Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: The Rising Of The Shield Hero Season One Part One
Anime Studio: Kinema Citrus
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Isekai
Released: June 8th, 2020
Language: Japanese / English
Geeky university student Naofumi Iwatani goes from 2nd class citizen to 2nd class hero when he’s summoned to the videogame like kingdom of Melromarc. Known as the weakest of four heroes, the Shield Hero, he s tasked with defending the world from calamity. But when Naofumi ends up betrayed and belittled from the start, will this cynic even be willing to help?
The Rising of the Shield Hero starts out like most isekai series. We have our ordinary hero who gets transported to a fantasy world and thrust into an adventure. In this case, a university student is transported to Melromarc with three others, and each is given the roles of legendary heroes. For Naofumi, that means becoming the shield hero.
I have to admit, I thought the set up here was pretty interesting. As a shield based adventurer, Naofumi doesn’t fit into the immediately overpowered role we’ve seen in series like Sword Art Online and How Not To Summon A Demon Lord. Instead, he understands that leveling up will be a slow process, and he will be reliant on party members to do the brunt of the actual monster slaying. That gives him a slightly different edge, and it ties in well with the video game inspired leveling up system.
On top of that, our hero is put through the wringer form the get-go. His lack of knowledge of the world sees him shunned, and he is very quickly falsely accused of rape, leading to him being a true social outcast. Now, I’ve seen the argument raised that this particular story arc is tasteless in the wake of the Me Too movement. I can understand that viewpoint, though I would say that it is handled in a way here that works within the setting. It’s used a catalyst to set Naofumi on his initial trajectory, and that’s important. Plus, fiction shouldn’t necessarily stray away from difficult subjects, it just has to be sure to portray it in the right way. Here, sexual assault is not portrayed positively, which is a good thing.
The other story controversy revolves around the series showing slavery and our protagonist engaging in this. It’s a difficult arc in that Naofumi does indeed purchase a slave, which is by no means a good thing. At the same time though, he wasn’t left with much choice after the allegations, and his treatment of Raphtalia is not one of slave and master. Even with the magical seal on her, he treats her as an equal and an important ally. So, stick with it, it’s not as bad as you may first think.
Raphtalia too is a really good character. She grows to be stronger throughout these episodes. It’s also very clear that she and Naofumi will become romantic partners by the end of the overall story, even if they aren’t yet by the end of this collection. Where I applaud the series in that regard, is that Naofumi initially doesn’t look at her in that way at all because she starts out looking like a child. He even references members of the town being lolicons. I thought that was wonderfully self-aware and makes it less uncomfortable seeing where it will go now that Raphtalia is an adult.
The other characters don’t get as much focus as our two leads, but we certainly see enough of them to get a fair measure of their overall personalities. The other three heroes are very different from Naofumi, and though we only spend any real time with the Spear Hero, you can tell how seriously they are taking their roles. Meanwhile, Filo is adorable in both child and Filolial form and the blacksmith Erhard is a great ally for Naofumi. Throw in some political intrigue with Melty and Malty, and we have a decent cast of key players with plenty of potential for story arcs.
From a technical standpoint, the show is also very good. While not on par with Kinema Citrus’ Made In Abyss, it’s a major step up from Scorching Ping Pong Girls. It stands well alongside other series in the genre in terms of the fantasy visuals and Kevin Penkin (Made In Abyss, Tower Of God) has created another excellent score. The voice cast is strong again too in both the subbed and dubbed versions, with everyone putting in a decent performance. Throw in some good opening and ending themes, and we’re onto a winner.
In terms of weaknesses, there is only really one thing that I found a little irritating. You see, the show does a good job of developing Naofumi. From the moment he is betrayed, he becomes jaded. He fights for what is right, sure, but he’s learned to be a little mercenary with it all. Even then though, he is still becoming known as a real hero, and towards the end of these episodes, he is acknowledged by another character as the only true hero among the four that were summoned. Despite all of this though, the brunt of the cast is happy to just play into his reputation.
And boy do they take that to extremes. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a lack of evidence or other characters to refute the negativity thrown his way. It doesn’t matter that some of the ‘good guys’ are clearly not acting as such, and that one is even clearly evil. They still focus on the reputation, even when other points are shown clearly in front of them. I get it, you don’t want to support someone that as far as you know is a rapist, but there surely must come a time when this starts to get questions due to the counter-evidence that they’re staring at? That lack of growth for the other heroes was a low point for me.
Overall though, I was very impressed with this first half of the season. The Rising of the Shield Hero offers an interesting take on the isekai genre with a hero that you want to rally behind, even when he’s making some morally questionable choices. The bigger story has just begun to kick in, and it’s one I’m eager to continue too. Throw in an excellent limited edition package, and this one is an easy recommendation. This gets a solid 4 out of 5 from me.