The Rising of the Shield Hero (Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari) Season 1 Review

The Scorned Hero with a Vengeful Heart… Until He Isn’t

Background

Naofumi Iwatani , your run-of-the-mill otaku protagonist who lives a normal, everyday life, finds a magical books that transports him to another dimension as one of the world’s four legendary heroes, summoned to defend that world against repeating catastrophic events known as “the Waves”. He soon realizes that among the four heroes of the spear, sword, bow, and shield, he wields the shield and is incapable of using any other weapons.

Now honestly, if you see these four in a Medieval tavern, who would you most likely want to pick a fight with?

The other three summoned heroes, all guys from alternate versions of Japan, quickly gains the approval and appreciation of the kingdom and its citizens, while Naofumi becomes an outcast of sorts. Matters are made worse when he is framed by the first princess, Malty Melromarc, for a crime he didn’t commit, thus turning our MC Naofumi into not only the hero who apparently drew the short straw by becoming the bearer of a shield, but into someone who, despite his most valiant efforts to maintain his innocence, became a villain in the eyes of the public. Now, Naofumi Iwantani the Shield Hero must work with the odds against him to fight against not only “the Waves”- an onslaught of interdimensional demons, but also against his fellow heroes and their patrons in their repeated efforts to quell his endeavor to succeed.

The Good:

The Ascent of the Shield Hero is a True Underdog Story

Many anime fans are familiar with “Overlord”, the anime about a kid who gets trapped in a RPG-game as an overpowered lich character who rules everything, and who proceeds to exert his dominance over less powerful beings in the game by default. Anime fans who hate this kind of “cheat” character can truly appreciate the Shield Hero, who starts from the bottom as supposedly the weakest among the four Heroes and as the scorn of society. His ascent to power and prominence is something that came as a result of his hard work and quick thinking in spite of continual sabotage by the upper class, eventually making him undoubtedly the strongest among the four Heroes, who begins with a significant advantage and immense support from the people of the realm.

The Shield Hero Treads on the Path of the Vengeful Anti-Hero

As mentioned earlier, not only does the Shield Hero begin his new life as the least appreciated hero of all (The Kingdom even has a state religion that only worships the other three heroes), but he was repeated accused of crimes that he has not committed, more specifically, he was framed by Malty Melromarc, who pretends to join his party, then runs off with his belongings to rejoin the Spear Hero, who is absolutely clueless to her schemes and believes her when she tells him that the Shield Hero has attempted to rape her, leading him to join the whole kingdom in slandering him. This shatters the Shield Hero’s trust in any companionship and turns him into a mercenary-minded vengeful anti-hero who only does good and help others if he has something to gain.

This development, if anything, makes him into a more likable character who is both ruthlessly efficient and logically pragmatic to ensure his own survival in a world where no one else wants him to survive. Even going so far as to threaten harm against local merchants for ripping him off, hiding monsters in his cape to use in a duel against another hero, and purchasing a slave girl to use as a weapon, telling her that he would discard her if she is no longer useful to him. This is the kind of vengeful hero people can truly appreciate after he has risen from a pool of people’s spittle.

Not the face of your typical hero, but a face that says, “I’ll save your village… if you can pay for it.”

Season 1 Leaves Fans With Significant Cliffhangers

The first season essentially ends with the third “Wave of Catastrophe”, which reveals that Heroes from an alternate dimension must cross over to fight against the Four Heroes to protect their own world. So what started the Wave? Why are Heroes forced to fight each other from across dimensions? Why does the King of Melromarc despise the Shield Hero, saying that it will “tear apart his family”? Stay tuned to find out the answers to all the important questions in Season 2.

The Bad:

Another (Not So) Subtly Designed Harem for the MC

When the Shield Hero acquired the slave demi-human girl Raphtalia to do the fighting for him, it made perfect sense, since it was impossible for the Shield Hero to wield an offensive weapon. Using a slave to fight for him was a brilliant survival scheme, because no one wants to join his party, and an actual slave monster capable of actual fighting was out of his budget at the time.

His acquisition of Filo, the giant bird chicken that transforms into a little girl with angel wings, was also a practical decision, since it was for combat purposes and had little to no repercussion. One could even say that the Shield Hero struck gold with his acquisition of a filolial (the name for the bird chickens) that would eventually become the next filolial queen.

Even the fact that this mercenary-minded dark hero would do nice things for his slave girl and chicken bird girl was acceptable, as it reveals his gradual restoration to human compassion in the role of a potential father figure. And that should have been enough.

Wait…what? Who the hell are you?

Apparently not satisfied with having two female companions for our MC, the author introduces a third one: the second princess of the Kingdom, Melty Melromarc, who essentially forces her way into the Shield Hero’s party and becomes obviously infatuated with him, much to the jealousy of Raphtalia and to the great joy of many an anime fans with an insatiable fetish for loli girls. There had, in fact, been male members of the Shield Hero’s party- a group of young knights from the village of Lute. But they all remained unnamed and seemingly dispersed after fighting off the second Wave. Apparently, their presence in the party makes it difficult for guys with anime girl fetishes to get off.

“That is, until fans protest our presence as an obstruction to their view of their beloved loli girls.”

Over the course of the second half, which is around the time Melty joined the Shield Hero’s party, the anime focuses less on fighting against the Waves of Catastrophe and more on an ever-increasing Kawaii-fest of cutesy loli girls playing coy and shy around our cool and unsuspecting MC, who is apparently still oblivious to the tired, play-out ploy of the all-girls harem trope looking for his singular affection. The ploy becomes even more painfully obvious at the end of the third wave, when the Shield Hero allows a girl adventurer who had been an outcast from the Bow Hero’s party to join him, bringing his “harem count” up to four, putting him in square competition with the Spear Hero and notorious womanizer Motoyasu, who also has a party composed entirely of girls.

So the other question for Season 2 is: how many more loli girls will our unsuspecting Hero acquire?

My answer to that: Who gives a shit.

The Shield Hero Betrays His Own Principles

As mentioned before, part of the Shield Hero’s appeal that sets him apart from other anime heroes is a policy that looks out for number one: Doing righteous deeds but only if he gets something in return, all the while avoiding unnecessary attention that would bring him more trouble. Albeit, his time spent with Raphtalia and Filo has restored some human compassion in him, especially toward the lower class, as evident in his defense of the helpless Lute Village during the First Wave. But his defining principle since the day he was ostracized from the Royal Court was to steer clear of political affairs like a small Japanese fishing boat out of the Battle of Midway.

When Malty and the Three Heroes Church frame him for the kidnapping of Melty, he had no choice but to run with her. But when the other three heroes, who are ignorant of such schemes, corner him and demand Melty’s return, he had two choices to make: Hand over Melty, knowing that her older sister would probably kill her, and get on with his life, washing his hands of all royal bloodstain. Or escaping with Melty and putting himself at the top of the list for “Melromarc’s Most Wanted”.

“Hand over the Prin…” “Okay.” “Wait, what?” “Yeah, I don’t want her. I mean, her older sister will probably have her killed. But it’s not like you numb skulls will believe it unless you see it.”

Rather than saying, “Nah, f#$% it, you can have her. That way I can’t get framed for killing her.” The Shield Hero goes soft-shelled crab and chooses the latter, escaping with the second princess and his third lolicon waifu, and in the process getting himself branded as a threat to the whole kingdom and bringing all his previous ventures to a screeching halt. The crown princess, for her part, initially acts like a spoiled brat and shows very little appreciation, which many lolicon will no doubt interpret as the appropriate behavior of a lolicon waifu, but serious anime fans will interpret as a nuisance. So now, rather than following through with his principle to tell all royalty to go f#$% themselves, his decision to save Melty has got our MC’s hand stuck all the way down the royal sewage pipe.

Another principle that our hero hold dear and near to his heart is a consummate hatred for those who look down on him when he was considered the weakest and least useful, kicking him while he was down. He thus determined to prove himself to be capable of survival despite all the odds stacked up against him and all the scorn thrown at him. A true hero risen in spite of the doubters. By the end of the Second Wave, the Shield Hero has already proven his combat superiority over the other three Heroes. And by the time he fights the Pope of the Three Hero Church alongside the other three heroes, his name has been cleared from all wrongdoings, so now is the perfect time to cast aside all previous differences and take down the boss as a team, right?

As it turns out, the Shield Hero decides that a boss fight is the perfect time to talk shit to the other heroes for their previous mistakes and flaunts his superiority even though they’ve already acknowledged their misjudgment, thus completing his transformation into the ultimate hypocrite. In the previous fight against the Second Wave, the Shield Hero pleaded with the other heroes to work together. But the tables turn 180 degrees in the fight against the Pope as the other heroes have already recognized his superior strength and suggested working together, only to be met initially by a dismissive scoff from the Shield Hero. Not that they don’t deserve it, but this is a disappointing development for someone who once believed that being weaker should not subject you to this kind of treatment.

“So…anything we can do to help?” “Yeah, get the f#$% outta my way.”

A Predictable and Lazy Outcome with a Rosy Ending

Let’s be honest here: At which point of which battle did the fans think “Oh my god, the Shield Hero or Raphtalia or Filo or Melty might not survive this”?

The Answer: No one. Because everyone knows that MC gets plot armor. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, how can the series continue if the MC kicks the bucket? Make Motoyasu the Spear Hero the new MC? No one wants to see that.

But the fact that our MC’s got a harem of kawaii loli girls effectively grants him twice the plot armor, which kills all suspense from all fight sequences. And all his kawaii loli waifu are automatically granted plot armor as well, making it impossible for the fans to imagine an outcome other than the harem….erm…hero…coming out intact. Every fight becomes a matter of when, not if, the hero and his waifus will finish off the enemy. Hell, even when they lose a fight in the Second Wave there is absolutely zero casualty. Now that’s some epic plot armor.

In fact, every time the Shield Hero is even at a remote possibility of being defeated or at the edge of losing himself to the dark side of the force (sorry, wrong source material), he gets some inexplicable boost to counterattack due to the power of a warm embrace or words of encouragement from one of his waifus.

When you see this in the middle of a dramatic fight, you know the MC’s about to power up big-time.

So yeah, spoiler alert. Nobody dies. Nobody even comes close to dying. Everyone lives happily ever after. Except the Pope, because he’s the bad guy. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going the scripted “Good guys live, bad guys die” route. But for an anime centered around a character who is supposedly unique from the cliched anime heroes, the abundance of anime cliche play out as lazy, unimaginative, and overall predictable to a point of boredom.

“This is your final…oh who am I kidding, everyone already knows I’m the only one who dies here.”

The Ugly

The Utter Incompetence of Other Heroes

So, the anime starts out with four heroes, three are strong, one is weak, because he uses a damn shield as a weapon. But over time he perseveres, works his ass off, and surpass his peers in terms of strength. Good show. Now let’s check in on the other three heroes:

Alrighty then. That was…pathetic. This was during the Second Wave, when the Four Heroes fought Glass, a much more powerful opponent than the ones they had dealt with previously. But still, getting their asses knocked out cold in one blow while Raphtalia the racoon girl and Filo and Chicken Bird Girl outlast them all? What the hell have these heroes been doing all the way till now? Throwing parties at the Royal Palace and sipping champagne out of a royal lady’s corset? Okay, Motoyasu might have been doing that. But the other two? Surely they’ve done heroic things that also raised their battle potential, with the overthrowing of corrupt governments and dragon-slaying and whatnot? How can they be so useless?

But you know what? Glass was not an ordinary foe, so they get a pass for that one. Surely they managed to contribute more significantly while fighting against monsters, which is the whole reason they were summoned in the first place. Like when they used their combined power to take down this huge-ass monster.

Look at the majesty of that combo attack. Surely it’s game over for the monster. Wait, what was that?

Well, dammit. Why are you three even in this fight? Do not pass go. Do not collect 100 bucks. In fact, go back to the meadow and start over from level 1. This battle is for grown-ups. But hey, at least they can help our MC, their fellow hero, clear his good name when he is being wrongfully slandered by the Royal Court, right?

Nope, nothing there either. Man, what are you guys good for anyways?

The Bow Hero and the Sword Hero, to their credit, do eventually smell the bullshit that the Royal Court has been feeding the public and decide to investigate, but by the time they reveal the plot, the stench is so strong that the Pope, the guy behind the whole scheme, decided that there was no longer a point in hiding it, making the Bow and Sword Hero’s vindication practically meaningless. Meanwhile, Spear Hero Motoyasu continues to be in disbelief that the Shield Hero can be anything other than a villainous fiend until Malty, the scheming bitch of a princess and his “trusty” adventuring side-wench, was forced to confirm it with her own mouth. Calling these guys assholes would be a compliment, because that would imply that their incompetence was deliberate.

The Pope Fight, Up Until the End

Remember when the Shield Hero and Raphtalia encountered the First Wave and fought efficiently, wasting almost no precious time on pointless dialogue and side chatter while offing an onslaught of inter-dimensional demons and rallying the villagers to fight alongside them?

Now take that same fight, reduce it to one opponent who repeat the same cliche crazy cult leader speech seven times, stretch it to three episodes with four times the amount of meaningless dialogue, and you get the boss fight with the Pope.

The initial attack came as a surprise, as literal judgement rained down from heaven and nearly crushes the Shield Hero’s party and the Spear Hero’s opposing party. At which point the Pope enters the scene (*cue the final boss theme) and reveals a plot to eliminate all four of the legendary heroes. This is building up to be an exciting boss fight.

At least he hates all four heroes equally, which in a twisted way makes him a tad better than the King.

Well, it only goes downhill from there, as the Pope repeats almost the same direct attack at the group, none nearly as powerful as his first attack, while he repeats almost the same cliche dialogue about how feeble the heroes are under the judgement of God. At some point, this battle became such a repetitive snooze fest that it felt like the editor cut a clip of the first attack sequence and played it in loop, each time with the same predictable result of the attack getting blocked.

Matters got worse when the other two heroes arrive and the four proceed to engage in a volley of meaningless squabble while the Pope’s “charges” his next attack, it all has the mundane feel of an RPG game where the battle sequence can only commence once all party members are ready. And then the Pope repeats the same cliched speech about God’s judgement before blasting out almost the same attack

Well, no shit Sherlock. Was anyone expecting that old fart to jump in the pit and start flailing around with the spear?

The battle finally takes an intriguing turn when Boss Pope activates some kind of badass boss spell called “Cathedral”, which, you guessed it, encloses the whole battle area in what appears to be a cathedral, and apparently grants the Pope continuous healing through the incantations of his followers. So in order to defeat it, the Shield Hero goes all out and invokes the rage shield, consuming him with the dragon’s rage and effectively activating berserker mode, this has the outlook to become one hell of a final showdown. And then this happens:

That’s right, folks. The power of friendship and his loli waifus collectively clinging to him brought him back to his senses and killed all the firepower that was getting ready to burst, thus killing all potential of a throw-down between berserker Shield Hero and Immortal Pope. And speaking of the Pope, being the gentleman he is, waits until everyone has finished their emotion-filled dialogue before unleashing his supposed “final” attack, with yet another lame cliche of a villain quote.

If he hadn’t said that, mmmmmaybe it would have worked.

To the surprise of no one (except the Pope), Shield Hero blocks the attack. Time to hit the snooze button on this fight.

But alas, the end of the fight takes a more creative turn with the Pope revealing a hidden ability to his Cathedral: the power to mirror his attack from multiple directions at once (why he couldn’t have done this earlier is beyond anyone’s comprehension). And finally, having enough of the Pope’s crap, Shield Hero uses a self-inflicting technique called “Blood Sacrifice” to invoke a dragon to eat the Pope alive, thus presenting the fans with the first on-screen death of a human being and preserved what little dignity is left of this fight.

Final Thoughts

The first half of the anime shows promising signs of the Shield Hero becoming a vengeful hero who carries out chaotic justice in his own mercenary way after being scorned and slandered by society, with a deep level of emotional wound that transforms him into a ruthlessly efficient warrior with little regard for others’ opinion of him. The introduction of Raphtalia and Filo presents yet another layer of emotional development as the Shield Hero’s perspective of the two girls as his assets gradually grows into one of fatherly compassion. The Shield Hero had the potential to become an intriguing and unique character who hangs in the balance between good and evil, teetering between the hatred and wrath he feels for the world that rejects him and his fatherly affection for the two girls who embrace him.

All that potential came crashing down when Melty, the second princess of Melromarc, becomes a permanent member of his party, effectively turning the plot from the conflicts of a rejected hero with his emotionally close-knit pair of daughter figures, into a growing harem of loli girls that competes for his attention in any situation, making all their predicaments seem trivial and devoid of suspense with predictable outcomes. The dialogues and conflicts between the characters become increasingly unbearable with their repeated cliches, made no better by a cluster of female side characters who brings little more than fan service that feeds the fetish of certain anime fan demographics. Overall, the anime had built toward something unique in the first half and tore itself down in the second half, bringing it back down to a generic anime landscape rather than transcending it, leaving behind a forgettable experience and setting up Season 2 for a shallow anticipation.

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