The Four Cardinal Heroes are a group of ordinary men from modern-day Japan summoned to the kingdom of Melromarc to become its saviors. Melromarc is a country plagued by the Waves of Catastrophe that have repeatedly ravaged the land and brought disaster to its citizens for centuries. The four heroes are respectively bestowed a sword, spear, bow, and shield to vanquish these Waves. Naofumi Iwatani, an otaku, becomes cursed with the fate of being the "Shield Hero." Armed with only a measly shield, Naofumi is belittled and ridiculed by his fellow heroes and the kingdom's people due to his weak offensive capabilities and lackluster personality. When the heroes are provided with resources and comrades to train with, Naofumi sets out with the only person willing to train alongside him, Malty Melromarc. He is soon betrayed by her, however, and becomes falsely accused of taking advantage of her. Naofumi then becomes heavily discriminated against and hated by the people of Melromarc for something he didn't do. With a raging storm of hurt and mistrust in his heart, Naofumi begins his journey of strengthening himself and his reputation. Further along however, the difficulty of being on his own sets in, so Naofumi buys a demi-human slave on the verge of death named Raphtalia to accompany him on his travels. As the Waves approach the kingdom, Naofumi and Raphtalia must fight for the survival of the kingdom and protect the people of Melromarc from their ill-fated future. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
We’ve come to a point in the anime industry where isekai anime are immediately judged just for being isekai. Due to the apparent “overuse” and “unoriginality” of the genre, some individuals will make a big deal about it or not even watch an anime at all simply because of the genre, even if the isekai elements have essentially no bearing on the narrative whatsoever, as is the case with The Rising of the Shield Hero. Yes, Shield Hero is an isekai, but don’t let that blind you from seeing the true themes and merit of this show. At its core, this is an anime all about friendship, perseverance, and what it means to truly be a hero.
It’s also a cleverly disguised loli harem series too. Crazy, right? But I’ll save explaining this shocking revelation for later. Oh, the suspense!
I know I just started off by saying not to judge Shield Hero just for being an isekai, but it honestly does have a stereotypical fantasy setting. Heroes are summoned to another world that’s suspiciously designed just like a video game with the task of saving the world from monsters. Yeah, I’ve totally never heard that one before! But what really matters is execution, which Shield Hero completely nails. After starting off quite harmless with everything going fine and dandy for Naofumi, the recently dubbed shield hero, things take a dark turn after one of the most controversial occurrences in modern anime goes down. He gets accused of rape. Because of the current state of our real world society, the false rape allocations against Naofumi by the bitchy princess Malty struck a cord with many people and caused lots of heated debates on the topic. I say keep reality and fiction separate, and I personally think that this was a great way to swiftly introduce the central conflict between Naofumi and basically everyone else. Everyone essentially berates and shames the poor dude, leaving him a little broken on the inside. In the span of a single episode, Malty, the king, and the other three heroes summoned to the world are set up to be extremely hatable characters, and it just works. It’s honestly as good of an introduction as you can get in a fantasy series.
What I love the most about Naofumi is how he deals with the crappy lot in life he ended up with. He transforms from a happy go lucky protagonist to a more cynical guy who only seems to care about personal gain, and I feel like this is a pretty realistic shift considering what he’s gone through. He even ends up purchasing a demi-human slave! I thought only bad guys did that! This of course is where the anime starts to really get good, because of how great Shield Hero portrays the relationship between Naofumi and his slave racoon loli Raphtalia. You can tell that Raphtalia has gone through some pretty messed up stuff, which the anime touches on in later episodes. It seems like Naofumi treats her a bit harshly at first, but you can quickly tell that he’s actually giving her some tough love and training her to become stronger and to get over her fears. Heck, she even upgrades from a loli to a woman, that’s how effective his training is! And then after Naofumi gets further put down by the kingdom, it’s Raphtalia who saves him from completely falling into despair. That’s why their relationship is great, because they both help and in some ways even complete each other. Plus it’s handled in a completely unconventional way too. You’d think that Naofumi would release Raphtalia from being a slave, but neither of them in fact want that, to the shock of the Spear Hero and others. It’s little things like this that make Rising of the Shield Hero really stand out.
One thing that could weaken your interest in this anime would be how quickly you get annoyed at the constant degradation of Naofumi, because his defamation continues far after Raphtalia saves him, and is the primary conflict in the anime. This isn’t a show about a hero fighting against monsters. No, this is an anime about a man fighting against the people who should be his allies. I’ve seen people say that they’ve gotten exasperated over how much Naofumi gets put down, but I’d have to disagree. This anime makes you really dislike characters who shouldn’t actually be villains at all, yet are set up like it due to their poor choices and actions. And shouldn’t a good antagonist be someone that viewers are meant to despise and root for the protagonist to overcome? Shield Hero does just that, and I think that the central conflict is handled and eventually resolved quite well.
Of course, there’s more going on than just that. Throughout his journey Naofumi encounters two more loli party members. Lucky him. The first is Filo, a cleverly named filolial who Naofumi basically raised from birth after purchasing her as an egg. She has two forms. The first is her angel-like loli form, and the second is her super fluffy giant chicken-like beast form. What can I say, she’s absolutely adorable in both forms. She does lots of useful things like draw the wagon, beat up cgi monsters, and kick the Spear Hero in his balls. Also, like Raphtalia, Filo develops a strong bond with Naofumi in which they build off of each other to further evolve as characters. Filo also develops a cute rivalry with Raphtalia over Naofumi’s affections, which is pretty humorous. The final girl to complete Naofumi’s holy loli triad is Melty, the younger sister of Malty and heir to the throne. Because Naofumi has the most hostility towards royalty, his interaction with Melty sets up an interesting dynamic. They gradually learn to trust and rely on each other, and by consistently helping Melty, we can further see just how much of a hero Naofumi really is. Melty also has my favorite character design in the show, and despite being nobility, Melty’s cuteness just makes my heart melt.
These characters travel together cleaning up the messes of the other three so called heroes all while being defamed and hunted by the government. Yet despite his annoyance at and mistrust of everyone outside of his party, Naofumi keeps persevering, which is quite admirable. Though you know what I think gives him strength? The lolis. You may have noticed that all three main girls are lolis. “B-But Raphtalia isn’t!” Wrong! She may have evolved from her loli body, but she says that she still has the age and mentality of a child. This is a clever technique by the writer to hide the fact that Naofumi has obtained a loli harem. And just like your typical harem, all three girls have a thing for Naofumi and go all blushy blush when they’re around him. And just like a harem protagonist, Naofumi seems completely oblivious to their advances. The author knew that he’d be labeled a degenerate for making a loli harem series, so he masqueraded his fantasy as an isekai anime. It’s simply brilliant honestly. Or maybe I’m just completely wrong. Yeah, it’s probably the latter…but you never know…
Madkid was asked to RISE to the occasion and perform both opening theme songs. To be honest, my FAITH in their ability to deliver quality music wasn’t too high since I’m personally not a big fan of their style, but they did a good job here.
Yes, the show does have its share of flaws. For one, I do feel like episode 21 should have been the season finale, since there was a transition of arcs after it, which to me was a pretty odd design choice considering that the anime only had a few more episodes left. Shield Hero definitely has its share of technical issues as well. In some cases character designs and movements just looked a little sloppy. And the cgi used on some of the creatures just didn’t look that good.
The Rising of the Shield Hero has a surprisingly decent narrative that touches upon themes that lesser anime in the genre don’t even bother to mention. You know, a lot of isekai protagonists tend to act like the three cardinal heroes. They’re ecstatic about living in a fantasy world and think everything revolves around them. But Naofumi is different. He keeps getting back up after getting knocked down. He may seem like he takes advantage of others, but he always has everyone’s best interests at heart. He genuinely cares about his party. And even if he doesn’t get any appreciation for his good deeds, he still always does the right thing. And that’s what makes this shield bro a true hero.