Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Now that Naofumi has gotten the rebuilding of Raphtalia's village underway, it's time to focus on leveling up the villagers so that they're all ready for the next wave. But of course things can't go that smoothly – a mysterious girl he fought in the Colosseum shows up, and then the Queen tells him that the Spear and Sword Heroes have been spotted in Melromarc…along with Bitch, the former princess. Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo set off to try and capture the rogue heroes, but since Bitch is involved, things aren't going to be as easy as planned.
Volume eleven is largely a good bounce-back from some of the more problematic elements that plagued volume ten of The Rising of the Shield Hero series. That's not to say that the slave issue has been fully resolved – the book opens with Naofumi looking to buy more villagers, and his attitude towards his slaves is gratingly paternalistic. But there are indications that this is a plot point that Aneko Yusagi is ready to move away from: when Naofumi first arrives at the slave market, he notices the odd increase in attractive, provocative female slaves wanting him to buy them. He quickly figures out that these are the daughters of noble Siltvelt families who are trying to get their kids hitched to their favorite Hero, and since he's been going around buying up demi-human slaves, this is a good way to at least attract his notice. Alarmingly enough, this feels fairly believable within the social structure of the story's world; historically speaking, parents went to great lengths on the marriage market to get their daughters the prime catch.
Naofumi's reaction, as we have come to expect by now, is utter disgust. He's certainly not impressed that parents are doing this to their daughters, but with the entrance of Sadeena on the scene, he's also begun reminding us of his total lack of sexual interest in women. (I'd hesitate to call him asexual, since it's due to trauma rather than his natural inclination.) In some ways, this makes Naofumi something of a breath of fresh air in isekai protagonists – he's not trying to collect all the girls, nor does he spend paragraphs describing their physical attributes in tortured language. In fact, there's a near total lack of male gaze in the novel, and Naofumi's so disinterested that he doesn't notice Raphtalia's more chaste pining for him. Yes, Sadeena throws herself at him, as does new-this-volume character Atla, but what we read is Naofumi's disgust and annoyance with their actions, not wish-fulfillment fantasy.
This, as it happens, is integral to highlighting the differences between Naofumi and the other three heroes. Motoyasu is his direct foil – although he never says as much, we get the distinct impression that prior to the Spirit Tortoise debacle, he thought that he was living the isekai harem dream. He surrounded himself with women and enjoyed all of their fawning attentions in complete opposition to Naofumi, refusing to believe that Bitch was as manipulative as Naofumi and the Queen claimed. Meanwhile Ren and Itsuki believe themselves to be in an SAO-style game world isekai, which Naofumi never deluded himself about. Now all of that is coming home to roost for at least two of the three other heroes: when Ren and Motoyasu turn up, both have been broken by their underestimation of the Spirit Tortoise's power. Motoyasu's failure simply resulted in his abandonment by Bitch and his other party members, but Ren's actions had much more fatal consequences. For both of them, this has driven home the reality that this is not just a game world, but a real one, and when people die or screw up, there's no reset button. Ren, as the younger of the two, has a more difficult time with it, making him susceptible to pernicious influences, but Motoyasu is able to reinvent himself, albeit not in a particularly healthy way.
In both cases, that's still a good thing, because the world is actually a lot more dangerous than anyone had previously realized. Naofumi was aware of the anti-Shield bias of Melromarc's version of the world religion, as well as the reason behind the waves, but all of that is becoming much more sinister and overt for everyone else. S'yne, the girl from the Colosseum who fought under the name Murder Pierrot, is an integral part of what's going on, but restrictions hamper her from being more help. The similarity of her name to Bitch's original name (Myne) also raises the possibility of multiple versions of the same people existing across worlds, backed up by all of the different variants of the Heroes, so that may turn out to be a very important bit of knowledge to keep stored away. This volume feels laden with hints and portents of what's to come, and it may turn out to be one of the most significant in the series to date.
Yusagi's writing and One Peace Books' translation of it continue to show improvement, with both achieving a more natural, error-free narrative flow. The translation has, of course, been consistently among the most readable in light novels, but the lack of grammatical errors in this volume has really upped the quality of reading overall. Yusagi is also getting more subtle in her metaphors and symbolism, which again makes the writing here show improvement. Even better, there's a lack of status updates and potion recipes in this volume, making it feel much more like a solid fantasy novel than a tropey light novel.
The Rising of the Shield Hero's eleventh volume does still have its issues with its use of slavery, but that is largely eclipsed by the progression of the plot and hints of what's to come. The series has always been interesting and worth reading, but it feels like things are really getting set to truly take off in, if not volume twelve, then soon thereafter.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Lots of plot hints dropped fairly subtly, Ren and Motoyasu finally show some real development.
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