I’ve addressed the controversy surrounding the first episode of Goblin Slayer. I’ve also seen (as likely you have) plenty of articles that speak about the status of women in the series. “Rotten Chivalry: The Role of Women in Goblin Slayer” at UEM struck me as one of the best. But the articles also ignore the consequences of the anime’s world on the men. On the surface it appears to be a macho dream. Plenty of beautiful women who need protecting! And many men do have a strong protective instinct toward women. The series does a good job of providing catharsis for this instinct. I found the level of violence (I normally dislike extreme violence) satisfying. I felt a tinge of pleasure as the adventurers split goblin skulls.
However, Goblin Slayer quietly shows the consequences of this violent world and the focus on men needing to protect women from rape and violence. I have to note that there are plenty of female adventurers who seek to protect people too. Likewise, many townsmen need protection–they face the fate of being hacked apart and eaten alive by goblins. Throughout Goblin Slayer. the heroes show a deep neuroticism caused by their profession. Goblin Slayer seeks to transfer the mentality of adventure games, the push for rewards and the enjoyment of violence, into a real world. But you also see the adventurers trying to get blind drunk after their latest murder spree as they wait for another quest at the guild hall. You see a female spell caster stoned 24-7. Even friendships among adventurers center around their shared experiences of death and the drinking lull between.
Every character exists as a role. They do not have names, and this further dehumanizes them. Their identities are rooted in violence and death. A name would suggest they have lives outside of being adventurers (and in the case of the supporting townspeople: victims). The Goblin Slayer himself gives us our best example.
The Goblin Slayer appears to be the strong, silent hero. The one who sees danger everyone else ignores. The one who defends helpless women. The one who wins against enormous odds. But he is a madman. The Goblin Slayer knows everything there is to know about goblins, obsessing about them every moment. He cannot communicate with people. The series makes much of his silence, but this social isolation stems from his obsession. He wants to commit genocide on goblins–by himself. Killing as he does leaves him scarred. We rarely see the man under all the armor, and when we do, we see a body armored in scars and experiences of violence. As his childhood friend relates in a scene, when he cannot kill goblins any longer, he will have nothing. She attempts to be his last human lifeline. She tries to be the last thread he can follow to escape the madness, and the Goblin Slayer feels at home with her. No matter how far he goes, he always returns to her family’s farm. Without the warm home she provides for him, he would lose himself in killing.
The Goblin Slayer shows signs of extreme PTSD with his withdrawal from most people and with his inferiority complex. However, the story does show he wants something more than just murder. He slowly joins other adventurers to help them achieve their quests (as long as he can kill goblins) and allows a priestess to join him. Although he retains his distance, he does desire connection with others. He carries a guilt complex from his inability to save his sister from rape and murder, and the complex keeps him from fully joining with others. He doesn’t want to be responsible for their well-being despite his desire to protect women from his sister’s fate. He doesn’t want to fail anyone again, yet he still craves human interaction. This tension appears often in his interactions with the priestess. The only person he wants to be responsible for is his childhood friend and his humanity she safeguards.
The violence the Goblin Slayer does to himself and the violence toward other men has been largely ignored. As much as I liked UEM’s article, Jekojeko misses this aspect of the show too.While it is true the anime focuses on hypermasculinity–the strong, silence knight saves the damsel, it quietly studies the price hypermasculinity extracts from the knight. Hypermasculinity is as poisonous for the man as it is for the woman. It labels male emotions such as sorrow, remorse, love, and tenderness as weak. It lauds violence, calculation, strength, violence, and protectiveness. Goblin Slayer, as a masculine character, cannot share his fears. He can’t share how much the violence hurts him. In one scene he does finally open about his feelings of fear and inadequacy, but he quickly shuts down again. Such moments are considered weaknesses by the code of hypermasculinity. Even the supporting cast of men shows the damage this code causes. The dwarf drinks and lives without thinking of the future. The other male adventurers do the same. They don’t have families other than their parties.
As I watched Goblin Slayer, I saw how the show supported male and female stereotypes and subvert them at the same time. Some viewers will see the story has supportive of such gender views: strong men, weak women. However, the story quietly shows the consequences of those mistaken views. It appears to be a man’s world, but those men are likely to die brutally. They are likely to die emotionally and spiritually broken. While women are raped by creatures, the men are spiritually raped by their own codes of conduct and the madness of their violent world. The Goblin Slayer has brutalized himself with his hypermasculinity and goal of committing genocide on the goblins.
Goblin Slayer focuses too much on a one-sided view of women and focuses too much on femininity purity. More diversity would be welcome. However, the focus serves as a way to show the consequences of so-called male competence. In such a world view, men have little to look forward to. They will either become too old and worn to do the one job they know. They will become sociopaths, or they will be hacked apart. All the while, they will increasingly fall out of touch with their humanity.