Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Rising of the Shield Hero
With the activation event on the Cal Mira islands over, it's time for the heroes to prepare for the next wave, which should be happening in two weeks. Before then, however, Naofumi needs to convince them to train, because he's just had ample proof that he's the strongest of the four – and he can't actually attack. Things quickly head south despite the fact that the Queen's on his side, and soon Naofumi and his expanding party find themselves on their own against the biggest threat they've faced yet. Where are the other three heroes? Who are the Seven Star Heroes? And does anyone have any chance of both saving the world and making it out alive?
Aneko Yusagi's The Rising of the Shield Hero light novel series has come a long way from when it began. Volume one was very much a standard transported-to-another-world fantasy with its major claim to fame being that the character we were following was the purported villain of the piece. Now in book six, it has become an exploration of what would most likely happen if the person who was plopped down in a game-like world was a gamer – and it isn't painting a pretty picture. Naofumi, the only one of the four heroes who hadn't played some version of the world he's been summoned to, quickly came to understand that in order to effectively save the world, he had to truly live in it, and in the previous novel he found out that his fellow heroes haven't yet grasped the concept. As far as Ren, Itsuki, and Motoyasu are all concerned, they're in the equivalent of a virtual reality situation, fully immersed but basically safe from the rules of everyday life. Naofumi sums it up as, “The protagonist never loses!” as a philosophy, and as things progress, he's growing increasingly frustrated and worried by it.
By this point it has become evident that there's a lot more going on in Melromarc and surrounding nations that a mere periodic invasion of monsters. Naofumi's encounters with Glass and the others have opened up the possibility that there are other summoned “heroes” who are trying to do the opposite of what he and his group are doing, framing the four as the villains. Meanwhile he hears tell of another group of heroic figures who aren't necessarily summoned but tend to show up at the same time as the four, the Seven Star Heroes. They also have special weapons and can perform feats of strength that the rest of the populace cannot, and given the way things are going with Ren, Motoyasu, and Itsuki, they're starting to look like Naofumi's best hope. Except that Fitoria the Filolial Queen said something about the world not being saved if the four heroes can't work together, so Naofumi (and the reader) is still trying to piece everything together.
Unfortunately, he's the only one. The other three heroes haven't gotten over their built-in dislike of him, and he doesn't help things any when he takes Itsuki to task for throwing away his least-useful party member, Rishia, whom we met briefly in book five. Later Naofumi also humiliates Ren to try to make a point about actually learning how to fight rather than relying on game knowledge, and coupled with Motoyasu's already made up mind, Naofumi has effectively alienated all three. This may turn out to be a bigger problem for them, however – since they're still treating the world as a game, even to the point where they accuse Naofumi of “cheating,” as if he's tampering with a nonexistent AI, there's an increasingly good chance that one or more of them might die. Clearly whatever versions of Japan they all came from did not have Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash on the shelves.
While the plot does keep moving forward at a decent pace, although it is less about the fight than it is the character interactions this time, the real meat of it is in Naofumi trying to decide what it means to be a hero. We already know how the others think, and a short chapter narrated by Itsuki helps to solidify his thoughts on it, Naofumi's rocky start has given him a different perspective on things. Ultimately he has to decide whether being a “hero” is something you do for yourself or for others. Raphtalia helps to serve as his moral compass in all of this, albeit subtly, as taking her in was the first truly useful move he made in the new world. Their relationship is still a bit strained by the fact that he's (willfully?) oblivious of her romantic feelings for him, but she's the one he always turns to when he needs grounding. Even the addition of new party members Rishia and Keel, along with ancillary members Éclair and an old woman who happens to be a martial arts master, the core of Naofumi's group remains Raphtalia and Filo, which is nice to see.
Keel and Éclair stand to be good additions to the group dynamic (the old woman is basically Shampoo's grandmother from Ranma ½), but Rishia is more of a problem. Naofumi takes her in when Itsuki's group tosses her out because he feels a kinship to her in terms of being treated badly by the Bow Hero. Unfortunately it turns out that she really is fairly useless, or at least criminally undertrained, and, more importantly, incredibly annoying. That she's intended to be so is clear – Naofumi and Itsuki (in his short chapter) both comment on that fact, and her habit of whining whenever she speaks, imperfectly denoted by “feh,” is even irritating to read, at least partially because it's hard to figure out how that could be the sound of a whine. Yusagi tries to make it clear that she's got great potential buried in there somewhere, but it's a toss-up as to whether it's worth waiting to find out what that is.
Luckily the rest of the story is moving in an interesting direction. The editing is much improved from the previous book, with only a few typos such as you'd see in any quickly produced paperback, and the writing continues to feel smoother than the average LN. The Itsuki chapter has two abrupt narrator shifts at the end that are confusing, which could be either an editorial glitch or an issue with the original text, but since it comes after the main action of both the main story and the extra chapter, it's a minor annoyance. The Rising of the Shield Hero has become a light novel series to keep an eye on as its plot and characters develop. If you haven't checked it out yet, it has proved to be worth it.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Story is developing in an interesting direction, Naofumi has really grown as a character, differing ideas of what is “heroic” helps set the characters apart from each other
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