With the first series of Goblin Slayer wrapping up, I wanted to touch on the show that’s been not only one of the number one animes in North America but has also been rather popular among the PulpRev crowd.
I enjoyed Goblin Slayer, but when all was said and done, it occurred to me that not only was it not a great anime, it was not even a particularly good anime—what gave it the illusion of greatness was that it met all of the meager expectations it set, delivering in heaping doses what little it promised. It set a low bar and clears it with ease. You want to watch a show where a guy kills goblins? This is it, chief. The utter lack of pretension is far more delicious than the “fake depth” many shows try to coast on before crashing in a mess at the end. Goblin Slayer needs no apologia, and there are no great divides in the fandom over thema, symbolism, and other minutia.
Is Goblin Slayer pulpy? The only reason I ask is that it’s pretty well loved by the PulpRev crowd. And thinking about it, not only is it not particularly pulpy or Appendix N-style fantasy, it’s Pink Slime fantasy to a degree even worse than Record of Lodoss War; it’s pure, in a vacuum, D&D fan-fic.
What separates it Lodoss, however, and many other pink slime fantasies is that the D&D it draws from (if indeed it is drawing from D&D; evidence abounds) is of the older, classic variety, in which the purpose of “adventurers” is to kill monsters, because monsters represent an existential threat to mankind and because they have treasure. Goblin Slayer lacks the pretense of the game in which great and powerful forces are at work and the heroes must act because the fate of the world is at stake and the party represents the champions of all humanity and all that is good.* There are no destined saviors, chosen ones, lost princelings, who are going to stop the Dark Lord. That none of the characters in Goblin Slayer even have names beyond what they do or have accomplished or what their profession is almost serves to lampshade this lack of “special” and “important” fantasy heroes in its narrative. In D&D terms, these are characters who lasted a couple adventures and gained reputations around the table, rather than being wadded up and thrown in the trash because they died—this in contrast to the contemporary trend in D&D to craft intricate backstories for the very-special-snowflake characters who are destined for great things and will almost certainly having nothing too bad happen to them because the player might throw a hissy-fit.
The first episode of Goblin Slayer, which created quite a stir for its brutality and graphic nature**, mainly served to illustrate that the kind of game that inspired Goblin Slayer*** is the kind in which level one characters die in the dungeon and you have to roll up new ones. There’s no point in bringing your very special bisexual tiefling princess with daddy issues who is the most beloved of her tribe to the goblin cave, because the goblin and his spear that will kill her don’t give a shit about your character’s backstory.
I think that, even though Goblin Slayer is shallow and derivative fantasy to the extreme, this is the reason why it resonated so well with the PulpRev crowd, a group that grew largely from the OSR and which preferred the more brutal old school style of Dungeons & Dragons to the modern narrative-driven style of play that’s come to dominate tabletop gaming.
*: This is going on to some extent in the background; the setting is the aftermath of an earlier such conflict—but the climactic battle is not to save the world or even a town, but rather the farm where the girl who likes the Goblin Slayer lives.
**: Yo, the way everyone was talking about that first episode, I was expecting Mezzo Forte levels of gratuitous…
***:Look at all the goddamn dice rolling and talk of gods rolling dice and try to convince yourself it’s anything but TTRPG inspired.