One of my favorites images from The Rising of the Shield Hero occurs every week: It’s the last little bit from the opening song. Raphtalia, shown as a young demi-human, reaches out to Naofumi as her protector, but then the image suddenly switches, and she’s older and holding onto him this time in an attempt to wrest Naofumi from the affects of the curse shield. His eyes open wide, awakened back to his senses. Raphtalia goes from protected to protector, receiver to giver.
It’s funny to think that if we were to describe Naofumi after episode one, it might be with descriptors like laid-back, open, and even goofy. None of those adjectives fit him now—he’s intense, unforgiving, and bitter. All it took was one event, the false accusation that turned him from being on even keel with the other heroes to being considered a criminal, to switch Naofumi’s personality. Subsequent persecution and his discernment of what others are thinking and why they’re acting in certain ways (not always accurately judged) pushes him deeper into that darker personality.
Then again, maybe the bitterness isn’t just rooted in this other world. Maybe there’s something in Naofumi’s past that’s fueling him, experiences that have created fertile ground in which to grow his bitterness. Maybe it only took the wrongful rape accusation to function as a trigger. I know that for me, it works kind of like that.
I get a persecution complex, like Naofumi does, when others falsely accuse me of something or when I’m maligned even though I’ve done nothing wrong, or worse yet, when I’ve done something I deem worthy of praise. Naofumi starts with a one-person party and the apparent handicap of having just a shield as a weapon, but he pushes his way through and does his best with a joyful attitude—and then he’s stung for that, disbelieved and hated by all. Like him, I don’t always get the goodness that I put in. Sometimes I’ll become vulnerable and try to help someone who is hurting, and receive accusations and ugliness in return. That injustice I feel turns me from a generally congenial, kind person into a raging, bitter man. I go from light-novel reading Naofumi to mad-at-the-world Naofumi, and as with his, my change isn’t pretty.
But I can’t blame the giver of malice for that transformation—not entirely at least. It happens because the bitterness is already lurking within. I have a desire to be praised for who I am and what I do, a need to find satisfaction from people. And when they don’t see my perceived value, my heart turns bitter, or rather, it settles into a bitterness already there and needing just the right conditions to flourish.
Thankfully, in many of those transformation incidents—and they happen more often than I’d like to admit—my loved ones calm me down and bring me back to my default self. A kind word, a hug, an act of service—all these speak volumes to my soul. They say, “I love you not only for what you do—and I see it—but for who you fail to be as well.”
An immeasurable distance from home, Naofumi has only one person around him to offer such grace. Raphtalia, in an already-much discussed scene, fights to show Naofumi how much she loves him. Her words and her touch take Naofumi out of curse mode and bring him back to normal. And through time, her constant companionship has started to ease his personality even more; though Naofumi is still constantly triggered, his ability to exhibit love is gradually increasing, and it’s all due to Raphtalia.
As a child, I thought myself to be a joyful and happy soul. Whether I’ve been eroded by life or simply judged myself wrong, the years have taught me that bitterness lies in wait, just below the facade I show the world. But while I work at destroying that demon once and for all, when it arises, it is, as has always been, grace which defeats the foe, for grace is a love that is unrelenting—it pierces right through an unforgiving shield and rancorous armor, and pushes clean through to even the most bitter of hearts.
The Rising of the Shield Hero can be streamed on Crunchyroll.