Once in a blue moon we are graced with the occasional discussion on the concept of deconstruction and other seemingly synonymous terms associated with relevant media that are labeled as such. I will do my best to be as clear as I can due to my desire to continue to contribute to ongoing discussions about a recently controversial anime: Goblin Slayer. Before I do this, I must give a trigger warning to those who disagree with me and those who have a tendency to report those who disagree with them. I will be using terminology such as: contrarian, any term or sentence that points out any degree in wrongness, edgy, gore porn, SJW (a term that is simply a smear), and several other terms that may upset any given reader. It is not my intention to bring harm to any individual and it is my full intention to promote healthy discourse within our fandoms — as trying as that may be from time to time.
It is my firm belief that Goblin Slayer is not “realistic”. This is not a condemnation of the series by any means. It is a disagreement in semantics (and the incredibly problematic premise of the usage) and applying pressure to those who utilize this label to this series. I have to make it mind-numbingly clear that I do enjoy watching the series more than I do with reading it. This is not a review of the show and I already have my first impressions readily available on Twitter for everybody to view if you do not believe me (not that I am asking you to). I am “making a big deal” out of this because it is my mission to promote healthy discussions in our communities. Per my mission, I find it necessary to challenge anybody’s preconceptions as aggressively as I must (without harassing people of course) to bring about things that I value such as honesty, reason and bridging commonality (i.e. “getting on the same page”). It is, to my estimation, that because Crunchyroll did not give due warning and viewer discretion notice for the show (which is now a fixed issue), a good number of folks reacted in disgust and in personal response to the imagery that was shown. I talk about this specific response in a video that I had made about their arguments and break it down to the best of my ability. In response to these disgusted individuals, there were counter-reactions to these initial reactions of all sorts. What I am responding to myself in recent days is purely in contempt for the type of bad faith individual who will go out of their way to “set the record” and lay down the law of the land as to exactly how one must react to exactly what Goblin Slayer “is” and “is not”. It is this disingenuous response that has brought me to criticize how these types of responses add nothing of value to a conversation nor do they directly address the concerns that people originally had to begin with. The range of counter-responses range from hacky circlejerks to espousing this high-minded rationale for how Goblin Slayer is this genius post-modern take on to the Isekai and MMO Fantasy anime sub-genres. It is this elitist attitude that I am contesting and have been consistent with contending since the inception of this page 4 years ago (hence the ironic name: “Overly Critical Otakus”).
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, I have to define some things and give proper context as to why these definitions are most appropriate for the conversation at hand to see my point of view. First, I want to address the genres that were mentioned. Secondly, I must address realism and it’s relationship with fiction as well as the challenges that are faced when critiquing levels of realism within media mediums like anime. Lastly, I must define what deconstruction is so that I may explain what Dark Fantasy is. Hopefully by establishing these terms, I can paint a better picture to help you, reader, better understand my arguments.
It occurred to me that Dark Fantasy is a severely misunderstood genre by critics and by audiences of all kinds. Before I even tackle Dark Fantasy, a more striking revelation occurred to me was how a good number of individuals found my critique of Goblin Slayer’s realism to be inferior to Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s realism to be laughably ridiculous — a few went so far to scoff at me for pointing out that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is Fantasy as well.
I found this to be both amusing and a source of grief. How, in anybody’s right mind, could refute Arthurian works of any kind to not be apart of the Fantasy genre? I don’t mean to imply idiocy with my confusion, but I do believe the education system in which you grew up in to have failed you in such tragic proportions. This is basic literature literacy required in just about every primary and secondary education systems around the world to learn about when learning English (alongside works like Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Shakespearean plays). As a media critic, it is my duty to inform you about the basics of literature literacy — at least for the purpose of this article.
Fantasy is a genre as old as humanity itself. As soon as humans began to create folklore, Fantasy has continued to evolve in each respective society to include creation myths and the adaption of other myths into organized religions as well — all works of fantasy and fiction.
When I discuss Fantasy in relation to MMO, Isekai Anime, and other typical Western RPGs, the elements being used are Eurocentric and based in the Middle Ages. This does not mean that Fantasy has to be based on reality — quite the contrary. What drives Fantasy is imagination. Using medieval England and various European folklore as an inspiration to create a story is not only normal (as normal is too weak of a word for this), but it is a staple template due to its pervasive commonality in Fantasy works.
To then summarize the origins of Goblin Slayer, it is a work that is lightly influenced by Japan’s current market trend of continuous commodification of “Isekai” (see Isekai defined and explained here) and the MMO Fantasy sub-genre respectively.
A more relevant explanation of inspiration, as Kumo (the author) has made clear in an interview; derives from the author’s love for DC comics, other Dark Fantasy works, and primarily Record of Lodoss War (which literally was a Dungeons & Dragons game transcribed into an anime — which is why I love both Record of Lodoss War and Goblin Slayer…due to the roots in D&D).
So why is realism relevant? In context of contrarians and bad faith actors, realism (e.g. “realistic”) is most likely a synonym for practical characters and believable sequence of events based on explicitly mentioned knowledge, down-to-earth moods, and a more nuanced society than what is typically seen in most Isekai and MMO anime. This, unfortunately, does not make it realistic in the same standard that I view realism in fiction — especially fantasy and why nearly everybody misunderstood me and fundamentally did not understand my challenge. What I am talking about with how realistic a fantasy story is in relation to its setting, characters, worldview, etc is being realistic in the same context that we live in ourselves — not a context based off of fictional elements alone. The sub-genre of realistic fantasy that I am accustomed to is called Magical Realism. In Dungeons & Dragons, this type of setting is infamously known as Dark Sun. Dark Sun is quite a different flavor of the franchise where it completely departs from a high fantasy setting much like what is commonly known in works by J.R. Tolkien where magic is nearly non-existent and just about every aspect of living is suffering due to fighting against the true beasts that are scarcity and your own demons (alongside actual monsters and demons if a Dungeon Master so chooses).
In Magical Realism, the setting, the characters, the world views and mannerisms, etc all are primarily based on reality before adding fantastical gimmicks like magical spells and monsters. This is also why I am also confident when I say that an anime like Berserk is not realistic either. The situation, to me, is like comparing Goblin Slayer with Game of Thrones.
While both do share in common a debatable overuse of shocking content to draw attention (and debatably this is simply a coincidence with writing styles for both respective series), the similarities mostly end there. The difference is a priority of setting and a priority of content. I will not go too in-depth with Game of Thrones’s characteristics, but the complete extermination of a monster race (seen as vermin in Goblin Slayer’s society that are pawned off to low level adventures to do the equivalent of critically dangerous pest control) is the primary plot point whereas in Game of Thrones is a fantasy re-telling of the War of Roses with a highlight of complex politics and character networks. The relationship of realism with the setting of Goblin Slayer is using realism as a gimmick rather than using fantasy as a gimmick in this case — making it fundamentally no different than the likes of an MMO or a gritty high fantasy D&D campaign.
As important as realism is to the discussion, I found that when I press on with a plurality of individuals inserting the “realism” of Goblin Slayer in response to any criticism, the term “deconstruction” would eventually pop-up with incredible consistency. This bothered me because deconstruction is also a terribly misunderstood word that just is not taught in high schools or is a mandatory concept to teach college students exactly what it is.
Without getting too wordy and preachy, deconstruction as it is used in media studies (and in turn media critique), is a term coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida (you can learn all about him here since my oversimplification will do his ideas no justice here). To put the term as simply as possible, it is what I have been doing with the term: realism. Realism has a mainstream meaning that has a very loose usage. On my end, deconstructing the term required me to identify what most people meant, what I meant, and manage to connect them together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even matter what the author for Goblin Slayer intends to begin with because of the meanings that we all extract from the series as it is. Out of all of the anime to have been widely discussed this year, Goblin Slayer has a diverse range of opinions about what the series actually is and different opinions on what the sub-text of the series actually is. So by giving my argument about what realism is and adding onto my list of “What Goblin Slayer is Not”, we are participating in shaping the meanings of a few words: deconstruction, realism, gore porn, and edgy. I will not be doing an in-depth analysis on what edgy is specifically right now due to the incredible range of opinions that deserve its own articles, but rather will expand upon what gore porn is and what the concept of deconstruction is.
As most media critics understand a product that is a “deconstruction” we are talking about a work that uses post-modernism in all sorts of ways to depart and make a stark contrast from the norm. In the anime community, Madoka Magica is the most commonly discussed “deconstruction anime” due to its stark difference from other magical girl series such as Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura. For those who say that Goblin Slayer is a deconstruction really mean to say that Goblin Slayer is different from what they view is normal (I.e. Sword Art Online, Re: Zero, Overlord, etc MMO and Isekai anime). They are technically right that it is different. Now what makes this so contentious is how vague the conversation is. The words “realism” and “deconstruction” are losing their meanings in real time as it is in these conversations (or perhaps were lost to the anime community some time ago). To bring purpose and a predictable and reliable term for the sake of conversation and exchanging ideas to one another, there is a need to not play loose with terms — even if we go down the deep road of linguistic theory. In that case, there are normally multiple components that are required to make this argument that Goblin Slayer is indeed a deconstruction.
We have to first identify what we are comparing Goblin Slayer to and understand why that comparison is nonsense. To most who claim Goblin Slayer to be a “realistic take on MMO anime and Isekai anime” (what they really mean is loosely contrasting any and all fantasy anime in recent years), we should then compare it to the likes of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash since the basic plot elements remain the same: goblin slaying. Establishing what makes Grimgar exactly what it is requires us to label its genres and focus. It is an Action, Drama, Adventure, Isekai MMO Fantasy anime. What is Goblin Slayer? It is an Action, Adventure, MMO, Dark Fantasy (not even an Isekai). The main difference is not the MMO nor the Isekai elements of each story, but the stark difference of focus if we were to compare one to the other in the same industry: Dark Fantasy vs a focus on Drama. Grimgar‘s primary focus is not on the goblin monsters or the nuances that involve goblins, but rather it’s primary focus is on character development and character relationships. Goblin Slayer’s primary focus is…well…slaying goblins.
If I had to simplify the plot in a facetious way, then I would agree with the memes calling Goblin Slayer (Orcbolg) Fantasy Doom Slayer (aka Doomguy) or like William J. Blazkowicz (from Wolfenstein). The primary focus of Doom and Wolfenstein are literally genre-defining in gaming history for “Shoot ‘Em Up”. I’ve personally advocated for a Goblin Slayer game to be an addition to this genre (and jokingly call it: “Stab ‘Em Up”).
To be specific with what I mean, the primary reason for the consumption of these products is the action. It feels good to mow down fictional robot Nazis in Space with dual wielded shotguns as well as endlessly mowing down demons. In Goblin Slayer, it feels good to witness (and I predict it would be incredibly fun to play) as Orcbolg endlessly mowing down goblins. There is nothing wrong with this from a consumer standpoint.
This is gore porn. To quickly summarize gore porn (since it is incredibly straightforward ), it originates from a sub-genre of film known as Splatter film (I.e. The Evil Dead, most zombie movies, The Thing, etc) where there is a deliberate focus on gore and graphic violence (which range from largely uncensored shocking content of any kind including rape). Goblin Slayer (and Berserk to give a special mention to) most certainly fits the bill for Splatter film.
Now finally wrapping up with the meaty content: defining dark fantasy and why Goblin Slayer is most certainly dark fantasy as is a work like Berserk. Dark fantasy has been mentioned everywhere in this article so far and this is ultimately the key to understanding if Goblin Slayer is a deconstruction of its genre (not by contrarian standards, but by objective standards). Dark fantasy is incredibly misunderstood for a wide variety of complicated reasons that I do not have time to get too deep into (and will do so in a podcast). What matters right now is that we at least understand what Dark Fantasy is and is not. Dark Fantasy, to summarize, is gritty Fantasy. There are all sorts of ways to go about this, but what is important to distinguishing Dark Fantasy as a sub-genre are it’s need for horror elements. It is up for debate of the origin of the term, but what matters for a Dark Fantasy to be clarified as one is it having primarily a fantasy setting with dark themes and a mix of horror fiction with fantasy fiction. What horror elements exist in Goblin Slayer?
In an MMO Fantasy universe (and in D&D), it is assumed that beginner level adventurers work their way up to be effectively village heroes by effectively being pest control, farm assistants, errand runners, and all sorts of menial tasks to get paid and engage with various exciting events to “gain experience” and become stronger. In Goblin Slayer, the normal naïveté of rookies is shown to backfire in the result of annihilation of squads and the rape of female adventurers due to inexperience and recklessness. This is an element that can still happen in MMOs and D&D. How gruesome it is portrayed is up to whoever is creating a game or campaign and how descriptive they want to be even in a high fantasy setting. Logically, this rules out the supposed deconstruction element in Goblin Slayer.
Now we can focus on the horror fiction. What is needed in a horror fiction? Fear. As Stephen King once said about what makes a good horror: “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”. I’ve also discussed what makes a good horror on my Weebspeak podcast before discussing this in further detail, but right now I must emphasize the usage of one of these terrors in Goblin Slayer. The goblins themselves are, by this definition, “The Horror”. For the disgusted audience, you really should back off from smearing them as “SJWs” or sensitive viewers and readers. Rape is serious and traumatic, so viewing rape can trigger an episode of incredible and intense anxiety and triggered fear from PTSD, in which case “Terror” applies too close to home. Or quite simply, Splatter films are simply not for them. With the fantasy and horror in a precise harmony with the content and presentation, Goblin Slayer owns the Dark Fantasy mold like a glove.
I have unpacked why Goblin Slayer is not realistic or a deconstruction and have established why it is a Dark Fantasy and why it is, in fact and most basic sense, gore porn. I have also informed you, dearest reader, why something as ridiculous as Monty Python and the Holy Grail is Fantasy (as is KonoSuba comparatively), and thoroughly unpacked the concept of realism and deconstruction. I hope that this has been a learning experience for you and if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please do leave a comment or DM on FB, Twitter or Discord. If you enjoyed what you read and also want to follow and locate where all of my social media is, I conveniently placed it all in my Patreon page for you to to view and maybe look around to see if you want to support OCO!