The Moderate Ascendancy of the Shield Hero

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Next week One Peace Books will release its English language translation of the first volume of author Aneko Yusagi’s sword & sorcery light novel series The Rising of the Shield Hero. I’m always gladdened to see Japanese pop media reach American shores, and One Peace Books has done a commendable job of localizing the first of the eleven (so far) books. The book itself, however, it literally and figuratively a story unto itself.


Since its October 2012 premiere online, the novel series has become a best seller, getting a commercial print publication by Media Factory in 2013 and an ongoing manga adaptation in 2014. The story revolves around Naofumi Iwatani, a Japanese college student abruptly transported to an un-named fantasy world plagued by a monthly invasion of ghastly beasts. Naofumi is summoned by the country of Melromarc to serve as one of its four legendary heroes that will subdue the “Waves of Great Destruction.” While the other three summoned heroes, also coincidentally Japanese youths, wield a sword, spear, and bow, respectively, Naofumi is literally stuck with a shield that he can’t take off and can’t strike or attack with. Furthermore, magic prohibits him from even attempting to wield an offensive weapon. Despite being one of only four people capable of saving the world, Naofumi is immediately ostracized and vilified by the kingdom of Melromarc and even his fellow “legendary heroes.” Informed that he can’t return to Japan before the “Waves of Great Destruction” are eliminated, Naofumi grudgingly sets to the task of leveling up and recruiting party members to save the very kingdom that inexplicably orders his execution only three days after his appearance in the world.

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The fact that the kingdom needs Naofumi to defeat the “Great Waves of Destruction” yet also condemns him and even orders him executed virtually upon his arrival is only the first of the novel series’ countless inconsistencies, contradictions, and lapses in continuity and common sense. For the purposes of this review, the less said about the literary quality of the book, the better. The first novel, consisting almost exclusively of first-person-perspective narration and dialogue, and practically no description, introduces the setting and characters and spends much of its length depicting Naofumi grinding experience points by repeatedly punching novice-level monsters until they die. The month-long setting of the first book concludes with Naofumi’s first encounter with a “Wave of Great Destruction” and the immediately subsequent fallout from the cataclysmic event. The first book ends with a bonus chapter told from supporting character Raphtalia’s perspective.

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At least One Peace Books’ localization is impressive. The print margins are unusually wide, making the book appear more substantial than it actually is. However, the cover illustration is a carefully localized duplicate of the original Japanese first volume cover. Moreover, the book includes all of the beautiful original Japanese interior illustrations by Minami Seira, including all ten monochrome illustrations, all three color illustrations printed on glossy paper, and two pages of character design art. Unfortunately the original Japanese illustrations, including the cover art, immediately spoil the first book’s biggest plot surprise.

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The Shield Hero series already has a small but devoted cult following in America, so I’m glad that those established fans will finally have legitimate access to the first novel. Furthermore, fans of male-led satirical fantasy stories including Magic Soldier Louie and Legend of the Legendary Heroes are likely to find something, however small, to enjoy in this franchise. Fans of “epic failure” Dungeons & Dragons stories will also probably get some cynical fun from the first Shield Hero novel. I have great respect for the effort and care that One Peace Books put into localizing this series. The second book is scheduled for domestic release on October 20, and I know that localization work is already well underway on the third volume.

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