The Rising of the Shield Hero – Mid Series 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)
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: The Rising of the Shield Hero immediately sets itself apart with its 1st episode by presenting a world that’s unlike others found in the Isekai genre. While most Isekai generally feature a world on the brink of destruction and/or in need of salvation, Shield Hero takes things in a dark direction, choosing to use a false rape accusation as the catalyst to our hero’s tale. Not dark enough yet, the series continues by introducing that this kingdom has an extremely seedy underbelly, one that includes the selling of demi-humans as slaves. Even our protagonist, Naofumi is not your run of the mill isekai hero, as he quickly becomes jaded and tortured after facing extreme opposition and judgement for what he’s been accused of and thus views everyone and everything as a personal means of survival rather than becoming the world’s hero out of selflessness. He is bitter and suspicious of almost every new person he meets and receives a lot of scorn in return as well. Outside of the questionable use of rape (a false acussation at least) so much of this adds much needed color to the genre, setting Shield Hero apart from the generic pack of Isekai that pepper the entire medium.
Tom: In some ways using these uncommon elements gives the series a leg up on other Isekai, offering greater nuance and atmosphere that allows the series to stand out. However, the way in which the series chooses to play with these elements is not always going to sit well with audiences. Rape accusations, for example, are serious things, even in a post #MeToo America where women are still scarcely believed (although Japan has yet to really have such a movement, perhaps explaining why such an element is used so freely here.) While false accusations do happen, they’re to an almost insignificant degree that it’s understandable that having one as a core element could make Shield Hero a difficult watch. That said, the series doesn’t make any crazy, sweeping generalizations about rape in general, and largely uses the one false accusation as a way to spur positive development for Naofumi, who becomes jaded and mistrusting due to the incident. The series puts Naofumi on a journey of self-discovery, his adventures forcing him to open back and up and come to realize that that one incident of a woman betraying him is not the end all be all. Not all women are out to get him. It’s a positive message, but one that hinges on your tolerance for toying with elements that typically sit far outside of Isekai’s wheelhouse in the first place. It’s understandable if that’s an immediate deal breaker, seeing as Isekai are not high-entertainment with deep messages, and I wouldn’t even argue Shield Hero is really that different. It’s entertainment first and foremost, without any true introspective depth to it.
Linny: Slavery is included in much the same way, adding layers to the story, but never addressing the morality of it. It leads to some rather questionable (especially out of context) lines such as Naofumi’s companion and slave girl, Raphtalia berating the other heroes that if they were truly good people, they too would have slaves. Raphtalia also is freed of her servitude to Naofumi, a slavery seal that was placed upon her when she’s sold to him, yet happily returns to being his slave, seal and all, rather than remaining merely as his companion. And it’s not just Naofumi and Raphthalia that may make viewers raise an eyebrow. There’s the haughty and deluded Spear Hero, Motoyasu Kitamaru who makes no secret of his infatuation with the young female character, Filo, a prepubescent girl who turns into a giant bird. It’s not overtly sexual but it does give you pause to see him fawning over her given the difference in their appearance and stature.
Tom: If you can stomach the less morally sound elements to the series, or perhaps even feel that they add new layers, you’ll discover Shield Hero has a lot to enjoy underneath. Naofumi is an engaging lead, beginning the series as a typical Isekai hero, whose false rape accusation incident sends him down a tortured path, growing disillusioned from the world and emotionally distant, if not even outright cruel. The series works through each storyline to pull Naofumi back from this, to show that that one incident and woman who tortured him doesn’t speak for everything this fantastical land he’s trapped in has to offer. Raphtalia puts it upon herself to help open his heart, making her an immediately endearing character. Because the deck is stacked against Naofumi early on, the series also has the boon of avoiding the ‘overpowered from the get go’ trope so many Isekai fall into (even many of the much beloved titles in the genre.) That said, the series does pit Naofumi with additional party members who can be quite strong, sometimes falling into the genre’s all too common trope by proxy.
Linny: There’s even a lot to love beyond the characters. What’s really worth praising is the rich world and lore. Unlike other Isekai, where all the heroes generally come from the same world or country, Shield Hero puts a little subtle twist about the backgrounds of its four heroes. More importantly, Shield Hero does a great job of creating a world where the actions of its so called heroes have far reaching effects and consequences. There are no easy and simple solutions or happy endings. A hero’s gallant defeat of the dragon terrorizing an area only ends up causing more trouble for the common folk and the take down of a tyrannical local lord only leads to other parties taking over with equally tyrannical rule. Things like these make the Shield Hero story feel well planned and fleshed out and give it a tinge of realism that can be rare in its genre. Yes, Shield Hero has two elements that will be very hard pills to swallow or overlook for some but for those who can, there’s a lot beyond both to keep you engaged and entertained. If you’ve been waiting for an Isekai that offers more than run of the mill content and plot, you should definitely give The Rising of the Shield Hero a chance.
Tom: Visually, outside of a few off-model sequences here and there, Shield Hero is a largely consistent experience, with few true dips that stand out as eyesores. Episodes are often paced quite well, keeping events engaging throughout, and rarely dragging. 12 Episodes in and I think Shield Hero has built itself as one of the better Isekai, avoiding some of the more ‘drama-killing’ tropes that can plague these kinds of tales. It’s more unsavory, morally ambiguous elements add color and nuance to the story, but also threaten to kill interest in audiences who might find a non-condemning attitude towards slavery or the usage of false rape accusations off-putting. Assuming you can look past these two issues, what awaits is a well-paced Isekai, with fun character moments, a deeper emotional journey for its hero, wrapped in a world that feels meatier than most anime fantasy realms.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is available for streaming via Crunchyroll (Both dubbed and subbed).