At long last we have reached the conclusion of one of this year’s biggest anime (at least for me). It began it’s season broiled in controversy, added protagonists that not everyone enjoyed, and despite all flags pointing the other direction, managed to finish the story without a giant cliffhanger (instead giving us just a little one). Like most other anime, The Rising of the Shield Hero (盾の勇者の成り上がり) had the occasional pacing issues and strange plot twists. So what are my overall final impressions? Did I mention this is another isekai? Spoilers ahead.
The kingdom of Melromarc is in danger from waves of horrible monsters that will surely destroy all living creatures. In order to combat this destruction, the kingdom summons what are known as the Four Cardinal Heroes to their defense: the Sword Hero, the Bow Hero, the Spear Hero, and the Shield Hero. Each hero is capable of upgrading their given weapon (and they can only use their given weapon) along with themselves through a leveling system that exists in the world which is powered by experience points (much like a video game). These heroes are summoned from another world and given money and a starting party of adventurers to help them on their quest. Enter our main protagonist, Iwatani Naofumi, the Shield Hero.
Naofumi was summoned (this isekai didn’t require death) from an entirely mundane life. He had essentially no responsibilities and nobody to which he was close; he was basically coasting. When he arrives and is greeted by the other heroes, he discovers that, while they’re all from Japan, none of them are from the same Japan. Melromarc apparently tapped into the Japanese multiverse to pull their heroes.
When it comes time to form parties for the heroes, strangely, Naofumi is left without any assistance, with all other heroes being preferred, until one (beautiful) girl, takes pity on him and decides to help him out. She takes him (and the kingdom’s first living stipend) and shows him the absolute best armor and weapons that money can buy for the two of them. Afterwards, she shows him the basics of killing and leveling up. But, he would soon be betrayed, introducing the show’s first controversy. The next day, the beautiful Myne who had helped him, betrayed him, falsely accusing him of rape and bringing down the wrath of the kingdom as well as the other three heroes upon Naofumi. Let me just tell you, the internet was a really fun place to be when people were debating the inclusion of a false rape accusation.
Stripped of all dignity and respect, Naofumi becomes bitter. He heads out into the wilderness, using his fists and whits to kill enough creatures to give himself a meager living. Without party members who can use offensive weaponry, Naofumi was helpless. And so comes the show’s second controversy, a slave girl name Raphtalia. Her slave crest ensures absolute loyalty and obedience to Naofumi, something he desired so that he could not again be betrayed. Raphtalia is not only a slave, she also isn’t human, making them a pair of outcasts trying to survive. Diligently, Naofumi trains with Raphtalia, acting as her shield while she in turn acted as his sword. They needed to be perfectly in sync to survive the coming calamity.
As with any show that’s 25 episodes long, there’s a lot to unpack by the time the show ends. The show spends a lot of time exploring what it is like trying to survive when you’re a labeled rapist in a Matriarchal society like Melromarc. In fact, Naofumi being one of the four cardinal heroes is the only thing that kept him alive. When his only companions are a raccoon slave girl and (eventually) a loli bird named Filo, it makes matters worse, inviting a whole slew of negative judgement and accusations about his evil nature (he becomes known as “The Devil of the Shield” thanks to the influence of Myne and the local church).
A lot of Naofumi’s problems come from his innate distrust of others; he didn’t need people before he was summoned and he didn’t need people who would betray him now. Because of this attitude, he hardly raises objections when he’s falsely accused again and again. While it may not have done much to sway the king and the people (I neglected to mention before that his accuser, Myne, is the royal princess), it may have been enough to sway the Bow and Sword heroes (not the Spear hero; he’s a lost cause). On top of this, any chance he’s given to prove his innocence and skill, whether through challenges or combat, are unfairly rigged against him.
Naofumi simply places all of his trust in his party members. He takes them away from the kingdom as much as possible, choosing to go to the remote villages where his reputation may not be quite as tarnished. He still runs into the occasional issue, but he is quickly able to clear his name, usually by cleaning up a mess that one of the other heroes left behind. He even earns a reputation as a sharp minded merchant as he travels the land selling and distributing the medicinal potions he learned to make.
It’s an interesting take on an otaku isekai protagonist. The show spends a lot of time showing the improvement that he’s able to make to his skills and the skills of his party members just by simply “level grinding.” He does eventually discover gaps in his knowledge simply because he has almost no communication with the other three heroes, but for the most part, he’s able to make himself into a formidable opponent.
There are many points in the show that are incredibly generic such as the inclusion of the “inferior demi-humans”, the white knight spear hero, the inevitable attraction of the female party members to Naofumi, and the against all odds sheer power of the Shield, even as an offensive weapon. But the show does reach beyond these tropes and creates an interesting story.
Almost every character is given a proper growth arc and the show rarely stalls plot-wise. Each episode felt like a natural progression, with maybe one episode feeling like filler (which is still too much, but tolerable when we’re talking about 25 episodes).
By the end of the show we not only see justice for Naofumi, but we are given story beyond that. So many anime set up the ultimate problem in the first episode and wait until the last to resolve it, but this show isn’t content with holding Naofumi in the same persecuted role that it originally places him in. It gives us time to see both the clearing of his name and the inevitable trust fallout that has to be repaired afterwards, all while the heroes defend against the waves of monsters.
As I said in the beginning, the show ends with what could be considered only a small cliffhanger (enough to leave the promise that, if more can be made, there’s plenty of story left to tell). The waves haven’t stopped and the heroes haven’t finished their job, but there is so much that happens in those 25 episodes that it still feels like it wrapped up a lot of major plot lines and makes it feel whole (kind of like how The Fellowship of the Ring leaves you feeling).
In the last couple of episodes, some brand new villains are introduced; I assume these are the villains we’ll be treated to in a second season (should that happen). While I do enjoy these villains, they are the source of one of my biggest complaints in the show, and that is that they feel a little shoehorned in at the last second. We aren’t (yet) given what feels like a solid enough explanation of why they’re there other than a passing minute long sequence towards the end of the finale. It feels a little cheap, but I guess they needed to make sure the audience was thirsty for more.
If fantasy isekai is your cup of tea, The Rising of the Shield Hero has a lot to offer, especially if you don’t mind some generic tropes (and let’s face it, most tropes are popular because they’re fun). This one will especially fit the bill if you’re looking for a slower-paced fantasy adventure. Hopefully season 2 will be made and give us complete closure.