The Rising of The Shield Hero
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 21 of
The Rising of The Shield Hero ?
Episode 21 is the part of the story that many fans have been eagerly waiting for since the end of the first episode, as Malty/Myne and the king finally get their comeuppance for what they did to Naofumi. As such, it effectively serves as a capstone for the story's first major arc. This is certainly an episode that needed to happen in some form, as the story would have too much baggage to easily move forward if Naofumi's persecution wasn't resolved in some form. I suspect that whether or not this was the best way to resolve the issue will be hotly debated.
Let's take the "villain getting her just desserts" aspect out of the equation for a moment and look at the practicalities of the situation. The Queen absolutely had to take drastic measures no matter her personal feelings, as both the King and Malty had caused problems severe enough to imperil not just Melromarc but the world at large with their scheming. Discrediting the Shield Hero and dragging his name through the mud might seem like their most reprehensible action on the surface, but it's actually the least of their offenses. Trying to take the Shield Hero out of the picture removes a key player in the defense of the world against the Waves, which has much farther-reaching consequences. So does selfishly summoning all of the Cardinal Heroes to defend Melromarc, which was undoubtedly an international incident with long-standing repercussions. Allying with the corrupt Church of Three Heroes, and not being able to recognize the way the Church was using them, was more a case of sheer incompetence than villainy, but mere association with revolutionaries has been enough justification for execution in our world on its own, so that just compounds their burgeoning list of offenses.
All that being said, Malty's single biggest crime—and the reason why the Queen could not grant her leniency no matter her personal feelings—was the attempted assassination of Melty, the designated successor, for her own gain. That's a capital offense in just about any culture at any time in history, and frankly, Malty was getting off easy with the guillotine compared to the possibility of tortured or killed in some much more heinous fashion. Even Motoyasu, who had otherwise defended her wholeheartedly, couldn't defend her in the end, and in general leaving someone with such careless ambition in the royal court or even in a royal prison is just asking for further trouble. Malty didn't need to put under the blade just because she was cruel to Naofumi; there are a whole host of other reasons she merited that fate.
That's exactly why I'm ambivalent about the series chickening out and commuting her sentence at Naofumi's insistence. This endgame was obvious from the moment he first had the dream about her execution, but at least the story did lay some foundation for this beyond Naofumi just being a good guy at heart or a tired "don't stoop to their level" argument that doesn't apply in these circumstances. He's looking for closure that he doesn't feel like he'll get from watching her die, and he's not letting her off easy by turning her into a pariah who must live under humiliating new names. Perhaps he's also sympathizing more with the Queen, who was clearly struggling to make this call despite her convictions. Even so, this seems like a dangerous move, and I won't be surprised if letting her live eventually comes back to bite Naofumi. I'm less concerned about the King, since he clearly didn't have anything to do with killing Melty, though he still has that burning grudge.
Speaking of the king, he's involved in a collection of interesting tidbits that come up in this episode. I believe this is the first time he's been referred to as a "King-Consort," which makes it absolutely clear who has the real power on the throne. More annoyingly, he still hasn't spilled the beans on the specifics of his grudge against the Shield Hero, which seems like it should be a very important and relevant detail. It's also occurred to me how much older he looks than the Queen. That wouldn't merit much thought if their power positions were reversed, but why does the more powerful Queen have a considerably more aged man as her consort? It feels like there should be a story there.
Anyway, the brief flash of the underwater building suggests that the story is finally moving toward the waterborne adventure shown prominently in the opening theme. With only a handful of episodes left, it seems like a strange time to be starting a new arc, but let's see what transpires.
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