The uncomfortable narrative of The Rising of the Shield Hero

If it feels like it has been a long time since we last saw Naofumi, Raphtalia, and the rest of The Rising of the Shield Hero cast, that’s because it has been several years since the first season of the anime. Because of the unique way that shows are developed and greenlit in Japan, it can sometimes take unreasonably long for a second season to hit the air, even when the show is as popular as this one. We’re all still desperately waiting for the fabled second season of No Game No Life, after all.

With such a long break between seasons of The Rising of the Shield Hero, it is understandable that some fans will go back and want to rewatch the first season to remind themselves who these people are and what they are doing. However, doing so forces us all to face the clumsy and sometimes bizarre way that the narrative handled some incredibly delicate topics.

The strange choices of The Rising of the Shield Hero

The Rising of the Shield Hero  Raphtalia

Immediately after getting transported to a new world through a book, Naofumi is given the title of Shield Hero and sets out on a quest to save the land from the suitably concerning Waves of Calamity. This should have been enough tension and stakes to set up the rest of the plot, but the first real conflict Naofumi faces isn’t from the Waves but from a fellow party member.

What follows is a false rape allegation against the hero that is as unbelievable as it is awkward to watch. The rest of the kingdom turns its back on Naofumi, and his life is instantly ruined in an opening that handles this sensitive subject matter with rather less than the delicacy and sensitivity it deserves. While the truth is eventually found out and the woman who makes the accusation is punished with public humiliation, the stigma remains on Naofumi’s reputation.

This opening of The Rising of the Shield Hero, which was heavily criticised at the time of its original release, is not well handled, and leads to more subjects that are handled poorly in the following episodes. Best Girl Raphtalia’s background as a child slave is largely brushed off with an advanced aging mechanic built into the world. Her mental and physical ages remain disparate without any real resolution regarding how she should be reacting to this development. One moment she is a child bound into servitude against her will, and the next she is an adult pining after her master and that is meant to be perfectly okay and acceptable.

The Rising of the Shield Hero

The second season’s opening episode shows that it hasn’t learned anything from previous mistakes. Slavery remains a central part of the plot, with a character seen to willingly enter into a slave contract in order to grind out some levels a bit faster. It feels strange to include something so obviously damaging to the legitimacy of the story for as long as it has been, undermining many of the good moments that come from the show.

None of this is to say that The Rising of the Shield Hero is a terrible show, of course. It is popular for a reason, with some great characters and interactions that are worth celebrating. Many of the fight scenes and animation are exceptional. However, we should be willing to criticise the things we enjoy the same way we criticise the things we don’t like.

Real subjects like sexual assault and slavery, which have a long and dark history in our world, should be examined in our art and discussed, even with the knowledge that depicting something is not the same as endorsing it. Unfortunately, in the case of this show, these subjects are not handled well at all; they’re there, but the show has little to actually say about them — and that feels like something of a missed opportunity.

Season two of The Rising of the Shield Hero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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