The Rising of the Shield Hero – Anime Review
Synopsis: Iwatani Naofumi, a run-of-the-mill otaku, finds a book in the library that summons him to another world. He is tasked with joining the sword, spear, and bow as one of the Four Cardinal Heroes and fighting the Waves of Catastrophe as the Shield Hero. Excited by the prospect of a grand adventure, Naofumi sets off with his party. However, merely a few days later, he is betrayed and loses all his money, dignity, and respect. Unable to trust anyone anymore, he employs a slave named Raphtalia and takes on the Waves and the world. But will he really find a way to overturn this desperate situation? (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Shield Hero largely manages to avoid some of the Isekai-subgenre’s greatest complaints: namely the overpowered nature of protagonists. Frequently in Isekai the heroes are impossibly powerful, often making their victories over impending evil a foregone conclusion (Here’s looking at you, Wiseman’s Grandchild.) With Shield Hero, Naofumi’s defensive nature (having only a shield and all) forces him to rely on his allies. In doing so there’s fewer opportunities for Naofumi to steamroll opponents without his victories having to be a group effort. It also helps that the world feels stacked against Naofumi, who’s falsely accused of rape as part of a grander conspiracy by those in power. It keeps Naofumi as the underdog and helps to offer an air of uncertainty about the series, making it one of the few Isekai where it doesn’t feel like our hero is guaranteed to win. Also, taking attention away from Naofumi is a fun cast of supporting characters, Naofumi’s ragtag party, with episodes focusing on each’s own journey and self-discovery, helping to vary things up and keep the series from growing stale.
Linny: While Shield Hero stacks the deck against Naofumi, crafting that air of uncertainty as to whether he can, in fact win, is not without flaws. One of my biggest personal gripes regarding Shield Hero is how often the other three heroes reset to their default mode of mistrusting and hating the Shield Hero. It’s clear that the author wants them to be antagonistic towards Naofumi in order to keep him the underdog but has zero idea on how to convincingly maintain that status quo. Therefore, no matter how often or how clearly Naofumi proves himself in the right or is proven to be innocent, the other three heroes seem to suffer from either amnesia or ridiculous amounts of idiocy/prejudice and keep resetting to their bitter and hateful selves. It grows old very quickly and makes it hard to take the story seriously.
Tom: Indeed the other three heroes are often too idiotic, and while never meant to be likable, their constant reset to default ‘hate Naofumi’ settings feels artificial, and pulls you out of the story. Better writing could have prevented this, giving the three heroes more multi-dimensioned characters, or different issues/reasons to mistrust Naofumi, but as it stands their constant resetting is frustrating, and can easily pull you out of the story, even when everything else is getting good.
Linny: Earlier on, it seemed to mainly be the other three heroes (and Naofumi to some extent) who treat this new world as a video game. A lot of Isekai have gamey elements to them, and Shield Hero is no different. But then as we hit a certain episode later on, the queen of the country starts to literally talk about a mysterious island that appears and how your XP gain is doubled on it, taking the gamey elements from something most only acknowledged by the heroes themselves to something even the people of this world recognize? It’s a jarring moment and is sure to feel hilarious and even awkward thanks to its sudden appearance in a story that otherwise tries to be extremely dramatic and even serious. One could argue that considering the series has an armored T-Rex make an appearance mid run, it’s not meant to be taken seriously but one cannot deny that having a Queen suddenly start spouting about XP points feels surreal even in the context of a land with magical and extinct beasts.
Tom: Indeed Shield Hero isn’t a series viewers should take all that seriously. While the XP/Gamey elements becoming more overt feels awkward, it’s also the least of the series’ issues. Shield Hero makes use of a number of uncomfortable topics: Slavery, False Rape/Rape Accusations, and the like. The series toys with sensitive topics, but makes little effort to truly handle them with care. It doesn’t feel malicious, but it does offer up the idea that Shield Hero isn’t exactly a progressive series, nor one you should read into all that deeply. It’s schlock, as are most Isekai, and is meant to be little more than power fantasy fun, even if that is disguised by above average plotting and writing. In fact, Shield Hero begins to flounder towards its final episodes. Once Naofumi gets justice for his initial injustice, which forms the basis for the series first twenty-two episodes, the last couple episodes kinda peter out. Shield Hero struggles to find a new conflict to focus on, a new core issue for Naofumi to struggle with. While the heroes still have to deal with the waves of enemies assaulting the land, and increasing revelations regarding those events, everything loses that personal angle from when Naofumi’s greatest threat came from those who’d supposedly summoned him to save the world. Without that internal conflict, Shield Hero feels less compelling.
Linny: Despite the series’ somewhat scandalous start, what impressed me as it continued was its unique approach to the Isekai sub-genre. Whereas other Isekai treat the new world as extremely fantastical, meaning real life consequences of the characters’ actions were often few or even non existent, Shield Hero made consequences a major plot point. For example, when one hero slays a dragon and leaves victorious, the abandoned dragon corpse starts to rot and spread disease and pollution in the nearby town. Plot points like these made Shield hero feel fleshed out and unique and it’s a shame that the series fails in so many other ways and thus undoes what goodwill and promise it was building.
Tom: Overall I think Shield Hero is one of the better Isekai, standing with the best of the genre thanks to a compelling narrative, at least until episode twenty-two, endearing leads, and in spite of its fumbling with other elements, like our repetitively dumb three heroes, and bungling of sensitive topics like slavery and rape. If you’re looking for good Isekai, Shield Hero may not be the best of the genre, but it’s still one of the more memorable titles.
Linny: To be perfectly frank, I would not recommend Shield Hero if you are seeking something deep and intelligent. It starts off with an extremely shocking premise, that of the protagonist being falsely accused of sexual assault which alone is likely to put off some viewers. It fails to convincingly set up its interpersonal drama, relying on complete resets of characters to continue its underdog hero storyline. Then there’s the fact that it goes from presenting a very realistic take on isekai issues and the suffering of commoners and minorities to having our heroes be told to go on a special islands to double their XP gains. It never quite manages to balance its serious plots with its more tropey and lighter themes, making for a series that feels unpolished and uneven. Maybe The Rising of the Shield Hero is meant to be enjoyed only by those who have an affinity to isekai tales and are more forgiving of its tropes. If you don’t fall into that group, you will likely do well to keep it off your watchlist.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is available for streaming via Crunchyroll (Both dubbed and subbed).