May 28, 2019

A Fish Out of Water Has Not so Much Escaped His Problems as Found New and More Challenging Ones

Rising of the Shield Hero is approaching its 21st episode and frankly deserves more than the laconic mentions this blog has given it thus far. It is a show that has generated quite a bit of "talk" because its story tends to go down the less traveled paths of its genre.


As opposed to the above path, which they all go down.

This is a isekai show, a genre that generally involves a social outcast getting yanked/summoned/reincarnated/teleported/excreted into another world which just happens to have remarkable similarities to a video game, role playing game, or light novel series that the introverted, maladroit audience insert had obsessed with to the detriment of their standing in polite society. With a few exceptions, these shows generally have the protagonist come to an insight along the lines of , "All those years of playing D&D have prepared me for this very moment!". This epiphany is usually followed by 13 to 26 episodes of geek wish fulfillment as all the important people (and especially the attractive members of the opposite sex) in the new world learn to respect, adore or fear (but NEVER ignore) this now most consequential of human beings who has been groomed by years of geekery and avoidance of obligations to be the hero the world needs and wants to have children with.



Aaaand then there is Iwatani Naofumi,  a reasonably well adjusted graduate student who has some geeky habits among his hobbies. However, he's not a hard core gamer, and most significantly for his well being hasn't played a particular multiplayer game about 4 legendary heroes.  When he notices an anomalous leather-bound parchment-paged antique-looking book among the light novels in the library, he opens it and gets bamfed into a summoning circle with 3 other Japanese men of about his age Each of them has attached to them a weapon, Spear, Sword, Bow....and OK Naofumi has not a weapon but a shield.


"Cool! we're a sentai team!"

They are surrounded by a bunch of wizards and priest types who provide exposition.


I'll bet there is.

They are told that they are the 4 legendary heroes who have been summoned from other worlds to deal with "The Wave", a demonic incursion into this high fantasy D&D type world.
Some years prior, (I think about a decade, its not entirely clear) the four legendary heroes of that age were summoned and successfully kept this monster spewing phenomenon at bay, though over half the population of the world is believed to have died. Once these things start, they come about once a month and each one is exponentially stronger than the last. The first wave, was barely defeated (with heavy losses) by the kingdom's regular forces and some adventurers a few days prior to this summoning.

Now the other three fellows are all expert players in an online video-game that is essentially identical to this world.  Nayofumi has no idea what he's doing, furthermore in a brief cram session with the other three, he learns that while shield characters are marginally harder to kill in the game, they are basically useless as they can't use weapons and can't easily level up. The shield is almost never played except by children.

Still our hero understands the basics of video game RPGs, is reasonably genre savvy, and, after all, has been summoned to a magical realm to do hero stuff, so he's handling this reasonably well.



The four are granted an audience before the king, who asks something along the lines of "Why did you waste spell points on summoning a shield guy?"


Well, that bodes ill.

It's then explained to our heroes that they must go on adventures to level up and hone their skills. They are all basically level 0 and the next wave is arriving in a month. Also, it is noted they need to train separately from one another because...



...reasons. 

They are expected to have retinues and all the local adventurers are allowed to join up with the 'Legendary Herotm' of their choice. This is especially important for the shield hero as he can't wield weapons, and the shield has no offensive capabilities until the wielder is at a much higher level.


The heartbreak of cooties.

No one picks Naofumi, because shield heroes are like the nerds of Middle Earth and well no one wants to be associated with him.



There are a few things that Nayofumi's shield will do that allow him to slowly level up, mostly involving crafting healing potions. However, he is physically unable to even touch a weapon. In order to level up he must quest and gather ingredients, and if attacked, he can only bash things with the shield. Furthermore, crafting and deflecting blows give very little in the way of "experience points". Even slaying a relatively harmless beast like a carnivorous pumpkin (don't ask) grants a vast improvement in the speed he can level up. So he's in the pumpkin bashing business.

No one will help openly help him,  few will even do business with him. The only exceptions to this are people who pose as being interested in joining his party, only to attempt to murder and rob him.

After a series of reversals that would try the sanity of anyone, Nayofumi, on his last legs and desperate, bumps into a very sketchy and incongruously dressed merchant.



And that is the point at which things get problematic.


Everything below the fold is a spoiler





The salesman in the top hat and frilly tuxedo is a slave merchant.



On the off chance that didn't sink in, this reprobate sells slaves.

In a video game or sane world this would be a godsend to our hero. All he would have to do is kill this one dapper affront to reason and decency for guilt-free experience points. Then liberating his warehouse full of chattel would provide boosts to karma and make him a hero in the eyes of the populace.

This is none of those situations.

This slaver deals with beastfolk and sentient monsters, who no one cares about in this kingdom, and while beastfolk slavery is considered a faux-pas in the royal court** it is perfectly legal, is fairly common, and indeed is the basis for much of the economy. This is a slave society and our hero has found himself on the equivalent of Goree' island.

The salesman points out that the whole world will be killed if the shield hero does not fulfill his role, which he can't do if he can't level up and he can't level up if he has no one to carry a sword for him.  On a more visceral level, without a loyal person to wield a weapon for Nayofumi will surely die.

But wait!
There's more!

The slaver continues his pitch, explaining that Nayofumi can't come close to affording  most of his stock as slaves are quite expensive, being maintenance intensive and highly prized.

However, the slaver is aware that Nayofumi just sold some potions to a sketchy apothecary and our hero, it turns out, has just enough to pay for one particular fixer-upper-opportunity.



Not just diseased. She's implied to be coughing up blood. She's really sick and suffering from PTSD because...



...oh FFS.

Now our hero knows he can make healing potions, and he knows the chances this child has if he leaves her and I'm sure that's what he's telling himself as he hands over the money. There's just one more thing (Scarcely worth mentioning). In order to purchase the slave he is required donate a bit of blood. He is informed that this is for a binding curse that will cause the slave existential agony if she disobeys his orders.

So our hero protagonist welcomes her as a loyal member of his party (his first in fact).



And so now the adventure REALLY begins. 


This is so problematic that I can't even....

As was noted in a earlier post, this show is hard to watch at times, but it is really well done. While only fair to middling in the quality of its animation, the character development in this show is phenomenal. Both Nayofumi and Raphtalia (the raccoon girl noted above) have developed, grown and changed constantly over the entire series thus far, and they've done so in very poignant and believable ways. On the other hand the plot is occasionally advanced via having some character come along and blurt out mounds of exposition. Now, while sub-optimal storytelling, this sort of works as Nayofumi and company are, for perfectly reasonable reasons, pretty much ignorant of everything in the world. There's a particular lecture by a conveniently appearing character, which besides changing the direction of the story, clarifies what had seemed like a plot hole in Raphtalia's backstory***.
This could have been handled better, but it did get the point across.

Some character points are handled quite subtly. Much has been made of the fact that Nayofumi  seems to be a narcissistic ass and opportunistic, but this does not seem to actually be the case. Nayofumi starts out optimistic, idealistic, and most of all naive. He has been betrayed at every point along the way, in the worst ways possible. He puts forth the image of a bad-ass asshole who takes no guff from anyone, but this is to keep people from assuming he's a soft touch. Because he IS. He loudly proclaims that he's in it for the money, while generally accepting barter and providing very easy installment terms. He also earns his pay, particularly in the village with the rot plague where he goes above and beyond. The fact that Nayofumi is the guy who actually protects the villagers when the second wave appears reinforces the fact that the guy has a moral compass. This costs him in the eyes of the other heroes and the nobility, but it was the ethical choice.  Indeed, Nayofumi is an adult. He must support himself (without the perks of title) as man does. He must protect those around him like a man does, He is willing to give his life to save a child as a man is. He must deal with the realities of a corrupt and sinful world as men must if they are to fill their obligations. He keeps his word and does not ostentatiously flaunt his virtues like a corrupt fop, the way the others do and he takes responsibility for his actions in exactly the way the other heroes don't.

He's also emotionally broken and has serious trust issues but that's justified.

The fact that his companion is a slave, is, of course, fraught to say the least. One can assume, if one is being uncharitable, that this is intended to play to the insecurity and power fantasies of the imagined target audience. The early episodes where he's training her to fight the pumpkins are really disturbing, especially as Raphtalia does feel agony when disobeying his orders. However, the situation is quite complex.





Raphtalia is a remarkably deep and interesting character, very well thought out and despite her completely subservient and helpless introduction, rises to become a genuine co-star and full blown heroine. Her own journey of the hero story parallels Nayofumi's. Her backstory is as dark as they come yet she rises above everything and is determined to see no one else suffer as she has. In Nayofumi's darkest moments she is his conscience, pulling him back from the brink and always advocating for the helpless. 

The villains range from criminally oblivious to snidely whiplash level of cartoonishly evil to individuals who are arguably correct which is kind of refreshing.

All in all, I am enjoying this series, a lot. It could still go to worms in the next few episodes, but for now its really above average. Go watch it.



 * There appears to be some intrigue regarding the last appearance of the 4 heroes. The shield hero of that age apparently did something that horrified the Kingdom and annoyed certain orders in the realm's church. The king was displeased with the presence of the shield hero and the betrayal of him by the princess seems to be tied to some court politics.

**This is mainly for diplomatic reasons as there are Beastfolk kingdoms and having a Beastfolk ambassador served by a Beastfolk slave could be considered...gauche. Additionally, nobles are expected to have human servants, which are a sign of higher social standing...because this magical middle ages world is downright medieval for some reason.


***Raphtelia's backstory initially seems to make no sense. She was orphaned during the first "Wave" which happened days before Nayofumi was brought to the world. Weeks later while giving a pep talk to her surviving villagers she's captured by marauding soldiers and sold into slavery, where she languishes for years, being raped and tortured by some Marques DeSade expy and eventually contracts consumption, whereupon she is sold to the slave trader, who, upon learning that he's been had, foists her off on our hero. Well, the Queen of the Flesh Eating Llamabirds  is revealed during her expository rant to have been the companion of a previous shield hero, who fought a different cycle of waves a decade or two before. This also explains 
Raphtelia's sudden aging. It is established that prepubescent Raccoon People stop aging until they get above a certain "level" and getting raped and tortured doesn't get any XPs so she didn't age in bondage. BUT when she began "leveling up" she quickly caught up to her actual age. Logically, she was orphaned in the PREVIOUS cycle, the one the QOTFELB fought in, so she's not a 13 year old who grew into the body of a 24 year old fitness model in 3 weeks. She's really in her mid 20s or 30s.
So...no pedo.



Art by Sakimichan. Support her on Patreon for high resolution versions of her work.




 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 10:44 PM | Comments (9) | Add Comment
Post contains 2233 words, total size 21 kb.

1 "And that is the point at which things get problematic." -- Did you mean to write "awesome"? For me, the ability to commit the thoughtcrime is anime's greatest strength.

In the Spear Hero,

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Tue May 28 21:33:26 2019 (LZ7Bg)

2 No. I meant to write problematic, because this is the correct usage of the term as opposed to an SJW dropping it as a way to just intimidate people and make them shut up.

I agree that the show is awesome and this completely out of the box plot element would never happened in an American work. Heck, some of the reviews of the show are apparently based on as thumbnail reading of the cliffs notes and Crunchyroll is getting grief for publishing it.

Amusingly, if these people actually watched the show they could point to all sorts of PC tropes and affirmations. The three weapon heroes can be said to represent "toxic masculinity" as they treat the entire world as a chessboard for their amusement, the only leaders we've seen thus far that might be sane and noble are the 2 queens (of the Llamabirds and the local Kingdom respectively) and the loli Princess. The King trying to usurp the Queen in this MATRIARCHAL Kingdom is the source of much of the political intrigue. Raphtalia is incredible and has an amazing heroes journey. It's girls rule boys drool all the way except for Nayofumi rising to the occasion, and being a protective, brave and generally thoughtful sort of man rather than the chest thumping machismo of the weapon guys.


And yet because of the fact that there is a false accusation of rape, the princess is a psychopath, and the show explores the dark nightmare that is slavery, it must be struggled against. Hell, the female protagonist, suffers, overcomes and EARNS her position, in the way a true hero does and is not simply some entitled Mary Sue, and yet that very perk contributes to the whole thing becoming double-plus-ungood. This despite the show having a lot of the tropes that they enjoy/demand/threaten for.

This is why we can't have nice things.


One bit in the series that did bother me

I dislike isekai as a genre, but this show is one of a handful that has taken the concept and made something really good and thought provoking.
The others are:
Log Horizon, Re:Zero and the comedies Kono-Suba and Tanya the Evil (Its a black comedy to be sure, but it's a comedy...right? Or am I just a bad person?)

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue May 28 23:01:57 2019 (xOgT9)

3 I'm not sure if Raphtalia's back story makes any sense still.  The Queen of the Llamabirds is hundreds of years old, going back several incarnations of the heroes.  It looks like everything that happened to Raphtalia really did take place between two waves of sky goblins.

And Filo, after all, just hatched from an egg five minutes ago and is already level 40 and the size of a Greyhound bus.  Chronology in this world does whatever is needed to serve the plot.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Tue May 28 23:22:45 2019 (PiXy!)

4 Hmmm...I'd missed the hundreds of years part, but the point is that its quite possible that she was captured in a previous cycle.

Filo is, despite her size, still a child.

The other th...Wait: They have Greyhound buses in Australia?

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue May 28 23:54:05 2019 (xOgT9)

5 Yep.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wed May 29 00:54:40 2019 (PiXy!)

6 Awesome and thoughtful write-up. You just might shame me into putting in more effort on mine like I used to.

Yeah, it's a great show. Before I started on it I heard the SJW whining about false rape accusations being insulting to their believe all women sensibilities. But that being based on merely the first episode or less. Some of the strongest critics have never seen what they criticize.

BTW, did you miss that it turned out that all four heroes are from Alternate Japans from each other?

Posted by: Mauser at Sat Jun 1 02:25:14 2019 (Ix1l6)

7 Thanks for the kind words.

BTW, did you miss that it turned out that all four heroes are from Alternate Japans from each other?


No, but it wasn't strictly necessary to the setup and was a source of potential confusion. The post was already a TL;DR. So I deleted it.

However, I suspect it will be an issue later on unless the author took Chekov's Gun as just another expectation to subvert.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Sat Jun 1 20:14:52 2019 (xOgT9)

8 The only part of Tanya that made me laugh was her carefully laid plans leading the the exact opposite effect, again and again.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Sun Jun 2 22:10:36 2019 (LZ7Bg)

9 Well.Yes.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Sun Jun 2 22:29:24 2019 (xOgT9)

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