At the beginning of 2019, I wrote: Rising of the Shield Hero is 2019’s First Must-watch. It was a pleasant surprise to start the year, given how apprehensive I typically am about the Isekai genre. I was quite adamant about my excitement for this show after the first several episodes and despite the controversy, I believed it would be a total hit. I wasn’t wrong. It became one of the most-watched anime of the year and after its 25-episode run, a second and third season was confirmed.
Nearing the end of the year, as people begin reflecting on the best of the year, it bears asking if Shield Hero was worth the praise. Did it live up to its strong start?
When my last post on Shield hero ended, we were introduced to Filo, a big bird (or filolial) who is actually a little girl with the ability to turn into one. At first, I was wary of this adorable loli, fearing she would just compete with Raphtalia for Naofumi’s affection. I wasn’t even wrong, though their bickering only lasted as long as it took them to get along after an admittedly fun side-story. Filo grew on me quickly as one of the most adorable characters I’ve seen in ages.
There is a strong familial dynamic between the closest members of the Shield Hero’s party. Filo being almost a daughter and Raphtalia being almost motherly in her care of both of them, acting especially as a tether to keep Naofumi stable. This cozy, loving dynamic helps break Naofumi out of his shell, especially important given how his past trauma has damaged his view of women.
From then on the party only got stronger with the introduction of Melty, a princess of Melromarc. Young and innocent but with the heart of a queen in training, Melty was a great addition, whose arrival brings about the main crux of season one’s story.
The king, the church, and Melty’s sister Myne are still ruthless in trying to further drag Naofumi through the dirt. As their efforts grow stronger, the Shield hero’s party finds itself having to dedicate more time to confront them. However, it also becomes clear that Naofumi might have friends in high places. All the while, the impending “waves” are getting more dangerous, bringing with them some new antagonists.
The threat of invaders from another world takes a backseat to the main story of justice, redemption, and unity. By the end of the first half, after a major turning point, it’s clear that Naofumi has to face off with the religious conspiracy against him before anything else. Aside from the last four episodes of season one, the majority of the plot is dedicated to Naofumi’s literal rise and it is glorious.
So many times, the machinations of the conspirators put people in Naofumi’s way who believe him to be truly evil based on lies. The frustration felt while watching is undoubtedly intentional and makes every victory that much sweeter. Every little addition to the Shield Hero’s fan club feels so rewarding to watch. Even the Sword and Bow heroes eventually start to suspect wrongdoing in the capital and conduct their own investigations. There is some palpable relief when a new ally joins team Shield Hero.
Of course, it isn’t as though this justice is just handed out. Naofumi’s distrust of others and isolationist mentality slowly cracks over time as he starts beginning to actively connect with people. With the introduction of the Filolial Queen in the latter half, it’s impressed upon him that to defeat the waves, the four heroes need to be united.
It’s not enough just to punish the conspirators (despite how satisfying it is). Naofumi has to actively connect with them and prove his innocence because if he doesn’t, then according to the Filolial Queen he’s “basically admitting [his] guilt.” This isn’t exactly easy to rectify, but it was never going to be. The biggest hurdle is connecting with the other heroes. Especially Motoyasu, the spear hero, who so convinced Naofumi is evil that he believes he has brainwashed his entire party.
Everything is done right in creating an empathetic character. While not all of Naofumi’s decisions were always moral, they were understood and his anger at the world was justified. Fighting that wave and surviving, maybe even redeeming yourself in the eyes of others takes hard, often thankless work. In the end, though, you’ll hopefully find yourself surrounded by more friends than enemies. Naofumi’s whole story here is one of the most satisfying I’ve experienced in a long while.
Just as satisfying and indeed even more emotional was Raphtalia’s story. Some time at the beginning of the second half was spared to shed light on her past and the circumstances of her enslavement. The party’s quest takes them on a collision course with her past and she teeters on the edge of vengeful rage.
The tragic presentation goes into making these few episodes stand out above all others. Even with every victory, she can’t necessarily escape some harsh truths about what she was hoping to find at the end of the road. In many ways, her arc through the entire show is one of finding her voice.
Throughout the show, she follows a man who she loves and who helped her become the woman she is, but who constantly talks about her strength like its all for the day when Naofumi will leave. After all, he is from another world. For him, it’s all about giving her the strength to never be taken advantage of again and giving her a home again. For her, it’s about staying alongside the man whom she owes everything to. Watching them come to understand this in each other, and how it changes their long term goals was the most satisfying part of all.
Raphtalia’s arc holds the highest position in my heart in large part to direction and larger part to the soundtrack. I praised the dramatic composition of the early episodes’ music but Kevin Penkin went above and beyond. The music throughout was fun and dramatic but by far, the best track is En Annan Tid, Ett Annat Liv, a beautiful and tragic song sung by Maria Andersson in Swedish. It is stunning and makes it very hard to fight tears when it swells.
Not every part of the 25 episode journey was without flaw and one of the biggest battles of the entire season was held back by how it was written. A bunch of characters are all neatly assembled against a major antagonist, who allows minutes of dialog and exposition – some of which is recap for some ungodly reason – because he has to charge his ability.
It’s a writing decision that was likely made because there needed to be certain character interactions to facilitate the united front that would come. But when a lot of that dialog is rehashing previous conflicts and even flashbacks it tests my patience. An entire episode’s worth of content could have likely been cut and it would have made little difference.
On an animation level, this part of the show felt like there was a lot less heart put into action choreography. Actually, to be fairer, it is split 50/50. Sometimes characters would combine their abilities in a cool way, whereas other times the battles were of much more shoddy quality. It’s a mostly lackluster buildup to the climactic and well-produced final battle.
But from that point onward, the show resumed its normal routine animation-wise and I was pleased. The only other contentious visual element across the entire series is the use of CGI. Sometimes it is well-blended and done effectively, like with the Filolial Queen’s altered form. Enough care is put in to make it more than just a budget-saving measure. Other times though, it feels like just that. Still, given a bit more practice, the blend could be done a lot more effectively in future seasons.
The Rising of the Shield Hero was one of the best shows this year and proved to me that the Isekai genre isn’t completely without merit. Granted, the video game-esque interfaces and spoken reference to game-like mechanics was slightly weird when the world is definitely not a video game. Still, it wasn’t so great a dissonance as to detract from such a compelling journey.
Going forward, I’m intrigued by where the story will go. I feel like it was clear to the creators that the main draw to the show was the redemption story. As such, the final four episodes set up new villains and introduced some reveals that I could see creating some really interesting and tough choices for the heroes down the line. Naofumi already grew quite a lot this season and I can’t wait to see the Shield Hero rise just a little more next time.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll in Sub and Dub.
Did you enjoy Shield Hero? Are you pumped for the next season? Leave a comment below letting me know what you think and tell me what other shows I should review. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!!!