It’s OK to be Dark & (a little) Edgy: Shield Hero Eps 2-3 Review

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In my last post about Shield Hero, my main concern was that while the anime would add valuable details that the manga glossed over, it would not lean into the darker aspects of the manga hard enough.  And this would be a shame because it was the darkness, the severity of the discrimination against Naofumi and his own bitterness and vitriol towards this world that screwed him out the gate, that made the early chapters of manga fucking awesome.  The anime is unfortunately apparently trying to be the kid friendly version of Shield Hero – and so they fucked it up.  There will be spoilers.

One of the details added to the manga almost immediately after Naofumi gets the false rape charge which is apparently triggering SJWs because they can’t just let a story be a story is that he gets these bags under his eyes which immediately make him look a hell of a lot meaner.  It gave him a perpetual glare that consistently scared Raphtalia before the two had their big bonding moment after killing the demon dog.  Most importantly though the bags which caused Naofumi to have his perpetual glare really helped sell his bitterness.  They enhanced his dialogue, when he made a threat he really did look like the kind of guy who would fucking act on it.  In the anime the only scenes that sort of get this are when the merchant tries to screw him in Ep 1, when the bandits want to mug him under the guise of joining his party in Ep 1, and when he almost lets the guards die in Ep 3.

But as important as the bags and the resulting glare are as visual enhancements of every scene it is ultimately the attitude which matters.  Can the anime tap into the core of Naofumi, the man unjustly branded a criminal and hurled out of proper society, with the dark shift in attitude such a life style entails?  The answer seems to be no.  Not only is this a problem in the current episodes and episode 4 soon to follow, it’s going to be a major problem down the line and anyone who has read the manga knows what I’m talking about.  Naofumi will eventually gain a power which is entirely birthed from his hatred of the world and the assholes who have tried to keep him down – and importantly this power is a major fucking plot point on several occasions.  Obviously the anime will give him the power in question anyway because there would be no way the story could continue without it.  But that begs the question, if this power is so vital to the story going forward shouldn’t the anime do everything in it’s power to make it seem like something Naofumi really deserves, that the darkness from whence it came seems as intense as the story can manage while hitting the right story beats?  I obviously think so, hence why I’m annoyed at the anime.

Here’s an example.  In Ep 3 just before the wave hits Naofumi and Raphtalia go and buy some better gear.  In the anime the only options for Naofumi are barbarian armor (it was called tribal armor in the manga but whatever same shit) which is ultimately what he ends up getting and plate armor.  They kind of jokingly bypass the plate armor saying it would rob Naofumi of his individuality, and settle on the barbarian armor.  In the manga the options are the barbarian armor and a set of chainmail.  Raphtalia is super pumped about getting Naofumi the chainmail before he yells “I’m not wearing that fucking thing!” or something to that effect because it’s a legitimate trigger of his.  Remember he had bought chainmail before when it was just him and Mein, and she stole it and gave it to Motoyasu the Spear Hero.  He quite reasonably has bad associations with chainmail and thus doesn’t buy it even if it’s the better armor.  This scene matters in the manga not just because it reinforces Naofumi’s bitter attitude, it plays into the next scene where the other heroes confront Naofumi when he visits the magical hourglass to see when the wave is coming.  By comparison his decision not to buy plate armor doesn’t really make sense beyond an aesthetic preference and/or a general misunderstanding of how plate armor works.  Plate armor is commonly presented as though it’s too heavy to use unless you’re big and strong but it’s not even remotely true.  You can sprint and do flips and shit in full plate armor because it’s designed to distribute the weight to hinder the wearer’s movements as little as possible.

Point is the anime scene is a dumb joke, the manga equivalent is genuinely important both as it’s own scene and in how it flows into the rest of the chapter.  Because following the blacksmith scene the heroes have a confrontation by the magical hourglass as Motoyasu first hits on Raphtalia before he starts to tell she won’t be safe with Naofumi because he’s a rapist.  Naofmui interrupts him and storms off with Raphtalia but the darkness again a decisive factor in how both the manga and anime turn out so differently.  In the anime even when Naofumi is giving his best glare the whole scene makes him feel impotent, which it was supposed to, but afterwards the anime cuts to a scene of Naofumi quietly grinding herbs while Raphtalia tries to ask about the rumors but Naofumi brushes her off.  In the manga Naofumi looks like he’s straight up about to attack Motoyasu, he looks berserk enough to do it if pushed any further and while ultimately he still leaves the scene feeling impotent, in the manga he storms out into the fields and when Orange Balloon demons attack he tells Raphtalia to stand back because “I really want to hit something right now” and then he proceeds to spend the entire evening punching the demons to death while swearing like a sailor at the top of his lungs to vent his rage.

Look at the difference here.  Not only does the darkness within Naofumi in the manga make each individual scene better than it’s anime equivalent but it gives the chapter a very strong buildup with each scene and the emotions they bring flowing into each other flawlessly as Naofumi, who was becoming a bit nicer as his trust in Raphtalia grew, is thrust right back down to his emotional nadir.  He’s confronted by the armor that he wore and which was later stolen from him when he was betrayed, he has to see the other heroes who hate his guts again (and Mein too because she’s Motoyasu’s companion), he’s made to feel impotent because the system is rigged against him during his confrontation with Motoyasu ,and then when his hatred and rage reach their peak Naofumi finds an outlet, weakass monsters he can spend hours beating to death, before he faces the wave the next day.  By comparison the anime scenes flow into each other from stray lines of dialogue, specifically when the blacksmith tells Naofumi about the magical hourglass and when Motoyasu mentions the rumors about Naofumi.  In the former case Naofumi obviously just goes where the blacksmith tells him to go, while in the latter Raphtalia tries to ask about the rumors Motoyasu mentioned but Naofumi won’t give her an answer.  But there is no flow of emotions, no buildup of tension, no cathartic release.  It’s just kind of flat.

Look if you think I’m being to hard on the anime or whatever, I think the anime is fine.  If it were a totally original IP I would not be complaining, and as a standalone experience the anime is decent.  I’m just annoyed because the manga is better than decent and I want the anime to be too.  I want the manga to spring to life and improve in the anime, not for the anime to be a family friendly, milquetoast version of the manga – which sad is what we seem to be getting.

Personally I think part of the problem is that Naofumi is ultimately too nice anyway, even in the manga he rarely goes harder than looking menacing and speaking of the world and inhabitants with scathing venom.  He’s not really a bad guy even when he’s mad enough to be.  Maybe the anime is toning it down because the director sees that and wants Naofumi to never seem all that dark to begin with.  But to me this feels like a marketing decision.  It feels like the producers said to tone it down, to make Naofumi a more sympathetic character, to drain the darkness as it were so that product will appeal to wider demographic and sell more blu-rays – not understanding that the darkness is not just integral to the story in an artistic sense but also that was the darkness that drew many of us in the first place.

I will probably keep watching Shield Hero but as it stands I don’t see how it will ever live up the manga so long as they keep toning it down.  And that sucks because I prefer anime to manga in a general sense.  I would rather watch a good anime than read a good manga.  But in Shield Hero’s case it looks like the manga is the way to go.  See you in the next one.

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3 thoughts on “It’s OK to be Dark & (a little) Edgy: Shield Hero Eps 2-3 Review

  1. I honestly found Naofumi in the light novel hard to take as a character early on because he was so bitter and his thoughts were constantly angry and blaming others. While there was definitely a sound trigger for his negativity, it made it really hard to get behind his character and at times just uncomfortable. While it does ultimately lead to some fairly decent development for his character and I ended up enjoying the novels (the ones I’ve read so far) I’m actually enjoying the anime more. His character isn’t having as much impact but still the general idea that he is angry and bitter is coming across but I think the presentation is more palatable.
    Then again, some people really enjoyed Naofumi’s character early on in the source and they probably will find the anime version the watered down version and not be impressed.

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    • I’ve not read the light novels so I can only say what I’ve heard but it seems like he might have been too dark and edgy in the original source material. People who have read them have said he’s watered down some in the manga – and now the anime has watered him down again. I can’t speak for the light novels but I thought the level of bitterness and resentment in his character was great in the manga, they were what I was initially drawn to, and so I found the anime version a bit too weak on that front. Really it was the armor scene that kind of set me off though, that and the fact he transitioned to quietly grinding out medicine instead of beating balloon demons to death after the hourglass scene. Using the chainmail as a trigger is a way more important character moment than a joke about plate armor. Glad you’re really enjoying the anime as it is though, I do like it overall I’m just a little disappointed, and frankly worried given some of the later plot points but at this point it seems like how much you can buy into Naofumi’s initial “fuck the world” mentality is going to determine whether you prefer the novels, the manga or the anime.

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      • I’d actually forgotten about the chainmail until I read your post and then I remembered that scene. You are right in that it would have been a really good link to Naofumi’s trauma and turning down plate mail because it didn’t look right seems a little silly so from a narrative point of view it makes little sense. Still, I’ve enjoyed the anime so far and I’m looking forward to more.

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