The Rising of the Shield Hero – Finding Something Worth Fighting For

Another Isekai, Am I Right?

Image result for shield heroJokes aside, when The Rising of the Shield Hero started in Winter 2019 it quickly caught my attention. Opening with an hour long episode, and what seemed to be an anti-hero story, I couldn’t help but get excited! However, what the show actually became was a lot more. Despite some missteps, this became one of the better shows I watched in both the Winter and Spring 2019 season.

Naofumi is basically a NEET who gets whisked away to another world after reading a book about “four cardinal heroes”. In the other world he finds the story of the book, which was very much incomplete, is unfolding before his eyes. However, this doesn’t give him an advantage. In fact, compared to the other three heroes he knows next to nothing. What’s worse? He got stuck with the shield…

Nobody seems to like the Shield Hero in this world but a glimmer of hope still exists for Naofumi when a girl named “Myne” joins his party. Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse when she falsely accuses Naofumi of attempting to sexually assault her. His reputation tarnished, with basically no supporters, Naofumi does whatever it takes to survive in this new world and save the people who hate him so much.

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From my description, the show definitely sounds dark and edgy. Shield Hero certainly does have its moments (though toned down from the light novels) but it quickly moves away from the anti-hero story into something that is more meaningful. That said, it probably isn’t surprising that this start sparked quite a bit of controversy.

What was surprising is that the controversy for Shield Hero did not start right away. It wasn’t until a few weeks in that the conversation really kicked into high gear. Folks were upset at the false sexual assault allegations, which is a sensitive topic, but not one that was handled so poorly in the show that it warranted the outrage.

If that were the end of it, then it would hardly be worth mentioning. It’d just be another case of moral outrage at fictional depictions of things that do happen. However, people were upset again, and more so with the introduction of the character Raphtalia. A young girl who is part raccoon is bought by Naofumi from a sketchy slaver. The thing is though, he treats her extremely well and the slave part of the deal doesn’t really come into play at all.

I know that a lot of Isekai shows like to have slave characters tossed into the mix but they are typically thrown in for sex appeal, power fantasy, or some other reason. Here the story really does demand it and the point about her being a slave is all but forgotten beyond the initial episodes. It’s tiring to see folks complain about stuff like this every time it comes up without really thinking about why these elements were included in the first place.

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On a more positive note, I loved the arc that Naofumi and Raphtalia have here. The almost father-daughter relationship they form is really cute (and you know I’m a sucker for that) but more powerful is that Naofumi empowers Raphtalia. She is inspired by him to find resolve in herself and discovers a reason to fight in this cruel world. It gives them a bond and dynamic that feels natural without being creepy, which it easily could have.

Their relationship evolves as the show progresses and is really the focal point of a lot of the show’s big story beats. Sure, the world is in danger and Naofumi needs to deal with that, but despite that, it isn’t put as the focus for most of the show’s 25 episode run.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though because there is a lot more I wanted to mention about this early stuff that I was fairly impressed with. Shield Hero sets up a lot of things as “background” elements before they are later moved to being important to the plot. Some things are minor like a character who may help Naofumi while some can be major, like whole arcs! That’s just really cool and not something a lot of anime take advantage of especially.

I talked about this in my article, “When an Anime Shows & Tells – A Discussion Ft. Waiting in the Summer and Hitoribocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu” not to long ago where I mention that including these little details can elevate a show that much more. I purposefully left Shield Hero out of that discussion because I wanted to mention it here. It is such an integral part of how the narrative unfolds that it was really the ultimate example as far as recent programming goes.

There is a whole lot more that I could say just about the opening episodes but let’s move on a bit. I want to talk about another thing that got me really excited about Shield Hero that made me want to stick with it all the more. This got a (sort of) simuldub! That has become less of a rarity as time moves forward, but it was extremely unexpected.

Crunchyroll didn’t start rolling this out until a few episodes in. Oh yeah, did I mention Crunchyroll was who got this dubbed? For a site that is largely sub only, I was absolutely taken by surprise with this sudden announcement and release. What’s more, the dub was really good! I even switched languages mid-show AND rewatched the first few episodes, which is just unheard of for me.

Ok, I think I’m ready to get back to talking about Naofumi and Raphtalia. In the first opening of the show (which is really good by the way), there is this excellent scene:

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Trust me it is better with the music and such, but that moment is just so good.

Raphtalia rushes to Naofumi for comfort initially but she herself becomes Naofumi’s ultimate salvation. Now this is a bit corny and can be construed as pandering to an otaku viewer base, but the imagery is SO dang good and it manages to resonate with me so strongly that I genuinely believe that this wasn’t the intent behind this scene which mirrors how the plot progresses in the first half.

An aside, I’m glad they kept a similar bit of imagery in the second opening. I didn’t care for that one overall as much, but it nearly always feels that way when a show switches OP’s. Love the music though, gets me pretty hype.

While Naofumi helped a young Raphtalia discover what she wanted to fight for in this world, she does so for him (as I mentioned). In a moment where he is at his most low, consumed by hatred and rage, she comes to him and tells him this fact. In the midst of this he too comes to realize what he should be fighting for because he does care for her. It’s a nicely packaged story that works. Is it perfect? No, but that’s ok.

Where the anime begins to falter is with the introduction of Filo. She starts off as a bird egg purchased by the slaver, in a gacha-like gimmick, but becomes a fully fledged member of the team when it is discovered that she can transform into the form of a human child. While I do like her, the pacing of the show was kind of ruined at this point. The focus was also shifted to these side stories, that were of consequence, but some of this was straight filler.

Still, even in this I did find value. As an avid role-player, this gave me some ideas so I can’t say it was a total waste. However, the idea of Filo being a romantic rival for Raphtalia, who unsurprisingly develops feelings for Naofumi, is a bit ridiculous.

That reminds me… there was another point of controversy with Filo. The first time she appears in human form she’s naked with Gadiva hair. It was such a minor thing and not a big deal but what does that matter? It caused waves on Reddit and it just gets me in a baffled furry just thinking about it now.

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There’s the pic above for reference. That’s it, at the end of an episode for a few seconds. Man that is just too lewd, am I right? I’ve mentioned it before but this whole loli thing and moral panicking and politicizing about every… single… thing… in anime is so exhausting. I can’t help but derail my article on Shield Hero even further because I’m just sick of it. This isn’t meant to offend people, and if I am, sorry, but as a fandom folks really need to grow up. Discourse is important but…

Where was I? Right, so Filo here derails the plot a bit, kind of like she did for me here. That said, things do recover and she plays a more important role later. Compared to even the B cast though, she lacks some screen presence which is kind of unfortunate for how much she actually receives in the run time.

Shield Hero kind of does its thing for a bit, having Naofumi clean up the other heroes’ messes. The benefit of this as a viewer is you get to really see the world and how the other heroes aren’t really helping despite the well-meaning deeds they perform. Naofumi is really helping people, even if he doesn’t always act the part. It makes the world feel lived in. As to the other heroes, on the whole, they aren’t really that bad with exception of the idiot Motoyasu.

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Yikes

You aren’t meant to like him but I thought the show pushed that a bit too far. He’s easily manipulated and the biggest source of problems for Naofumi among the heroes but what put him over the edge was how fanatical he was about getting his hands on Filo. He’s got a thing for angel girls apparently and it was just over-the-top weird. It was unnecessary.

Once you break past this part though the show really opens up again. Raphtalia has a chance to confront her past and you get to see her growth as a character. It was really satisfying. The episode where you get her whole backstory, as opposed to the truncated version you get early in, was really powerful. It wasn’t like it was innovative or anything, but it was handled really well.

I know I said earlier that from the outside this might sound kind of corny, but I really don’t have a better way to put it. Shield Hero managed some sentimental moments that just worked. Some may dislike them, because there is obvious and unabashed emotional manipulation in this anime aplenty, but when it clicked it just managed to achieve that sweet spot that I personally really look for.

The rest of the show deals with Raphtalia feeling concerned that Naofumi is preparing them for the day he’s gone, either in death, or when he returns to his world by choice. She clearly doesn’t want this but Naofumi hates this world. There’s good reason in it though, it has not done him many favors.

While this specific struggle takes place, the broader implication of the “waves”, a cataclysmic event that must be stopped, still lingers. Not only that, but internal threats via the church become an issue as well. The mystery is expanded with the transparent “reveal” of other heroes from other worlds, and that was pretty cool to see on top of things.

For these final episodes what I could only criticize the show for is the kind of cringe worthy moment when Naofumi is offered redemption. The renaming sequence with “Bitch” and “Trash”, while kind of funny, is a bit much. I have to admit though, this was a satisfying moment despite this and it was another opportunity to demonstrate that Naofumi really has changed during the course of the show.

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I find it extra funny that the Queen gets in on this action and adds to this whole thing

Like I mentioned earlier, this starts off like a classic anti-hero show but by the end of things, he’s the closet thing to a real hero than anyone else in the show. Shield Hero does a bait-and-switch on you, which may leave some viewers feeling betrayed, but the message here is a good one. Even when you are wronged by others, that doesn’t need to stop you from doing right.

The theme of forgiveness is really strong in the show, and you see it over-and-over again. Raphtalia gets to forgive the man who brutally tortured her and her people. This resulted in the death of one of best friends. Naofumi forgives the people who harmed him most, sparing their lives. He learns to trust and tries to repair his relationship with the other heroes. These are incredible feats.

It’s easy to get caught up in these things and lose yourself to some degree. Shield Hero literally demonstrates this multiple times when Naofumi uses his “rage” shield. Being able to let go of these negative emotions and move forward in a positive direction is a great message and something I appreciated quite a lot from the show.

Finally, I want to mention the finale. Naofumi makes a huge gesture to Raphtalia, which should result in her happiness but she instead breaks down and begs him not to abandon her and this world. Only, he tells her she is wrong. At first, he did things to prepare her for that day, but now, he has made this gesture to show that he has found his reason to fight, to stay in this world. His friends showed him that there was more to life and that it was worth protecting. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the season.


I hope we get more Shield Hero moving forward. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show and what I wrote here. If you enjoyed the read and want to support my writing, then click my Ko-fi button below to give a small donation. Thank you so much for reading and I hope to see you back here again soon!

19 thoughts on “The Rising of the Shield Hero – Finding Something Worth Fighting For

  1. I think the show has a looot of good ideas and it’s thematically sound. And I love the visual style. But the execution is where I have issues with it. A lot of it just felt a bit… overbearing or heavyhanded. And the pacing was reeeally bugging me. Also, while I have no particular problem with the use of slavery as a narrative device for the purpose they were trying to get across, my issue with it was just that they didn’t handle it well, to me. The fairly lukewarm angle of “well, he doesn’t treat her like a slave” bugs me. Because that doesn’t make it okay to own a person. Yes, he doesn’t treat her as a slave, but he still went out of his way to argue that “just because it’s wrong in our worlds doesn’t mean it’s wrong here.” And while his attitude doesn’t really reflect that, he still went and said it without the slightest indication that he was lying. Yeah, the Spear Hero and company were annoying him and he wanted them to go away, but that feels more like an effort to spite them than anything. And at no point does he take it back. Contextually, it shouldn’t matter to him where he is. He’s from a world and time where no right-thinking person things this would be okay. I get that he was at a low point and didn’t really care and Raphtalia didn’t exactly mind. But just the way they established that whole thing bugged me. And then they just kinda tossed it to the wayside and it only comes up again for the drama points with Raphtalia’s friend. And also Filo at bit earlier… for some reason I don’t really remember. I think the exact reason it felt unnecessary was *because* they essentially tossed it aside when they were done with it like a child would a broken toy. If they’d run with the angle a bit more, leading up to the thing with Raphtalia’s former tormentor, I think both could have ultimately come off as a lot stronger on a narrative level. As the whole, though, the show isn’t bad at all. I just think it’s very middle-of-the-road. The presence of themes is ultimately less important to me, personally, though, than the execution of the story around them. Had the execution been a bit tighter, I might very well have loved this instead of just thinking it was ‘fine’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Part of the issue you are feeling is how this material was adapted. The LN’s are super edgy and Naofumi is /not/ a good person for a very long time in those. A lot of the characters are MORE there. This absolutely is a case of toning things down to make the story accessible to a wider audience.

      That said, what was Naofumi supposed to do? Him getting a slave makes sense and he even wants Raphtalia to undo the crest, so it isn’t like he’s into the slave thing, at least in the show. In the LN’s, again, the reason he does this is a bit /darker/ but the anime made this fairly reasonable. I get what you are saying that just treating her well doesn’t make it ok though.

      While it is true he’s from a place where that isn’t ok, and it isn’t exactly like slaves are super accepted here, he had to adapt. Imagine yourself in his situation. You could argue he shouldn’t be put there in the first place, but that would be missing a big point to the story and I wouldn’t say that’s fair, especially for a work of obvious fiction.

      I do want to remind that compared to other Isekai or fantasy shows, at least there was a real purpose to having a slave angle. Most of the time there is little to no justification at all and is only in service of checking a box at best, or pandering at worst.

      I don’t agree that things get tossed to the wayside, more like just derailed a bit. Filo really disrupts the flow with her introduction which is my main criticism of the show.

      I agree that execution matters but here we just have a difference of opinion as to whether or not things were done well. I don’t think it was perfect, but the themes tackled and key story beats are ones I really like. The story brought a few novel concepts to the table, and it was largely enjoyable. That’s what I look for in a show like this, so for me, it was above average with a few low points that held it back from being truly great.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’m not really suggesting Naofumi *do * anything differently, per se. Logistically his hands were more or less tied. I just think the overall attitude about it seemed very confused and it getting derailed I think just hurts the narrative in the short term. Short term in a series that – thus far – only has 25 or so episodes is always going to take the fore over what’s probably a more fulfilling long term. Like I said, I don’t have the slightest problem with there being a slave angle when it has a purpose, which this does. I just think the overall attitude the show had towards it wasn’t as airtight as I’d have liked. And it very likely is a case of it kinda getting waylaid by… well… everything else that happens.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah, I understand you better now. I am really thinking hard here to explain why it seemed confused without just explaining whole parts of the LN but it is kind of difficult lol. I hope we get more because there seems to be a lot of great story to be told down the road, and since they pushed Naofumi to be more of a heroic person, that it should be smoother sailing if we do.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I haven’t actually read the LN, but I’ve heard the same thing from a friend who has. That the characters are “More.” I personally wonder if it’s more a case of sort of a conflict in wanting to separate themselves from the LN but also remain somewhat close to is, so the more measured vibe from the anime kinda clashes with the vibe of the LN, which is apparently “darker and edgier,” thus the conflict between the two tones just feels… troublingly inconsistent. Like it wants to have its cake and eat it too, separating itself while also not. I dunno. Point being, it just feels very off to me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It really is marketing. You can’t have Naofumi saying things like, “(Rapthalia) kinda looks like that princess bitch. If I make her my slave I could get my revenge.” Paraphrasing of course, but stuff like that happens and even more extreme stuff.

          Personally, I would have been down for that but that absolutely would not fly well with a majority of people for several reasons. I don’t think Japan cares as much about that stuff (rather, I know they don’t) but making the story more accessible was a good call. It’s being pretty coherent all things considered.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Marketing is indeed the name of the game. I mean, the amusing thing is that it’s ultimately my smallest criticism of the entire show. It’s just one I’m able to speak at greater lengths about because it’s really hard to explain pacing issues as thoroughly.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. “…doesnt stop you from doing right”

    That’s true but another thing I found inspiring was how the wronged also needed to correct/deny the perceptions/false accusations. That episode with Fitoria and Naofumi blew my mind.

    Sometimes we need to be conscious of what others think of us and correct any misunderstandings as much as possible

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a really great post, Jon.

    While the series did have some issues, I think that for the most part it was a very interesting take on the typical isekai story and you outline a lot of what makes it so in this post. The idea of forgiveness, which the show explores often, is the part of the show that appealed to me the most, and it’s a good message that I feel a lot of viewers overlooked due to the controversies.

    Speaking of those, I’m also glad that you addressed each of the controversies surrounding the show too. I feel a lot of the outrage was misplaced and unfair, but I can also see why it happened for each case as well. Honestly though, it’s a shame that it seemed to be the focus of most of the discussion surrounding the show, because there’s a lot more interesting things to unpack here and discuss.

    It’s nice to see a more positive post about Shield Hero. I’ll be sure to share this one!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hey, thanks man! 🙂

      I’m right there with you. There were so many interesting things to talk about for Shield Hero that it was a big shame that the controversy almost consumes the conversation for most people.

      In truth, I really wasn’t going to bring up all of the controversies when I outlined this. However, as I wrote I found it nearly impossible NOT to bring them up. Perhaps this derails my main theme of forgiveness and growth (which is really positive and the cool part of the show, as you also noted) but it really is an important part of any discussion for the show. I just wish it wasn’t.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Naofumi is basically a neat” do you emna “NEET”? 😉

    I actually avoid these “whisked to another world” shows now. They may be good but it is an overplayed premise and I really have little time or interest to find out. i realise that applies to many anime plots (slice of life, mecha, etc) but at least I can switch my brain off for those. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Whoops! Yeah that was a typo. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ll fix it ASAP 🙂

      Isekai shows are pretty prevalent but every once in awhile I see one that catches my attention. Shield Hero just managed to be the right thing at the right time for me.

      Like

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