In a world where monsters and brigands roam the lands, skilled warriors of man, elf, dwarf or lizardmen heritage sometimes become adventurers. A dangerous job for most, though those who survive can gradually take on even greater challenges, and perhaps someday becoming a legendary hero. However on the edges of a small frontier town lives one adventurer, one who does not care for glory, honor, or payment, and instead only hunts the lowest of the low monsters. His name: Goblin Slayer.
Goblin Slayer is a simple man - he despises goblins, vehemently. While other adventurers pass off the goblins as weak prey beneath the notice of any experienced adventurer, Goblin Slayer knows better. Goblin hunting is a cruel and dangerous task, and the downfall of many a gullible new adventurer. So when one beginner party sets off on their first mission to clear a goblin nest, Goblin Slayer arrives to find only the priestess still alive. In taking Priestess under his pragmatic and coldhearted wing, he ends up finding at least one adventurer willing to take on his gruesome task alongside himself.
How Was It?
If you’ve ever played any fantasy roleplaying game from the post-Tolkien, D&D and Warhammer lineage you will feel well at home in the world of Goblin Slayer. Unlike many of its contemporaries coming out of Japan, this is not actually a “game world”, and is instead a real fantasy world that runs on a similar framework as similar RPGs. Characters never talk in ability statistic numbers, and “experience points” is just the adventurers guild keeping tabs on their employees. There are also no dice, except in legends where the gods decide the fate of the world’s inhabitants by wars of dice. . Instead, Goblin Slayer is very much a “what if the world was actually like the ones portrayed in role-playing games” and for the most part Goblin Slayer passes that aim with flying colors. The novel, especially the first third of the book, begins with a look at the world as three vignettes from the perspectives of the three different main girls, the Priestess, the Guild Girl, and Goblin Slayer’s childhood friend Cow Girl. While the rest of the book keeps up the tradition of switching between perspectives narratively, these first three really brings out this well-rounded sense of the world of Goblin Slayer. We see a starting adventurer, that of Guild staff who have to look after the hot headed adventurers, and what it is like for the families of adventurers as their loved ones go off on dangerous quests are all aspects looked at here, and this really helps the world feel cohesive and lived in because of the way every character has their own desires and problems.
If there’s one barrier to entry to this book it is that Goblin Slayer is the definition of “stock storytelling”. The world mechanics, the races, the political system, the monsters and even the character types are all “standard fantasy” to a tee. It doesn’t help that every character is referred to by their position instead of their name, and no one character really stands out as being “against type” in the entire book, so anyone with some cursory genre knowledge of RPGs and anime will slip into this series easily. However, passing off how “stock” the premise and characters are as a bad thing really kind of misses the point of this book. Even though everyone starts as a genre staple, almost no character, even the most minor of tertiary characters like Spearman and Witch, leave the book without getting fleshed out, and to my surprise, by the end of the book I found myself actually caring about them thanks to the small background details and character development throughout.
Although he isn’t wholly original, the one character who perhaps doesn’t quite fit the mould of a stock character is that of Goblin Slayer. In terms of his character, he’s basically Batman, a traumatised boy who has perfected his martial skill to combat the injustice he survived as a child. However, unlike Batman he doesn’t have the limitless wealth or the brilliant mind that the caped crusader holds in his possession and instead makes up for it with trademark pragmatic and coldhearted tactics and a single-track focus on his chosen specialty, goblin hunting. I really liked Goblin Slayer’s arc during the volume, and it was cool how he starts by being in his element in looking to be the overpowered, dark, brooding and badass warrior style character, before the layers slowly begin peeling back. We get to see his vulnerabilities, quirks and eventually emotions as the novel continues so that by the time the climax hits he is far more than just a cool character, and he becomes a flawed hero who we want to see grow and develop.
Speaking of climaxes, I really enjoyed how the later half of the story played out. There’s a large section devoted to a goblin nest raid starting halfway through that feels like it could have been the end of the novel in a more serialised series. The fight is large scale and exciting, and would leave the characters at a reasonable status quo for later books having just showed off Goblin Slayer’s battle ingenuity. Instead the book uses the opportunity of Goblin Slayer recovering from his climactic previous battle to flesh out his, and the rest of the cast’s characters in this single volume, leading up to a full scale night battle This was emotionally thrilling, and far more impactful than I ever expected to my pleasant surprise.
Another interesting point about Goblin Slayer is about the way it handles the goblins. There is a great deal of detailed analysis and intricate detail placed into the development of the goblins of this world that makes them far more than simple arrow fodder. They are a source of apparently irredeemable chaotic evil in this book, one that really drives home the direness of the situations of common people in this world, and this is something that really pays off in the final battle when the threat “comes home” for Goblin Slayer. However, a lot of the threat of the goblins is portrayed through constant dancing around the fact that the goblins constantly torture and rape their prisoners. How explicit the book gets varies a great deal, but by the midway point of the novel, I was finding some of the extended scenes somewhat unpleasant to read. The frequent repetition worked as a tool for making the goblins seem irredeemable, but did eventually seem overbearing. However, there are other ways that the novel finds to showcase the goblins’ despicability, including two PoV sections from a goblin’s point of view that showcases their simple, deceitful, selfish, and tricksy nature.
Goblin Slayer Vol. 1 was a very welcome surprise. What looks to be another generic fantasy in the surface slowly reveals itself to be an appropriately serious, surprisingly layered, small scale adventure story. This volume is both smart and exciting, and it isn’t afraid to show the less glamourous sides of adventuring that games can never really show. It works wonderfully as a standalone work, but I will happily look forward to the next volume. This is definitely highly recommended for anyone who enjoys dark action, fantasy, and well-realised worlds.
Goblin Slayer Vol. 1 was published in English by Yen Press on December, 20 2016, translated by Kevin Steinbach. The original light novel was written by Kumo Kagyu, and illustrated by Noboru Kannatuki. Volume 2 releases in English on April 18, 2017.
Date of Publication: December 20th, 2016
Author: Kumo Kagyu
Translator: Kevin Steinbach
Publisher: Yen Press