Difference, Power, and Discrimination in The Rising of The Shield Hero (2019- )
By Harry Ford IV
The Rising of The Shield Hero is a Japanese Animation based on a light novel series written by Aneko Yusagi. The genre of Shield Hero is Isekai or “different world” in English. The reason I chose Shield Hero for a study of DPD in film is the controversy that came in response to the release of the first episode of the anime on January 9th, 2019. The first episode plays an important part in developing the main character and despite the initial negative response, the series has 4.5 stars on Crunchyroll with 1202 5-star ratings by viewers. The literary design of Shield Hero incorporates many issues of DPD and has many progressive elements in a genre that can often become an escapist power fantasy. The fantasy medieval setting is also a great place to take notice of DPD because the medieval period of time in our own history was a place where many of the ideals we are trying to escape from were very prominent. Shield Hero uses many cliche character personalities but strays from the norm of the invincible Hero, and instead shows the negatives to these personalities. I will show how Shield Hero tries to progress the isekai genre while still using the classic formula to retain its audience, by being aware of the DPD problems that are a part of most isekai anime.
The story begins as the main character Naofumi Iwatani introduces himself to us as a young college student living with his parents. After reading a strange book in the library he awakens suddenly in another world, and at first, it seems as if everything is going well. Naofumi and three others were summoned to this other world to fight as Heroes with legendary weapons against hordes of monsters that appear in waves at set time intervals called “The waves of Cataclysm”. The four Heroes are each equipped with a unique legendary weapon (a sword, a spear, a bow, and a shield) and must kill monsters in order to empower their weapons for the coming waves. We see from early on that Naofumi the Shield Hero is treated differently from the other Heroes because his weapon is considered to be inferior. Because he is considered inferior, Naofumi struggles to gain any companions when the Heroes gather groups to train efficiently for the coming waves. One person however does decide to defect from another Heroes group to join Naofumi. After spending some of the funds they had been given to start their adventure Naofumi and his new companion Myne fight some lesser monsters and then return to town for the night, this is where things take a dark turn. Once they return to town, they stop at a weapons store to buy Myne better equipment, but Myne picks out quite expensive gear. When Naofumi tries to have Myne pick something cheaper she convinces him by saying the stronger she is the more money they will make, and then she moves in toward him as the camera does a closeup of her cuddling his arm and pans up to his embarrassed reaction.
After they are done shopping, they eat dinner at the tavern where they will be staying the night. Myne asks Naofumi if he will be drinking his wine, but Naofumi says he doesn’t like alcohol as we get a closeup of his face and the wine glass Myne is holding. Myne tries to convince him anyways and takes a drink of her wine, and then the camera cuts to a close-up of Myne seductively relishing the flavor of the wine. Despite her invitations, Naofumi doesn’t drink any of his wine and heads to bed early thanking Myne as he heads upstairs. Upon waking Naofumi finds all of his possessions have been stolen and he begins to panic only to be met by a brigade of castle guards that drag him off to the castle. Here is where the first big controversy is; Myne was only pretending to befriend Naofumi and is now accusing him of drunkenly trying to sexually assault her, and the guards are in on it bringing evidence against him and making it impossible for him to prove his innocence. But Naofumi is one of the Heroes needed to protect the world from impending destruction so his punishment is the negative reputation gained from his guilty verdict, leaving him the Shield Hero with no offensive capability to try and kill monsters on his own in order to become strong enough to survive. The second part of the controversy happens in the last minutes of the episode; Naofumi is approached by an eccentric man dressed almost like a circus ringmaster, the man offers Naofumi a solution to his problem. The man turns out to be a slave trader and explains how in this country other races known as demi-humans are discriminated against and primarily kept as slaves.
The negative response to Shield Hero among fans and critics revolves around the false sexual assault charges and slavery plot points, so I will go over some of the ideas behind the negative reaction and the responses to it followed by my own opinions. Here are some negative quotes from Steve Jones on ANN “With a premise predicated on a glorification of misogyny and slavery, it earns all the ire directed towards it.”, and then Jessi Silver on S1E1 “The first and most important thing worth mentioning is that false rape accusations of this nature aren’t really a thing (think about the social consequences for women even when their accusations are extremely credible; people don’t do this kind of thing for fun). It’s as if Myne’s actions sprung fully-formed out of a misinformed, misanthropic incel fantasy”. Now a more positive reaction that references Silvers review from before “False rape accusations happen, even if they are relatively rare. False accusations rate around 5% of reports (Avalos, 2018). Women are much more likely to be accused of false reporting (about half of cases are seen as false despite the real number hovering about 5%), which adds a hurdle to victims coming to the police; Silver has a point about how making a report affects women, but in this case, Myne appears to be making a power play for reasons we do not know yet. It plays into the distaste the people already have for the Shield Hero.”
There are very current real-world problems with how cases of sexual assault are handled in America, but much of those problems are tied to our justice system. It could also be said that painting a woman in such negative light might lead viewers to be more distrustful of women, but she is one of the only female characters in the anime to be portrayed as someone with such villainous intent. But I think it’s also important for everyone to understand how false rape accusations can affect men, and to put a negative light on the failures of those who abuse their power since Myne is revealed to be the princess of the country not long after the first episode. There is also the bit of irony that shortly after the negative reviews on ANN their founder was falsely accused of being a sex offender. In response to “glorification of slavery” I have to say that the first episode only just introduces that the country allows it shows very little to jump to such a conclusion, Naofumi does indeed purchase a young demi-human girl as a slave but not with foul intent. The girl is coughing and the slave trader tells Naofumi she probably won’t live long. In the first episode Naofumi finds out one of his special talents is improving the quality of medical herbs, so he is making the best of his situation by saving her and gaining an ally who can help him survive. Of course, he is still quite forceful at first but he is trying his hardest to be able to return to his own world and is unfortunately willing to be “the bad guy” to do so.
Shield Hero doesn’t dive too deeply into differences in ability but Naofumi faces prejudice because of the Shield Hero’s innate lack of offensive capability in combat. We can see from the very beginning that he is not held in as high of esteem as the other three Heroes with his presence hardly being acknowledged. Even in his interactions with the other Heroes who have experienced a world similar to the one they are now in through games they had played in their own alternate realities point out how weak his weapon is. Naofumi is the only one of the four Heroes to have no former knowledge of this world, and because of this the opinions of those around him only worsen. Despite the other reasons why people view Naofumi negatively becoming more prominent than his lack of ability it is something that permeates the story, later on when Naofumi acquires a power the other Heroes have never seen before and surpasses them they accuse him of being a cheater. So even after proving himself they still try to belittle him to make themselves look better.
Race plays quite a large part of Shield Hero but not with traditional races we have in our own world. Instead, there are regular humans, demi-humans, and beastmen (both demi-humans and beastmen are generally referred to as demi-humans). All of these races are capable of complex human thought and emotion and demi-humans look exactly like humans with the exception of having animal ears and tails, beastmen as their name implies look less like humans and more like animals. In Race, Language, and Morality, Wodak and Reisigle explain that “Tolkien did not use race as a deliberate technique to make value statements about his different characters, racism operates on a broader scale than simply individuals’ intentions. Rather, Essed explains, racism is a semi-coherent ‘ideology, structure, and process in which inequalities inherent in the wider social structure are related, in a deterministic way, to biological and cultural factors attributed to those who are seen as different “race” or “ethnic group’” (Wodak and Reisigl 179).” so even fantasy races can be used to compare to real-world racism. The country where most of the anime takes place is called Melromarc. Melromarc is a matriarchal and human supremacist country so demi-humans are most often enslaved if they find themselves within its borders, and those made into slaves in this world are bound by magic that makes disobedience lead to painful death. One of the main reasons why Naofumi is treated so poorly is because the Shield Hero is traditionally the Hero who treats the demi-humans most fairly, and as we learn later on the religious figures that lead Melromarc to advocate human supremacy play a big role in demonising him and the demi-humans. The church has in our reality at times allowed for similar things to happen in America in a manner similar to labeling a race demi-humans, we in the past denied that people of other races were human. Later in the series, Naofumi and his companions fight to free slaves from their oppressors and move to try and give them a safe place to call home.
The big part of DPD in Shield Hero would probably have to be power, this is where the medieval setting makes big connections to our own world. First and foremost the actions of Myne are all a bid for power, she is the older of two sisters but second in line for the throne. So she demonises Naofumi in order to gain support from the church and even attempts to have her sister killed in later episodes. Royal power struggles are common throughout history and even in current times those with power struggle against one another, fortunately, this is done less violently now but taking action to gain powerful backers is still common. There are a few different types of nobles shown in the anime, there are several who are honest good people and a few who are twisted and greedy. We see that those who support the position of the church are the most powerful regardless of their actions, there were times in European history when the church was more powerful than the monarchs of countries. Fortunately, the church in Melromarc while powerful is not that powerful, but it is powerful enough to persecute those who threaten their beliefs. Near the seasons’ conclusion with the help of his companions, the other three Heroes and the queen of Melromarc they are able to punish the church leadership for their misdeeds and reform the church. Power struggles like this happen in our world whether it can be political, religious, business, and likely more. There will likely always be people who abuse the power they have to seek more or maintain what they have, but it’s through gaining awareness of these happenings that we can prevent tragedies by coming together when necessary.
Shield Hero uses many classic anime stereotypes for the personalities of its Heroes but portrays some of the problems with characters that are so one dimensional. Many of these stereotypes are very similar to patriarchal stereotypes present in American films that are used to enforce male dominance. Naofumi is overly trusting at kind to a fault at first, but he quickly learns not everyone can be trusted. The Spear Hero is the classic jock stereotype and follows his sense of justice, but because he is easily fooled he is used to by those in power. The Sword Hero is a cool loner stereotype who goes around fighting large monsters to challenge himself, but there are consequences to the local people because of this. The Bow Hero is younger and naive so he helps a band of rebels overtake a local lord, but this throws the area into chaos and forces villagers to leave their homes to survive. Another trope that isekai anime often have is where the main character has multiple possible love interests among his companions, but Shield Hero portrays Naofumi more as a father figure than a lover. Shield Hero takes a pre-established formula and tries to almost turn it on its head, instead of these characters being flawless Heroes they are humans who make mistakes with big repercussions.
The Rising of The Shield Hero is an isekai anime that takes a darker turn than many and tries to show that no reality is without hardships. Shield Hero may use many old tropes for some of its characters but it tries to be progressive while using them. It makes us sympathize with the main character as he is mistreated and then again as he is made out to be a villain, we see the conflict within him as he is both stern and kind to his companions. We see the terrible things that racism can allow if it is supported by those in power, and how those in power can often do unscrupulous things to remain in power. Shield Hero uses standard tropes for the personalities of its heroes but shows us the repercussions of their reckless ideals of heroism, and progresses Naofumi more as a father figure instead of the more common harem. From my perspective Shield Hero takes the isekai genre in a more progressive direction while still using the classic formula to retain its audience, it does this by being aware of the DPD problems that are a part of most isekai anime. There are times where it may step too far but those times are mostly in their rough start, but I think even those can be used to help us be aware of how bad it is to frame someone for a crime. From doing research for this paper I feel I better understand why there was a negative reception for Shield Hero at first, but in the end, I blame the failings of our justice system for making things more difficult than they need to be. I would recommend Shield Hero to anyone who likes anime, and even if you’ve never watched an anime before it’s a good place to start if the first few episodes don’t deter.
Avalos, Lisa (2018), “The Chilling Effect: The Politics of Charging Rape Complainants with False Reporting,” https://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/blr/vol83/iss3/1
Silver, Jessi (2019), Winter 2019, First Impressions, The Rising of the Shield Hero. Season 1 Episode 1. https://www.s1e1.com/2019/01/06/winter-2019-first-impressions-the-rising-of-the-shield-hero/
Jones, Steve (2019), “The Worst Anime of 2019,” https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2020-01-03/the-worst-anime-of-2019-and-our-mega-poll-results/.155020
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The Rising of The Shield Hero, Season 1, https://www.crunchyroll.com/the-rising-of-the-shield-hero
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