Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Now that he's reached Motoyasu (more or less) and gotten Ren to join his group, things are definitely looking up for Shield Hero Naofumi's chances of actually saving the world he was summoned to. There are still a few flies in the ointment, however, the most troubling of which is Bow Hero Itsuki. Itsuki's fallen under Witch's pernicious influence, and when Naofumi and his gang go back to the coliseum, they find that he's almost completely brainwashed. Can Naofumi and Ren convince Itsuki that she's only out for herself? Will Atla ever stay out of Naofumi's bedroom? And what's this about Raphtalia's past…?
The Rising of the Shield Hero has been consistently upping the stakes for protagonist Naofumi, the eponymous Shield Hero, with mixed results. While early volumes dealt with the prejudices he faced as the Shield Hero, beloved of the demi-humans and not so much by the human population of Melromarc, more recent ones have instead focused on his actual heroic efforts, both at home and in other worlds with their own sets of heroes. Now firmly back in the initial world he was summoned to, Naofumi's taken a few questionable paths, not the least of which was his decision to buy up demi-human slaves and keep them as slaves in order to rebuild Raphtalia's home village. While the text continues to attempt to excuse the situation by explaining that with the “slave curse” active the slaves are able to get stronger much faster than if they were free, it still reads like a bad-faith argument, and the fact that Naofumi collectively refers to them as “slaves” rather than something more neutral like “villagers” only compounds the issue. That he seems to fill the role of a father-figure is also troubling; not when he thinks of himself as Raphtalia's dad, which is more a romance plot issue, but more in the way the other demi-humans treat him or when he offers to lend them to someone else for work. Suffice it to say that if this bothered you in the previous volumes, it's not gotten any better.
That, however, is not the focus of this twelfth entry into the series. This is much more of a transition volume than the ones preceding it, and it does feel as if author Aneko Yusagi might be stalling a bit, or perhaps spinning their wheels. Rather than having one overarching plot, this book is divided into several smaller ones: the arrival of Ratotille in the village, the gift of a dragon egg and some issues with its birth, finally getting Itsuki out of Witch's clutches, and learning about Raphtalia's family heritage. While the volume is longer than most light novels we get in English, it still feels like nearly four hundred pages isn't quite enough to give at least two of these plots their due.
In the case of the Raphtalia storyline, that may not turn out to be as much of a problem, as what we have here (roughly one hundred pages) could simply be the prologue to volume thirteen's main plot. Nevertheless, it feels a bit rushed, and while Naofumi's love of Raphtalia in a miko outfit does turn out to be an important bit of foreshadowing, along with Sadeena as a character, it still doesn't work as well as it ought to have for such an important piece of who Raphtalia is, especially since it could have major repercussions on not only Naofumi and Raphtalia's relationship, but on the queen of Melromarc's designs on Naofumi's marital status. (I suspect that Naofumi will end up with little say in the matter unless he can find a portal to his home world.)
The larger narrative problem is more with the brevity of the Itsuki section. That could easily have been its own book, as could the storyline about Gaelion, the baby dragon Naofumi is given to raise, and both feel unpleasantly condensed here. In terms of the Gaelion plot, it is drawing on Ren's troubled past as a “hero” of his own making when he owed more to the RPGs he'd played back in the “real” world, and I do appreciate that Yusagi is pulling threads from early volumes through to these newer ones. The incident with the zombie dragon was a major one for Naofumi as he struggled to find his footing as the Shield Hero and to differentiate him from the other three, and now that Ren has been won over to his way of thinking, it's important for him to see that his so-called heroic actions had very real repercussions on people's lives. In this case, Wyndia, one of the new villagers, had been raised by that dragon, so essentially Ren was responsible for not only the death of Wyndia's foster father, but also for her ultimately ending up enslaved. Those are consequences that he's going to have to live with, and like Naofumi's experiences with Witch informed his journey to becoming the best Shield Hero he can manage, Ren's part in the zombie dragon disaster will have to be part of his becoming a true Sword Hero. For that reason alone, this section deserved a slightly different treatment, perhaps with more focus on Ren himself, which could also have helped Naofumi make a few strides in losing some of his emotional armor.
This is basically the same reason why the Itsuki redemption arc feels too abridged as well. This, if you recall, is the guy who told Rishia that she was worthless and that she should die, so for that to be resolved in under one hundred and fifty pages feels like it isn't giving the subject the gravity it deserves. We know that Yusagi is capable of it – Naofumi overcoming his cruel treatment and coming out the other side is the plot of the first few books in the series. Again, this could also have helped Naofumi to grow more as a character as he and Ren worked with Itsuki beyond what we get in this volume, so mostly this feels like a wasted opportunity. Granted, there's a good chance that Yusagi is simply more interested in getting all of the ducks in their row for the Raphtalia storyline, but that's a slim excuse for not giving Itsuki's redemption its due.
While this is still a very entertaining take on the isekai genre, its glaring problems are beginning to come more to the fore as Aneko Yusagi seems to be attempting to reach a specific narrative point. Atla is the sort of intensely annoying character that the story really didn't need (and the fact that Naofumi also finds her irritating says something), and Filo and Raphtalia are beginning to feel underutilized even more, as does new character Ratotille. This is a series that's at risk of dragging on too long unless Yusagi tightens the narrative. If the next book is in fact a continuation of the Raphtalia storyline, it may be a sign of that happening. We'll just have to hope.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : A-
+ Promising new Raphtalia plot line, Naofumi seems to be moving ahead with his goals. Art is still beautiful.
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