Leading up through Easter Sunday, Beneath the Tangles will be running a series of posts based on a theme with the hopes that it will lead our readers to consider the meaning of this week and especially of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our theme this year is loneliness.
Episode 15 of The Rising of the Shield Hero brings us back to the most climactic scene so far of the entire series, returning us to the moment when all hope seems lost for Naofumi before Raphtalia restores him with her words and embrace. In this episode, however, it’s Raphtalia who needs rescuing when she is consumed by hatred, remembering the evils Rabier committed against her fellow villagers and especially her friend, Rifana.
She has cornered the lord and is about to slay him when Naofumi calls out to her, reminding Raphtalia of who she really is, of the goodness within her. The situation is extremely similar to one early in their series when Naofumi had decided to reject everyone and everything.
Betrayed by a beautiful woman he trusted, conspired against by the king and his servants, and rejected both by his comrades and the people he is meant to protect, Naofumi becomes bitter and distrustful. His purchase of Raphtalia as a slave seemed to match his dark nature, even if we anticipate that there is a positive meaning behind this action. Naofumi continues along, largely living for himself while retaining a bit of his humanity, which primarily shines through when he interacts with Raphtalia.
But the bits of kindness that dare to arise are too often shunted back by the hatred pressed upon him. When dueling Motoyasu, and suffering betrayal again, Naofumi falls back to a conclusion he has been embracing all along—he is alone in a world of people who will be betray him as they actively seek to destroy him. Of course, this is not entirely true. Naofumi has failed to take come critical information into account. He still believes he is on his own, but the real conclusion is this: Naofumi is not alone.
It’s a difficult scene to watch after Naofumi has been cheated against, leading to a defeat at Motoyasu’s hands, because at that point he’s activated the rage shield and is in full destroy mode—not particularly against the people watching him or those cheating him, but against himself. Bit by bit, bitterness by bitterness, Naofumi has been wrecking himself all along, and the rage mode activation feels like the culmination of this behavior, and leads to a terrible choice. He pushes Raphtalia away and says that she is just the like the rest, that she, too, has abandoned him.
Thankfully, Raphtalia knows her master and talks him down, helping Naofumi realize the truth. He searches deep into the recesses of his experience and uploads the proper information. Raphtalia tells him something that she said earlier as well, and Naofumi realizes that he had never truly understood what she had said during the first ocassion.
Why didn’t Naofumi remember? Why didn’t he place the proper emphasis on Raphtalia’s self-sacrificial words in the first place? Deep in bitterness and thinking unclearly, covered by the stress of living in a new world, fighting against an enemy without his own offense, and dueling another hero, there’s plenty of reason. I’ve been there, too, and in fact, if I’m not careful, I’ll drift there and let myself sit in bitterness for far too long. I’ll listen to the lies, and hate and rage and fight.
Much like Naofumi, who puts bitterness on like a shield, I sometimes wander in that place too long. Thankfully, I find my way out—or I should say, I’m guided out by the only thing that can pull me from the awful reality of some circumstances, away from the wrong computation that occurs in my head. For Naofumi, Raphtalia reflects that same guidance which brings me out of my darkness. In the moment of his rage shield transformation, she gives Naofumi something that he doesn’t deserve. Having pushed her away, Raphtalia might decide the best thing to do is leave him alone. But instead, she covers him with her love and says the same thing to Naofumi that she said before: “I am your sword…I will follow you.” Her grace brings him through.
But further, grace changes Naofumi. It is lasting. And when Raphtalia is at her most vulnerable, when she, too, is about to be consumed by vengeance, grace washes over her, visiting through Naofumi’s wise and compassionate words, which can only be given because she once poured love out to him when he needed it most. The grace she gives is the same she receives.
And perhaps in the circumstances, bitterness, fear, and lies that lead to loneliness, it’s the only the same which can bring us through as well. My heart sometimes rages, but I know that the cure for it is in words as wise as Naofumi’s and as gentle as Raphtalia’s, speaking a lasting grace for which my soul thirsts. Unlike a fantasy tale, my life may not be epic, but the words of rescue are, as they both whisper and shout to me a truth that returns me to goodness: “I am with your always—even to the end of the age.”
The Rising of the Shield Hero can be streamed on Crunchyroll.