I’m normally a complete package kind of guy when it comes to reviews and shows but seeing as we’re all stuck at home for a few more weeks at least I thought it would be fun to instead focus on when any particular show is at it’s best and worst and why these particular parts are the best and worst. There will be spoilers.
I kind of already spelled this out for Shield Hero in a different review but I figured it was worth rehashing and using as the start of a new series of posts. Shield Hero is probably one of the best examples of this because frankly it hits its peak so damn fast, it never really recovers and I can basically talk about the whole package anyway as it’s broad trends rather than individual moments which make up the peaks and valleys. Shield Hero is at it’s absolute best in the early parts of story starting from the false rape charge laid on Naofumi and his immense struggle to make anything out of himself due to the limitations of being a Shield Hero. Naofumi is great in these early parts for a number of reasons but chief among would be his inner struggle. Despite the fact he buys Raphtalia as a slave and forces her into combat, many of their early scenes together show hints of the good, caring guy Naofumi is at heart – but he’s been so badly screwed by this world out the gate that he can’t fully open himself up even to her. This is also accompanied by some of my favorite scenes, where Naofumi essentially embraces the villain label and goes full asshole towards the world that fucked him. The early chapters (I vastly prefer the manga to the anime), were what really captivated me when I took a look at Shield Hero.
The premise was interesting enough but it was the contrasts between the kind of person Naofumi wanted to be versus the attitudes and behaviors that we needed to thrive in a hostile world were great. And his black-pilled rage was incredibly cathartic. Watching Naofumi make a mockery of the people and world that fucked him out the gate was so fun to indulge in. Now these chapters are not the only narrative highs, I think both of the first 2 waves of calamity were good as well. I do wish Naofumi had the let the guards who had rained down magic on his position when he was saving the town near the first wave get killed because it would not only be what they deserved but also a lot more moral ambiguity to a character who was already well on his way to returning to the tried and true normal hero. And the introduction of Glass really spiced up a story that was in decline with Naofumi outshining the other Heroes so much.
Sadly it was no to be. I’m still reading chapters of Shield Hero as they come out but I have lost most of my interest in the series. I don’t know if the aspects of the show that lead it its valleys came from author or the publisher – but either way they are a massive missed opportunity. The early portions of Shield Hero were some of the most high profile examples of morally ambiguous heroes since Killua from HunterxHunter. They absolutely should have capitalized on that. Because the aspects of Shield Hero that bring it down are many. For starters the world is boring as fuck, a basic bitch fantasy RPG world with minimal intrigue. The politics of that world are hamfisted as fuck, and while the some dialogue points to a world which could be large and nuanced and interesting, the politics we actually see never go beyond “Shield Hero bad or good” and betrayals for the sake of power grabbing. The bad guys are neatly defined as are the good guys and there’s no overlap between the two, no double agents, no actors working with or between the two sides, etc. The world is boring. The waves are boring. Most of the characters are boring because frankly only Naofumi and people directly around him get any development.
The only saving grace of Shield Hero early on was that it had the balls to go straight for the jugular, screwing the main character instantly and putting him a terrible position. And then it delivered by giving us a hero who had hints of nice guy he was deep down buried beneath a mountain of justifiable distrust and rage. Naofumi was stuck in a loop where it looked like he could never get strong, until he did something super questionable like buying a slave, a little girl, and forcing her to kill for him. And during the first two waves, even though Naofumi has gotten strong he’s not overpowering. The other Heroes waste the boss of the first wave while Naofumi struggles to save the nearby village, and in the second wave when the story was going downhill as Naofumi made all the other Heroes look like fools, they suddenly dropped Glass on us and showed that even at the recent height of his power, Naofumi still had a long way to go.
This is not to say there were no good parts between the waves or after the second wave. A lot of the early emotional development between Naofumi and Raphtalia was great, though I thought the anime kind of botched it by making Raphtalia much thirstier for Naofumi as soon as Filo enters the party. And the bits with Raphtalia getting to confront the noble who enslaved her and killed her best friend was good too. However the story suffers from two major problems after the first wave. Naofumi becomes the good guy too fast. Both in his own behavior and in how the people of the kingdom come around to him, his reputation is practically already redeemed before the second wave, it just takes one last push in proving that the Church, the king and Malty are corrupt – but for all intents and purposes Naofumi has stopped being an outcast shortly after the first wave. And because he isn’t ostracized he doesn’t really need to rage or be an asshole, he can be a generic good guy whose behavior never gets worse than making people pay him for rendering his services. He mas no moral ambiguity whatsoever and is basically as good as the story needs him to be, he genuinely gets pretty boring and the investment and goodwill bought by the earlier chapters was all that carried me forward.
Even more egregious though is the other main factor in Shield Hero’s decline, the utter lack of competency in anyone who doesn’t like Naofumi. By the second wave Naofumi is head and shoulders above the other heroes, and basically anyone besides boss monsters and Glass. His party members are also quite competent and loyal and he’s more or less the ideal leader of the Heroes, he just needs have his name cleared. Now if Shield Hero had any good sense they still could have made this work, what should have happened was that the second wave should have been a wake up call. The other Heroes should have been smart enough to understand they had been lazy and put their noses to the grindstone so that they could attempt to surpass him. And the persecution against Naofumi should have ramped up – not to kill him as the story actually goes, but to try and keep him down and prevent him from gaining strength. Maybe recognize his achievements by giving him a specific task that looks like a reward but is actually a punishment. Then if Naofumi ignores or forfeits this task the king has justification to put him in prison or something. Like there are any number of ways to cripple Naofumi’s growth and prominence without actually trying to kill him.
But no Shield Hero’s idea of making Naofumi look good, is half Naofumi’s hard work (the good shit) and half making all of Naofumi’s enemies or even potential enemies into completely uncharismatic, unlikable, and unskilled morons (the bad shit). In that regard scythe boy and Glass are welcome additions because they are competent foes, but both of them actually like/respect Naofumi – and it looks like they will end up working with him in the end (I would bet money on it). By contrast the other Heroes, the king, the Church, Malty – all of them are completely nonthreatening. They had some potential early on but they are all bark and no bite as Naofumi clowns on all of them in every conceivable way. Naofumi is smarter, more mature, stronger. He beats them in figuring out the plots against the kingdom, he beats the enemies they can’t and he even beats them in races where they cheat. Again this didn’t need to spell the end of Shield Hero, if the other Heroes took these lessons to heart and made serious efforts to surpass Naofumi while still mostly being his enemy that would be good, and if any of the schemers working against Naofumi had a lick of subtlety them that would help.
I think Shield Hero peaked quite a while ago. There will be some hype moments and maybe some good plots and character moments to come but I’m basically done with it. The introduction of Scythe boy was good, and some of the latest plot points have potential. But seeing how quickly the creatirs abandoned what made they great and how they’ve made no efforts whatsoever to address its biggest problems, I have a hard time seeing how what comes next won’t just be more of the same. I have no interest in that. I have no interest in basic bitch fantasy RPG worlds, with basic bitch plots, factions and politics. I have no interest in struggles where all of the antagonists go from threatening foes to total jokes. I have no interest in watching the one competent Hero and his team swell in number to fight the threats the other Heroes obviously suck too much to fight. I have no interest in a story whose characters have been all but milked dry of there most important character moments and haven’t meaningfully developed for like two entire arcs. And that’s a shame because once upon a time I thought Shield Hero was one of the most interest manga I was reading, not enough to be one of the greats, not a true classic, but something that had the potential to aim for those heights. And that manga is long gone now. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.