If there’s one thing I’ve learned in RPGs, it’s to never, and I mean NEVER bash the tank. They’re the literal meat shield that keeps everyone else’s sorry asses from- wait that’s actually a really good analogy for this series, shit.
Iwatani Naofumi is a twenty year old man that happens upon a book in a library talking about the Legendary Cardinal Heroes, each of whom who wield a special Spear, Sword, Bow, and Shield. Upon finding out that the ‘Shield’ doesn’t really have a list of achievements or really anything really in its chapter, Naofumi gets transported into a new world alongside three other individuals as the Cardinal Heroes. As luck would have it, Naofumi is the dreaded ‘Shield Hero’ which after much initial scorn and hatred from the world he’s put in (which is VERY much put into brevity for the sake of not making this intro longer), sets out on a journey to help save a world that doesn’t want him.
Based almost solely on the first arc of the series, Shield Hero is something of an exercise in frustration. For the majority of its runtime, the story chronicles Naofumi’s journey of being the detested Shield Hero as every action and mini story thread is devoted to making the man’s life even more hell than it already is through through the act of getting in his fucking way all the time with tacked on accusations because ‘Fuck you Naofumi’. In doing so, Shield Hero does the equivalent of shooting itself in the foot and then dropping a cinder block on the injury for good measure. It’s just such a frustrating watch because at several points, the show makes a valid attempt to put in the word of good faith in the protagonist, something that feels honestly earned given how entire episodes are set out to resolve issues that they stumble upon or are created by one of the other idiotic heroes. But not soon after that, Naofumi’s given the middle finger yet again with the fucking whore and her sheeple coming in to mess things up, instantly undoing EVERY bit of good faith the series puts in the protagonist because this is what good writing looks like apparently.
These problems are made even worse when the show makes it abundantly clear that shit is just made up for the sake of demonizing Naofumi, and no good reason is given. At no point in the series does the show actively provide a proper reason to the major antagonists’ motives beyond vague subtext. Just saying “Not my family again…” doesn’t give me any reason to give a damn because there’re a number of things it can be, and clear and concise aren’t two of them. As such, even the supposed comeuppance that happens around the twenty-first episode (yes, this charade goes on for that long) doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should because it happens almost as quickly as how fast the shit hits the fan for Naofumi in the first episode. Yeah it’s KINDA satisfying, but not worth it enough to slog through a majority of the series to do so.
Aside from that, another problem with Shield Hero I find is consistency. Now I haven’t really touched upon any of the other mediums the story is told through, but from what I have seen, the anime has many differing points to both the manga and light novel both in explanation and how certain scenes are executed. On its own I think the anime does an ok job at telling its (infuriating) story, but my biggest point of contention is lore explanation. The setting does use a lot of MMORPG elements like many Isekai do, but a lot of that is severely absent in the anime. There’re a few moments where things just happen (such as what happened with the class up system) and explanations are nowhere to be found in the anime. While I don’t think it detracts from the series too much, it’s enough for me to be a bit annoyed since the writing will make these things feel more like Deus Ex Machinas instead of something that makes sense in the series.
As far as the next arc that happens after the Naofumi’s entire defamation, personally I find it to be a lot more tolerable and far better written in stark contrast to what came before it. Unfortunately it opens a lot of doors regarding lore and world explanation that it doesn’t really explore that heavily, but it’s certainly a nice change of pace by comparison. However not a lot of time is put into it so pacing’s kind of all over the place with an ending that actually ties the story up in the way I wanted the story to be like in the first place. Regardless, I find story to be one of the series’s major banes because of how poorly thought out the first arc was. I think there was SOME validity to starting the series off like that, but with how far the series took the concept, I just was NOT a fan.
Naofumi is a protagonist with the kind of attitude that I can’t really blame. A lot of his screentime paints him as this bitter man who resents the world and largely only helps others for a price. This largely stems from his inability to fight back almost all of the claims against him to the point that he just stops wasting his breath and becomes whatever people innately see him as. He’s honestly one of the more competent characters the series has on account of his willingness to learn and lack of narcissism that seems to plague a majority of the series’s cast. There’s a clear change in attitude especially once the first arc’s finished and it definitely shows in his actions and point of view however rushed it is. He’s still not amazing since he’s annoyingly stubborn like the other heroes, but he’s at least more tolerable than at least ninety percent of the cast.
And now another point of contention…Naofumi’s party. Now, Raphtalia and Filo are the two characters that I regard as one of the series’s strongest points given how they are Naofumi’s emotional pillars (even if he doesn’t want to admit it) even during the series’s worst times, and give the series its air of ease during the points the show doesn’t decide to kick Naofumi in the balls. However by the definition of the series…they are technically his slaves. Both of them have crest marks on their bodies to determine who OWNS them, and their ages are canonically ten and one respectively with Raphtalia’s character design still boasting parts of the chains she had when she appeared younger. (A point made even creepier when Raphtalia’s body matures according to her level.) These facts of the series as such make it REALLY hard to argue whether or not their good characters, so much so to the point that the show just kinda forgets about that fact most of the way through since Naofumi never really acknowledges them or treats them as such and they each get their own mini arcs. However it’s still an uncomfortable detail that’s unfortunately still a part of the series and while I think there is some validity in this action…still doesn’t sit right with me.
As far as the rest of the cast is concerned, the other three heroes fall with the antagonists for being downright toxic to the series. So often we’re shown how incompetent and narcissistic they are that even other characters and villains in the sidecast question their validity of being the legendary ‘Cardinal Heroes’. Hell, they even made an old woman kick more ass than they do put together! Spear hero’s an idiot, the Bow hero’s a sociopath, hell the only one slightly tolerable one is the Sword, but the show took back his one chance of redemption halfway through the series because EVERYONE needs to be against Naofumi. Like why even try to make him remotely remorseful when you’re just gonna take it back anyway?
On a brighter note, the sidecast is primarily a reflection of the setting more so than anything else, filled only a few notable characters with autonomy while the others change and shift in coincidence with what’s going on. Of course this means there’s unnecessary scorn from bystanders that know nothing at the beginning, but given Naofumi’s actions over the course of the series, the gradual change in public opinion does worm its way through eventually. I actually like the sidecast a lot more than most of the ‘main’ characters because the people we do meet following Naofumi’s point of view feel like a part of the world and actually seem like decent people.
Kinema Citrus’s art is nothing special if you ask me. If anything, Shield Hero looks pretty standard with very few moments that truly stand out. The most I can really give the artstyle is how consistent the art looks especially due to how semi-complicated the adventurer characters are designed and how those hand drawn models are constantly moving around with slashes and particle effects emanating from weapons and such, though particles have their featured scenes toned down in brightness for what I assume to be to lower to chance of inducing seizures due to how rapid they are.
Of course I suspect this is the case because of how liberally the show utilizes CGI. Any of the mobs and monsters that comes from the series’s dreaded ‘Waves’ are all done with CG in order to cut costs, which makes itself abundantly clear when the screen is absolutely covered with these creatures. And it’s not just them as well. Filo’s bird form occasionally uses a CGI model during the moments when the party is traveling by cart, several of Naofumi’s abilities, and towards the end of the series, soldiers have CGI models as well. Personally I’m not a fan since Japanese CGI because it clashes the way it does.
In terms of soundtrack, both OPs of ‘Rise’ and ‘Faith‘ were done by MADKID, which both boast this really rock heavy song to it with Japanese rap in it. Personally I think they’re alright songs, but my weird gripe with them is how serious and ‘edgy’ they sound. It’s probably because the series they’re tied to makes such the struggle Naofumi faces so serious and drastic that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I digress.
EDs are a DRASTIC contrast to their OP sisters, giving us both “Kimi no Namae” and “Atashi ga Tonari ni Iru Uchi ni” by Chiai Fujikawa for one and two respectively. Both of them are such heartfelt songs with a drastically softer tone to them. I suspect they’re more in tune with Raphtalia and her story, as well as the rare moments where Naofumi doesn’t get flack and actually gets to perform acts of genuine heroism and charity. Similarly they’re good songs but not really all that memorable. Despite that, I actually prefer them to the OPs and kind of wish they got showcased more.
Shield Hero is a series I despise but I can’t dismiss because I think it’s a series that I think had so much fucking potential. It’s a serious Isekai that doesn’t hand the protagonist a completely overpowered macguffin at the beginning and made Naofumi start at rock bottom to make him work his way up to being a hero. Hell, motherfucker only has a shield and is repeatedly told that he can’t really attack; just support and defend. It’s because of these factors that I don’t even really mind the whole ‘slave’ thing when it came into being since I rationalized much of it as: “He literally has no choice because everyone hates him and no one is willing to help out one of the four people that’s supposed to save the world”.
What I think Shield Hero should’ve been was a story about comradely and what it means to be a hero, slowly but surely changing the public’s opinion of a man down on his luck through small acts of heroism and empathy before revealing the antagonists for the scumbags they are. Maybe make friends or at the very least get the other heroes to realize that what they’re doing is not the way they should be doing things. WHICH IS WHAT THEY TRIED TO DO…but it’s not that. The show is a conflicting beast, making a drastic attempt to keep the status quo any time there’s any form of change that comes its way in order to throw more shit at Naofumi. And it’s just annoying because it’s self-sabotage for the sake of being edgy and dramatic even though that’s not really the story’s direction given how often the show just has the main cast just get along with people. A real shame because the ending to the anime actually does what I wanted the series to be in the first place, and holy hell is that a payoff I both did not expect and appreciate, yet still isn’t worth sitting through a majority of the show.
As such, I strongly find this show to really not be worth recommending. Shield Hero has so many potentially good facets about itself, but so much of that is wiped away given how poorly written the first arc is, which takes up about twenty one of the show’s twenty five episode runtime. The second arc is much better by comparison (though rushed) since it explores more of the complex aspects of the series’s lore, but slogging through what amounts to roughly six to seven hours worth of shaky writing with varying points of quality just doesn’t seem all that worth it to me, even with the payout that comes in the last five or so minutes. The show definitely makes a strong case to root for Naofumi and his party, but it makes way too easy of a case to hate everyone else to the point it’s basically torture porn at this point.