Spoilers will join your party, but not stab you on the back.
Quick blog update. I am getting back to movie reviews soon, but I’m enjoying a renewed addiction to anime lately. There’s so many hype trains leaving the station right now when I prefer to take my time that I haven’t decided if I’m going to tackle any of the big name shows. For now, I decided to watch something of the isekai genre, which you could call close to overdone, but this one works, controversy and all. Gather your party and let’s head off.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is directed by Takao Abo and written by Keigo Koyonagi based on the manga and light novel by Aneko Yusagi. It is the story of Naofumi Iwatani, summoned into another realm to join three other young men to take the role of the four heroes, legendary protectors who wield the legendary weapons of spear, sword, bow and shield. As he soon learns, the shield hero is usually considered a dud. With a legendary evil showing up to destroy everything called the Wave, he’s gotta train up. That will be difficult once the only person who joins his party, is a woman who ends up stealing everything from him and accusing him of trying to take advantage of her.
This is where the show makes a choice that is both controversial but with a rather unexpected outcome. Since Naofumi has become disgraced, committing in everyone’s eyes the most unspeakable of crimes, he is instantly isolated by everyone in this society. The idea of using a fake rape attempt will trigger some sensibilities, but you can’t argue with the villainous logic. Which crime would disgrace a hero so much that people would instantly judge them guilty? This narrative might be judged by some as “lazy writing”, but like it or not the intended effect is very much achieved: Naofumi has been dishonoured and thus becomes very cynical and distrusting of people, specially royals.
This is where we basically had a guy, otaku, naive and not as well versed in games suddenly relying on his wits and not above using underhanded tactics to get ahead in a world that has a pre-conceived notion of him. Naofumi no longer seeks acceptance and even recoils from it. Instead, he’s looking for the ends justifying the means, throwing gratitude to the side and seeking only personal and financial gain. Or at least so he will have you believe. He can’t help but side himself with the plight of the oppressed from time to time.
Since his skills are all defense-based, Naofumi must look to do offensive damage through someone else’s stacks. For this reason, he decides to take a slaver’s offer and purchase a personal slave. Not the greatest of decisions, perhaps akin to one of the worst. It is hard to be idealistic when you’re at the bottom of the feeding chain. The Shield Hero is denied all of those since the royals just want to see him fail. To his credit, Naofumi is straight-forward with demi-human raccoon-girl Raphtalia. On the other hand, the relationship still falls somewhere close to the Stockholm Syndrome. It does improve over time, but the master-slave dynamic is a bit triggering.
As Naofumi starts gaining the admiration and respect of the common folk, the King and the First Princess Myna keep scheming to disgrace him further. It soon becomes obvious that despite his anti-social attitude and social resentment, Naofumi has people who are willing to be loyal to him and his cause. He also cares for his own and the people of the kingdom. This gains him the attention of the mysterious Queen, who is considered the true ruler of the land but apparently lives in exile for reasons unknown. The universe slowly gets bigger as we await the next season.
Recommended for fans and former fans of the isekai genre who are willing to give it a chance with reservations. It’s hard not to side with an outsider that has been unfairly judged, and you kind of hope for a really kickass retribution to all the enemies who set him up in the beginning. That being said, some sensibilities might be hurt if you don’t look at them in context. The idea of dragging the hero’s dignity through the mud and let him climb up on his own merits makes the payoff all the more satisfying when Naofumi gains the upper hand and the disappointment all the more devastating when he’s betrayed. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
That will do for now.