I rarely drop seasonal anime after just one episode. Not because I insist on watching everything to the end, but because I’m usually able to get a good sense for whether I’d like something. Even if a show takes its time getting to the meat of the story, I’m usually willing to give it the benefit of the doubt if it’s able to keep me even somewhat engaged. Goblin Slayer is the exception to that.
It was originally something I was looking forward to; I love a well-executed dark fantasy, and the initial trailers and discussions made it seem like just that. Having watched the first episode, my interest in it is all but gone. The basic story of the episode is fine-a party of inexperienced adventurers go out to fight goblins and are ambushed, only for the two survivors to be saved by our titular hero-but the execution seemed like it was almost trying to repel me. Rather than simply killing the adventurers, the goblins attempt to rape the women there in the most gruesome way possible. I don’t have a problem with including sexual assault in a story, but it has to be executed properly. The way the anime emphasized the girls’ clothes being ripped off and their breasts being pressed against the ground added a skeevy element to an already disturbing scene, seeming like it was almost meant to be titillating. Subsequent shots of the girls’ traumatized or broken expressions only added the impression that I was watching a cheap hentai rather than a real story.
I fully understand what the writer was going for here: it was a way to depict the goblins as pure evil and establish that this is a dark and cruel world. The problem here is that having the goblins suddenly gang-rape the women there is wholly unnecessary to achieve that goal. Having the goblins just kill the adventurers would’ve been more than enough to accomplish that. Tossing in a rape scene with an overly-fond camera framing it doesn’t add anything to the story beyond being a ham-handed attempt to hammer in how dark this is going to be.
This ham-handedness only got worse later on, as Goblin Slayer calmly slaughtered the goblin children, demonstrating his belief that all goblins are evil to the core. Again, this is an understandable goal to aim for and it sets up Goblin Slayer as a fairly interesting character with his absolutist view of goblins and his apparent hatred of them. The problem once again crops up with how the show goes about it. Rather than simply have Goblin Slayer kill them, the show goes out of its way to frame the children as cute, innocent, and confused while Goblin Slayer explains why he’s going to kill them anyway, and then almost seems to relish in the slaughter and Priestess’s horror at it. It emphasizes their nightmarish screaming throughout the entire sequence while showing blood splatters against the camera and the Priestess is framed front and center collapsing in tears. To me, this is the mark of a show that values being dark and shocking over telling the story. There’s no reason it had to be framed like that except to shock and disturb the audience more than base concept would have. We don’t need the show to shout “look how disturbing this is” in our faces to have a reaction. Doing so is straight up clumsy execution that doesn’t place enough faith in its audience. It’s making a scene artificially darker for no reason other than being dark.
I have a general rule for dark stories like this: if the dark elements (rape, excessive torture, traumatized characters) could be removed and the story would be exactly the same, then those elements probably shouldn’t be included in the first place. Doing otherwise tends to lead story to treat being dark as a goal in and of itself rather than a means to an end. That’s not to say being dark is inherently bad; if it’s woven in as a part of the world and atmosphere the story is trying to create, dark concepts can be mesmerizing. The key distinction lies in the answer to this question: is this a dark story, or a story that wants to be dark? The former type treats darkness as a matter of fact, like it’s just another element of the story being told. The latter takes a more typical story outline and starts artificially adding in darker elements as a central part of the story.
The prime example of the former that I like to point to is Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. On the surface, Berserk has a lot of the same elements that drove me away from Goblin Slayer: its extremely gory, isn’t afraid to kill or traumatize its characters, and doesn’t shy away from depicting rape. Even so, Berserk distinguishes itself with how it includes these elements. Berserk never takes pleasure in being dark, never treating it like a means to an end. Even its darkest, most disturbing moments are treated almost coldly, understanding that they’re impactful enough without the story placing more emphasis on them. When characters are sexually assaulted, it’s almost universally treated as a turning point in their lives, a traumatizing experience that they struggle to get past. It’s never used exclusively for shock value or hammering in how evil someone is. Berserk gets far darker and more fucked up (for lack of a better term) than Goblin Slayer ever does in this first episode, but it never crosses the line from disturbing to unpleasant and distracting. Berserk’s darker elements are calculated and woven in far more deftly than you’d expect from that type of show. Goblin Slayer lacks that deft hand, rendering its darker moments as nothing more than unpleasant asides that are meant to add seasoning to a story. The problem is, too much seasoning ends up overwhelming the flavor of the dish. Metaphors aside, Goblin Slayer’s reliance on adding in darkness makes the show so unpleasant and unsubtle that it gets in the way of enjoying what would otherwise be an interesting story. To me, relying on artificially added darkness only makes your story seem immature and manipulative, not smarter or more mature.
That said, none of this is meant to be an attack on people who do like Goblin Slayer. Everyone has their own tastes and tolerances for this sort of thing, and judging others for their taste in media is one of the most childish things you can do. Goblin Slayer isn’t even unique in its flaws; there are plenty of stories, anime or otherwise, that run into the exact same problem of being dark for no reason other than being dark. For my part, Goblin Slayer was just too unpleasant and nasty to make me want to watch more. I’ll still be keeping an eye out since there’s always a chance it’ll improve later on and the underlying story is solid enough, but I won’t be following it week to week unless I hear that it drastically changes. The first episode of a show is supposed to give the intended audience some indication of what the show’s going to be like and make people want to see more. If this episode is indicative of what Goblin Slayer wants to be later on, then this anime is not for me.