Haven’t completely decided if I want to cover The Rising of the Shield Hero but given the attention the first episode got, one proper follow-up seems necessary.
I thought I sounded fair in my First Impressions post and I actually did get some kind responses on Twitter saying that I was but let me still rephrase that no, I wasn’t offended by Shield Hero‘s premiere. I found the set-up underdeveloped or clumsy and that’s really it. To be honest, I was baffled to see people accusing Aneko Yusagi, the author of the light novels, as a misogynist or an incel. Now that just seems too harsh and personal. Most of us don’t know Yusagi as a person and it’s not like there’s an interview where he or she made such comments about women.
Let me put it this way: is J.K. Rowling a racist? No. In fact, she seems quite progressive based on how she conducts herself in public and on social media (even if imperfectly so). Is it still baffling how she handled the unnecessary and unresolved subplot in Harry Potter about house elves slavery? Yes. That’s kind of like how I felt about Shield Hero. I noticed that the premiere made certain points about gender equality and sexual misconduct allegations and I thought it was clumsily done and brought a lot of baggage the show might be better off without, especially given what’s currently happening in our world. I only questioned the writing and nothing else. Did some the detractors not realize you can dislike something without personally attacking the creator? Like…it can be done, guys. That’s how opinions work.
Anyway, let’s actually talk about Episode 2. Last episode ended with Naofumi being approached by a slave trader offering him a slave to use and one slave that catches his attention is a meek little Tanuki girl named Raphtalia (Asami Seto). I realize, now, that Naofumi takes up on the offer out of necessity. Since no one wants to work him because of the rape allegation and the fact that he wields a shield, slavery is his only option in forming a party. That said, I don’t think I was unreasonable when I expressed concern with how this might correlate with Myne’s betrayal and Naofumi’s newfound cynicism and spitefulness. I’m just saying, you can’t put these two developments back to back and not anticipate that it might bother someone.
Evidently though, Episode 2 does the smart thing of not dwelling on the correlation. Naofumi takes Raphtalia as his servant and appears to not be making any sort of statement with it other than that he bought a slave to help him level grind. Much of the episode is actually devoted to Naofumi’s developing chemistry with Raphtalia.
And you know what? I actually thought the chemistry between these two was pretty good! To start off, their current personalities contrast each other’s nicely. Naofumi is distrustful and moody while Raphtalia is meek and fearful. Both characters are wary of the world around of them due to what’s happened to them. I also took notice with what kind of qualities they bring out of each other. Naofumi needing Raphtalia to provide offense forces her to become braver and more confident. Conversely, Raphtalia helps show that there is still kindness left in Naofumi. The latter willingly spends much of his small funds in providing the former food and equipment and you even see him comfort her when some traumatic memories resurface in her dreams. All in all, it’s not a bad set-up.
Also, Raphtalia is simply adorable. It’s hard to deny that. I really couldn’t help but go “Awwww” when she got eat her first proper meal in eons or when she subconsciously waggled her tail when she tried to deny to Naofumi that she wants a ball to play with. Darn it, this anime knows my one weakness!
It’s really just the slavery aspect that prevents me from fully enjoying this dynamic. I’m glad that Naofumi is treating Raphtalia well enough but it just feels weird how, at best, I can only describe him as a “kind slave owner”. The detail where Naofumi can magically command Raphtalia to do his bidding especially messes with my interpretation. I get that he uses it the first time to help her get used to killing monsters but the mere use of force still feels uncomfortable. Perhaps if the show showed Naofumi looking more begrudging or uncomfortable over using it, the scene could be better salvaged.
Later in the episode, you have the two confronting a monster at a mine. Naofumi commands Raphtalia to kill a monster, only to then retract it when he realizes that it resembles the one that killed her parents and instead opts to fight the monster alone. That’s neat and all but when Raphtalia began to attribute losing her master to losing her parents, the scene started to feel wrong again. It’s not the kind of comparison one should casually evoke in storytelling. I want to doubt that the scene is going in that direction and is as intentional as Beauty and the Beast being a tale about Stockholm Syndrome but I can’t deny that the subtext can still make things feel weird.
I think that’s really the big issue with Shield Hero. I get what it’s going for but when I start to think about it, I feel that the show has a very flawed way are expressing what it wants to express, even when it does succeed at certain points. Perhaps clumsiness is just something I’ll have to deal with if I’m to keep watching the show. I’ve dealt with plenty of clumsy anime before, some of which I really liked it and others not so much. Time will tell where Shield Hero will fare but I’d most certainly prefer it to fall under the former group.
OP: “RISE” by MADKID
ED: “Kimi no Namae” by Chiai Fujikawa
Aw, what a stunning ED. A shame that I have to remind myself that it’s about a man and his slave…
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