Goblin Slayer is a series that’s been picking up steam rather quickly in Japan, so much so that Yen Press licensed it within half a year after the first book came in 2016. It even picked up the rights to manga adaptation just as it was about to be published. So, let’s give this manga a look and see what the big deal is.
Goblin Slayer #1 (Yen Press)
Written by: Kumo Kagyu
Artwork by: Kousuke Kurose
Translated by: Kevin Gifford
Lettering by: Bianca Pistillo
A young woman known simply as the Priestess had recently come of age and left her temple. She has gone to the Adventurers Guild in hopes of becoming a member and helping out other groups. She starts off bottom of the barrel, but a small group composed of lower-class folks like her, invites her on a mission. A mission to kill some goblins that have been messing with a local town, and since goblins are low rank monsters, why not take the mission? However, hell soon befalls this small, naive group…
The Initial Reaction
With a series that became this popular so quickly, I naturally had to check it out. I snatched up the first light novel and bought the first online chapter, which we’re reviewing, looking to jump aboard and see the excitement around this new series. Reading a bit of the novel so far, it’s pretty solid, easy to read, and does a lot without having to over explain or get into the gritty details. The manga, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast when it comes to storytelling. And… I’m not sure whether that’s really good or not.
The first chapter of Goblin Slayer covers about half of the first chapter of the first volume, adapting everything up until when our titular character makes his grand, brutal entrance. As far as adaptations go, it’s not particularly bad when it comes hitting all the main points of the plot, from Priestess becoming an adventurer, showing how naïve this party was down to the point of not buying any potions before venturing out, and bringing to life the grisly events that took place. It does move a few moments around, glosses over things, and such, but story-wise, this stays fairly true to the novel at that point: brutal and heartless towards the ill-prepared. So, fans wanting a manga version to complement the novel will find that here. For newcomers though, it would be best to get this and the next chapter together, since you get more time with the protagonist and more action in it since this chapter doesn’t have much of that.
You might as well hang a sign around his neck: Dead Man Walking.
Now the storytelling here is different than the novel, naturally due to this being a different medium. There’s no narration, rather letting the events unfold through the panels and the dialogue/inner thoughts. At times though, that kind of almost works against the story. The narration of the light novel felt very cold and detached in a sense, choosing not to dwell on dark moments that much and saying very little about those bits in a manner that’s almost creepier. Since the manga has to show the events, it is a more blatant about what happens but also more exploitative on top of things in a way that I feel doesn’t benefit it. For instance, the Fighter is beaten to a pulp and raped in the story. Regardless about how you feel towards the use of that topic, the novel implies it happens but doesn’t outright say it and the moment itself lasts about three small paragraphs. The manga dwells on it for a few pages, showing in graphic detail what happens and honestly, you don’t need it. Implication and saying/showing little is far more powerful and effective then showing it outright.
And that’s what I’m ultimately getting at here. The approach to storytelling, at least at this point in time, is more effective in the novel than in the manga. The novel has a cold narration, dwelling on little but still saying all there needs to be said. The manga is more willing to linger and put focus on the depravity, building up how tragic and horrifying everything is and driving home how bad things are (like when a goblin tears at the Wizard’s robe, which wasn’t in the book). That’s further established by placing the key character moments for Fighter, Wizard, and Warrior right before shit happens to them, instead of the moments being sprinkled in earlier. The manga feels like it is shouting, “THIS IS TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE! OH WHAT A TRAGEDY!” The light novel is more quiet and almost apathetic as it says, “yeah, this is sad, but that’s what happens when you’re not prepared–bad things happen.” Perhaps it is down to personal opinion, but I find the storytelling is much stronger within the novel than in the manga because of that. It doesn’t hurt the manga too much, especially if you are just reading it and not the book, but it is worth noting.
Someone who came in after you came in? Just saying.
Moving on from there, the writing isn’t bad overall. I don’t quite understand why everyone is only referred to by their titles, like Priestess and Guild Girl, but everyone is fairly characterized as well as required for their roles (though they are all kind of stupid/foolish). Even besides dialogue and flashbacks, there is quite a bit that can be gathered from the characters just through simple expressions and hints, like the Guild Girl’s quiet, neutral face when the group takes on the goblin quest. The dialogue isn’t too bad and does the job fine, helping to play up the naivety of the characters while not bogging the readers down in exposition. The pace of the book is pretty quick, keeping things constantly on the move with little time wasted, outside of dragging out the brutal moments. I think the creator could have saved some pages though and focused on more character bits, like how in the book the Warrior and Fighter were friends and Warrior helped fight off some goblins before in the past (probably adding to why he wasn’t too concerned about taking on the quest in the first place), but that’s pretty much it. Not a badly written manga overall.
The real star of the manga is artist Kousuke Kurose, who does a great job drawing this. He really brings the novel to life and draws the fantasy style material very well. The characters and depiction of the goblins is fairly on point with how they all appear within the light novel in its brief illustrations. Kurose does very wel capturing both big and subtle expressions, helping make emotionally horrific scenes more effective and making the goblins even more vile with their inhuman expressions and looks. The layouts are crafted just fine and the locations look as how you would imagine them in the novel, especially how dark and dreary the cave is. The level of detail can be impressive, like in the monsters, and the action is as brutal as you’d imagine. It does waver in between having a good sense of motion and being stiff and static at times, but it doesn’t hurt the experience overall.
Goblin Slayer #1 is a pretty solid adaptation of the source material so far, bringing to life all the moments from the story very well. It makes a good companion piece for those who read the novel and want more, though I think newcomers would be best to read this and the next issue together. Its only big problems lie in the fact that it feels more exploitative than the novel and its storytelling doesn’t feel as strong either. Still, if you want a new, very dark fantasy series to try following, give this a shot. However, despite what Comixology rates this series as, DO NOT approach this manga if you are 12 years old.