CBR has become the latest outlet to take a tired swing at the wildly popular The Rising of the Shield Hero, as a recently published article questions the series’ “socially contentious undertones” and labels its fanbase as “incels.”
On May 5th, the comic book and pop culture outlet published an article declaring that “The Rising of the Shield Hero Is Absurdly Popular for NO Good Reason,” in which freelance article writer Timothy Donohoo purports to be baffled by the series’ continued popularity, opening his article by claiming that the “recipe for a potentially terrible anime” was “cooked to perfection with The Rising of the Shield Hero” and that the constant attacks on the series’ “socially contentious undertones” were “well deserved” before proceeding to examine “how one of today’s worst anime has become one of its most popular.”
“Isekai is easily the most ubiquitous genre in today’s anime and manga. While this means the genre has a huge audience of avid fans, it also means that it has plenty of detractors, as well. Often seen as incredibly cliche, if not boring, the faraway fantasy worlds that isekai transports its heroes and viewers to all seem to blend together at this point. Add in a host of social faux pas, and you have the recipe for a potentially terrible anime.
That recipe was cooked to perfection with The Rising of the Shield Hero. With an overpowered protagonist who’s seemingly never wrong, topped with socially contentious undertones, the series has gotten its fair share of well deserved flak. Despite this, it continues to find a fanbase, as evidenced by its consistently high ranking on sites like Crunchyroll. Here’s a look at how one of today’s worst anime has become one of its most popular.”
The attack on the series continues as Donohoo boasts that “the show’s own reputation and critical reception are lower than dirt, and for good reason,” taking issue with the rape accusation leveled against Naofumi Iwatani at the onset of the series for “being at odds with the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement.”
Hilariously, after recalling how this plot point “led to many Western fans in particular criticizing the series for its casual misogyny,” Donohoo is forced to acknowledge that “sentiment was significantly less felt in Japan.”
“Fittingly, the show’s own reputation and critical reception are lower than dirt, and for good reason. The story kicking off with the hero being falsely accused of rape was especially controversial, with many seeing it as being at odds with the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement, if not wholly opposing it. This led to many Western fans in particular criticizing the series for its casual misogyny, though the sentiment was significantly less felt in Japan. Regardless, though this plot point is played for laughs, many felt that the confines of a fantasy isekai might not be the best place to handle such a serious topic.”
Turning to the accusations that the series promotes slavery, Donohoo dismisses Naofumi’s confession that he only ‘enslaved’ Raphtalia due to his belief that his best bet for survival in a world in which his reputation is torn asunder is an ally who is literally magic-bound to follow him, and pointing to the overall concept of Raphtalia’s enslavement as supportive evidence for “the character’s real life reputation as an “incel self-insert”:
“The show has also been accused of supporting slavery. Early on, the protagonist actually buys a slave girl and, instead of immediately freeing her or even feeling conflicted over the fact that she’s a slave, Naofumi keeps her enslaved to him. Some have excused the plot element through the show’s medieval setting, as well as the fact that the hero doesn’t treat his slave in a degrading or dehumanizing way. Within the show, Naofumi justifies his needing a slave by saying that no one else would willingly work with him due to his fractured reputation. This hasn’t helped the character’s real life reputation as an ‘incel self-insert'” who feels put upon by the world.”
Finally, Donohoo argues that “the show itself is just another generic isekai show,” taking issue with Naofumi’s characterization and his displays of unreasonable skill, despite these moments being played primarily for their comedic value:
“Even without these unsavory elements, the show itself is just another generic isekai show, and a poorly done one at that. This is exacerbated further by Naofumi constantly winning in some form or fashion, despite him supposedly being the world’s victim. He wins fights with relative ease – despite his inexperience with the fantasy game world. Far more experienced gamers and fighters pale in comparison to the awesomeness of Naofumi…for some reason. Other characters also constantly come off as incredibly dumb, either blindly worshiping Naofumi or simply acting stupid for the sake of the plot.”
After putting forth these “legitimate issues,” a disingenuously baffled Donohoo questions the series’ widespread popularity.
Asserting that the isekai genre “is currently plaguing anime as a whole, much as the harem genre had in years before,” Donohoo argues that the fact that some viewers may relate to Naofumi as justification for the show’s label as an “incel fantasy” and concludes that the series has “more notoriety than it deserves.”
“Despite all of these legitimate issues, the show continues to develop an audience. Crunchyroll revealed that it was in their Top 20 list of the currently most popular series, in the same ranking as much more acclaimed shows like My Hero Academia, Naruto and One Piece. One justification for the questionable series’ popularity is the current wave of other generic, poorly constructed isekai shows that seem to somehow find a loyal audience. The genre is currently plaguing anime as a whole, much as the harem genre had in years before.
The controversial elements might actually be a boon for the show’s popularity. Some viewers may seek out Shield Hero because of its taboo, almost risque reputation, while others might even sympathize with the protagonist. This would justify the show’s label as an “incel fantasy,” but it would also explain why rampant criticism has failed to break the show’s viewership. Another interesting explanation for why the show is so widely watched may be its cult status in the West. The source material was one of the first web light novels to be translated into English, opening a new world of potential readers, and eventually viewers, to an underdog, no-name web novel author. This Western cult status is ironic, given that the West is where the series has seen the majority of its criticism. Nevertheless, the show’s popularity, much like its eponymous hero, continues to rise, and it certainly won’t be the last generic isekai to get more notoriety than it deserves.”
Conversely, according to original The Rising of the Shield Hero light novel printing company Kadokawa Producer Junichiro Tamura, there have been no “controversies regarding the series in Japan” as Japanese viewers “do not see these anime as controversial.”
Ironically, despite multiple admissions that “the West is where the series has seen the majority of its criticism,” Donohoo fails to consider that this criticism is largely unfounded and put forth by critics in bad-faith.
After the premiere of The Rising of the Shield Hero’s first episode, many proponents of social justice theory took issue with the use of a false rape allegation as a major plot point, accusing the series of promoting misogyny and calling for the series’ cancellation.
In their 2019 retrospective, Anime News Network ranked the series as the “Worst Anime of 2019,” claiming that the adventures of Naofumi were a “rallying point for the worst impulses of some of the worst people.”
This is further seen in the fact that the purported morally justified and “rampant” criticism leveled against the series has not prevented CBR from promoting the series in a positive light in order to draw traffic to their website.
Earlier this year, the outlet published an article speculating on the Dungeons & Dragons alignments of the series’ cast, which makes no reference to misogyny, slavery promotion, or incels.
In an article titled “10 Things You Need To Know About Rising Of The Shield Hero,” Naofumi’s anger and distrust of the world around him is optimistically described as “a part of his character development,” without which “he’s identical to every other isekai protagonist.”