Thursday, March 11, 2021

REVIEW: The Rising of the Shield Hero, Vol. 1 (book) by Aneko Yusagi

The Rising of the Shield Hero is isekai fantasy. It's licensed by One Peace Books. I bought my copy used. Oddly, I can't find any mention of the translator's name on the book. Does One Peace not credit them?

Anyway, this review is chock-full of spoilers. Read at your own risk, or check out the cross-posted versions on Goodreads or LibraryThing, where I have the ability to use spoiler tags. (I opted to hide the whole review on Goodreads, so LibraryThing, where I spoiler tagged just what I considered the most spoilery bits, is probably the better option.)


Naofumi Iwatani is an otaku college student. His life, up to this point, has been pretty easy - his parents haven't put much pressure on him, and his otaku interests actually managed to keep his brother from becoming a full-blown delinquent. He's in the library one day when he spots a book call The Records of the Four Holy Weapons, which mentions four different heroes: the Sword Hero, Spear Hero, Bow Hero, and Shield Hero. Shortly after finding this book, Naofumi is magically summoned to another world where he is one of those four heroes...the worst and most useless one, the Shield Hero. He can only defend, not attack, and his magical shield won't permit him to carry any additional weapons. He can't even team up with any of the other three heroes, because their weapons cancel each other out.

Because he's so weak and knows even less about this new world than the other heroes, he has trouble getting anyone to join his party, and what help he does receive turns out to be a trap. Is there no one in this horrible world that he can trust? Somehow he has to survive the waves of enemies that he and the other heroes have been summoned to fight, so that he can hopefully figure out a way to return home.

This was my first experience with this series, although I've read about some of the controversies surrounding the anime. I found this first light novel volume at a used bookstore a while back and figured I'd finally read it and see what the series was like for myself.

Hoo boy, is misogyny baked pretty deeply into this. Just as he's getting started in his new life, Naofumi is betrayed by an attractive woman who robs him blind and then falsely accuses him of rape. Everyone instantly believes her and casts him out, while she teams up with the Spear Hero, a ladies' man who ended up in this new world after one of the many women he was dating killed him in a fit of jealousy.

Rather than just being angry specifically at the woman who betrayed him or more generally at the royal family that summoned him only to set him up for failure, Naofumi instead began to hate all women. One woman betrayed him, so the entire gender was evil. Never mind that the other heroes, who also turned on him at the drop of a hat, were male.

Although his defensive capabilities were high enough that he could fall asleep with monsters chewing on him and not feel a thing, he had zero attack capabilities. He couldn't afford to hire anyone, and even if he had the money, he didn't trust other people. So he turned to slave ownership. It took him no time at all to justify this move as a perfectly fine and correct one. 

Slavery was legal in this country, and magical contracts made it impossible for slaves to harm or betray their masters - if they tried, they'd die. He couldn't afford much, so he ended up selecting Raphtalia, a sickly raccoon-type demi-human child. He needed someone who could fight in his place, so he had to take reasonably good care of her, but his hatred of women was such that he figured he'd be fine with it if she died, since it would be like getting to see the woman who betrayed him dying. 

I think readers were supposed to see the things Naofumi did for Raphtalia, like feeding her decent meals and giving her a ball to play with, as signs that he was really a decent guy at heart. But if that's supposed to be what a "good guy" is like, that's a very, very low bar to clear. Good for him for...actually feeding his child slave and not beating or raping her. He still had zero qualms about buying her in the first place, and it never once bothered him that he had the power to kill or harm her at any time (in fact he considered that a plus, since it meant she couldn't turn on him). She was a tool that he treated well primarily because it would have cost him precious time and money to replace her.

When Raphtalia could have chosen freedom, she instead ran back to Naofumi's side and offered to do the magical slavery contract with him again, if that's what it would take for him to be able to trust her. She even considered the contract that bound her to be a good thing - it forced her to fight when otherwise she would have been too scared to do so. I assume readers were supposed to find all of this heartwarming and wonderful - Naofumi had finally found someone truly loyal, who trusted him so much that she'd literally put her life in his hands. By becoming his happy slave. Again. And there was no "what am I doing/what have I done?" moment on Naofumi's part, no realization that he'd become a horrible person who'd decided that slavery was fine, actually.

While I was reading, I found myself thinking that I'd encountered something a little like this book before - Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kindgoms: Sea of Shadow, another isekai fantasy in which the main character is forcibly transported to another world to fulfill an important role, only to find themselves betrayed to the point that it's difficult for them to trust anyone. Except that Yoko didn't hate an entire gender after she was betrayed, and there was no romanticized slavery. Yoko's version of Raphtalia, Rakushun, didn't have anything binding him to her. Becoming closer to him and being friends with him involved taking risk and allowing herself to be a little vulnerable.

This could potentially be a decent series if Naofumi, like Yoko, eventually grew and became a better, stronger person. Unfortunately this first volume, at least, shows no evidence the series might go in that direction. Naofumi wallows in his hatred of women (it probably doesn't help that the betrayal somehow literally took his sense of taste away), and it takes him a mere 20 pages after being betrayed to turn to slavery as a solution to his problems. Judging by other things I've read about the anime and reviews of some of the later light novel volumes, there's worse to come. Despite my mild curiosity about the sorts of shield abilities Naofumi will discover, I'm probably better off stopping here, so I'm glad this is the only volume I own.


Three full-color illustrations, and several black and white illustrations throughout. Also, character design sketches for both Naofumi and Raphtalia, and a couple bonus stories. The first bonus story focuses on the Spear Hero, who's so sure of his appeal with the ladies and overall knowledge of this world that he doesn't even realize that the same person who betrayed Naofumi is now using him. The second bonus story focuses on Raphtalia and tells readers her entire horrible backstory, including the bit where one of her owners paid for her and another girl just so that he could get his kicks by beating the two of them every day. I suppose I should be happy there was no rape (or there was and I blanked it out - Raphtalia's story was awful enough, even with Yusagi's amateurish writing, that I opted to skim most of it).

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