I almost never watch Isekai anime, the genre centered around characters transported to other worlds. In recent years, the medium has been so oversaturated with shows like this and my few forays into the genre tended to be more negative than positive.
Today’s show is one that I never had any intention of watching out of a lack of interest. Truth be told I didn’t even know it was an Isekai, and upon learning that I was even less interested. And yet… The Rising of the Shield Hero has become one of the most surprising shows I have fallen in love with.
This is my First Impressions of episodes 1-5 of Rising of the Shield Hero
Naofumi Iwatani finds a book about four heroes known by their weapons. Sword, Spear, Bow and oddly enough, the Shield, which he thinks of as a tool for defense rather than a weapon. Suddenly, the book transports him to another world and he finds a shield magically affixed near his right arm.
Alongside him are the three other heroes from the book, all of them from Japan like him. They are told about a scourge of monsters plaguing this fantasy world and they’re asked to save it. Pretty typical, but after some time, shit gets real.
This premiere episode is 47 minutes long and they accomplish quite a bit in that time. He gets teleported to the fantasy world within the first three minutes and then a lot of the next half hour is world-building.
There is a bit too much exposition as the characters are briefed on the particulars of their foe and the world in general. On the plus side, beyond the thirty minutes, this becomes much less of an issue. Besides, some of it works rather well. For example, when the four heroes are bonding and learn they are all from alternate universe versions of Japan.
Also- because I can’t for the life of me find another place in this first impressions to bring this up- the sword hero is literally a parody of Kirito from SAO. Same VO too, and he even mentions VRMMO’s when they all explain the game-like mechanics of the world.
Unique to the four heroes is a special type of magic that works like a video game. It shows statistics, features a leveling system, etc. At times, this component of the story feels like it doesn’t gel with the setting, seeing how it is a real world the characters inhabit. That being said, the mechanics are a lot more thought-out and better explained than anything SAO could dream of (not that it is a high bar to reach).
All the heroes begin amassing parties, but Naofumi, being the Shield hero, has no one on his side, with the exception of the beautiful Myne, who volunteers to fight with him. The two begin purchasing equipment and getting to know each other. The following morning, the aforementioned “shit” gets real.
Naofumi’s money and equipment are gone, he is arrested, and then he is brought before the king. He is accused of having raped Myne and Naofumi finds himself disgraced, labeled a monster. It’s implied throughout the first episode that there is prejudice against the Shield Hero, historically, but this is where all the hints add up. It’s a shocking and unsettling twist that sets up the last 15 minutes to introduce us to what this show really is about.
Adding insult to injury, the heroes learn they cannot return to their original worlds until they have accomplished the mission they were summoned there for. Naofumi is furious with this corrupt government out to discredit him and on top of that, he now must endure the hate and fight on.
Around this point is where the music really begins to impress me with some very impassioned pieces. Kevin Penkin did the music for Made in Abyss as well as the Under the Dog OVA so he’s done good work and I’m glad to see him lending his talents here.
This whole twist forces Naofumi into a position of fast growth that makes him instantly compelling. He is more wary, more ruthless and far more morally ambiguous. By the end of the first episode, the show I was watching was nothing like what I had expected and I wanted more.
There has, of course, been controversy as the concept of rape and rape accusations is fairly controversial in Anime lately. The school of thought of the dissenters seems to be that this show promotes an anti-MeToo mindset or that it intends to paint women as untrustworthy. After all, the whole setup seems very topical.
In my view, this story, originally written by Aneko Yusagi – who is supposedly a woman – means only to convey a story of a broken man’s story of redemption using a false accusation as the trigger of that arc. It’s certainly tense and perhaps uncomfortable, but that is likely by design. The best way to engage is through emotions and I’d say this premiere accomplished its objective, without having some evil ulterior motive. In the end, let’s all agree that a false accusation is bad, no matter the crime.
The show went from one controversy to another when in episode two, Naofumi purchases a slave. He purchases a young demi-human girl named Raphtalia, the CUTEST half-girl, half-raccoon you will ever see in your life.
Clearly, owning a slave is not something we should be praising him for, nor is that the intended impression. However, their relationship is interesting for how they both become friends as opposed to master and slave. The entire second episode is dedicated to this shift and it’s explored further the following episodes.
Similar to Naofumi, Raphtalia is alone and hated. In her case, it is because she is a demi-human. Naofumi is a bit harsh, forcing Raphtalia to become a fighter, but it is in doing so he teaches her to live and overcome fear. In return, Raphtalia proves herself moral support for the broken man who bought her.
Their dynamic is also cool because of how they fight together. Naofumi goes on the defense, aggroing the enemy, and then Raphtalia deals swift damage. This atypical dynamic is just one of the things that makes the action so cool.
Like I mentioned earlier, the game mechanics are very well thought out. Naofumi can’t use any weapons, so he has to grind to level up his shield, granting himself different variants and abilities. While the animation in Shield Hero is light on sakuga, the action is impressive alone for how the characters react to danger and plan around it.
Perhaps the greatest asset of this show is how it makes the viewer root for Naofumi. It shows us the world’s cruel injustices and gets our blood boiling, feeling his dread. His perseverance is inspiring, even if it leads him into some morally dark areas.
Watching the other characters warm up to Naofumi and view him as a hero is one of the most gratifying experiences in Anime in a while. Especially the Sword and Bow heroes, while the Spear hero is serving as Naofumi’s biggest rival, being manipulated by Myne in the same way Naofumi was.
Looking forward, the secret order that seems to want the Shield Hero discredited is still shrouded in mystery, but I’m excited to see Naofumi coming face to face with them. In addition, an adorable new member of the party has been introduced, who will hopefully add great things to the show.
For a show so well produced, I’m surprised by several of the staff positions. Masahiro Suwa is credited with the character designs here, which look great, but he is typically an animation director (by the way, credit to the original designer, Sierra Minami). Similarly, Takao Abo has few directorial credits and is mostly an animator. Regardless, he is doing a great job and I hope he gets more opportunities to direct down the line.
Shield Hero is one of my favorite types of shows; the kind that I expect nothing from. Were it not the recommendations from friends, I likely would have missed out on this and that would be a true tragedy.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll
I can’t wait to review this show when it is finished. Here’s hoping this doesn’t turn out like the last 25-episode series I reviewed…
Let me know what you think of Shield Hero in the comments below and tell me what your favorite show of the current season is. Thanks for reading and as always, see you next time!