This is entirely a personal preference, but I really like it when a story is dark. For me, it becomes a lot easier to get engaged in a plot when you know that things could very well go terribly for the characters. One mistake, and terrible things could happen that will dramatically change the character and the world they live in.
However, simply being dark isn’t always a good thing. You need to have a balance to it. Be too dark without any sense of levity just depresses the audience. Going too far with how dark it is and you could disgust your audience, turning them away from what you’re creating. Go too easy on the dark elements, and you risk sucking the tension away completely. It’s a difficult balance, one that is often not met. And when it is failed to be met, many a controversy can ensue.
Which brings us to the subject of today’s Daily Rant, and the first of my entries in this years 12 Days of Anime (more on that right here if you’re curious): Goblin Slayer.
If you have payed even a minute amount of attention to the anime circles this season, then you’ve heard of this show. It’s first episode alone sparked a huge amount of controversy, sending the internet into a frenzy. Everyone screamed, and they either said “THIS SHOW IS THE WORK OF THE DEVIL POSSESSING AN EDGY FOURTEEN YEAR OLD” or “THIS SHOW IS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR YOU’RE JUST A BABY PERSON”. And if you had any opinion that wasn’t in these extremes, congratulations!
You’re one of the tolerable ones.
During the arguments brought on by this controversy, many people bring up a similar point: “Uh, well, Berserk did it, and everyone loves that, so shut up!” Now, I’m not here to shit on Goblin Slayer by comparing it to Berserk. I fucking love Berserk, and I didn’t care for Goblin Slayer, yes, but I don’t think that the two should be compared. Both are series that you can enjoy or hate depending on your tastes.
So instead, I’m going to try and figure out why Berserk gets away with it and Goblin Slayer can’t. And it’s a more challenging question than you’d think. But in the end, it comes right back to that line I brought up in the opening paragraph.
Berserk strikes the balance of dark storytelling masterfully. It has scenes of extreme graphic violence (both physical and sexual), and it balances it out with moments of heartwarming humanity, such as Guts and Casca’s first kiss or Guts opening up to his new friends after the Eclipse, or charming fun, such as Puck’s happy attitude and goofy faces. It establishes it’s tone perfectly right off the bat, and it slowly amps up to the more terrible events in the series.
Goblin Slayer, on the other hand, struggles to find that balance. It has plenty of levity and humanity, but none of them are as impactful as they should be. The first episode doesn’t waste any time, going straight to goblins raping anime girls and slaughtering dudes before getting slaughtered themselves. It doesn’t give you time to grow connected to these characters before the shocking and terrible events happen. It just skips straight to them.
That’s where I feel the difference lies. Berserk started dark with a few rays of light sprinkled in there, then it became extremely dark and graphic, then the light slowly returned without losing any of the darkness. It spends time building the tone, world and characters, so the shocking events have actual significance beyond their shock value.
Goblin Slayer, on the other hand, isn’t concerned with character building or establishment of tone. It uses the graphic sexual violence for two reasons: to create shock factor and force the audience to hate the goblins. By making them so completely vile, they aim to make their destruction all the more satisfying.
Simply put: Berserk is all about the story and characters and how they deal with these terrible things while Goblin Slayer is all about the power fantasy of slaughtering creatures of pure evil.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a simple power fantasy. And if that’s what you enjoy, then Goblin Slayer is right up your alley. While I personally didn’t enjoy it, I can admit that it does a good job in that regard. By making the goblins so completely hideous, evil and easily despised, it becomes all the sweeter to see them get slaughtered like animals. Some people can enjoy that, and others can’t.
But that leaves the question: how did Berserk get away with it? Well, the answer is simple. It didn’t.
Remember, back when the Eclipse happened, people were just as shocked and horrified as they were over Goblin Slayer. Outsiders looking in were horrified and disgusted, and long time fans had to watch in horror as their favorite characters got slaughtered and raped. While I personally think it was the most powerful and well done scene in the series (well, one of them at least, there are kind of a lot of those), it’s not hard to see that not everyone will be happy about it.
The difference in impact, however, is way easier to understand. See, Berserk weeded out the audience with it’s first few Arcs. It had a dark tone from chapter one, which is enough to tell people who don’t enjoy that kind of thing to turn away. From there, only those with a stomach for it kept going up until and past the Eclipse. Goblin Slayer, on the other hand, doesn’t wait for the sensitive viewers to leave. It just starts with the extreme stuff right off the bat. Hence, the controversy.
I dunno. Maybe I’m completely wrong. I’m not some Great Sage. Who knows? I just thought it’d be fun to talk about it and why I think it happened.
Either way, it’s not like I’m going to lose sleep over it. Goblin Slayer is an alright fantasy story with dark tones, and it isn’t enough to draw me in. Do I feel it should be compared to Berserk in a negative or positive light? No. It’s it’s own thing, and it should be judged as such. Just know this: if you love it or hate it, or if you think the controversy is warranted or not, you’re opinion is perfectly valid.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go slaughter some goblins. Maybe some Final Fantasy goblins, I’m not sure yet. I just want to feel like I’m doing a better job than the actual Goblin Slayer.
That’s my power fantasy right there.