Fresh off last season’s “controversy” with Goblin Slayer comes another ”controversy” with a fantasy series, and it’s about rape again! There’s edge, there’s waifus, and of course, my favourite genre: isekai! Oh joy! I’m not even going to pretend I had any interest in watching this were it not for the drama and I won’t repeat ad nauseam why I hate this trope. What you’re really interested in is whether it’s worth the watch even discounting the drama, and the answer is yeah, pretty much.
Gonna give it to you hard and fast: (metaphorically) kill all jou—
Okay not that fast. The rumours are true: there’s a false rape accusation right in the first episode, and it’s actually a big plot point in that it shapes the protagonist and his actions going forward. I think we can agree false accusations happen sometimes and that they aren’t cool. There isn’t anywhere near this kind of drama around comically unrealistic air plane crashes in fiction despite their exceeding rarity IRL. Therefore people are clearly offended because of their political biases and to drive clicks to their webshite. Specifically the context is the journoblogger class is offended the excesses of mitus are broadcast everywhere and entitled white neoliberal women are at peak unpopularity through full fault of their own. Cry me a river.
In sum, the tears of the bourgeoisie are tasty and I crave for more false rape accusations in fiction. Eat the rich, kill all journalists (metaphorically).
Something to genuinely appreciate with the anime adaptation is that the aesthetics are on point, both for the sets and for the characters. I’ve been watching some older anime recently and it’s hard to appreciate how much direction has improved over the past two decades, specifically by being unafraid to crank up the contrast for emotional impact rather than realism. People have made parallels with Goblin Slayer, but I think Shield Hero is a strict improvement over that, with the animation being smoother, more daring, and the 3D is less blatant. You can still tell where the budget was cut in extremely intense fights—this is no One Punch Man—but there are no situations where the soundtrack has to carry most of the weight because the visuals fall that short, as with Goblin Slayer.
On that note, the soundtrack is nice, but not amazing, although I’d have to listen to it more in order to have a more comprehensive opinion. It’s the usual viola and electric guitar fare though, so it’s nothing you’ve never listened to before I’m sure.
And as with Goblin Slayer before it, Shield hero, especially the first four episodes, is extremely tight and well-paced. Every episode lasts exactly as long as it should and left me longing for more. I watched this with company and we could have easily marathoned it had we started at a more reasonable hour; and even with tiredness getting in the way, the urge to watch more was present.
It is less tight in episodes after that, which coincides with acquiring a more light-hearted tone after the fulfilment of its first arc. The first four episodes map to the first novel, which revolves around Myne’s accusation and the immediate aftermath, up to the first wave of destruction, and are moody, as they should be. The tonal shift to somewhat lighter themes works for the series rather than against it because it’s the result of character development.
I can offer more context having read the first novel, but effectively Myne’s accusation becomes a traumatic experience for the protagonist, and he lives the next couple of weeks in poverty, extreme stress, shunned by society, and with the looming threat of death by the end of the week that he won’t be able to escape due to becoming a pariah. This is symbolised with rapid onset ageusia as a symptom, which isn’t very medically accurate but works just as fine aesthetically.
There’s accusations of misogyny, so let me help educate you: the protagonist does indeed become a misogynist. That’s the fucking point. His way of coping with his situation is generalising his negative experience to Myne’s entire gender, and ends up buying Raphtalia as a slave specifically because she was the only female out of the three options he could afford, and he acquired some sort of sadistic satisfaction by watching a female suffer. This isn’t a normative statement but merely what happens in this series for inter/intrapersonal drama. As far as I’ve read from false rape accusation survivor personal anecdotes, that’s indeed something that happens and I am satisfied with how it’s displayed.
An overarching theme of the series is unfairness, myopia, and outright bigotry by society and institutions of power. The situation with Myne and the king are emblematic, but the same central points can be found in most of its subplots; perhaps even all of them. The anime at least presents these events as it should, inspiring wild fury in its audience, with the accompanying catharsis when challenges are overcome.
It’s very disappointing seeing people criticise Shield Hero for these themes, as the most powerful books of the western canon exhibit it; indeed, the most popular TV series currently airing, Game of Thrones, rests its greatest (and first) season on it. Once again Japanese authors are held to different standards than white authors by critics who also happen to be white. The illiteracy and blatant racism of the journoblogger class is the state of play in 2019 but thankfully you can help starve them all to death by merely installing adblock. :)
The remaining episodes expand on the character cast and the world as a whole, and the positive relationships the protagonist forms are vital for future drama. Shield Hero isn’t a constant stream of edginess and the contrast is required if you want high viewer involvement when characters are under threat. As we edge closer to the third arc, the introduction of politics is both elegant and intriguing and I have high hopes for the series. On the other hand, the writing falls short of its goalpost in the most intense scenes; Raphtalia’s reassuring at episode 4 brings flashback’s to Rem’s in Re:Zero, but it is much less impactful due to the way it was written and the less time Raphtalia was given to grow compared to Rem. Naofumi’s resistance to her pleas feels contrived and shoddy so I couldn’t relate to his struggles.
The anime adaptation is far ahead of the source material. I’ve only read the first novel so far, so admittedly the author has lots of room to grow, but God damn is the writing hot garbage. It’s hundreds of pages of short, uninspiring dialogue and bland narrative lacking any description whatsoever. If the anime or the illustrations for that matter didn’t exist, you’d be hard pressed to remember anything of note. I am amazed that the anime turned out as good as it did given what it had to work with, so kudos to the production team, for they apparently are geniuses. The situation isn’t helped by the of typos and mistranslations. I expected better from professionals. It reinforces that the novelty of the ideas doesn’t matter nearly as much as the execution.
Something else I’d like to mention is that while I maintain that were the series not isekai, it would have been much more interesting, the characters being from another world is important to the plot and the character dynamics, so removing the trope altogether would make the story significantly different. This is a privilege I haven’t given to any isekai garbage to date, so rest assured I don’t say this lightly.
Overall, the series held onto my interest for all of its episodes, and I came out of all of them very pleased with what I had watched. Were it not the centrepiece of drama due to the cancerous politics of ANN’s editorial team, I believe praise would have been far more unambiguous. Full offence, but if you refuse to judge it on its own merits because your vision is clouded by your intense religious allegiance to affluent attention whores, then there’s little you could do to make me think less of you. Stop reading hot takes on microblogging webshites that start with the letter
t and allow yourself to enjoy something because it’s good.
If you’d like to see more false rape accusations in fiction, I strongly suggest The Hunt.