It’s dangerous to go alone. Read this!
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. How people first meet someone or experience something defines how they will view that person or thing for as long as they know them or it. Sometimes this can start something great because that first meeting was so amazing that it helps one overlook flaws that come later. Other times, that first time was such a disaster that it makes it difficult to find positives later on. That doesn’t mean that something that starts out good or bad is guaranteed to stay that way forever, and sometimes it ends up being something wonderful eventually, but the initial experience is incredibly crucial for getting people to stick around. Unfortunately, Goblin Slayer is one of many anime I’ve seen that started its run on the wrong foot. Luckily, it’s also one of few that got way better as it went on.
But before we can talk about those good parts, we must first address:
THE FIRST EPISODE:
Oh yeah, you all probably remember this if you were in the right circles back in October. The brutal and visceral first episode of this hot new show that featured a cute priestess girl witnessing her party murdered and raped by goblins only to be saved by the titular slayer of said goblins. I’ve seen plenty of discussion and argument back and forth on the merits and downsides of how this was handled. On one hand, what better way to highlight the true threat of these normally underestimated creatures than having some fresh young adventurers meet their gruesome ends to them? On the other hand, why are we framing the rape of one of the party members like it’s something out of a dang Hentai? And wouldn’t the murder be enough or were we really not going to get that these creatures were a problem without to see them rape too?
I’m not here to drudge up that old argument again any more than just to briefly touch on it and the problems it’s indicative of. Oversexualization and harsh violence are things long associated with anime, for better or worse, but I feel like recently I’ve become more aware of when those two things aren’t being mixed well and it happens a few times in this series besides here. It’s glaring enough that, in moments that I assume are meant to be taken very seriously or solemnly, there’s just a barely clothed woman in a scene that points my mind in two different mood directions. Some may not exactly have an issue with this and I know I didn’t for the longest time, but it’s become impossible to ignore how this undercuts what should be important scenes.
So, however, well the first episode informs us of how the attitude towards goblins is what allows them to spread and kill, torture, and rape others, it also just reminds me of how this industry still has a long way to go in slaying its own goblins.
With THAT out of the way, we can now get on to talking about the rest of the season, which takes a considerable uptick in optimism from the second episode onwards. Said second episode, as well as the fifth and tenth, act as sort of “breather” episodes set mostly in the main adventuring town or the farm where Goblin Slayer lives. It might seem odd to have three breathers in a series of only 12 episodes, but they serve more of a purpose of fleshing out the world that these characters live in by helping the audience to get to know what situations they face daily and further understanding of how their respective minds work.
The second and tenth act as two sides of one story, taking place from both the perspective of Goblin Slayer and his childhood friend, Cow Girl, in how they view his dedication to his one-man quest to slay goblins, including insight in how they were as children before their home was destroyed BY goblins. The fifth episode more focuses on Guild Girl, a worker at the guild who knows the ins and outs of the adventuring career, which helps us to better know the mechanics of how the adventurers we follow carry out their path to ascension in rank or just in how they carry on their daily lives, both things that are more important than you’d think in getting us to care about a setting and its people. For as few locations as we’ve seen in this series, it feels like a wide and deep world with many places and people to explore. That’s how you know you’re watching something special.
The main action begins with the third and fourth episodes, where Goblin Slayer and his new friend/charge, Priestess, meet the High Elf Archer, Dwarf Shaman, and Lizard Priest, which make up the principal group of the season. With GS and Priestess being formally introduced before, this two parter focuses on these three new characters getting to know the two of them through a quest they’ve been tasked with, as well as more knowledge on GS’ priorities in fighting goblins over things like demons. Not a whole lot else to say other than it brings the main group together for the first time.
The second arc, as well as the longest at four episodes (Eps 6-9), covers the five being called into a disturbance in a separate city called Water Town, in which they look for goblins in the sewers, almost die, and then destroy an ancient mirror bringing more goblins through. This one, while nice in that it shows us how the newly formed party is beginning to mesh together, is unfortunately pretty unevenly paced in how it progresses while also being a little hard to follow.
Essentially, the party is brought into kill goblins because one was found next to a murdered woman, so they spend the first half wandering the sewers until they’re almost killed by a bigger goblin, recover, go back in to find the mirror, get rid of it, then find out the head of the town, the Sword Maiden, knew the problem wasn’t goblins but wanted the town to believe it was because she had a bad run in with them and needed people to understand how dangerous they were even though they weren’t responsible for the murder she called in more adventurers for. It’s overall not a BAD arc, but it is pretty muddled.
Lastly, there’s the final arc of the season which technically also includes the tenth episode along with the eleventh and twelfth, though a recap in between them hampered the momentum a bit. This story sees Goblin Slayer finally tapping into all the friends and allies he’s made over the season to help him protect his friend’s farm. It’s kind of schmaltzy compared to the other arcs but in turn shows how far the state of the world has come from being dark and scary to warm and hopeful. Basically, the furthest thing from the first episode as it could be, so hopefully those who stuck around after that got to this point.
We first meet Goblin Slayer when he saves Priestess from a horrible goblin-related death, being pretty much nothing more than a stoic and ruthless warrior who shows the bitter contrast between the adventurers she left with and the harsh reality that could get them all killed or worse. It’s only from the second episode on that we get a sense of where this hard dedication to his work comes from, and therefore begin to relate to him better as a result. As the season continues, we see him connecting more with the people around him, including rookie adventurers who need something as simple as a tip to fight off rats or helping Guild Girl observe the sentencing of a thief. More and more we learn that he isn’t just this fixed point of badassery, but a person still working through his losses who is slowly finding a connection to the world again.
Though while GS is on his own character arc, running parallel to that is the arc of the perception people around him have of him and his work. Initially, he’s only seen as some weirdo who stupidly insists on fighting weaker monsters instead of going for the big prizes like dragons or demons, or someone is too narrow-minded to see the grander fight around him against the Demon Lord (whose battle is in the background of the season). But over time, as he starts getting to know and helping out those in need, he’s slowly more accepted by those who used to mock him, to the point that he’s able to call upon everyone to help fight goblins with him by the end. We learn pretty quickly that his reasons for fighting goblins come from how overlooked their importance really is. This proves true for GS himself in relation to his guildmates, though in his case, as a trusted friend.
Though that’s not to say he’s always portrayed as being in the right. His hasty and destructive methods of fighting get him called by Priestess and later the Archer on numerous occasions, while his constant need to fight until he collapses only makes Cow Girl and Guild Girl worry. So, while he has plenty to teach others in terms of how to see the bigger picture, he also gets plenty to learn as he starts relying on his friends more and more.
But one major point of note is his design, specifically his helmet and how the audience is sometimes forced to see out of it. We’ve seen first person perspectives from him before, which show us that he looks through four bars every day, similar to the floorboards he peaked through the night the goblins attacked his home and killed his sister. His wearing of the helmet constantly shows him the framing of the world he needs to see in order to remind him of what he lost and what he has to prevent losing. A reminder of how helpless he felt that day so that he will never let that happen again.
Feel that prick? It’s the feeling of you cutting yourself on that edge.
I kid, I kid. It’s actually a pretty neat bit of visual storytelling to really help us see through his eyes, especially since we’re literally looking through his eyes at that point. Plus, when he finally takes off the helmet in the final moments of the season, it’s a clear sign he’s learned to look past his trauma, at least for the moment.
Priestess actually grows the most out of the cast. This is mainly due to the first episode showing from her perspective just how much her worldview is crushed and then reformed so quickly. She begins with aspirations to be an adventurer, being eager enough to join three other rookies on their own first quest against goblins. This, of course, ends with tragedy as only half of the party survives and only she is able to continue adventuring. Nonetheless, once she’s saved by GS, she begins seeing him as a kind of mentor figure to help her become a better adventurer, quickly learning to embolden herself and prepare against danger under his tutelage. She even manages to move up a rank from porcelain (the bottom) to obsidian just above it after her quest in Episode 4.
However, the trauma of that first attack sticks with her till at least the half way point of the series, as some unfortunate words from Sword Maiden and a heavily injured GS shake her confidence enough that it almost gets her and the rest of her party killed. She’s luckily able to make up for it shortly after and gets a heart to heart with GS that helps lay out his and her fears. It’s important to show that trauma like that is not easily overcome, but also that it CAN be. In the end, her main contribution is being GS’s first link to connecting with the rest of the world, something crystallized when she gets him to take off his helmet and see everyone clearly. She’s a positive light in what used to be a dark world, brightening things for all around her.
The Rest of the Party:
While they are important contributors to the action and character building, I’m sad to say the other three members of the main party don’t really change all that much. At least, the Dwarf and Lizardman don’t seem to aside from Lizardman’s newfound love of cheese and ice cream. The Elf is given greater opportunities for growth by virtue of being a tsundere, though also because she is apparently new to seeing the outside world and wants to go on a proper adventure for once. This makes her first meeting with GS an infuriating one as he has no interest in fighting anything but goblins despite the massive war happening in the capital. She soon comes around on him when she realizes how difficult his job has been, but pledges to take him on a real adventure someday and even sticks up for him by the end.
So, in short, she’s cool and I’d love to see more development from her than just one of GS’s Schrodinger’s Harem, but the Dwarf and Lizard really need more going on with them.
There are plenty of minor characters that each get a chance to make their impressions in what little screentime they have, but for simplicity, I’m just going to touch on the more important of this group. First is Cow Girl, who mainly acts as proof that GS has a human side to appeal to when it wasn’t initially clear, but now serves as a sign of just how much of an idiot he is for not having married the poor thing by now. Next is Guild Girl, who also holds a torch for our hero, but also has a strong moral foundation that she wants to encourage in adventurers of the guild she works for, which means she will not forgive those who go against it. The Spearman and Witch also make a few notable appearances, mostly to either help and/or mock GS for his efforts but ultimately being good people. And finally, there’s the Sword Maiden, who parallels GS in how they’ve both lost things because of goblins, but she’s a former adventurer who shows that terror can find you no matter who you’ve faced before.
As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It seems like the first impression Goblin Slayer left on many people was not a good one. In spite of this, or possibly because of it, the show has remained a popular one and gained more fans in the process. Despite a questionable first episode, the series has shown to have a lot of genuine heart and soul behind it. This doesn’t quite make up for the wonky pacing or flat supporting cast, but it does make for a story and world I am more than eager to return to when and if it gets a second season. Like Goblin Slayer himself, it can be hard to look past the pain sometimes, and for some it might be impossible, but I think if they can remove their armor, they’ll find this show has a lot of bright and optimistic things to say that will make any future quest grand. Unless you roll a 1, then god help you.