I cannot remember who, but someone recommended this series to me so I picked up the first volume to give it a go. Naofumi Iwatani is your basic otaku college student with no drive who suddenly finds himself summoned to a parallel universe where he becomes one of four heroes. Unfortunately for him, his weapon is a shield so he’s pretty weak, and soon after he is betrayed, framed, and more or less turned on by every single person, but somehow he’s still expected to contribute to saving the world.
Naofumi is not a particularly likeable protagonist. Admittedly, a lot of what happens to him isn’t his fault, and really for most other characters you would end up feeling pretty bad for them if they were framed for sexual assault and left penniless and unable to use a weapon in a world where literally everything was trying to kill them. But that doesn’t make him any more likeable. What is strange is that not liking Naofumi doesn’t actually stop this from being a relatively fun read despite some of the issues the story suffers from.
Basically the world the characters are summoned to is set up like a game (what a surprise for a light novel). This is complete with levelling up and information screens and icons and all the usual based on a game mechanics that you either don’t mind or will drive you completely crazy. There’s some momentary originality thrown into this set up when the four heroes realise that they don’t all come from the same world and that while they all lived in Japan they all have a different memory of Japan. They could have done something with that and maybe further down the line they will, but basically it was kind of an excuse to have Naofumi on the outs to begin with. Why the other three somehow instantly bonded is still a little beyond me.
Unfortunately, the story is narrated in first person by Naofumi. He isn’t a bad narrator to be honest and some of his observations are actually kind of funny, particularly when he’s in the mood to feel sorry for himself. But he isn’t even a little bit unbiased and he kind of decides the other three heroes are jerks on first meeting (though they kind of prove that assessment on second meeting at least from how the narration tells the story) so the audience is really kept at arms length from these characters.
The other issue with Naofumi being the narrator is that a lot of the story is basically Naofumi and Raphtalia (the slave he ends up buyng out of desperation to have someone near him who can use a weapon) just kind of surviving and hunting to earn some coins and level up. Basically we’re reading about level grinding for large chunks of chapters and I hate to say it but that isn’t exactly riveting no matter how twisted the context is for why the character has been forced into that position.
While I’m picking on Naofumi, and before I get to some of the things I really enjoyed, I found his attitude early in the book a little hard to take. I get that he had issues after being accused of raping someone and that he felt betrayed by Myne but his general attitude toward all women was really uncomfortable to read for a few chapters. Slowly, it softened and through his interactions with Raphtalia became more tolerable and understandable (he still hate Myne and rightfully so but the entire female population are no longer targets of his ire). As I said, as understandable as having some issues might be, the first person narration makes it really hard as a female reader to get through. If it had gone on in the same tone for a little bit longer I may have set the book down and walked away.
Which is why the second half of the story needs to have its praises sung. From a generic set up with one or two original twists (at least the hero isn’t an overpowered tank cutting a path through enemies left and right), some uncomfortable moments, and way too much time levelling up, the second half of the story works over time to reconcile readers with Naofumi as a character.
By the time the wave comes and the heroes face off against it, to the after wave banquet and that ridiculous farce of a duel, you kind of want Naofumi to succeed. He hates the people in this world, he hates what they’ve done to him, he has no reason to save them, and yet he still acts as their shield. When he’s ready to give up and he finally gives in to the fairly logical despair at his situation, Raphtalia is there for him (no longer a slave because she was forcibly removed) but by her own will because she has seen the kind of man he actually can be. It is kind of cheesy but it works phenomenally well.
The other thing I liked (though at times it might be a bit of a minus) is the attention to detail in the story. Small things like Naofumi not being able to taste anything he eats is used well to highlight his emotional state but it isn’t shoved in your face. It is just another detail that is there fleshing out the world. Naofumi’s interactions in the weapon shop and his haggling and bartering with people (sometimes underhandedly when they deliberately try to hinder his survival) are all pretty delightfully done.
However, what does suffer terribly in this first book is a reason to care about the plight of the people or the world. Realistically, this first book gives the audience every reason to cheer Naofumi on if he just walked off into the sunset and never returned or better yet, actively brought down the other heroes. And the King. Please let someone kill the king in a future book.
So yes, the book has a few problems, but it sets up an interesting story and by the end manages to bring you around to liking the hero of the story. Obviously there’s slavery and a rape set-up so if either of those put you off, pass on this book. Also, if you are wanting a hero who can cut down any kind of enemy, not for you. Our hero at the moment is strictly block and hinder the enemy until someone else manages to cut them down. There’s some indication he might develop some attack skills but not a lot of progress yet (not even a shield slam which seems like a shame – though he can pin humans with his shield). Still, glad I gave this one a shot and glad I completed it.
If you’re interested in reading The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.