Anime Review: The Rising of the Shield Hero
By Christopher Kinsey
So here we are, yet another isekai story. There have certainly been a lot of these cropping up, probably due to the proliferation of MMORPGs over the last 15 years or so and the rise of web novels in Japan giving young writers a chance to be seen. It’s only natural they would write about things in a fashion understandable to people their age. It’s why we’re getting so many oddball entries to this rising genre, including heroes that turn into enemy creatures of all sorts of levels, and even vending machines. It’s gotten a little out of hand, but there are some good stories out there and like anything else that happens in anime, this too shall pass.
I’ve already spoken about isekai and alternate world stories in an article as this began to gain popularity, so what makes a good isekai in this particular mindset? The key is a good hook. It can either be an interesting power or perhaps a peculiar gimmick to the hero. In the case of Shield Hero it’s the mystery of a conspiracy. Our protagonist, Naofumi Iwatani, is not your typical hero for this type of story. He’s a college student who’s nerdy hobby isn’t RPG video games, but reading fantasy novels. He falls into the trope of trying to play along with the tropes of a video game only to have the rug pulled out from him several times. He’s got the “worst” power of being the shield hero, his reputation is destroyed by the royal family that summoned him, and is constantly set back by the lies set forth in his rocky start.
Strange happenings in Orange County
And that rocky start is what has a lot of the anime social media in a bit of an uproar. The main focus of Naofumi’s downfall and scorn in the eyes of the people is his original party member, and princess of the royal family, framed him for rape. This is indeed an important plot point and if it was the only instance of Naofumi being hindered by the society he’s been tasked to protect I’d have to agree, it’s a very flimsy excuse to set up for a series villain. It comes along with an entire movement finding people who are indeed abusing their power to coerce and sexually harass women. But this act is merely the tip of the iceberg. Naofumi is brought to this world along with other people from parallel earths who have each gotten not only the more powerful weapons (Sword, Spear, Bow) but out of all of them he’s the only one with no parallel knowledge of a game that this world seems to be based on. Other steps seem to have been made to ensure the Shield Hero cannot function as a prevention to the “Waves” of monster incursions up to and including the mention of a Shield Hero from the major religion, which supports the other three.
Another child soldier scandal everyone ignores.
It’s this mystery that grabs me more than many of the other elements of the show. There must be some reason the princess is hell bent on making the Shield Hero despised by the populace. This is the kind of thing such a show needs, something to mix up the formula. Naofumi uses his wits to turn his reputation into a tool at times, while at the same time doing what’s best not just for his own power and wealth, but for the people he comes across even though he’s scorned. The original accusations are not some sort of treaties on not believing victims or a proliferation of false accusations, but a spark to justify what seems to be some sort of deeper conspiracy and I’m all for that. As I said before, a lot of these stories are made by people still in high school. I doubt that Aneko Yusagi decided one day to write an adventure novel with the purpose of defaming all women who bring up such a claim.
It’s hard to find large D&D groups, so you make do
Anyway a hook isn’t enough. The supporting cast is actually interesting and cute in that grab-the-otaku’s-attention sort of way. Raphtalia is both an excellent and terrible character all at once. On the one hand she is a survivor of terrible trauma brought back through Naofumi’s efforts and serves as a great motivator as a ward. Unfortunately there have been some rather terrible decisions regarding her growth as a character. First off is the idea that demi-humans physically age to adulthood faster as they gain levels. Now, hold up. A hero having a daughter figure to care for is a genuinely interesting idea and then it gets ruined by pretty much having this girl grow into a pre-fab girlfriend. Now Naofumi’s character has ignored and spurned these advances and that’s good, but Raphtalia has to be able to stand on her own as a character in order to really stand out and not just be a prop. Filo should be the prop. She’s kind of a mascot character anyway and that would be fine. Meanwhile there is the whole ‘slavery’ thing. Slavery is legal in this alternate world, usually reserved for demi-humans, monsters and the like which, as we learn more about demi-human society, lends more to the conspiracy I mentioned earlier. At one point Raphtalia is stripped of her slave status to Naofumi and, after the matter is cleared up… SHE HAS IT REAPPLIED! Now I get that you still wanted a symbol of being united, but the only way I could see that this was needed is if the seal is the only way for her to share experience and information with Naofumi. This may be the case, but in the ‘rules’ of this world, couldn’t she just sign back on as a normal party member? It’s an empty gesture that goes hand in hand with viewing Naofumi as a love interest instead of a father figure as a bad idea.
Hours and days later and you STILL can’t breed a gold chocobo to get Knights of the Round
The other heroes drawn to this world are interesting. As stated before, they all come from alternate Japans and seem to be more in line with what one expects from heroes in these isekai stories. Each one of them loved playing RPGs that are similar to this new world and easily move about with that knowledge. The Spear Hero seems to be a womanizer prettyboy who is easily duped by a pretty face and loves games so much he tries to win Filo’s heart because she remind him of a video game character. The Sword Hero is the aloof loner who is quite powerful but takes no responsibility for what his actions do to anyone else. Such an example is killing a mighty dragon, but leaving the carcass untreated to spread a miasma to nearby villages, sickening their populations. The Bow Hero has decided his powers are to be used as an ally of justice, trying to gain fame as quickly as possible in this aspect. This follows up a requirement I have to make alternative world stories interesting, alternate perspectives of others from the same world. They may be alternate Japans, but not alien ones so their experiences can be compared and contrasted to our Naofumi’s experiences.
Whelp, it’ll sell regardless of quality now.
So how about on the technical level? Well, it looks good. The animation studio, Kinema Citrus, has always put out a good looking show in it’s almost 10 years including Barakamon, Kuma Miko and, uh… Made In Abyss. Yes, it was horrible. Looked good, but was horrible. That aside the director, Takao Abo, has quite the pedigree. This is his second time directing an entire series, but he has held animation jobs on titles such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, Black Lagoon, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and Eureka Seven. It’s crisp animation that isn’t afraid to change things up when it comes to examining tense and psychological moments of our hero.
I’m only 9 episodes into the series with 16 left to go and it’s actually an interesting watch. It’s not perfect by any means but if you want to get to the bottom of why these heroes were summoned, why the Shield Hero has to be vilified and why the mysterious “Waves” keep threatening this world it’s a decent enough to stick it out and get to those answers.
-An interesting twist on a worn formula
-Solid animation to a high fantasy setting
-A mystery binds the plot together
-Dead-end development for the main heroines (so far, I’ve heard they improve later on)
-The fact the world’s powers literally work/are displayed like a video game is kind of childish
-Generates too much e-drama for what it is.
*Halfway to recommended. I like sword and sorcery enough to really enjoy it, but the average anime fan will either go nuts for “Da Waifus” or not bother