#1 A man who fucking hates Goblins
Take this anime’s title as literally as possible. Goblin Slayer is about a mysterious warrior clad head-to-toe in medieval armor who has the biggest hate boner for goblins you can imagine.
Having faced a tragedy in his youth, the man adopted the nickname Goblin Slayer and worked his way up the ranks of adventurer society killing nothing but goblins, even as more appropriate missions for his skill level became available. Other adventurers look down on him and mock his single-minded obsession, but Goblin Slayer cares little for their opinions on the matter. His quest is both impressive, admirable, and even a little hilarious, despite the tragic backstory behind it.
I am especially fond of how rudely he interrupts anything and anybody at the slightest hint of goblins being mentioned. You got this crowd of interesting characters debating their reasons for adventuring and their life ambitions, only for this reclusive grump to butt in proclaiming he is a Goblin Slayer, lookin’ to slay some damn goblins.
However, his character is not as one-note as you’d think. Yes, his entire life and most of his dialogue is about goblins, but there is an ongoing arc about him growing fond of his companions and them trying to help him become a better person, which he appears to take to heart. He is stubborn, but certainly not unreasonable and he does care about the people around him.
#2 World-building by geeks, for geeks
The world of Goblin Slayer is very much a traditional fantasy one that will be familiar to anybody who has ever dabbled in a bit of (tabletop) gaming. Swords & sorcery, dwarfs & elves, good & evil, it’s classic stuff and pretty light to get into.
The lore behind the world is kept deliberately simple, focussing more on the characters within it and how they interact with each other. Goblins are just little pricks that raid villages and kidnap the women, demons are an ambiguously evil force looking to conquer the world, and adventurers gather in a guild to pick up local quests for payment. It’s not too concerned with nuance or politics, and that is fine if you’re going into it just wanting to see a fun adventure about a guy that murders goblins.
On top of that, the character design is very self-aware and fits all the stereotypes of a fantasy story directed at a male geek audience. With that, I of course mean that female characters are all either super cute or have their voluptuous bosoms on full display. Turns out that even the most astute scholars of magic prefer low-cut tops. I mean, where else are you gonna store your important items? By comparison, the men get impressive armors, ranging from sensible stuff like Goblin Slayer’s iconic gear to colorful fantasy armor with World of Warcraft-style shoulder pads. They also get some really cool weapons and keep their sexual organs safely tucked away and out sight.
#3 A D&D adventure group
As briefly mentioned before, Goblin Slayer is more concerned with its adventuring characters than it is with the world they inhabit. As early as episode 1, focus is placed on groups, their balance, and how they form. The priestess ends up joining a band of inexperienced rookies who get into more trouble than they bargained for, after which she joins the Goblin Slayer and begins to rapidly improve.
The two of them then join another band later on, consisting of a lizardman shaman, an elf ranger, and a drunk dwarf. Dialogue between party members feels like a proper D&D group, along with such morons who rush ahead or neglect to prepare for anything. I could totally imagine the anime being a transcript of the author’s own Dungeons & Dragons sessions, which especially shines during calmer moments where character-building takes place. Cozy tales around the fireplace, budding friendships, over-optimistic promises that totally won’t lead to a character’s death, it’s all in there.
#4 Overcoming controversy
I was having a jolly good time ignoring Goblin Slayer around the time of its release, but it certainly got my attention when forums and my YouTube feed exploded with clashing opinions on its first episode. The majority of people seemed to agree that it was a tasteless and awful show. Such things happen, of course, but I was surprised (and intrigued) when that general opinion radically changed around in the weeks after.
Episode 1, aptly titled “The Fate of Particular Adventurers”, is a heavy one. The story is quick to establish that goblins are hateful pricks that want nothing more than to butcher people, pillage villages, and put their little noblins into innocent maidens. The episode obscures the worst of the violence and rape, but it is there and it is visual. Putting aside my own take on it, at least until Thursday, if you do have a strong reaction to such topics, then this anime is best avoided.
Now, I will admit that episode 1 is heavy-handed and crude. However, there is also much to like here and I appreciate the effective build-up towards the goblins appearing and the foreshadowing that the party may be less prepared (and competent) than they insist they are. The hustle that surrounded the first episode also drew a lot of attention; people wanted a taste of this forbidden fruit that had the community in uproar, and those that checked it out and stuck around then got to see these controversial factors improve as the show went on.
Goblin Slayer never departs from the tone set in episode 1. Goblins are disgusting little pigs, a race driven to violence and rape by their very nature, and those that underestimate them as easy prey for rookie adventurers are in for a horrific surprise. It’s a show with shocking themes and it’s upfront about that, yet doesn’t end up relying on shock value as its life support.
#5 Glorious murder
And you know what’s delicious after watching these rowdy, green bastards perform their misdeeds? Seeing how the Goblin Slayer and his party swoop in and butcher the lot of them.
To be fair, the show’s lackluster visuals are its Achilles heel. It’s an admittedly ugly show with glaring CGI and some mediocre directing work, so it’s amazing to see it flare up, often literally, when there are goblins to kill. Fight scenes are creatively put together and filled with visceral executions. There is an element of strategy to every battle and situation, again like a good D&D campaign, and this becomes more interesting as more people join Goblin Slayer’s party and they come face-to-face with bigger and stronger enemies. Turns out even Goblins can be fearsome foes when they have a strong leader and put their little brains to use.
Even as his party grows, Goblin Slayer remains the centerpiece of any fight. He is brutal, efficient, ruthless, and even a bit scary. He is methodical and has long since stopped showing any remorse or hesitation as he slaughters his way through the ranks of his mortal enemy. Cut them up, drown them, set them on fire, choke the life out of them; Goblinkind deserves no mercy.