The Rising of The Shield Hero
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 20 of
The Rising of The Shield Hero ?
The first third or so of this episode is dominated by the same problem that sank the last episode: characters just standing around and having a too-casual conversation while the bad guy (in this case the Pope) powers up. He even snidely chastises the heroes for giving him all that time to prepare, and they definitely deserved it. Thankfully this doesn't consume the whole episode this time, and once it finally shakes its doldrums, we get some respectable doses of action and drama, along with a startling new extension of Naofumi's shield powers.
But first, the Queen finally gets involved directly. We were told last episode that she was on the move to confront the Pope, and this episode opens with the Queen getting armored up to go into battle. I did like seeing the strong family resemblance to Malty when the Queen is dressed for battle, a detail that anime can often overlook, and a good balance is found in her design between maturity and robust beauty. She also proves to be no slouch in the magic department either, and apparently she's fairly popular with the troops. Melty has a lot to live up to there! It will be just as important to see how things will change in Melromarc now that she's directly involved, but we will have to wait until next episode to see that play out.
That's because the climactic battle between the four Cardinal Heroes and the Pope takes up most of the latter two-thirds of this episode. Seeing the other three look to Naofumi to save the day with his "broken" shield is amusingly ironic, but it's also heartening to see that even Motoyasu isn't begrudging him much anymore, because they all understand that Naofumi is key to getting them out of this mess. That leads to some pretty good action scenes and displays of impromptu teamwork, such as one neat scene where Naofumi actually insists on Motoyasu shooting him so he can pull his "reflect off the shield" trick. Naofumi's inner dialog with the spirit of the dragon, who is trying to drive him into a blind rage, is more typical, as is the way the girls around him serve as his anchors, but the execution is still a minor upgrade from what the series has been doing recently.
Of course, the highlight of the episode is its climax, with that mechanical snake-trap monster emerging from Naofumi's spilled blood to gulp up the Pope in bloody fashion. Even though the cost for manifesting that weapon is heavy, it's becoming hard to dispute the claim that the shield is "broken"; despite Naofumi's insistence to the contrary, this isn't a case of the others just not having developed their weapons fully yet. The musical score also continues to be a highlight, with a little flavor from Kevin Penkin's work on Made in Abyss creeping through.
The Rising of The Shield Hero can be a good series when it gets its act together. Maybe eventually we'll see that again for more than just part of an episode.
The Rising of The Shield Hero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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