monstrous the goblins in this story are.

And all of that story starts off at Episode 2. The very first episode of the show, the one that starts all of the controversies is, in my opinion, totally unnecessary for gaining all the necessary narrative information and following the story as a whole. Now, I should dock the show points for having a superfluous episode but, in reality, I think that skipping Episode 1 is actually the best way to watch Goblin Slayer anyway. For the reasons explained in Visuals, but also for the fact that, like Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, nothing introduced in the first episode isn't introduced later in the series even better. Since Episode 1 largely focuses on creating a backstory for Priestess, but her reasons for joining Goblin Slayer are perhaps better explained in dialog than being shown, especially since the show bungles up the incident anyway.

As far as I am concerned, Goblin Slayer is a really good 11 episode anime with a totally bungled prologue stand-alone episode. Just skip the first episode and enjoy a thrilling and emotionally-charged drama about reclaiming one's humanity in the face of atrocity and how friends can help us overcome our own deficiencies.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So I think it is no surprise to you when I say that this review was rather difficult for me. While I absolutely love the animation, the characters, and the music; so much of the enjoyment of this series is squashed by the initial introduction that we as an audience are presented in that very first episode. Sexual violence representation in media is a vitally important subject to ensure proper conversation on the topic, but it must be handled incredibly carefully. Goblin Slayer is generally good about the subject throughout the series, but the first episode bungles that subject royally.

Thankfully, you as the audience can easily skip that first episode and I don't think it harms the narrative viewing experience whatsoever. So head on over to Crunchyroll and start-up on Episode 2, I promise you won't be disappointed.

As for next week, we move on from anime to classic Disney animation. And it's one of my favorites. A musical based on a surprising and unexpected 19th-century novel, you can probably already guess what it is.


VISUALS
  • 7/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 8/10
CHARACTERS
  • 8/10
STORY
  • 7/10

 FINAL SCORE - 7.5/10

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