Raphtalia’s biggest problem is Naofumi’s eventual homecoming.

The rising of the shield hero is a popular isekai anime series that recently returned in the spring 2022 anime season for more adventures in the distant kingdom of Melromarc. For now, the protagonist Iwatani Naofumi has assembled an excellent group of adventurers to help him, but eventually they will have to say their goodbyes.

From the beginning, shield hero has improved one of the core elements of isekai: the outward journey. Heroes like Rimuru Tempest and Ainz Ooal Gown have no hope of returning home, but once the Waves are over, Naofumi and the other cardinal heroes will be sent home, never to return. And Naofumi’s best friend, Raphtalia, isn’t ready for this at all.

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Why Raphtalia must learn to say goodbye

The first member of Naofumi’s group to shield hero She is the demi-human tanuki Raphtalia, whom she bought as a slave before appointing her as the head swordswoman of her group. Soon, they formed a foster father and daughter dynamic, with each relying heavily on the other, even as the other members of the group, such as Filo and Princess Melty, were thrown into the mix. Raphtalia is personally attached to Naofumi in the story of shield herobut she is also aware that eventually, the four Cardinal Heroes will be sent back to Earth, never to return, and she is not prepared for this to happen.

Raphtalia is somewhat co-dependent on Naofumi, as he is the first person outside of her hometown to treat her well and value her. Naofumi gave Raphtalia a new purpose as a powerful warrior who can defend the innocent against the waves, and Naofumi personally takes care of all of Raphtalia’s needs without hesitation. Naturally, this made Raphtalia strongly bond with him, and she panics a bit and almost tears up at the thought of them being forced to part ways in the future.

Raphtalia has the rebuilt Lurolona Village to appreciate, along with all of its inhabitants, but Naofumi is a different matter altogether. If Raphtalia doesn’t want to completely collapse when Naofumi is forced to leave, she must learn to form stronger bonds with her fellow natives and start acting and thinking independently. For his own good, he must gradually remove Naofumi from his mind and replace him with his fellow villagers, Filo, Princess Melty and the like, and make them the most important people in his heart.

Fortunately for Raphtalia, all of those characters love her equally and deserve Raphtalia’s affection. They should provide a strong emotional cushion for Raphtalia when Naofumi returns to Earth, and Raphtalia might find the mental strength to say goodbye to him and move on without him. Even when Naofumi is gone, Lurolona and the demi-human inhabitants of her will remain, and they will need Raphtalia and vice versa. Naofumi must be Raphtalia’s role model and inspiration, not his lover or his perpetual guardian. Naofumi helped Raphtalia regain her freedom and encouraged her to face her painful past. She must now honor Naofumi’s gifts by learning to live a post-Naofumi life when the time is right.

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What this means for the Isekai genre

This subplot in the story of shield hero has intriguing implications not only for shield hero itself but the isekai subgenre as a whole. Although isekai is not a formal literary genre, it is a well-established subgenre with some basic rules from the early days of sword art online, as the main character has little or no chance of returning home; often the hero previously died or was magically summoned to end up in the new world.

It’s not an absolute law that an isekai hero must remain trapped in this new world forever, but that’s the norm, and perhaps some anime fans are getting tired of it. This often leads to abstract, open-ended stories where there is no real end goal, as the hero cannot return home under his own power, and as a result such stories end up becoming typical power fantasies.

That is where shield hero enters, where the hero can actually return home under the right circumstances, and that gives him an ultimate goal. He must survive and fight not only to defend the innocent, but also to return home at last, and that gives him shield hero a sense of direction. Above all, this plot twist creates palpable personal risks for Raphtalia and Naofumi, as Naofumi’s eventual homecoming will drive them apart, and they must be prepared to say goodbye. Just the thought of that is heartbreaking, and sets an example that future isekai series could follow.

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