Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Rising of the Shield Hero
Now that the queen is once again in charge of Melromarc and his name has been officially cleared, things should be looking up for Naofumi, and the other three heroes are required to cooperate with him. But prejudices don't just vanish because someone says so, and the four heroes' journey to a chain of islands experiencing an unusual surge of monsters is not going to be a smooth one – especially when Glass makes a reappearance and it becomes evident that there's more going on than anyone realizes.
After volume four's triumphant ending, wherein Naofumi the Shield Hero not only got his good name back but the scheming king and princess of Melromarc who had conspired to smear it in the first place got their just desserts, you'd think that it'd be smooth sailing ahead for the reluctant warrior. That wouldn't make for a very interesting book, however, so of course there's more rough weather ahead. I use this metaphor intentionally, because the problems are both in the characters' interactions with each other and in the atmosphere and conditions of life in the alternate world they've found themselves in as the queen of Melromarc sends the four heroes on a journey to the Cal Mira islands, which are experiencing an event – a periodic surge of strong monsters – and she wants the heroes and their parties to be able to level up. That Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu will have to include Naofumi is a given, but that's not particularly easy for any of the four, who have been at loggerheads since their initial summoning, and the fact that Myne, now officially renamed Bitch, is still a member of Motoyasu's party just adds to the awkwardness.
As it turns out, however, the biggest issue that the heroes face amongst themselves is the fact that previous to coming to their new world, Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu had played an MMORPG that was almost exactly like the world they now live in. This has resulted in the three of them acting as if they're in later arcs of Sword Art Online rather than Log Horizon – that is to say, that the world operates exactly like a game despite the fact that it clearly isn't anymore. This has made them complacent and short-sighted, something Naofumi not only didn't count on, but also hasn't had the luxury of being himself, given his almost immediate outsider status. He also is in the oddly advantageous position of having been an otaku back home, which presumably gives him familiarity not only with MMORPGs, but also the now-ubiquitous plotline of being transported to a game-like world. Therefore he treats his new position with a little more thoughtfulness than his compatriots, something it is easy to forget given his prickly and cynical attitude. He is working on that last part, though – by this point, with the queen's support and the respect of more citizens, Naofumi understands that his previous treatment does not reflect everyone he meets automatically, and several times over the course of the novel he comments that he really needs to get better at trusting people. It is this new attitude that allows for the introduction of new characters Therese and L'Arc Berge, two strangely powerful adventurers who are also bound for Cal Mira. While L'Arc and Therese aren't hugely developed within the book, it's clear that there's something different about them when compared to others Naofumi has met, and it is worth noting that their names have a distinctly French sound to them while most of the Melromarcians have names that don't conform to any recognizable linguistic pattern and the heroes all have Japanese names.
Although there is a clear continuation of the plot about the “Waves” of monsters that the heroes have been summoned to fight, that takes a back seat to the character interactions this time around. The difference in L'Arc and Therese's attitude towards Naofumi and his crew and that of the other heroes is highlighted, but the focus is more on how Naofumi struggles with his fellows. The other three heroes are as reluctant to engage Naofumi as he is them, although both sides do try. Itsuki and his hero complex turn out to be the largest impediment to teamwork, marking a good change in which of the other three heroes plays the antagonist role, since previously that's belonged solely to Motoyasu. Ren appears the be the most receptive to Naofumi, but like the other two he suffers from behaving as if he were a character in a game rather than a person in a dangerous situation. This becomes Naofumi's biggest issue with the others, and that in itself shows how he has changed over the past novels – previously he'd have been too wounded to recognize precisely what the issue was, and inclined to simply write them off as bad people. Despite that newfound perception, he remains utterly oblivious to Raphtalia's feelings for him. This appears to be intended to be a touch of humor; instead it comes off as a little frustrating, since Raphtalia still stands out as one of the sanest and most balanced characters. Humor scenes with Filo work much better, even if Motoyasu's obsession with her human form is creepy.
Sadly there is a bit of backsliding in One Peace Books' editing this time, although it is nowhere near the point of volume one. There are some misplaced or missing quotation marks, but the larger issue is with homophones, with “there” being used for “their” on one occasion, and a few other similar mistakes, always with different words. The translations still reads smoothly in terms of other vocabulary and the overall flow of the language, however, and the book reads very quickly and easily, even if most of the action is reserved for the final few chapters.
The Rising of the Shield Hero may not be a stand-out in an overcrowded genre, but it is still an entertaining read and one that does some interesting things with its premise. Naofumi's otaku background being an asset is an interesting choice, allowing him to be less frustrating in terms of the choices he makes so that the focus can remain on his emotional issues, and the fact that the rest of the country isn't willing to totally reverse their attitudes towards him is a good detail. The new information at the end of the book certainly allows for more plot development, so it looks like this will continue to be a series worth paying attention to for a while yet.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ Illustrations continue to be beautiful, Naofumi's slow journey out of cynicism feels believable, focus on character rather than action works
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