CrunchyRoll recently added a viewer discretion advisory to the beginning of Goblin Slayer. As previously discussed in the post below, this is a solution that informs viewers of potentially disturbing content, but allows them to decide for themselves whether or not to continue. They could specify that the advisory is for violent and sexual content if they wanted to take it a step further, but that isn’t really necessary.
Just about every season, there’s at least one show that stirs up a bit of controversy for some reason or another. This time around, White Fox Studio’s Goblin Slayer is shaping up to be that point of contention. One episode in, the series follows Onna, a young priestess intent on becoming an adventurer. The RPG-esque premise and appearance is common enough, but the show’s graphic portrayal of sex and violence is causing a bit of an uproar within the anime-viewing community.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the controversy. This post contains images and subject matter that some readers may find disturbing and/or Not Safe For Work. Also, Spoiler Alert.
When we (members of a community at large) analyze something that is controversial in nature, we should first seek to understand why it’s giving rise to public disagreement and debate. We could spend hours trying to define what should and shouldn’t be considered “obscene”, but in the case of Goblin Slayer, we’ll be examining two scenes involving two particularly heinous acts: rape, and violence against children.
If we determine that content is obscene or indecent in nature, there are a couple things we should subsequently consider when deciding whether or not it is acceptable to be made accessible through mainstream media networks.
- Does the content in question portray the indecent act(s) in a way that encourages viewers to engage in similar behavior?
- Is the portrayal of the obscene act implicit, or explicit?
Scene I: The rape of a female adventurer
Roughly five minutes into Episode 1: The Fate of Particular Adventurers, our protagonist and her three party members wander into a situation that they’re unprepared to deal with. As a result, they suffer heavy causalities, and one character is raped by goblins in semi-graphic detail.
We understand that rape is the act in question, and the controversy is caused by Goblin Slayer’s shocking depiction of it. Having established that, we can move on to the next point of consideration: Does the content in question portray rape in a way that encourages viewers to engage in similar behavior?
Personally, I don’t think it does. Nothing prior to, during, or after the assault indicates that any of the characters involved are having a good time—aside from maybe some of the goblins, which at this point in the series are not written to be sympathized with in any way.
Now, one could argue that the very notion of showing or mentioning a criminal act in the first place is inherently suggestive, and hence unsuitable for mainstream distribution. If that is the case, though, then consistent reasoning would dictate that even mentioning or showing rape, violence, theft, etc. in the local news could also be considered unacceptable.
So why isn’t there a similar uproar over news coverage? Well, let’s entertain that second factor of implicit suggestion versus explicit depiction.
Most news networks will play audio or video clips from shootouts, highway chases, natural disasters, etc. but they generally avoid showing footage of people actually being killed or injured. This is because producers understand that the general public is more tolerable of implicit violence (video of a location with audio of gunshots) than it is explicit (video of the people literally being shot inside). In fact, networks that do cover stories using graphic footage often face criticism for airing inappropriate content.
This same principle of suggestion instead graphic depiction applies to fiction. We agree that the rape in Goblin Slayer is awful in nature, and that it’s being used to stress the hopelessness of the situation our characters find themselves in. The issue for many isn’t that the assault is part of the story; it’s more so that the imagery provided is vivid. Is it entirely pointless, though?
Often times, graphic depictions of sex and violence will occur in series that are hyper-stylized like Devilman: Crybaby, Akira, Genocyber, and Violence Jack. Shows like those, however, border on being absurdist because they are so over-the-top in their presentation of the on-screen violence. What makes series like Goblin Slayer and Berserk more unsettling, is that they feel much more realistic in their depiction of horror and tragedy despite being clear works of fiction. Given the more serious style of presentation, the graphic sexual content is perceived by the viewer as more unsettling, and quite frankly, it’s supposed to be.
That uneasiness is something people can more easily ignore if the imagery is implied rather than shown. For instance, there is a scene in the same Goblin Slayer episode that shows a character we are led to believe has been raped and abused several times. This moment does not draw the same criticism because the sexual assault is suggested to have occurred, rather than visibly shown.
While the act can definitely be considered explicit, in neither case is it fetishized or glamorized.
In videogames (which the RPG-style novels, manga, and anime share inspiration with), we often take for granted the ability to pause, respawn, and restart when things get out of hand. I think what White Fox is trying to do here is give us a glimpse of characters who actually have to deal with serious consequences as a result of being unprepared and under-leveled in an unfamiliar area.
Isekai series Overlord kicks this idea around some as well.
Other examples of rape in cinema:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, 300
Scene II: The murder of children
In the later third of the Goblin Slayer pilot episode, our priestess protagonist allies herself with a warrior who slaughters some defenseless goblin children. We’ll now apply the previous method of analysis to this scene as well.
The controversy is that one of the main characters specifically states that he is going to murder the children because they are goblins. He then proceeds to do exactly that.
Does the content in question portray the indecent act(s) in a way that encourages viewers to engage in similar behavior?
I do not believe that it does. In fact, the writers openly question the ethics of killing the goblin children by way of character dialog during the same scene in which the act is committed. This is probably one of the farthest things from encouraging the murder of children.
Is the portrayal of the obscene act implicit, or explicit?
In this instance, the murder of the goblin children is explicitly stated, but implicitly shown; the director opts to show blood splatters, and character reactions as opposed to the literal clubbing of the children. Other series such as Made in Abyss have more explicitly shown violence against children. Even in these cases, though, it’s not portrayed in a way that idolized or fetishize it.
Other examples of violence against minors in cinema (implicit and explicit included):
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Girl Next Door
I don’t think Goblin Slayer’s portrayal of rape, or violence against children warrants censorship or removal from mainstream media platforms; it does not encourage the behavior, nor is it explicitly sexualized enough to be considered pornography. At a glance, the series seems like an adaptation of some sort of H-Game, but I’m actually interested to see where they go from here.
The sad truth is that the heinous acts of murder and rape are common occurrences, and it doesn’t take goblins for it to be a reality. That said, I think a fair compromise would be requiring online anime mediums to provide ratings or content information like what we already see for video games, movies, and television series. I can’t speak for other platforms, but Goblin Slayer is available for streaming here in The States on VRV/CrunchyRoll. The description I read on VRV prior to watching the first episode did not provide a rating or viewer discretion advisory. Doing so would be relatively simple solution that would warn people of graphic violent/sexual/drug-related content before they unsuspectingly stumble upon it.
That’s my take on it. I’ll open the metaphorical floor now to anyone else with thoughts regarding this.
Should more than just those couple of criteria be considered? Are there other clear examples of abuse or assault in TV/Film that are worth noting here? Is this approach way too systematic for something as emotionally triggering as rape?
Share your thoughts, and feelings, fren.
If you found this post interesting, consider listening to the Podcast Special Feature: Censorship in Anime and Games (Ft. Manaban), as there are some similar themes regarding obscenity, censorship, and sexual content in mainstream media.
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