Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Last time Naofumi, the Shield Hero, learned that he wasn't imagining it – someone really was out to get him, namely the king and first princess of Melromarc, the kingdom that summoned him. Unfortunately knowing doesn't do much to actually stop the danger, and now he finds himself accused of kidnapping Princess Melty as well. Melty has said that if they can reach the country where her mother the queen is, they can work to stop the conspiracy against Naofumi. That's easier said than done, of course, because not only is the king against him, but the Church as well…
This volume essentially brings part one of The Rising of the Shield Hero novel series to a close, wrapping up the problems that have been plaguing Naofumi, the eponymous Shield Hero, since he was first summoned to Melromarc alongside Ren, Izumi, and Motoyasu, who took on the roles of Sword, Bow, and Spear Heroes respectively. It by no means ends the story, but there's a definite satisfaction to the book's conclusion which has really been needed given the never-ending trials and extreme unfairness Naofumi has been subject to.
In the previous book, Naofumi and company met up with Melty, the younger princess of Melromarc, who informed them of the plot against him based on Melromarc's religion, which worships the other three Heroes while casting the Shield as a demon. This is all tied into the prejudice that exists between humans and demi-humans (people with animal traits) in the world of the story, with Melromarc treating demi-humans as an inferior species while the country of Stiltvelt does the same for humans. As a racism metaphor, this doesn't go particularly deep, which is a shame, because Aneko Yusagi could do more with the relationship between Naofumi and Raphtalia in that regard. On the other hand, we aren't necessarily reading this to see deep metaphorical struggles that mirror the real world, nor is that the point or even the underlying theme of the series; rather it is about our perceptions of good guys versus bad guys, with Naofumi taking the role of perceived demon and showing us that it really is all just in how you tilt your head to look at the situation.
Nowhere is this better shown than in the antagonistic relationship between Naofumi and Motoyasu. In any other series, we'd see Motoyasu as, if not the hero, then at least the glamourous sub-hero, the womanizer who is good at heart. He appears to be devoted to what he sees as his cause and is eager to defend the honor of the woman he has become involved with, implicitly believing her story. Those are good qualities when seen from his perspective, and because he does trust Myne (also known as Malty and Bitch), all of his actions seem to be on the side of “right” in his eyes. Given that Myne is also the princess of Melromarc, and the fact that the other Heroes are unaware that she is not the heir to the throne, nor is her father the true ruler of the country, her word against the grumpy Shield seems rather like a no-brainer. In this respect, Yusagi has set up the story very well, engineering a believable situation wherein Naofumi would find the deck stacked against him except for those he has personally interacted with.
That group has steadily been growing, and with the revelation that the Shield Hero is the primary deity worshipped by the demi-humans, not only is Naofumi's stock rising, but it's also becoming increasingly clear that he and the other Heroes are really political pawns. Again, this makes for an interesting twist on the basic fantasy category that The Rising of the Shield Hero falls into, a cross between “taken to another (game) world” and “sword and sorcery.” The Heroes, it seems, once the queen of Melromarc comes in, are only summoned when all of the surrounding nations agree upon it, and each Hero is dispatched to a different area where the Waves are coming. Thus all four should never have been summoned at once, and certainly not to one country. In terms of Melromarc's own political situation, Naofumi as the Shield Hero is most important as a way to curry favor with their neighbors Stiltvelt, and the queen is absolutely not above making Naofumi her asset. Whether or not he will play along remains to be seen; I suspect that will be the focus of the next story arc.
Naofumi as a character remains conflicted, but he is beginning to recognize his issues. He still seems blissfully unaware that Raphtalia has romantic feelings for him, regarding her as a daughter (although there's a suspicion that he's fooling himself on that one), and he sees himself as more the head of a family than the object of a harem's desire; in fact, he makes several snide comments about how outsiders would think he had a loli-harem if they didn't know better. As the novel continues, we see Naofumi really start to understand how his situation has been manipulated by his enemies and how the other Heroes, particularly Motoyasu, have been pulled in. As this happens, his (and our) view of Motoyasu shifts from being an annoying twit to a sort of sad character whose loyalty has been abused. While Ren and Itsuki play only negligible roles, Naofumi's new understanding also affects his view of them, helping to round out the characters a bit more in general.
The underuse of the Sword and Bow Heroes is a consistent issue in the book. While they are not as central to Naofumi's story as Motoyasu, it also feels like they simply exist to fill out the four, while they could be actively adding to the plot. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Filo and the new Filolial character, Fitoria, are a little overused as a way to inject cuteness into the story. Fitoria does play an important role in bringing us the history of the Heroes in general, but they appear at the expense of Raphtalia, who is overall a more complex character, and they reduce Melty to her cutest form, again taking away some plot and character potential.
On the whole, The Rising of the Shield Hero remains one of the more interesting light novels to be translated into English, partly because of its inversion of the usual LN fantasy story, but also in terms of its increasingly good storyline and adaptation. This is the cleanest novel to come out in the series so far with negligible errors, and the conclusion to this first story arc is largely satisfying. If you're a fantasy or light novel fan, it is officially worth checking this series out, and I for one am looking forward to where it goes in its next story arc.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Art is still beautiful, especially the color images. Naofumi grows as he comes to see what's really been going on, allowing us to see the other characters differently. Arc wraps up well.
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