I’ve never considered myself a hardcore gamer, but when I young, I spent more hours with Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound, and Secret of Mana than most other games in my modest collection. A long, epic journey to fight monsters, recruit companions, and save the world is a very satisfying way to spend 40 hours. I’ve written about adventure/RPG anime before, but nothing quite like this month’s show.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is an anime which shows what would happen if “real people” were suddenly pulled inside of a fantasy world. There are heroes, villains, villages, monsters, royalty, and bird people. Of course, life doesn’t go smoothly for the titular hero, because if they did, he’d have no chance of rising—and that word is in the title. In case you feel like shielding yourself, here’s your spoiler warning, anime-niacs.
Naofumi Iwatani, along with three other young men from the “real world,” are transported to a different universe and are told by King Aultcray Melromarc that they are the legendary heroes. Each of these heroes will wield a cardinal weapon to defend this world from the “waves”—portals that open and allow monsters through to wreak havoc. Each hero receives one weapon—a spear, sword, and bow, respectively, but Naofumi receives a shield. No one wants to join his party because shields are lame, until the king’s daughter, Myne, volunteers. Unfortunately, Naofumi and Myne barely begin their journey when Myne frames Naofumi for rape and no one believes he is innocent. He becomes an outcast, and his personality quickly takes a dark turn. He was briefly shown as a laid back young man, but becomes very cold after he is shunned by the other heroes and local villagers. Still, Naofumi presses onward.
The Rising of the Shield Hero progresses exactly like an RPG. Naofumi begins in the capital city and must grind by killing low-level monsters to become stronger before venturing to other towns. When a wave begins, it is essentially a boss battle. He wins money, purchases better equipment, and travels to different areas to complete what are essentially side quests while meeting new allies and enemies. Although he has become very hardened, he is strategic and intelligent, and although he and the other legendary heroes do not get along, he eventually tries to cooperate with them and suggests courses of action. However, my favorite aspect of the show is Naofumi’s companions.
Naofumi procures a demi-human slave girl, Raphtalia, who has characteristics of a raccoon (think tanooki Mario but without the mustache). Raphtalia’s parents were killed during one of the waves so she was sold into slavery. Although initially scared, Raphtalia realizes that Naofumi is a caring man and the two have very a positive influence on each other. He trains her to defend herself and she becomes an extremely effective and agile combatant. It is wonderful to watch Raphtalia transform into a capable and confident young woman. Later, Naofumi buys an egg which hatches into a small girl with wings who can transform into a large bird. Taking the name Filo, she is cute, likes to sing, and is therefore an uplifting contrast to otherwise somber or tense scenes. Filo is a Filolial, which is a race of people with wings who can transform into large birds. When Filo meets the Filolial Queen, the woman challenges the girl to combat. After a difficult fight, Filo emerges triumphant and becomes next in line to be queen (I hope she’s fluent in bird law). This was a happy little side quest and The Rising of the Shield Hero would have been a much drearier show if Filo was not present. Unfortunately, these companions are a bit problematic.
Raphtalia, despite being a demi-human and likely underage, is in love with Naofumi. I understand the desire to add a romantic angle to a story, and one in which the object of desire seems completely oblivious in order to add levity, but this is unnecessary. Filo’s affections are not quite as strong, but she is unfortunately the object of Motoyasu, the Spear Hero’s, desire. Filo is clearly prepubescent and Motoyasu is 21. Although it is certainly hilarious that Myne, the woman who caused so much hardship for Naofumi, seems to be in love with Motoyasu and the same affection isn’t returned, it is disturbing how much Motoyasu pines for Filo, and that he does at all. Both Raphtalia and the egg from which Filo hatches are sold by a slave trader. Neither girls needed to be enslaved just to illustrate Naofumi “rescuing” his new companions—it could and should have been written differently.
Furthermore, a very small percentage of women do lie about being raped but I don’t believe that this is a necessary message to send to viewers. It also sends a terrible contrast of messages—women, like Raphtalia, should pine after men, but also, women are malicious liars. Myne could have lied about anything, but her viciousness and disregard was sadly the origin of much of the protagonist’s conflict. However, the clearest message contained in the show is one about psychological isolation.
Naofumi built walls to safeguard himself from the world that hurt and shunned him so he expressed himself primarily in coldness and quiet anger. Literally shielding himself from relationships with others, the title obviously takes on a second meaning; he is not only a hero who wields a shield against monsters, but is a hero shielding himself from potential betrayal. Illustrating another metaphor, Naofumi can access an extremely powerful ability, his “rage shield.” Of course, he becomes temporarily enraged and incinerates everything in his path (sounds like he needs a hug shield). Were it not for Raphtalia and Filo, Naofumi would certainly have been either completely overcome by rage or perished during his quests. The young man’s two companions become more than party members, but close friends with whom he has built trusting and positive relationships.
I have purposely omitted much about this anime—plot points, villains, allies and many RPG elements, because I would absolutely recommend The Rising of the Shield Hero. Although there are problematic elements, I am certain that adults, and particularly fans of RPGs, will likely enjoy it. Furthermore, the intro music for both seasons is incredible, but the song for the first season is objectively amazing. Rise to the occasion—watch this anime.