There a moment in episode two of Goblin Slayer when the title character describes the horrors of goblins ransacking a village, apparently remembering his own experience:
An example would be if your older sister was attacked, tormented, made a plaything, then killed. Let’s say you witnessed all this, from start to finish in hiding as you held your breath. There’s no way you’d forgive them.
The scene that plays out while Goblin Slayer narrates isn’t shocking, not in this world. Even though the silver-ranked warrior has killed many goblins, there’s no feeling of justice or peace. Instead, Goblin Slayer feels anxious, worried as he notes that his foe is becoming more plentiful, doing more harm. The stark violence of episode one enforces the feeling of dread in this world, the feeling that there is no hope. Episode two emphasizes this theme through flashbacks, relenting a bit on the horrible violence shown in the previous episode. That seems to be an intentional choice—I was made aware that a certain scene was not animated that would have fit well into the harshness of this world (the quote below is of a graphic nature):
First, Ranger was used for target practice before her eyes. The leader begged the goblins for her companion’s life. Because Monk had attempted to bite off her own tongue when the goblins tortuously killed her, they shoved her comrade’s entrails into her mouth. When Wizard was burned alive, Knight’s heart broke into a thousand pieces, and her soul failed her.
The sense of hopelessness isn’t just in the violence—its that people we know are tortured and watch others as they intensely suffer, without hope of rescue. While we don’t know “Knight” in that quote above, or in any real detail the party in episode one, we know them by their archetypes, by the tropes of anime. In another show this season, like Fairy Tail or Sword Art Online, these characters would survive with dignity in tact, no worse for the wear. Or if they or a comrade died, it wouldn’t be as a victim of torture. But in Goblin Slayer, the unthinkable occurs. It doesn’t just occur—it’s expected. There are no quick deaths.
I’m reminded of a piece slightly closer to real life, a book of historical fiction that we’ve discussed many times on the blog. Silence, the classic work by Shusaku Endo, which was adapted into film by Martin Scorsese, follows missionaries in Japan as they question their faith when Japanese converts are being tortured to death. What ultimately breaks some of the missionaries in the novel is not their own torture, which they pursue as a honor worth receiving, but the death of the innocent. A line previous to the quote above in the Goblin Slayer light novel could have well fit into Silence:
The warrior was strong but not prepared to sacrifice her friends.
Death can be noble. But deaths of these sorts are nothing but tragic and unbearable. Being placed in such a situation would of course cause us to question everything we know—the strong spirit of Knight, the faith of Silence’s missionaries. It causes a loss of hope. There is no silver lining. That which we depend on most seems to have failed:
Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent.
Lately, I’m reminded of my own shortcomings when trying to care for people who feel abandoned, who sense a silence from those they trust most—whether it’s family, friends, or God himself. As one who has endured so little pain, I can’t offer much in advice to those who are depressed, who are victims of terrible crimes, who are deep in a place of darkness from which they may not return. But the truth is, I fail even at offering a shoulder, a word, a bit of my time, all those things that I am able to give. At best, sometimes, I only provide a pat on the back, and at worst, impatience and critical words.
If Goblin Slayer is a journey in a world without hope, there’s reason for us who are not living in such a world to rejoice. There’s reason in knowing that light does exist in the darkness, no matter how dim it may be. And if I’m able to see that, then I am blessed, for there are those among us living in a tortuous world. May I be able to show them even just a bit of the light when there is none left for them to see.
Goblin Slayer can be streamed on Crunchyroll. Note that the series contains scenes of graphic and sexual violence.