A few Youtube anime reviewers touched on the controversy surrounding the anime Goblin Slayer. It centers on the first episode’s depiction of rape and violence. Goblin Slayer‘s world models a traditional fantasy role-playing games. Characters have spell charges and recover from wounds by drinking healing potions. Unlike many recent anime that adopt similar, admittedly awkward, worlds, Goblin Slayer isn’t an isekai. There isn’t any hero transported from our world who uses their intimate knowledge of video games to dominate. Rather, it is a violent, dark fantasy world.
The main character is known as Goblin Slayer. Unlike all other adventurers who have “leveled up” and graduate to killing stronger monsters that threaten human civilization, he fixates on goblins. Although considered low-level mobs by most people, he sees them as a greater threat than the higher level monsters everyone else hunts. He takes it upon himself to erase the goblin race from the planet. His desire for revenge won’t be sated until he cuts out the heart of the last goblin.
I haven’t read the manga; I cannot comment on it. I prefer to examine anime series on their own merits, apart from their source material. Please correct me in the comments if this causes me to be in error. It appears goblins are only male, and the only way they can breed is through raping women of the human races–humans, elves, dwarfs. This breeding method provides the source of the controversy surrounding the first episode.
Much of the criticisms center on how a rape was handled as a story telling method. Geoff Thew of the YouTube channel My Mother’s Basement explains the reasons why he found the first episode repugnant. His argument centers on how the anime doesn’t establish the rape as horrific apart from its innate vileness and how the scene appears to be repugnant fan service. The episode opens with a party of new adventurers we know nothing about. They fall into the usual roles: fighter, swordsman, and mage. And they are naively unprepared, but in their defense, goblins are supposed to be fodder.
Well, the goblins prove themselves more dangerous than the newbies imagined. Each die brutally, and the fighter is gang raped by the goblins. Geoff’s criticizes the rape scene’s cinematography as fan service because of it’s gratuitous showing of skin and lingering gaze on the victim. He explains the goblins as posed too orderly, perfectly framing the woman’s pale skin, instead of acting as a pack of rape-obsessed creatures. The scene disturbed me, and I agree that it happened too soon. I didn’t see the scene as fan service, however. The more orderly behavior of the goblins struck me as a contrast to the established view of the creatures–stupid beasts who are easy to kill. Instead, they kill with considered tactics and rape with ordered intent. I agree that the scene had an element of fan service to it. The scene could have implied the rape and showed less skin, but when I first saw it, the way the goblins tore the woman’s clothing off felt intentional. The goblins wanted to show the priestess (one of the main characters) her fate in as lurid a way possible. At least, I had the impression that the camera angle was from the priestess’s view.
I can’t speak to the intent of the animators. I just found the calculated intent to terrorize and abuse victims more terrifying than the expected mindless bestial violence. Don’t get me wrong. I would’ve preferred this scene not existing. And I agree with Geoff that it is a poorly done way to establish the goblins as terrible creatures. The scene itself works, but the anime failed to establish the fighter and the other characters before killing them. They acted as Star Trek’s redshirts. It also smears the entire series right out of the gate. I reluctantly admit that the scene did work in establishing a feeling of catharsis as the Goblin Slayer butchers the little green creatures.
The show continues anime’s troubling trend of dehumanizing women. They become plot devices, like here, or objects of lust. Of course, not all anime stories do this, but far too many do. As I’ve touched upon in my first impression article about Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, respect for female characters stands out. This shouldn’t be so. Rather it should be the norm–to the point where mutual respect is taken for granted. I’ve pondered the reason why for quite some time. Some of it has to do with Japanese culture’s male focus. I suspect some of the recent objectification of women comes from a reaction to women’s rights movements and the #metoo movement.
Whenever movements appear, an equal and opposite movement also appears. But guys do honestly feel lost. Masculinity, including the attraction toward females, has been under attack. Many men don’t know how to react or even what to think. The natural male enjoyment of female beauty is suddenly wrong. He can even be fired from his job for looking a little too long, which is often an unconscious action. Anime provides a safe and exaggerated place for many frustrated men. It is also a haven for those who lack the ability to interact with women–another source of frustration. Although this is a minority of anime fans, they watch enough to drive a good bit of the content we see released.
Considering these forces, it will be some time before such objectifying content, like in the first episode of Goblin Slayer, becomes the exception. Women can help by speaking out against the content and supporting content that doesn’t objectify or use women as plot devices. At the same time, men need to be allowed to be men (this does not vindicate harassment or other related behaviors–this is not masculinity).
The first episode, despite its problems, works in establishing the reason why the goblins need to be destroyed. The vileness of the scene is the point, but it still reduces a female character to a plot device. I’ve watched several more episodes. The brutal, dark fantasy world the story has contrasts from the more fluffed fantasy we’ve seen lately. I used to read dark fantasy novels with more brutal scenes than Goblin Slayer has shown so far. Terry Goodkind’s early works, for example. If you like dark fantasy, but want to avoid the rape scene that has sparked such controversy, just skip to the second episode. Other than setting up the brutality of the goblins, you aren’t missing much in the end. Be warned, the series retains its violence and blood.