So I Read: Goblin Slayer (manga)

You know which word I never expected to show up on this blog? ‘Rape’.

But you know what the manga Goblin Slayer has a whole lot of?

As of writing: Chapter 22

Goblin Slayer appears in Monthly Big Gangan every month, simulpublished in English, and is written by Kumo Kagyu and illustrated by Kousuke Kurose. It’s based on a light novel series by Kagyu, and the manga may be technically written by Kurose just following the Kagyu’s story, but the internet failed me this time and I couldn’t figure it out.

It follows the titular Goblin Slayer (who goes by no other name) in essentially the Dungeons & Dragons universe, a Punisher-esque adventurer dedicated to exterminating goblins and only goblins. It feels like a premise that started as either a tabletop character or campaign and eventually found its way to a proper manga. GS eventually gains a sidekick, and then a party he adventures with as he learns how to be human again – and yes, that’s a much lighter story than I expected it to be.

Before I get to the bad stuff: Goblin Slayer is usually pretty solid, even if, remarkably (given the first issue) it’s very saccharine at times. Action is easily its strength: very strong and consistent art, easy to follow, with very well-plotted action. It plays out like a Punisher or Frank Miller comic: swift action that moves with something of a beat panel-to-panel, page-to-page. Kagyu’s work can be clever and interesting: how GS constantly changes weapons because goblins coat blade with fat and blood that blunt their edges, or using cheap armour that’s more mobile but enough to block most goblin attacks, or the wealth of preparation and traps GS utilises but doesn’t rely on. The more I describe him the more I’m reminded of Punisher, which is still a pretty accurate comparison in my opinion. Kurose’s work in general is extremely solid and well-composed, and he should be commended for it.

But now onto the rest.

The major problem with Goblin Slayer is its overall tone, which really encompasses most of the manga’s issues. It almost feels like current-era Berserk without any of the restraint or development to reach that point: where Berserk started almost absurdly grim and dark-edged, it organically grew and changed in tone alongside the story itself. But Goblin Slayer, starting in a very bleak, harrowing place, jumps straight into the lighter, cutesy shonen characters – the romantic interest our hero is entirely ignorant of, the childish tsundere-ish elf character (why are they always like that…?), the hopeful and overeager sidekick that reforms the antisocial hero. It begins somewhere similar in tone to Attack on Titan, opening with the type of shocking twist that prepares you for some Real Shit ™ in the proceeding issues,  before it leaps and bounds into something so much lighter than you’d expect.

But, unlike Berserk, Goblin Slayer still wants to keep the horrific sexual violence and other gruesome shit alongside all this, with almost no consideration of the jarring clash between these two elements.

In Goblin Slayer, sexual violence and rape is presented as a core part of the goblin race: when they’re not being killed, they’re usually raping a ‘kidnapped maiden’ for the purposes of ‘breeding’ (just typing that out sends a bit of a chill up my back). It forms a major part of both their villainisation and the exposition on how goblins live and function. They’re presented as primitive, evil beings, and their regular raping of women is a major part of establishing this characterisation. It’s not something that shows up every single chapter (thankfully) but it’s definitely regular enough (and made especially clear in the first chapter) to be considered a legitimate theme of the goblins in Goblin Slayer.

As regular as it is, the ongoing use of rape as a story element, even as something that could potentially happen (see the latest issue), is not only lazy and exploitive on the part of the writer (whoever that is in this case), but its otherwise light and humorous tone makes for this terrible juxtaposition that makes the reliance on rape as a story point so much worse. This isn’t to say Goblin Slayer outright removes the impact of rape on the human psyche and the horror and violence of the act itself (it’s not as negligent as you could expect, though that’s no excuse), but that sexual violence is so close to the lighter-toned everything-else-in-the-story undermines whatever acknowledgement there is in the first place and the genuine severity of such violence.

It makes for an uncomfortable read, where whatever enjoyment you’re having with the likeable (if indistinct) cast and the strong art is suddenly interrupted by some cold, horrific reality. It depends on the reader I suppose, but, especially in this current climate, sexual violence as a subject can really stick with me for a while. Having something with a tone comparable to My Hero Academia suddenly dip into such a raw subject for the sake of shock value is jarring and uncomfortable.

The manga Goblin Slayer wasn’t really worth reading, though I can see why it was picked up for an anime. It’s generally solid, rarely anything special, but the jarring presence of rape – and little other genuine horror elements, if that’s the purpose of it – really undermined my enjoyment whenever it appears. With little-to-no world-building, strong character work or (at least to me) long-term plotting, Goblin Slayer is a shallow manga (and likely anime) that offers strong art and action but not much else.

John Reeves writes about gaming or other junk, though usually on less-heavy subjects. Check him out on the blog, on the Tumblr, on the Twitter.

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