Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Rising of the Shield Hero
After diving through a rift between worlds with the other members of his party, Naofumi finds himself in a prison with only Rishia and a girl named Kizuna who calls herself the Hunting Hero. With Kyo, the madman they were pursuing, nowhere in sight, and his and Rishia's levels returned to zero, Naofumi teams up with Kizuna to try and find Raphtalia, L'Arc, Glass, and Filo – and maybe try to get a bead on Kyo and just what is going on with all of these summoned heroes anyway.
If the previous volume of Aneko Yusagi's The Rising of the Shield Hero was all about major plot development and finally beginning to understand the hero phenomenon, this book is about getting back to zero – literally in at least one sense. Volume seven ended with Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, and Rishia following L'Arc Berg and Glass through a rift between worlds in order to pursue Kyo, the wielder of the Book of the Vassal Weapons (another world's apparent variation on Melromarc's Seven Shooting Star Heroes), who had come to Melromarc and corrupted the Guardian Beast Spirit Tortoise. Since Kyo wrecked untold amounts of damage to the land and the people (and the other three heroes, but Naofumi's less concerned about them), he and his party are willing to go as far as it takes to get justice. Unfortunately for them, Kyo appears to have anticipated this move, and when Naofumi and company follow him through the rift, he splits the group up. The result? Rishia and Naofumi end up in a labyrinth prison while Filo and Raphtalia are nowhere to be seen. Even worse than that, Naofumi's and Rishia's levels have been reset to zero (well, one), so they've lost all of the unlocked skills and spells they'd been working on.
On the plus side, they're not alone in this strange new world. One of this particular world's four summoned heroes, the Hunting Hero, has also been imprisoned in the labyrinth, and she quickly agrees to team up with them. Like Naofumi and his counterpart heroes, Kizuna has been summoned from a version of Japan, and, also like Naofumi, she's the least respected in her group of heroes. Interestingly enough, it's for similar reasons of perceived uselessness – like the Shield Hero, the Hunting Hero cannot attack people, although when fighting monsters she's unstoppable. But because she's helpless against humanoid invaders, Kizuna has been written off, and ultimately imprisoned for no clear (or good) reason. The end result here is that for the first time Naofumi is meeting someone who understands what he's been through – Kizuna may have played a game version of the world she was transported to, but she's also been under suspicion, or at least suffered from a lack of respect, since her summoning, making her instantly sympathetic to Naofumi's plight. She's also never been abused quite as badly as he has, so she's willing to trust him, an issue that Naofumi is still struggling with, although he does seem to have succeeded in trusting Kizuna by the end of the novel, which is pretty fast for him.
That's a good thing on more than one level, as it turns out. Part of the changes that have arisen from switching worlds is that Naofumi can't activate either the slave or the monster spells to help him find Raphtalia and Filo. At first it seems like that's because the labyrinth is its own separate space (in the space/time sense), but even when the group comes close to reuniting, Raphtalia's slave spell remains inactive. The reason for this is interesting, and will likely become a major plot point further down the line, but it will force Naofumi to believe in Raphtalia without the security of the spell, which has been a major factor for him since the beginning. We as readers know that he has nothing to worry about with her, but he's only now starting to understand that, and this may put a strain on their changing relationship.
And that relationship is changing, whether Naofumi realizes it or not. Although he is upset at having lost track of both Filo and Raphtalia, it's clear that he's much more concerned about Raphtalia, and she's the one he keeps thinking about as he and Kizuna travel around. Most notably, he has stopped making statements about thinking of her like a daughter, which is a good thing, because Yusagi is definitely making some statements that indicate that he is finally realizing that his feelings for her may not be fatherly. (Raphtalia, we know, definitely doesn't see him as a parent.) If this is your favored pairing, and to be honest, it's the only one that's really gotten any indication of being “real,” the scene where the two reunite will make you a very happy reader.
While some new information is revealed in this volume, its main purpose seems to be to show us how much Naofumi has changed over the past seven books. If you compare his adventures from level one here with those of when he was first summoned to Melromarc, you can see how he's grown through his troubles. Yes, he's cynical and overly cautious with new people, but he's also more willing to take a chance and to think about his situation in terms of a real life that he's living rather than some horrible isekai nightmare. He's calmer and more collected in general, and he's ready to face his problems without placing (well deserved) blame. Rather than a hapless traveler, Naofumi is now a competent individual, well on his way to becoming a real hero.
With an anime adaptation recently announced (as of this writing), this is a good time to get caught up on the original novels. This volume unfortunately brings back some of the grammatical errors of earlier books (mostly involving there/they're/their and you're/your), but the word choices help it to read smoothly and the story has a natural progression that makes this feel like one novel in many books rather than a serialized story. It's one of the stronger light novels being published in English, and even when it goes back to the beginning, it's worth checking out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Shows Naofumi's growth as a character well, Kizuna is a good new character, we start to understand the summoned hero concept more.
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