Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Assassins from the reclusive island nation of Q'ten Lo have begun actively trying to end Raphtalia's life as an unexpected consequence of Naofumi having her wear a miko outfit, and Naofumi has about had it. To put a stop to it, he, Raphtalia, Sadeena, and a few other party members head to Q'ten Lo, first stopping in Siltvelt, a demihuman majority country that worships the Shield Hero. Needless to say, that pit stop does not go as planned, and Naofumi once again finds himself in the middle of a mess he wishes he had nothing to do with.
While The Rising of the Shield Hero is, in many ways, a fairly typical isekai story, it differs in one very pointed and interesting way: Naofumi has zero interest in romance. Largely this is the result of his treatment at the hands of Witch and Trash back in the first novel, but it also seems like something that he didn't put much effort into when in his own world, although that could be part of what he describes as his “loser otaku” existence. Regardless, Naofumi's resistance to romance and sex has become one of his defining features as a protagonist, and in this thirteenth volume of the novel series that sets him up to be in the role we more typically see female sidekicks in: the victim of unwanted sexual advances.
Not that that hasn't been happening since at least the rebuilding of Raphtalia's home village, when Sadeena and Atla became major characters. Naofumi has been saying right along that he's uncomfortable with their advances and that he really wishes that they would stop, which again is more commonly seen in female characters, although they don't always get to actually say it. His frustration began to build a few volumes ago, with both the Queen of Melromarc's suggestion that he might want to marry Princess Melty and the attempts of demihuman nobility to sell their sexiest daughters off as slaves when they realized that Naofumi was buying up demihumans to populate his village. (That plot thread, fortunately, is largely absent from this volume.) Now, with Naofumi's arrival in Siltvelt, a demihuman-majority country that worships the Shield Hero as an actual god, he's faced with a similar situation yet again: after the Siltveltians do their best to separate him from his (mostly female) party, they take him to a bathing facility where veritable hordes of naked women await him. Their goal? To sleep with him and bear the child of a god.
More typically in a situation like this in a similarly-typed novel, the hero would be shy, flattered, and ready to go for it. Naofumi, however, is completely freaked out. He basically has a panic attack and lashes out, immediately throwing up a barrier and getting more and more upset as the women will not take no for an answer. While this may be intended to show that Naofumi is more desirable than he perceives himself as being, what it also does is shine a light on the fact that men can be the recipients of unwanted sexual advances, too, and the sheer number of people coming after Naofumi (which may be somewhat smaller than he thinks, because he's in full-out panic mode) makes him afraid. It's not something many novels, light or otherwise, deal with, and if nothing else it helps this series to stand out.
It's also what may be holding back Naofumi from fully understanding his relationship with Raphtalia, which stands to become more important as the plot moves into their conquest of Q'ten Lo in the final quarter of the book. Naofumi has repeatedly stressed that he sees Raphtalia as his daughter, which does make sense and certainly would raise the potentially troubling specter of “wife-rearing,” but some of his reactions to her make it seem as if that's more what he's telling himself. He's not only repulsed by and afraid of aggressive women at this point, but also afraid of betrayal, and while a piece of him doubtless knows that Raphtalia is trustworthy, another piece worries that changing their relationship will leave him open for more emotional harm. While I wouldn't classify him as a vulnerable hero, and the book's treatment of sexually aggressive women does have its troubling components, it does make for an interesting character analysis.
As with previous novels in the series, specifically those coming right before this one, there are some pacing problems as Aneko Yusagi tries to get the characters where they need to be while trying not to succumb to the plot device of insta-travel. This means that although the stated goal of the volume (and the cover illustration) is putting a once-and-for-all stop to the attacks on Raphtalia, it still takes three-quarters of the novel to actually even land in Q'ten Lo. That doesn't mean that the Siltvelt chapters aren't interesting or important (particularly for Fohl, who finally gets a chance to shine), but it is a little annoying to have the main plot sidelined for so long. Fohl really does make out the best of all of the characters, something he desperately needed in order to come out from Atla's shadow, and Itsuki has joined the party by the time they set sail for Q'ten Lo, so we can hope that in the next book he, too, gets some development, because behind Fohl, he and Ren are the characters who need it the most.
While One Peace Books' translation has really smoothed out, there are still a couple of cases where the wrong word appears to have been used (near-homophones). Fortunately they are the only such issues in an otherwise well-translated volume, which reads with a natural flow. The illustrations continue to be beautiful, so it's a shame that there are no character designs included in the back of the book, as has happened in other volumes. All in all, with the dropping of the slavery plotline and things building to Naofumi and Raphtalia taking over a country, this is an enjoyable entry into a series that manages to feel a little different, even as it follows plenty of the tropes.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Fohl gets some needed development
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