More like Falling of the Shield Hero, am I right?
Unoriginal jokes and season two commentary aside, let’s talk about Shield Hero. Of all the countless isekai anime to come out in the last five years, there is no doubt that this one made the biggest splash (not counting sequels, like Re:Zero season 2). It quickly became a show that you either loved or hated, seen as either a pinnacle of what isekai could truly be or a shining example of the worst of the genre. Extreme reactions for a first season that was ultimately just middling, but it was what it was.
For today’s article, we’ll be zeroing in on the series protagonist: Naofumi. Because I feel like we have got to talk about him.
Isekai protagonists are infamously problematic. The harems, which often include at least one angle of incest somewhere in there, are one thing. Being overpowered as all hell is another. Then there’s their ‘holier than thou’ attitude.
Naofumi… has all three. Sure, he had to earn his being overpowered, unlike other isekai protags who have it handed to them on a silver platter, which is a point in his favor. Aside from that, it’s pretty much business as usual. Harem, holier than thou, the whole shabang and shaboodle.
Only far more problematic. Because this guy advocates for slavery!
That’s not even a joke. Back in season one, he literally got into an argument with one of the other Heroes about why it was okay for him to use a slave! Every single member of the party has a slave crest aside from Naofumi himself! The one time that Raphtalia had her crest removed, she went right back and put it back on again!
“Oh, but it’s okay!” I hear you arguing. “He never forces them to do anything they don’t want to!” Sure, he only uses the slave crest to force them to do things like fight back when they’re in danger…that he himself… put them in… B-but they’re totally willing and would follow him even if they weren’t slaves! They let him literally own them as a symbolic gesture of their faith in him!
Also they advocate for other people to do the same in season two. “Yeah, come be slaves with us! The man who owns us is totally cool, it’ll be a great time! Don’t ask questions, just do it!”
Does that seem a tad bit fucked up to anyone else or is that just me?
It sure doesn’t help that his slaves are in love with him. Oh, sure, he views them as his surrogate daughters (which makes sense, sense he literally raised both of them and they’re both literal children in terms of age). But they sure don’t see it that way. And let’s ignore that shot in the last episode of season one where it heavily implies that Naofumi and Raphtalia kissed. He has no romantic feelings towards either of his slaves. Nope. None.
Now, his ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude is another aspect of the character that feels fairly earned. Mostly because the other three ‘Heroes’ are either a) bumbling morons, b) selfish assholes, or c) both of the above in any given scene they’re in. Out of the four, Naofumi is the only one who actually tries to do anything heroic whatsoever.
That could make for some incredibly interesting stuff between the four. It’s a solid foundation for some impactful character growth for the other three as they learn to become actual heroes. And it could make for a powerful moment when one of them actually gets the morale high ground on Naofumi, like, say, calling him out for owning slaves.
Shame none of that happens. The other three are doofuses even now and Naofumi has to constantly clean up their messes and stand morally superior to all of them. On top of that, he’s objectively more powerful than all three of them combined, so honestly, they may as well just go away and let him and his slave children/lovers do all the work.
That’s not even all that morally reprehensible, that’s just disappointing writing.
Is Naofumi a poorly written character? I’m not sure I’d go that far. At least in regards to season one. He had a fairly decent arc about overcoming trauma and learning to trust again. For an isekai protagonist, that’s a frightening amount of depth. You don’t usually get that kind of effort or depth in this genre.
No, he isn’t problematic by isekai standards. He’s problematic by an entirely new standard! So much so that it’s practically comical! Kinda hard to be the morally superior ‘hero’ of the story when you’re actively helping the single most evil trade ever conceived by man. Especially when that’s only one of the problems.
In short… Shield Hero season two is bad.
Sorry, I didn’t know how to end this and I couldn’t help myself from taking one last jab.