Goblin Slayer is an incredibly dark fantasy/horror manga by Kumo Kagyu, Kousuke Kurose, and Noboru Kannatuki. It’s not exactly an isekai story, but it shares several characteristics with that genre, like its medieval setting, MMO-like guild hierarchies, and RPG monsters plaguing the land. Isekai stories sometimes also have a reputation for skeevy themes and fanservice, but I have never seen one quite this intense in that regard. Goblin Slayer comes with a huge trigger warning: sexual assault.
The book begins with a group of fledgling adventurers underestimating how dangerous goblins are. They are tasked with exterminating a goblin gang that has taken over a small system of caves near their village. The adventurers are ambushed almost immediately upon entry, and the goblins make the few moments left in the adventurers’ lives hell. Most of the party is killed. One of the survivors, a 15-year-old priestess, is wounded but alive. The other survivor, a female martial artist, has been beaten and dragged deeper into the cave. Just when it seems all is lost, Goblin Slayer appears.
I want to make it clear before we get much further that I’m a HUGE horror fan. In particular, I’m a fan of the kind of stuff that makes people throw up at Sundance. Pasolini’s Saló, or 120 Days in Sodom, a movie often cited as one of the sickest ever made, is easily in my top 10 films of all time. I also want you to know that I like ecchi anime and manga. Fanservice was a huge part of what got me into anime in the first place, and I never really grew out of it.
I’m not saying this to prove how hardcore or politically incorrect I am or whatever. I’m saying it to illustrate that, by all accounts, Goblin Slayer, which is absolutely vicious and stuffed to the gills with sexual content, should be right up my alley. But I hated it.
That’s not to say it has no redeeming qualities. Kurose’s art is probably the strongest aspect of the whole manga. Much of it takes place in shadowy caves, and he makes great use of black space and heavy screen-toning for these scenes. A combination of good layouts and good monster designs makes the goblins seem every bit as savage and dangerous as Kagyu’s story needs them to be. Kannatuki’s human character designs are attractive, if a bit generic, but Kurose does pay special attention to the details of costumes, especially Goblin Slayer’s armor. He also allows the art to get rougher during battle scenes, which results in some spectacularly gritty moments of gore.
Goblin Slayer also has a lot of sexual content, and it was this content that I had an issue with. I don’t want to dance around what this manga contains, so here is one last CONTENT WARNING: monster rape.
Kagyu frontloads the book with graphic sexual violence. This isn’t hentai but there is absolutely no ambiguity about what’s happening. Nudity is plentiful and it deserves the M rating Yen Press has given it.
When the goblins ambush the adventures, they disembowel the male party member and mortally wound one of the women. One of the goblins rapes her as she dies. The rest of the goblins chase the other two women down and beat, rape, and drag one of them away before Goblin Slayer arrives. He saves the remaining girl from being assaulted, and together they manage to rescue the one who was dragged off, but when they find her she is in shock and covered in ejaculate.
The framing of all these events makes it clear that the reader is supposed to find this arousing. I am perhaps an overly forgiving man, so I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until I came across a panel in which the martial artist, having just been attacked, is lying on the ground telling the priestess to run. But the whole foreground is filled with the martial artist’s ass. You can’t see any other part of her body. The placement of the word balloon makes it look like her ass is talking. It would almost be funny if the next panel wasn’t her being violated.
There’s a lot of tonal dissonance going on here, because while the art frames everything as sexy, the plot treats it all as disgusting, at least in the first half. The goblins’ proclivities are spoken of in horrified whispers by the townsfolk. Personally, I agree with the townsfolk, but after the initial revulsion, it feels pointless and empty. It’s just being nasty because it can. There’s no social commentary, no deeper meaning, and the whole sequence, which takes up the entire first half of the book, has almost no bearing on the plot. It’s just self-indulgent, faux-edgy scene setting.
Rape is a despicable act. It should not be taken lightly, but it can be used as a plot point in fiction in a way works for the story. Goblin Slayer doesn’t put in the effort to make this happen. There’s another extremely popular, extremely brutal medieval fantasy manga you might know that uses the rape of a main character as a pivotal plot point.
Berserk makes it work by spending 13 volumes getting to know the characters, their daily lives, their loves, and obsessions before the unforgivable crime is committed. It’s viscerally upsetting, a world-shattering event in both literal and less tangible senses. Goblin Slayer spends maybe 13 pages in total fleshing out its characters and utterly fails to make you care about any of them. Not until the very end of the book does any character even get an actual name, instead of being referred to by their titles.
This failure is compounded by a couple of rape jokes that crop up later in the book. Comedy seems inappropriate anyway in such a dark comic, but cutesy four-panel style segments of goblins arguing over who gets to be next in line for a kidnapped woman is about the least appropriate attempt at a joke I can think of.
Goblin Slayer‘s few redeeming qualities are brought down by its glaring faults. Its action scenes are pretty impressively realized, but they’re in service of a threadbare plot with little long-term emotional impact. It has cute girls but is too grim to function as a fanservice title. It lacks the rich character work, metaphor, or artistic vision that make works like Berserk and Saló valuable in spite of their heinousness. It’s all surface level vileness for vileness’s sake. There is better horror manga, better fantasy manga, and better edgelord erotica readily available in English. Knowing that I can’t recommend Goblin Slayer.
If you still wish to read the series, you can order Goblin Slayer Volume 1 on Amazon. Thank you, Yen Press, for giving Yatta-Tachi and myself the opportunity to review the first volume.