Oh boy, this is going to be controversial. Especially when you consider what’s coming on Episode 4 of the anime. But I’m going to do it anyway because I feel that bringing this point up is worth doing as a thought exercise.
So… let’s talk about Rising of the Shield Hero for a bit, with some minor spoilers.
Now, if you’re reading this you’ll likely be aware of the premise. Our Shield Hero, Naofumi, gets summoned to a new world, screwed over because the King and Myne decided to frame him for rape and leave his name and reputation in the garbage. Leaving aside the fact that this is incredibly stupid for a ruler to do, as if Naofumi were really a rapist he learned that he had a carte blanche to do whatever he felt like, they burned a potential asset with a legendary weapon, and they would undoubtedly unsettle the populace when they need higher morale, there’s technically a narrative reason for the King to do that. Granted, I feel that given what’s at stake he should be beheaded much like the monarchs of old whose actions have lead to a revolution when all is said and done.
But I won’t focus on Naofumi because he’s relatively simple to understand. He was screwed over and now he needs to make his own way in the world, while retaining what goodness he has in his heart. It’s a story of him rising back up after being knocked down low.
To be honest, I have a complicated relationship with this series because I want to like it and I do like the first arc for the most part. I love Naofumi relying on his own wits, making his own medicine and tools and crafts, learning to survive without being coddled or overpowered. That’s the type of Isekai I’m into, and it’s certain other aspects that have left me jaded enough with the series that I won’t do an episodic review of it this season.
Instead, I want to focus on the Three Heroes of the Sword, Spear, and Bow.
You see, I can’t technically defend their actions later on in the series, because the author makes it very hard to do so for a variety of reasons while propping Naofumi up. It’s a flaw that most Light Novels are guilty of as a product of their time and their audience. But I technically sympathize with their portrayal in the anime and manga for the first arc specifically because these heroes, despite their flaws, are victims of the King and Myne themselves.
Worse, they don’t realize it.
Imagine being taken from your home world all of a sudden. Taken from everything you knew and loved, strangers literally reached across dimensions and pulled you into their problems, asking you to risk your life to help them. Then imagine learning that if you want to be sent back, you have to end the world-ending crisis with the possibility of dying.
You don’t have a choice at that point: you’re a hostage.
Remember, none of them asked for this. They were taken from their homes and forcibly summoned here. Now they’re being asked to put their lives on the line, which is why I was agreeing with them when they first appeared demanding an explanation and compensation in the first episode. If you’re going to demand they put their lives on the line and save your world, you’d damn well better compensate them.
That “Hero doing things because it’s the right thing to do” is nice in concept. But in practice it’s a hell of a lot more complicated when you drag them into your mess against their wills and it will get them killed. You pay your knights to defend your lands, you pay adventurers to kill monsters, so you’d better do the same for the guys who have the equivalent of a tactical nuke attached to them.
The problem here is that because the King not only compensates them but gives them as much support and praise as they need, they don’t have a reason to believe that Naofumi was framed. People who are content with their lives don’t need to branch out or doubt the system. It’s taking care of them, so as far as they know, this guy they just met violated the only woman kind enough to form a party with him and he’s getting off scot-free because he’s technically registered as a hero, just like them.
As far as the majority of people know, Naofumi is a criminal who they have to tolerate. He openly threatens merchants, threatens, blackmails, and breaks the rules that he can get away with. He has a demi-human slave, who has even less legal protections than Myne, gets branded like an animal, can be shocked at a whim, and openly declares she’s his sword and lives for his sake after less than a month together.
That’s the narrative from the general public (select individuals excluded) of the capital city, and what the King is feeding the other heroes right now, so you can understand why they have doubts and reservations about him. We, as the audience, know better because we follow every struggle that Naofumi goes through and why he takes the measures he does. They don’t.
And because they don’t, Naofumi looks shady in every aspect.
Now, in Episode 3 he saved as many people as he could in the mining town while the heroes ran off to defeat the boss. That’s supposed to show Naofumi is sympathetic to them despite all the wrongs he’s been dealt. It works nicely and you will see that very soon.
However, I’ve seen comments about the heroes not caring about the people and feel the need to point out that as far as they know, they’re doing the right thing.
The Waves only end once the boss is beaten as far as they know. So going straight to kill the boss is the right course of action while the the knights are the ones who are supposed to save the civilians and kill the mooks. Remember, that’s what they were summoned to do and the longer it takes to put down the boss, the more monsters come in and flood the world.
They did all the hard work as far as they’re concerned, because they did their duty. Naofumi not showing up to fight the boss with them can be seen as a dereliction of his duty despite the fact that he’s supposed to be in a jail cell, but gets a pass. Worse, as far as they know, Naofumi had a slave fight for him to gain EXP during the Waves and guess who’s going to be the one debriefing them on that fact?
That’s right. The mustache-twirling knight leader who was clearly trying to kill Naofumi and prejudiced against Raph. The system once again working against him because the ones in charge are being dicks.
The Three Heroes have no reason to believe there’s a conspiracy against Naofumi, because logically there shouldn’t be one. They were called in to prevent a world-ending crisis, so everyone should be doing their best to help them. Myne and the King doing all of this doesn’t make any sense to them, because they gain no tangible benefit out of screwing over one of the heroes, so they don’t have a reason to doubt them or believe Naofumi.
King and Myne legitimately have the upperhand here. If the words “subtle” were present in their actions, they would be legitimately decent villains. Instead, they’re just assholes who are being assholes for no feasible reason. At least Garon from Fire Emblem Fates had the excuse of being a literal monster by the Big Bad of that game as an excuse for being so blatant.
That’s not to say these heroes aren’t without flaws. Spear Hero is an idiot womanizer who got isekai’d due to a pair of yanderes deciding if they couldn’t have him, no one would. Sword Hero is basically Kirito in his SAO days and that says all you need to know about him. And Bow Hero has a bunch of issues with his pride that wasn’t helped by him being given a legendary weapon. But it makes them human to have flaws as much as Naofumi has anger issues (justifiably) and, right now, these idiots don’t know any better.
As far as they know, they’re doing the right thing. They’re acting within the law and being righteous heroes who do all that jazz you see in RPGs. Naofumi is at best someone who did something bad and trying to make amends, or at worst a clever criminal who they need to be wary of.
All while the real villain sits on the throne, moving them like chess pieces on a board to get in the Shield Hero’s way.