The Rising of the Shield Hero – Ep. 1 (First Impressions)

Oh good. Another isekai anime.

I say that but it’s not like being an isekai story will stop the commercial success The Rising of the Shield Hero is projected to enjoy. Not only will isekai not die the slow, painful death it deserves but the Shield Hero light novels have been a hit for a while now. They sell quite well and there’s a pretty vocal fanbase backing it up too. And clearly, the producers behind the anime adaptation are keen on making bank as this double-length premiere aired days before the official broadcast date with Crunchyroll also simulcasting it a couple days later. I’ll be shocked if this anime doesn’t do well in any sort of way. As for its critical reception, well, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. One thing is for sure: this anime couldn’t have picked a worse time to come out given what’s recently been going on in our world.

However, let me preface by saying that I took issue with Shield Hero long before the big, controversial scene that people are talking about transpired. The show kind of starts on the right footing by not subjecting its protagonist, Iwatami Naofumi (Kaito Ishikawa) to an isekai by death scenario. After that though, the story transitions into some rather questionably executed worldbuilding. Employing actual RPG mechanics to explain the Legendary Heroes’ abilities is bog-standard and lazy. That Naofumi needs people to explain to him really basic, fundamental aspects of RPG gameplay despite having played them before is strange. That there is actually a prophecy that foretells the Shield Hero being useless is a really dumb and contrived way for everyone to mistreat Naofumi. The fact that all four legendary weapons magically repel one another is a clear excuse to begin creating rifts between the heroes that wield them. All in all, the episode largely feels clunky and not well realized.

That all said, a scene where Naofumi gets falsely accused of rape by his companion, Myne (Sarah Emi Bridcutt) most certainly doesn’t make things any better. I’m not saying you can’t put that in your story. In fact, on paper, this kind of scenario serves as a reasonable catalyst in setting up a situation where the protagonist is truly going against the entire world. And in execution, this episode does a good enough job making sure Naofumi comes across as innocent. A key scene has him outright decline drinking with Myne and go straight to bed, thus allowing the viewer to readily sympathize with him when he gets accused. Where my concern lies is with what kind of narrative Shield Hero may end up evoking, intentional or not. This could easily come across as a guy fed up with the world because he is paranoid around and fed up with women and that might bode ill when the show tries to attract newcomers to its viewership.

It’s not just that scene either. There’s a number of details that have me tugging at the collar. Way back in the beginning of the episode, Naofumi calls a drawing of a princess “slutty” which could be viewed as misogynistic. Establishing the kingdom as a matriarchy (despite having a king?) feels too deliberate to be a throwaway line of dialogue. There’s also the end of the episode where Naofumi meets the leader of a circus trope who offers to sell him one of his slaves. Obviously, the little Tanuki girl Naofumi meets eye to eye will be his companion but hang on, this guy won’t trust any woman unless they’re his slave? …Yikes. I hope their relationship steers clear of that baggage.

It’d be a shame if that ends up being the takeaway with Naofumi’s character as there are some other aspects of him that I’m liking just fine. His transition from an optimistic hero to a sour loner is believable enough and some of his tactics in getting people to trade fairly with him deserves a laugh or two. There’s some decent contrast between him and the other heroes too. The latter three all clearly egotistic and self-centered while the former is just there for the ride. Having Naofumi as an outcast only paints the night and day difference even further.

From the start, The Rising of the Shield Hero feels like a wild card. This premiere is incredibly rough around the edges, especially due to its execution of such heavy themes and the potential issues that may arise from them. Is it possible for Shield Hero to trudge through that storm though? I don’t want to go as far as say it can’t. So long as any product play its cards right, it technically can get away with anything. That said, I think this anime is going to need to play its cards very, very carefully if it’s to win over anyone but the established diehard fan.

Thanks for reading!

For all of my Winter 2019 First Impressions, check out this archive page!

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