This week I’m turning my attention to Naofumi from The Rising of the Shield Hero. As a character he’s already been criticised and mocked and I’m not jumping on that band wagon. Rather I want to look at what his character was trying to achieve, what he did achieve, and where he was found wanting.
Before I get into it, I would like to ask if you have a character you would like suggested please complete the survey. I do want to thank both I Watched An Anime and Hikari for their suggestions. Unfortunately I don’t have enough familiarity with either nominated character to write a post about, yet. Maybe in the future I’ll get a chance to look into them.
All About Naofumi
Naofumi starts out as so many isekai protagonists do – a perfectly ordinary and insignificant person on Earth (usually Japan). He isn’t a hard-core gamer like so many other transportees to other worlds though he isn’t without some knowledge of games and he’s a bit of a bookworm which kind of helps as he’s one of the few characters in the story who seems to be trying to piece together something of a bigger picture (sometimes).
Basically, Naofumi starts out as a very unoriginal and uninteresting character just as he is supposed to. The escapist in us that wants to get whisked away to another world doesn’t really want the person we’re watching to be someone exceptional and Naofumi more or less serves the purpose.
He’s our requisite zero who is about to be taken somewhere for a wonderful adventure where he’ll be majorly powerful, save the day and the girls will even like him, right?
Expectations vs Reality
Naofumi was Blindsided
The one thing The Rising of the Shield Hero does a little bit differently to other stories of the same ilk is it doesn’t instantly promote our character to hero status. Sure, he is one of the four heroes, but the story then spends the next part of the introduction having the one girl who paid him attention framing him as a rapist and essentially ruining his reputation.
This part of the story certainly got some viewers off-side and I’m not rehashing the argument but essentially this acts as a catalyst for Naofumi’s ‘amazing’ character transformation. Notice the ‘amazing’ is a little bit on the sarcastic side. Certainly there is a massive transformation and it is a nice set up for the whole titular ‘Rising’ to occur as the Shield Hero has indeed been brought low, but the story didn’t really want to dwell on this process.
It was more a bad thing happened, no one took his side, further bad things happened, and so Naofumi decided he hated everyone and he just wanted to leave the stupid world behind.
In honesty, it was actually toned down in the anime given the inner monologues in the light novel were substantially more rant-like and Naofumi was an even harder character to sympathise with.
The basic idea here isn’t bad. Place a character in a trying situation, betray their expectations, leave them on their own, and then see their original wonder of being transported become evaporated as they become much harder skinned to protect themselves from future harm. No, the idea itself was actually pretty solid. The execution on the other hand was passable but nowhere near nuanced enough to really pull it off.
Not to mention, it is difficult to sympathise with a character who people are making up stories about when there are other characters being killed, enslaved, and are generally having a much tougher time of it and are still managing to keep a more positive outlook. It’s called resilience and that is something Naofumi severely lacked which explains his incredibly reactive transformation.
Is The Shield Hero Commenting on the
Lack of Resilience of People Today?
Part of me began wondering, both when reading this and when watching the anime, whether there was some intentional commentary about a lack of emotional resilience in society today. Things didn’t go the way Naofumi wanted and so he lashed out and sulked – okay, that’s a bit condescending toward a character who literally got torn out of his own world and away from his family and anything familiar and then, through no fault of his own, ended up ostracised.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder. Particularly given each of the other heroes seems to be demonstrating obvious character defects. Such as the guy who is so busy playing hero that he hasn’t noticed that he’s being used by everyone around him. Or the one who who doesn’t think his actions through and causing untold suffering through his ‘heroic’ acts.
If the anime had been a little bit more compelling it would be worth watching again to consider what each of these characters just might be criticising about our own world and people. But again, it just doesn’t do the job well enough so even if these aspects are there and are not me reading way too much into what is essentially a standard isekai adventure there just isn’t enough else going on to make it worth the time that such a re-watch would take.
The Shield Hero Might Be Rising
But Interest Isn’t
The real problem for Naofumi is what comes next. In barely five episodes we see him go from the every man, hailed as a hero, falling from grace, building a hardened persona to survive, and then having a small amount of humanity restored through his encounter with Raphtalia. That’s a lot to pack into those opening episodes and for the most part it works. Unfortunately, it gives us the highest emotional point we are ever going to get toward this character five episodes into the story.
What follows from that point forward is a Naofumi who is openly hostile but not violent toward those who he blames for his downfall (he can’t be violent because that would actually make it impossible for the story to make him out to be the ‘true’ hero), stand-offish and blunt with the everyday people of the world, and only genuinely kind and caring to those he has chosen to include within his party and a narrow band of others who through various actions have ‘earned’ his trust.
While we see that band of others increase over the course of the story, what we don’t really see is any further progress on Naofumi as a person. He kind of gets stuck in a default mode which makes you wonder why the story was in such a rush to mow right over the most interesting moments in his character journey. Clearly the character is not as important as the ‘plot’ but then again, the plot wasn’t doing all that much either.
What Lessons Can Be Learned
From The Shield Hero?
Basically Naofumi on paper works well. The ideas behind his character were interesting enough and gave enough scope to make a nuanced and well-rounded character that would have provided the story with enough of an edge to distinguish itself from other isekai stories. Unfortunately the devil is in the details and in this case poor pacing and ultimately a stalled character arc for the bulk of the series makes it fairly difficult to look at Naofumi as anything more than a case of ‘would that have been good if’.
It isn’t all bad news and provided the false rape accusation doesn’t make you seethe just at the thought, the first five or six episodes of the series, while not brilliantly paced, to provide a fairly solidly emotional character arc. If the rest of the series had managed to do something similar with other characters or had replace the character focus with a driving narrative, perhaps the whole series would have ended up on a more solid note. But those first episodes are worth watching and Naofumi is not a train-wreck of a character. He has an interesting opening arc and then just kind of gets watered down and diluted but there’s nothing inherently wrong about his character other than the execution.
Then again, some people really liked The Rising of the Shield Hero and may have seen his character a bit differently to me who mostly passingly enjoyed the show all the while wishing it would be a little bit better. And then some people really disliked it so they probably see Naofumi quite a bit differently.
If you watched The Rising of the Shield Hero, I’d love to know your thoughts on Naofumi and his progression as a character so leave us a comment below.
Thanks for reading
100 Word Anime.