Anime is not without its fair share of controversy, and although the new anime year just began, it seems another show has become the center of fierce debate as Aneko Yusagi's The Rising of the Shield Hero's adaptation has struck some major chords.
The Rising of the Shield Hero's first episode has sparked controversy among fans for its depiction of false rape accusations as well as hinting at slavery as a major plot thread moving forward.
Content and Spoiler Warning: This editorial will frankly discuss the many elements causing a controversy in the first episode and spoil some future events in the series.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is an Isekai series in which a student named Iwatami Naofumi is transported into a fantasy world along with three others. Summoned as the "Four Heroes" each one is given a special weapon, with Naofumi given the titular shield. There's something strange early on as everyone seems to treat Naofumi differently just because he has the shield, and belittle the fact that he's supposed to be one of the heroes meant to save the world.
When the four heroes put together adventuring parties, Naofumi ends up with a single partner, a woman named Malty. On the second day of forming a team with Myne, Naofumi awakens to find that his introductory silver and gear are gone. When trying to discover the cause, he finds that he's been accused of rape. Myne, crying, says that Naofumi broke into her room the night before and pinned her to the ground. This is further exacerbated by a torn neglige found in his bed.
When Naofumi attempts to defend himself, he is quickly shunned by the three other heroes and the King nearly sentences him to death because assaulting a woman is considered one of the gravest sins of their matriarchy (though Naofumi escapes it by being one of the four heroes who have to save their world).
Trying to plead with Myne, she stops crying for a moment and sticks her tongue out at him, confirming suspicions that she did all of this to trick him. This is further emphasized by the fact that she never called Naofumi by name, and instead referred to him as "Sir Hero" for their short time together.
The rape accusation tarnishes Naofumi's reputation in the kingdom, which had already been weak due to other negative rumors about his personality, intelligence, and strength. Naofumi then begins his "adventure" cynically and spitefully, and works to save the kingdom from coming monsters lest he never make it home.
Starting on a rape accusation paints the entire series in a bad light according to its detractors as it's meant to set the entire series in motion. Rape as a plot device is bad enough, but here it serves as the origin of the entire plot. What's made it worse in the eyes of its detractors are the implications of what kind of message a false accusation of this nature sends to the audience.
The presentation of the accusation, in world where women hold the power, is that it makes women untrustworthy in the eyes of the series. That women are capable of accusing men of such things as rape as a way to "take advantage" of "unsuspecting" men like Naofumi. That her accusation shouldn't be taken at face value, and the sinister way in which it plays out only further exacerbates the oddness of such a thing.
Naofumi's also later proven correct, as the other heroes eventually reveal a more selfish side to each of them (which is hinted at in the premiere) and it unveils a major controversy at large. The accusation is eventually seen as a quick way to exploit a deeper issue later in the series, so then seems like a cheap shortcut. This makes it even more offensive of a plot point.
This is only half of the major issue early viewers have had with the first episode as the second comes toward the end of the premiere. With Naofumi unable to get anyone into his party after the rape accusation, he comes to a decision to buy a slave in order to help him fight (as his shield comes with no offensive power). Viewers then see a small, downtrodden girl at the end of the episode.
Like the rape accusation, detractors of the series have seen that final bit as slavery apologist. Slavery, like rape, has been an element of other anime series, though it's treated a bit differently here. Naofumi does purchase this young girl, named Raphtalia, and he does keep her as a slave. Though it soon becomes clear that he has no interest in treating her as one.
He's cold to her (because the fallout of the accusation has turned him into a bitter person driven by hate), and forces her to fight because he figuratively and literally has no choice (because it's fight or don't go home). Unfortunately, while the nature of their relationship does change as the series continues, Naofumi continues to employ slaves to his party. It's written into the plot that the only way he can level up he and his party properly is through this method, and unfortunately seems inescapable.11comments
But unlike the slavery introduced, the rape accusation event is the only time something like it is used in the series. Unlike the controversial anime of last season, Goblin Slayer, the use of rape is not a constant in the series going forward. But like Goblin Slayer, after its controversial opening, the series becomes another standard fantasy story with more of a cynical tinge.
It's up to the viewers themselves to decide whether or not this will be enough to detract them from watching the series, but know the controversy is rooted in very real issues. It's not a great look for fantasy series to show off such ugly realities in such a distorted way, and although it's admittedly handled better here than in the original light novel series, there's no real reason for such an intense element such as this right from the get go.