I swear, I just wrote this post.
No, that’s not true. The problems with the Goblin Slayer reaction sprang at least in part from a failure to pick up on the symbolic threads of the story – and probably a few missteps on the part of the production staff. This time around there’s no real excuse, the people complaining about the story of Rise of the Shield Hero are just being stupid. Worse, they are guilty of dereliction of duty. If you complained about Shield Hero incorporating a false accusation of rape into its story then you missed the mark so badly you should never review anything again. Hang up your hat and go do something useful with your life.
This post is not aimed to my usual audience (although please read it if you enjoy reading me yell at people who aren’t you). It’s aimed at every vapid, intellectually lazy, useless idiot who saw the first episode of Shield Hero and immediately spouted the Culturally Approved Party Line. You should all be replaced with a thirty second propaganda video on loop because that would have the exact same value to the discourse.
Listen, I’m going to explain this to you slowly, in small words, in the hopes that some part of you can register what I say and process it enough that you might up your game, just a little bit, at some point in the future.
The job of a critic of fiction is to take a work of fiction and think about it in the context of the culture it was made in and what the author(s) of that work were trying to accomplish with it, then examine how well the author accomplished those goals and, finally, explain all that to their audience. For an anime critic in America that job comes with the added responsibility of translating the foreign culture of Japan into terms that makes sense to American audiences, not always an easy task given the very large gaps between what makes sense to us and what makes sense in Japan.
Except. In the case of Shield Hero that isn’t difficult at all. So listen, ignorant and stunted critics, for I am about to do your job for you.
Japanese culture values appearances very highly and, once you lose face, it can be nearly impossible to recover. The consequences of a single misstep can ruin a person for life, and damages the prospects of everyone associated with that person as well. Worse, it doesn’t require an actual misstep to ruin some people, just rumors, particularly if that person is from the bottom end of the social scale. Like in American literature, good and bad, confronting injustice is a running theme in Japanese fiction, and Shield Hero is no different.
The story of Shield Hero starts with a very worn premise about a normal person transported to a fantasy world, a bit like the Chronicles of Narnia. In this case, the hero is transported with three other strangers and each of these men (and they are all men) find themselves attached to a magical weapon. They have been summoned with the hopes that they will be able to save the world. As you might guess from the title, our protagonist is attached to a powerful magical shield. His fellows sneer at him for being stuck with a worthless looking “weapon” and none of the champions native to the world join to help him prepare for the coming dangers.
None, except for a woman who seemingly takes pity on him and helps him get ready for his work. But after a single day with him she steals his money and turns him over to the local constables as a would be rapist then runs of to join forces with one of the other summoned heroes, leaving our protagonist despised, scorned and traumatized by the betrayal.
That’s the beginning of Rise of the Shield Hero and, as you might expect, it leaves the hero at his lowest point so he can –as the title implies – rise up to greatness. It’s also not the whole story.
You see, the Shield Hero has a unique standing in the world he arrives in. Tradition speaks of him as a particular ally to demihumans (essentially a despised ethnic minority in the country where he arrives). In addition, it turns out that the woman who framed him is second in line to the throne. We see other characters in the world do equal or worse things than those the Shield Hero is accused of but since they target the weak or the despised, or they themselves are simply powerful, they suffer none of the indignities that the Shield Hero must go through.
This builds greater and greater resentment and anger in the Shield Hero, creating problems beyond the physical danger he must face and the social ostracization he faces. His very hatred is a danger to him and the small handful of allies he manages to collect. The story is as much about him recovering his own sense of self as it is about his overcoming the social and physical dangers he faces.
Astute commentators will note the biting commentary this story offers on Japan’s standards of social punishment, which are rarely applied equally. They might even go so far as to draw parallels between this storyline and works of American Literature like To Kill A Mockingbird or perhaps just known historical cases that bear superficial resemblance to the inciting incident of Shield Hero like the lynching of Emmett Till. The truly daring might bring up the fact that the way Title IX has been applied in the past several years has resulted in more and more minority men being run off of college campuses under very dubious circumstances, many of whom have later found some small solace in collecting millions of dollars in court damages from the colleges that wronged them, and how Shield Hero is an easily digestible warning to examine ourselves and make sure we’re not going down the wrong path.
But I’m not going to do any of those things.
Instead, I’m going to point out how you dissolute wastes of Internet bandwidth who have the gall to claim the title of Critic behave just like the villains of Shield Hero. Just as the nation where the Shield Hero arrives revels in its religiously granted superiority over demihumans and dismisses all their trials out of hand, demeaning their champion because he is a morally inferior entity without reflection on themselves or his circumstances, you have rushed to mouth your preapproved condemnations about disbelieving survivors so you can claim the moral high ground over misogynists who just want to get away with raping women. There can’t be any kind of nuanced discussion or examination of cultures or parallels, or even what the author might have originally been intending with his story, because you already have the gospel truth and that proves you’re a good person.
Well, if there was any justice in the world your total failure at meaningful criticism would result in your being driving off the Internet by jeering masses that see you for the self-righteous drones you are. But, as Shield Hero points out, there is rarely justice in this world. And that means that, while you may hate it, The Rise of the Shield Hero is the anime you deserve. I hope you choke on it.