Naofumi’s Progress From Zero to Hero to Not-So-Anti-Hero


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).

Rising of the Shield Hero Episode 1 Naofumi

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?

The Rising of the Shield Hero Episode 1 Naofumi
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.

The Rising of the Shield Hero Episode 1 Spear Hero

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.

The Rising of the Shield Hero Episode 1

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.

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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.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

  1. Maka Albarn – Soul Eater
  2. Yamato Kurosawa – Say I Love You
  3. Rimuru Tempest – That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
  4. Hestia – Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon
  5. Jean Otus – ACCA

The Double-Edge Sword of a Misanthropic Protagonist

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If you’ve watched any amount of anime, there is no doubt at one time or another you have come across the misanthropic protagonist. Most recently we’ve had our streams graced by the ever charming Naofumi who actually started out as quite a nice and optimistic guy but after betrayal and injustice lost his ability to trust pretty much anyone.


While they aren’t as prolific as the ‘nice guy/girl’ protagonist or the ‘wanna-be the best’ protagonist, they are a breed of protagonists that crop up from time to time, though they are often met with mixed reception.


And it is no wonder. Having a character who openly hates or looks down upon the other characters is a reasonably hard sell when not done for the sake of comedy, to set up a situation where the protagonist can be reached out to by others and grow, or where the protagonist is just the villain of the piece. As much as people might find the average edgy misanthrope character amusing for a few episodes, or even find them endearing as a supporting cast member, to try to carry the plot and the audience’s affection for an entire season is quite the ask.

However, when done well, this type of character has a few advantages right from the beginning. Firstly, they tap into the cynicism that seems to be the current trend of the day. That isn’t to say that people who like misanthropic protagonists are actually all cynics who hate the world and want global warming to raise the ocean levels and drown all puppies (though there might be some of those in the target audience). It is more that there is a growing feeling of discontent across populations in the world that things aren’t going well and a general feeling of wanting to do something but feeling ultimately powerless. The misanthropic character appeals by pointing out the worst humanity has to offer, usually in a mocking manner, and for a moment the audience is given some kind of release to the mounting negativity.


The second reason this type of protagonist works is because they aren’t fighting for recognition amongst a thousand other faces. While I said in the beginning they crop up from time to time, they are still very much in the minority when looking at protagonists in anime.

It isn’t really hard to know why when you consider that they generally promote social disharmony, point out the follies of those in charge, and generally go about solving things in fairly socially destructive manners. You can kind of understand why Japanese anime doesn’t exactly promote these types of protagonist as the everyday hero.

For instance, when we turn our attention to Naofumi in Shield Hero, even though he continues to do a lot of good in the world he has been summoned to he charges a steep price for his services with the common people so that they won’t try to take advantage of him and he openly disrespects the nobility and regards the royal family with open hostility. For all that his involvement with Raphtalia and Filo has softened his initial hating the world and everyone in it stance, Naofumi is still very much an angry person who just doesn’t like others.


Where the misanthrope is more normally seen is in the reluctant love interest or support character and generally speaking the nice guy/girl protagonist ultimately heals whatever dramatic back story lead to their social discord and they ultimately learn to make friends again, or whatever. This is the more normal character arc for a misanthropic character and one that serves a valuable purpose but isn’t exactly compelling.


But, while there are advantages to this particular character archetype, it isn’t without its risk. Too negative and you risk depressing or alienating your audience. Too anti-social and you create a situation where your protagonist is literally sitting in their room without interacting with others. Or every interaction is barbed, strained and painful. There’s definitely a balance that needs to be had with this type of character. They need to express misanthropic ideology while at the same time they need to be fairly socially nuanced. So today, I want to look at just two examples.


The first, and most obvious example of a misanthropic protagonist, is Hikigaya Hachiman from My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong As I Expected. Now, his misanthropic tendencies are clearly on display from his opening monologue. The audience sees him as a keen observer of others, someone who analyses the situation around himself and draws conclusions that have sufficiently wrapped themselves is rationalisations to hold a glimmer of truth. It is a truth that most audience members can find themselves to relating to, on some occasions. And that is the mastery of Hachiman as a character.

He isn’t the person who an audience member might always agree with. He takes things to extremes. His self-destructive tendencies are counter productive even to is own goals of basically slipping through school without drawing undue attention. And yet, every now and then he says something that makes the audience sit up and take notice. He’s someone who has perfectly phrased a sentiment or a fear that has dwelled inside that member of the audience and how it has been given voice.


The other reason Hikigaya Hachiman works so well as a character is that he is not stagnant. He makes steps toward becoming more social and open and then another scar is added as life happens and he retreats. This pattern continues again and again and we see Hachiman wall himself off, terminating the inroads that other characters have made. While it would be nice to believe that in the source material maybe Hachiman gets to his happy ending, ultimately the anime leaves him hanging perpetually in a limbo of his own making, and to be honest with a title like ‘My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong As I Expected’ I kind of suspect that there is no happily ever after to be found for this protagonist. But I’ll be okay if when I finally get to reading the light novels to find that I am wrong.

But while I have spent the last three paragraphs talking up Hachiman as a character, I am now going to point out the obvious. He isn’t universally loved by the audience. While many people connect with this apathetic and cynical bundle of adolescent edginess, other find him grating, defeatist, and needlessly negative. I wish I remembered which blog I read one particular post on that essentially tore Hachiman’s character apart from the ground up because it really did summarise the opposing viewpoint on the character quite well.

By using a misanthropic protagonist, the writer’s have tapped in to one audience and touched a nerve, managing to make them connect and relate to a character who exhibits many negative traits. However, they have equally managed to put off other members of the potential audience who just find it an exercise in futility to listen to a character who ultimately isn’t going to overcome the chip on his shoulder and save the world from all the wrongs (okay, that was a little bit more condescending a line than I intended, so sorry about that). However, maybe the issue isn’t that Hachiman is negative in his view on people and his solutions are destructive. Maybe the problem is that Hachiman didn’t go far enough.

Yagami Light Death Note

And that leads us nicely into the final example I’d like to discuss, Yagami Light from Death Note, the original anime series and not the movie. Now, Yagami Light is as misanthropic as they come and he is that way long before he ever finds the Death Note. He looks down upon those around him and feels the whole world is rotting. The only thing he lacks is the power to act upon his desires and then the Death Note literally falls into his hands.


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As a character, Yagami Light is intriguing, and yet he is never put on a path of redemption. He hates the world and decides that the only way to save it is to become its god and essentially create a new world in his own chosen image. Admittedly, misanthropy may be the least of Light’s issues when you consider he’s also a mass murdering psycho with delusions of potential divinity. His arrogance is almost limitless as is his ultimate ambition.


Yet Light is a character who regularly comes in on people’s favourite male character lists and is generally fairly beloved by the fan-base. Some of the heftiest criticisms of the Netflix movie was its depiction of Light and the fact that fans were very unhappy with how the teen was altered.

Unlike Hachiman, Light does not doubt his course of action. He has almost no moments of hesitation. He doesn’t open up to others tentatively and hope that maybe this time it will end differently. Light’s walls are absolute and people fall into the category of criminal, victim, obstacle, or potentially useful and he uses them as such. That said, Light ultimately frames himself as someone fighting for, or even creating, justice. He believes that truly and his actions for the most part are not those of a villainous character but the actions of a protagonist seeking to change the world, though many will disagree with his course of action.

Though perhaps that is why he is brilliant. He is not a character who is wavering and second guessing himself, but a pure embodiment of the rage and anger almost everyone feels at some point in this unfair world. Where others are powerless, Light lashes out at the injustices that everyone can see, though in the process he creates a new form of injustice and a new kind of terror. And ultimately his end is in-glamorous and his goal unrealised.


So the question becomes has Light gone too far or did Hachiman not go far enough? What appeals about these characters and what turns audience members away? How did you feel about the arrival of Naofumi as yet another protagonist full of hate for the world? And more importantly, what do you think about misanthropic protagonists in anime? Be sure to leave me a comment below and let’s get the conversation going.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James