The Rising of The Shield Hero
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 3 of
The Rising of The Shield Hero ?
When choosing a screenshot for this episode, I first considered using another picture of Raphthalia to show how much she's changed since last episode, or perhaps a shot from an action sequence to illustrate where this episode's drama is focused. However, I ultimately decided on this after-battle reaction shot because it sums up beautifully where Naofumi is right now in the story: too wearied and beaten down by his circumstances to appreciate that he's finally taken a stand to establish his reputation. The other heroes are going to get the glory and the rewards, but what he's done in this village will be remembered on a more personal level, not as the great hero who saved the world, but as the man willing to show through his actions that he would do whatever he could to protect the villagers' homes and lives.
The way this series pulls that off is quite significant. Heroes protecting civilians or taking dramatic stands against hordes of enemies is commonplace in fantasy stories, but I've rarely seen an anime successfully make the feat so personal. Much of that has to do with the tone being set; this isn't a battle about overwhelming foes with grandiose powers, but about getting down and dirty to take necessary but not foolhardy risks, make key snap judgments, and be creative with the resources at hand. There's no grand nobility to the feat, and Naofumi devotes only a fleeting thought to why he's risking his life, because this is a time for action, not thinking. The red-hued sky and a low-key yet tense musical score throughout also contribute to the tone. At the end, when the villagers offer thanks, it doesn't just sound like an obligatory gesture, but like they actually meant it.
This contrasts sharply with what the other heroes are doing this week. While Naofumi is taking advantage of every trick to protect the village, the others are having an “easy” time with the boss foes using their lavish displays of power. While Naofumi has but one party member, gets by on the cheapest meals, and scrapes by for improvement, they have full retinues and fancy equipment. They even disdain him enough that the spear guy tries to lure Rapthalia away right in front of him. If the intention is to draw a grand contrast between the arrogant and humble hero, the show is succeeding. (And if the intention is to make the viewer hate all these heroes, it's also succeeding there.) It makes the scene where the young knights are visibly happy when their squad leader orders them to fight in the village rather than follow the senior knights to join the other heroes satisfying, even if Naofumi and Rapthalia end up doing most of the work.
It's also remarkable what's been going on with Raphthalia, although it also feels like something's missing in that equation. Last episode she looked like an elementary school girl; now she looks like she's in her early teens, to the point that her insistence about taking the adult meal set now seems overdue. That implies a passage of several years, but it doesn't seem like the heroes were summoned that far in advance. So does her kind just mature quickly, or is the leveling up causing rapid physical growth too? What am I missing here? In any case, this Raphthalia is a much more interesting character that the cutesy version. She's convincing as a capable combat complement to Naofumi, and her attitude toward Naofumi and others shows a laudable sense of spirit. Her reflections after the battle show a little more depth to her character too. While I'm still not crazy about the “better off as this guy's slave” angle the story is pitching, her loyalty to Naofumi is believable and Naofumi has done a noteworthy job training her.
Overall, the series seems like it's angling to build Naofumi up more as a folk hero than the famously brazen heroes we're used to seeing in fantasy stories. That would be an interesting angle if the story pursues it. In a more immediate sense, episode 3 gives the best argument to date for the series' possible potential.
The Rising of The Shield Hero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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