The Rising of The Shield Hero
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 4 of
The Rising of The Shield Hero ?
Last episode offered the first big action set piece of the series and established the foundation for Naofumi eventually becoming a folk hero, but this episode actually delivers the story's first major turning point and addresses several issues that have cropped up so far. That doesn't mean it's free of problems – it certainly raises some new questions and concerns – but it's finally at least trying to clean up its setting and make the world more cohesive.
We get more definition for the character of the other three heroes. Through the first three episodes, they uniformly came across as jerks, but this episode shows that Motoyasu (aka Spear Guy) has enough of a blind righteous streak that he's easily susceptible to the machinations of a sly-minded pretty face. He's as out of his league with Myne as Naofumi was, regardless of their differences otherwise. The other two are still limited in characterization, but at least they openly acknowledged that Myne interfered in Motoyasu's duel with Naofumi, which he would have won otherwise. They may still look down on Naofumi, but at least they're being fairer to him.
The various revelations in this episode are also interesting. Even without the spoilers that have been circulating, Myne being revealed as a princess is hardly surprising given that shot in the opener of her sitting on the arm of the king's throne. The king playing along with her scheming also makes more sense in terms of supporting his daughter, and manipulating Naofumi in order to win over the hero she really wanted also makes more sense as a motivation. However, she still comes across as a malicious soul who gets her jollies at Naofumi's expense simply because she has a twisted personality, which doesn't make her an interesting character.
The other big revelation is about Raphtalia's appearance, as she has progressed to looking and sounding more like an adult for most of this episode. (Kudos to seiyuu Asami Seto on how she handles this transition.) Unlike humans, demi-human children do physically mature as they level up, which is strongly connected to the nature of the prejudice against them; essentially it's just jealousy. That opens a whole pandora's box of issues, like whether mental maturation goes hand-in-hand with physical maturation in these cases. Raphtalia's development suggests that it does, although that feels more like a convenient excuse for a certain sort of fanservice than a natural part of a developed fantasy world. Still, it's an interesting twist on game mechanics that I don't think I've seen used before.
The big turning point is also fairly expected, when Raphtalia demonstrates that her loyalty to Naofumi has nothing to do with the master/slave relationship in such a way that even the other two heroes recognize her sincerity. The last two episodes have done a sufficient job establishing why she would see things that way, but this scene still didn't seem to achieve much emotional impact, because of how irritatingly heavy-handed the series continues to be about Naofumi's persecution complex. Almost none of Naofumi's issues stem from his own mistakes or inadequacies. He's being portrayed purely as a victim, which isn't a good angle for future character growth unless the intent is to show him casting off his victim mentality in some interesting way.
However, this does bring up the issue of how Naofumi sees Raphtalia. Last episode's scene in the tavern suggested that he still saw her as a child, but the slave seal-removal scene in this episode and his reactions to finally recognizing her more mature appearance suggest that this was purely circumstantial to her childlike appearance. Apparently, the novel handled this by not making the change in her appearance clear up-front, but even though the viewer seeing Raphtalia's growth the whole time might have sapped some emotional impact from the scene where she formally accepts Naofumi, it might have felt too gimmicky to translate this idea from the novels literally.
On a simpler note, the actual duel was well-handled up to the point where Myne interfered. Watching Naofumi use creativity and flexibility to offset Motoyasu's level and power advantage was fun; Motoyasu may be stronger, but he comes across as a one-trick pony who's strong enough that he hasn't had to be creative. The revelation about some curse-related aspect to the shield was also interesting, and I suspect that will eventually be connected to the more wrathful shot of Naofumi shown in the opening theme. While the visuals earlier in the episode seemed a little rough, later parts looked better.
So this episode doesn't have quite the emotional impact that it clearly wanted to make, but it works well enough to keep things more interesting than annoying this week.
The Rising of The Shield Hero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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