Season aired: Winter 2019
Number of episodes: 25
Genres: Fantasy, action, adventure
Thoughts: The Rising of the Shield Hero began the season with lots of publicity due to the controversial nature of the first episode. While many sought to destroy the anime’s credibility and story, others praised the anime and rose it to the skies as one of the best isekai anime they have ever seen. At that point, the series itself had only aired 4 episodes when all the publicity came about. In the end, I found myself more in the middle. While I don’t believe the backlash is completely accurate to the story, I found the anime lacked many elements to be considered incredibly good. In fact, I didn’t really feel invested in the story until the last few episodes.
The Rising of the Shield Hero follows the journey of Naofumi Iwatani, an otaku from Japan who got sucked into another world through a book. There, he quickly found out he was a legendary hero who was destined to wield a powerful shield. He met three other heroes who have also been summoned from their worlds, but soon he found himself navigating a much more difficult world and situation than he originally thought.
My biggest complaint of the series has nothing to do with the supposed plot twist in the first episode. While I did find that plot twist incredibly predictable, my criticisms only came as the series continued. The Rising of the Shield Hero lacked proper, likable characters to root for aside from the main character.
Most of the antagonists were incredibly generic, bland, and oftentimes laughable in a story that didn’t present itself as a comedy. The first antagonist, a female character that began all the controversy, started out and ended as a typical, manipulative “bitch” who just wanted things her way. The character had no real ulterior motives or depth, and the series focused on her as the antagonist for around three-quarters of the time. Her completely surface-level antagonism annoyed and frustrated me in a way that I would regard a tantrum child, not that of a real antagonist that sowed the seeds of conflict. She became one of the biggest factors that dissuaded me from actually enjoying the series, as I found myself skipping and rolling my eyes whenever she came into the picture.
However, there are series that have successfully reached audiences without a strong team of antagonists. Banana Fish serves as an example. The majority of the anime fandom praised the anime for its storytelling and action sequences, but it lacked the three-dimensional antagonists that I just spoke about. But while Banana Fish didn’t have well-written antagonists, it did have a team of protagonists that the audiences can root for. Yet, in Rising of the Shield Hero’s case, Naofumi’s team of protagonists were also lacking in dimensions.
Raphtalia, advertised as the main female protagonist of the series, was my biggest disappointment. Her character is to serve as Naofumi’s emotional support. Her only motivation is Naofumi, and every action she takes in the series is for Naofumi. She legitimately serves no other purpose than to be a writing device that connects Naofumi to his own emotions. While she does finally receive some of her own characterization in one of the later arcs, the story quickly backtracks on it when the arc finished as she once again becomes the support woman to Naofumi’s journey and nothing more. She had no real character journey of her own that had a meaningful impact on the entire story arc of the series. In the end, I can only think of her as a supporting character and not one of the main protagonists.
Naofumi’s other supporting characters lack even more qualities than Raphtalia does. Filo is literally a cute bird girl used to help with fights and to pander to loli lovers. Melty was a constant damsel in distress who needed saving from Naofumi rather than an interesting political character who could’ve been forced to play the political game for her friends’ and her own sake. I don’t even feel the need to dig into the mess of the other three heroes presented in the story.
When a series can go by, and the only character I can genuinely say interested me was a single character, that is a sign of bad writing, which is incredibly unfortunate because I really did like Naofumi’s arc and development. His changes and growth would fluctuate between drastic and subtle, but at no point nor time did I find it unrealistic. He was desperately in need of some companions that were as three-dimensional as he was because his character carried the entire plot on his shoulders. And, sadly, it wasn’t until the last 4 episodes where the new three dimensional characters were finally introduced, which is also when I finally got invested in the story. The series was in desperate need of better antagonists and protagonists as well.
What would’ve made the series truly unbearable was if Naofumi was the only positive to come have come out of the series, but luckily that didn’t happen. For one, the world of The Rising of the Shield Hero was incredibly immersive. There was a lot of “functions” each character has that haven’t been fully explored yet. The kingdom that Naofumi largely stayed at was actually a matriarchy where the empress had the biggest say, and there were mentions of other kingdoms and other political organizations. The addition of different species also helped round the world as something to be fully explored. If anything, I wouldn’t have minded a slice-of-life series where we got to see the well thought out world to its entirety.
The music, composed by Kevin Penkin, fit the style of the series very well. I especially love how the music reflects different cultures in each area that Naofumi travels to. The differentiating style matched well with the differentiating countries and communities. And when the battle scenes began, the music always fit well with the tension in the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the animation. The CGI didn’t blend well with the hand-drawn animation in a similar way that Golden Kamuy’s CGI bears worked in its series. The monsters became more distracting than they were menacing for that reason, and the fight scenes as a whole were generic in overall attacks.
As a result, when the entire series had ended, I could only see a mediocre anime. The lack of interesting characters hit hard on the quality, and I sincerely thought The Rising of the Shield Hero missed out on its full potential. For those who simply enjoy isekai anime, I’m sure you would still like this one. However, for viewers who are looking for a story to really give yourself to, I’d say the series is a pass.
Voice acting: 6.5
FINAL SCORE: 71