The Rising of the Shield Hero is a series that I remember for rather peculiar reasons. I remember being midway through it at the time of the NFL’s Super Bowl LIV between the victorious Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers; it was here too I heard about the controversy surrounding a significant plot point in the series’ initial episode, thanks to the so-called “progressive and woke” crowd. Fortunately, I managed to get myself through this series without even a scratch of involvement in that ridiculous feud. Finally, I even found myself making observations about certain thematic allusions regarding its plot elements, that I ended up writing a post about it long before I finally got this series into review format. With all that being said, it’s time to investigate one of the most well-known isekai stories in recent anime history – a tale of an angry man, and his merry band of princess, chicken and raccoon sidekicks.
THE RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO
Known in Japan as Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari, it started as a light novel series spanning twenty-two volumes, written by Aneko Yusagi and published by Media Factory, later being distributed in North America by One Peace Books (who curiously enough follows me on Twitter). The first five books of the series were adapted into an anime by Kinema Citrus, a studio whose prior big names to this being Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Made In Abyss. It premiered on January 2019 and despite the controversy (which only existed in North America and not in Japan), was well received by critics for its story, characters and action, though concern was displayed among fans for how its adaptation of book material was finicky – which, understandably, can be expected.
The hype for this series has not died out, as recently the second season is slated to come out in April of 2022, and we also know that there will be a third one in the works. So far, the series has two minor awards to its name, with female lead Raphtalia winning the “Best Girl” category (lol) and Billy Kametz’ performance as the main protagonist Naofumi being recognized at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards on 15 February 2020.
One day, college student Naofumi Iwatani is absorbed into the world of Melromarc after stumbling onto a book in his library, where he, along with three others – Motoyasu, Itsuki and Ren – are assigned to become the heroes that will protect the country against the catastrophic Waves of Calamity. They are given a series of special weapons to assist them in their battles: Motoyasu gets the Spear, Itsuki wields the Crossbow, Ren equipped with the Sword and Naofumi using the Shield. One night, he is lured by the king’s eldest daughter, Malty, who appears to befriend him and join his gang; however, the following morning it is learned that she robbed his equipment, and framed him with a false rape accusation. Despite his pleas of innocence his reputation is tarnished and he is left alone to fend for himself, with no one to back him up; slowly turning him into a bitter, angry individual. To cope with his feelings he purchases a raccoon girl, Raphtalia, who despite her status as a slave, he treats as if she was his own daughter – with food, kindness, and a proper shelter, and training her in battle. They are later joined by a chicken-like spawn, Filo, who also has a double identity as a young human girl. Additionally, a fourth member later joins the group: Melty, the younger heir to the throne of Melromarc and a kind-hearted soul in contrast to her deceptive, scheming sibling.
During their travels across Melromarc, they arrive head-on with various tasks. Innocent villagers implore their help, and subsequently revere Naofumi’s status as the Shield Hero for his helpfulness, and proclaim him as a savior despite his repeated statements of the contrary. From the urbanites he faces persecution and is looked down as a demon, especially from Malty and her father, King Aultcray; and the clergy of the Cult of the Three Heroes, the country’s state religion. The remaining Heroes, under Malty’s manipulation, occasionally target him and his gang under more false pretenses and backed by egotistical ambitions to be liberators, only to be outsmarted. Ironically enough, their heroics would only spell additional trouble for Melromarc, leaving Naofumi to undertake quests to clean up the mess they left behind. As the group fights onward, their bond develops and transforms their convictions as well.
Eventually the heroes, save for Motoyasu, become entangled in a web of conspiracy, and soon come to believe that things might not be as they seem. Their suspicions are confirmed when it is revealed who the true enemy is: the Cult of the Three Heroes, revealed to be a schismatic sect from the actual religion, the Four Heroes Church, and their leader, Balmus, who I refer to as an antipope (even though in the series he is called the Pope). Determined to stop him and his followers from overthrowing the government and ushering in his tyrannical reign, all the heroes and their allies finally put their differences aside and engage in a long battle against him.
Initially the Heroes are overwhelmed by the Cult’s magical forces, coupled with the antipope’s use of a legendary weapon to replicate their skills. However, thanks to the assistance of Queen Mirellia, Melromarc’s exiled ruler, they defeat him and dramatically send the antipope to his gruesome end. Order is restored to the country; humans and demi-humans finally resume relations together; the Cult of the Three Heroes is exposed, disbanded, and the Four Heroes’ Church restored to its rightful place, and all those who collaborated against the Shield Hero, including Malty and her father are degraded of their high positions and renamed to B***h and Trash respectively. The four heroes regain their unified standing and now work alongside each other against the upcoming Waves, to protect the country and its people from harm.
WHAT I LIKED
- The battles were plenty, whether it’s against the monsters from the Waves of Calamity or the squabbles between Naofumi and his chief tormentor Motoyasu. It was interesting especially to see how Naofumi could make use of his shield, which one would assume is purely defensive, and extend its use towards offensive tactics. If anything this component is one thing to look forward to from this series.
- Episode 21 has the restored Queen Mirellia take King Aultcray and her daughter Malty on trial, on charges of treason and conspiracy against the state. It is here that their plan to usurp power is unraveled, becoming the mastermind of the attempted murder of Melty, framing Naofumi as the victim, and exposing her treachery all in the sight of a horrified Motoyasu. It’s one of the well-deserved comeuppances for the villains of the series.
- Episode 14-15 was one of the more quests I liked that the main gang go through. On their way to meet Queen Mirellia, they are taken in by a kindly duke, Van Reichnott, who provides them with shelter, food, and is sympathetic towards their plight. This brief stay is interrupted by a wicked merchant, Idol Rabier (probably the villain I hate the most in this series) who captures Van Reichnott and attempts to overthrow his rule and kill more demi-humans. This leads to a rescue mission for him where he is eventually subdued by Raphtalia, whose background is explored further in these episodes.
- I’m not sure if this was intended, but I found it cool that there were subtle references made to the Biblical Book of Revelations: namely, when Motoyasu, Itsuki and Ren unleash war, plague, famine and pestilence through their quests (the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, anyone?), antipope Balmus and the Cult he leads mimicking the Antichrist and his religious institution, their persecution of Shield-Hero supporting demi-humans akin to the Antichrist’s hatred of Christians, and the Cult’s emblem being found on all their members playing ties with the Mark Of The Beast.
- Sadly though I’ve heard from some that it could also be a veiled attack on the Catholic Church, which I digress. Consider how the Cult drives the true church, the Four Heroes Church, away from Melromarc, usurping its role as the state religion, and is eventually destroyed and replaced with the latter and its righteous rule. Fr. Sylvester Berry, in 1921, exegetes the Book of Revelations by having the Antichrist usurping the Papacy and subverting the Catholic Church, only to be exposed by Christ in the end.
WHAT I DISLIKED
- I didn’t like the ending’s dictation. Following the defeat of antipope Balmus, the cessation of his sect and the expulsion of Malty and King Aultcray from their positions of power, the four heroes reunite, restore their comradeship and proceed to fight another Wave against Glass and her group, who reveals themselves to be from another world. In my opinion, it should have ended after episode 22, with the last scene being the group sailing to Cal Mira, so that it could have served as a smooth transition to the next adventures, and (by accident) tie in better with my observations between this series and the Book of Revelations.
- Antipope Balmus’ reveal as the true villain was pretty weak, since throughout the whole series there was no subtle indication that he could have had anything to do with all the bad events occurring in the series; not even a single scene where he’s seen, for example, whispering his true motives to one of his mages. His screen-time was also extremely limited compared to Malty, that it cheapened the effect of the twist.
The Rising Of the Shield Hero had much to include for the series’ main characters, in particular Naofumi and Raphtalia in terms of layering in their previous lives, initial encounter and seeing how their bond grew from that of master-servant to best teammates. It was charming especially in the earlier episodes to see how Raphtalia’s outlook towards the generally-hated Naofumi transformed him from a cold-hearted, thieving figure into a bold, noble person – such as in episodes 3 and 4 when she commits to standing by Naofumi’s side, and after the rigged battle with Motoyasu confirming how genuine her kindness was to him. Likewise, Raphtalia, thanks to his intervention finds a purpose in life and begins to have something worth fighting for: the defense of her people and a Melromarc where she can live in justice and fraternity. The same can be said too of both Filo and Melty, who act as the team’s support in battle and a spot of spirited optimism.
The rest of the characters ranged in personality. People like the Spear Hero Motoyasu, in contrast to the well-rounded Sword Hero Ren and Bow Hero Itsuki, were so airheaded one has to wonder how he was selected to become a hero; but I have to give credit to Ren and Itsuki’s characters which kinda had an effort at making them tactical and reasonable enough to be worthy of said title. Villains like Malty, Idol Rabier and King Aultcray on one hand felt insufferable and as bad as they could be for the sake of it (though in the latter’s case, he did have somewhat of a legitimate reason in protecting his family) while antipope Balmus’ two-faced personality made diverse what could have been a very stock group of opposing forces.
Music is one of the strong points of the series. It has a medieval tone and at times feels like as if it came from an MMORPG-style game, exuberating various moods to fit any kind of scene at any time. But it’s in the first OP and ED themes where this quality shines the best, especially those of the first half: with RISE by Madkid and Kimi No Namae by Chiai Fujikawa, to cool things off after 20 minutes of story. Whereas the opening kicks things off with a blast, and a rap chorus that I still have trouble reciting this day, the latter has heartfelt lyrics, ambient instrumentation and excellent vocalization of the words to have it be launched as one of my favorite anime ending songs of all time. It’s also quite fitting too, with the song basically chronicling Raphtalia’s character arc and reflecting on how Naofumi’s disposition gave her a new purpose in life. Unfortunately I didn’t really get the same feeling from the second OP and ED songs, which launched after episode 13.
Favourite episode: Overall, I liked episode 14-15 because we got to learn more about Raphtalia’s origins, especially her friendship with Klee and Rifana, the racism she experienced from humans, and putting two and two together, helps us to understand why joining Naofumi’s gang was a positive, life-changing experience for her. It was also really satisfying to see Idol get his arse whooped by the protagonists.
Favourite battle: Episode 18-20 sees the four Heroes and their partners do battle with antipope Balmus, his mages and the rest of his schismatic sect, while in Motoyasu, Ren and Itsuki’s case they discover how deceived they have been to commit the supposedly heroic acts they did, all thanks to the meanderings of the Cult. It’s my favourite battle because of how it felt like a true boss battle, given the complexity of the fight and the attacks led by both sides, and shares some imagery akin to the rise and downfall of the Antichrist.
Favourite non-battle scene: The part where Naofumi chastises Malty and King Aultcray by giving them new, vulgar identities in episode 21 to show how far off the rails they’ve gone is the only thing humorous from this series. It’s a brief moment of relaxing the generally tense feeling this show gives, but worth it after all Naofumi’s gone through.
Favourite quote: Behold one of the greatest roasts in anime ever, from the above scene; Naofumi finally getting the last laugh to his old accusers.
The death penalty is too light for these scumbags, you’re only giving them an instant release from pain. Should you really let these people go off lightly? As for this girl, she’s so pathetic that she’ll beg a guy who she tried to kill to save her life, ironic as it is. What’s more, her skin is so thick the guillotine probably won’t be able to cut right through her!… Therefore, I offer a new proposition: let King Aultcray rename himself to “Trash” and Malty as “B***h”… with her adventurer name being “Slut”!Naofumi promptly ends Malty and King Aultcray’s careers
The Rising Of The Shield Hero was a good change in the isekai environment compared to my previous ones, with a well-written story, a good set of quests, and fantastical elements that weren’t in for the fan-service. There were times when it shone, via its lead characters, battles and shout-outs to the Book of Revelations; and in other places admittedly more effort could have been placed in, like the plot progression. For a series that lasted 25 episodes, it told a consistent enough fantasy tale that left me satisfied as opposed to yearning for gaps to be filled. I’m looking forward to see how Naofumi and the gang continue their story in the next season once it rolls around, and I hope to see cosplays of these characters at the next Anime North I go to now that I’m fairly acquainted with its material.
You want to know something else peculiar? I’m publishing this on the same day as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s birthday – the same cleric who set up a band of priests, the Society of St. Pius X, to preserve the Tridentine Mass, promote authentic Catholic doctrine, and fight against corrupt prelates who were spreading errors across the Church in the name of Vatican II. Kind of like how Naofumi, in the anime, brings along Raphtalia, Filo, Melty and a band of other loyalists to liberate Melromarc from the control of its ecclesiastical conspirators, royal puppets, and other useful idiots, to restore sanity to the land.