Earlier this year, an anime by the name of “The Rising of the Shield Hero” debuted, creating a stir with just the first episode. An adaptation of a web novel that expanded into a light novel, the story follows Naofumi Iwatani, a Japanese college student, who finds himself summoned into a fantasy world and is chosen to be one of this world’s “Legendary Heroes.” Each hero has their own specialized weaponry and, prophesied to save the world from apocalyptic “Waves.” Naofumi is designated to be the only defensive hero, the titular shield hero.
On the surface, this sounds generic. There have been countless anime with a similar concept airing lately (a young hero summoned to a parallel world as a chosen one) and Western media like “The Chronicles of Narnia” also follow this premise.
Unlike “Narnia” or similar fantasy stories, “Shield Hero” takes a dark twist in the very first episode. This world’s society actually hates the Shield Hero, and the only person to partner with Naofumi ruins his reputation by falsely accusing him of rape. This makes Naofumi a social pariah with nobody to turn to. As the Shield Hero, he is only able to use his shield, nothing else. Out of options and bitter at the society that ruined him, Naofumi is forced to do something he normally wouldn’t consider: buy a slave to fight for him, a young half-raccoon, half-human girl named Raphtalia.
This dark turn is what started an online political controversy, with some people calling it offensive. If it weren’t for this controversy, I would have skipped the show, writing it off as too generic. Thanks to all this talk online, more attention was drawn to the show, and more viewers ended up becoming fans. There are many fans who think “Shield Hero” is amazing, some who would probably consider it the best of the year.
While the show is good, that’s all I found it to be. Not a masterpiece or the best show of the year, just good. The story is an underdog narrative, with Naofumi going from an optimistic young man to a cynical social outcast, with almost the entire kingdom against him. The show drives home how low Naofumi has fallen, and you want to root for him.
The development of the relationship between Raphtalia and Naofumi is one thing people like most about the show. While Naofumi had bad intentions when he initially bought Raphtalia, he quickly adopts a paternal attitude towards her. He ensures she’s treated fairly, as the world’s society is racist towards human-animal crosses. He believes that he will eventually return home and wants to ensure Raphtalia can take care of herself when he’s gone, seeing her as a daughter. Raphtalia, meanwhile, sees the good in Naofumi and helps him learn to trust others again.
That said, the story heavily uses clichés and melodrama, whether it’s fantasy tropes or anime tropes, like the protagonist going into a berserk rage during fights. The whole plot is rather predictable in terms of it being an underdog narrative.
Also, the animation is rather standard. There are scenes where it’s obvious the animators focused their talents and the animation looks incredibly fluid, but mostly, it’s average. Also, 3D CGI is occasionally used, and it’s noticeable. It’s not terrible, but it’s obviously a 3D model and not hand-drawn; to me, good 3D models in anime should make you question what’s hand-drawn and what’s CGI, not break the immersion.
The show’s soundtrack is great, while the voice acting itself is good, but nothing special. Kevin Penkin was the composer and did a fantastic job playing to the underdog tone of the show, with tracks that make the character’s victories feel that much more triumphant.
As for the voice acting, I have only watched the English dub. Billy Kametz voices Naofumi, and is making a name in English dubbing, voicing main protagonists like Josuke Higashikata in “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” and Hakuno Kishinami in “Fate/Extra: Last Encore.” Kametz captures both Naofumi’s angry, cynical side and his more warm and friendly side. Erica Mendez is a more established voice actor and is the voice of Raphtalia. She’s honestly just average. She’s not bad, but simply strikes me as okay. There wasn’t any part of her performance that was especially notable or moving, and it felt somewhat phoned-in.
Later on in the story, our two protagonists take in Filo, a bird-like monster with the ability to take a human form as a young girl. She becomes a supporting protagonist and is voiced by Brianna Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker’s voice is a good fit, as her character views Naofumi as a father and Raphtalia as an older sister. She gets that youthful energy across, capturing the familial dynamic in her performance well. For the supporting cast, performances range from okay to bad, though the bad rarely brings the showdown.
So what’s the verdict? Is “Shield Hero” some masterpiece? To me, no. It is a good show, make no mistake, and I would encourage anyone interested to watch it, though I couldn’t help but think, “Is this what people have been getting so excited about?” I think part of the reason for the outpouring of support for Shield Hero was due to those who to labeled it offensive, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s important to be honest about the actual quality of the show. Good, but not great.