Naofumi Iwatani is my favorite protagonist to come out of the isekai genre. A close second to him would be Subaru from Re:Zero and my honorary favorite Kazuma from Konosuba. Naofumi is written very different from a lot of protagonist in isekais which makes me like him a lot. The world he is summoned to is stacked up against him which makes readers of the light novels and anime viewers to really feel for him and root him on. In this blog post, I want to share why the way Naofumi was portrayed makes him my favorite isekai protagonist.
From the very start of the light novel, Naofumi was disliked, hated and even feared. When he was summoned, he was already cast aside, ignored by the king, and no one even wanted to be in the party with him. For him, it reached a boiling point when he was falsely accused of raping Myne, the only person who joined his party. The rape accusation won’t be the last thing he needs to clear his name from as later down the series there will be more and more things he will become accused of. You eventually do learn why the Shield Hero is hated in the nation and it makes you really root for him more so than other protagonist.
Most protagonists in isekais take on a high diplomatic positions who are generally well liked such as Rimuru from Slime, Shiroe from Log Horizon and even Ainz from Overlord. All these characters try to create a world where everyone can benefit from each other and for the most part, they are loved and gain many followers and allies. Naofumi is not like that. No one wanted to join his party, no wanted him summoned, no believed in him. Because he’s written like this, it creates a really strong empathy towards him and hatred towards those who antagonizes him. And when he does succeed or his haters are exposed, the victory feels 10 times better.
The Shield Hero is considered to be the weakest of the four heroes. I guess that can be a debatable statement. While he isn’t able to attack, he is not weak. He can take a huge blow and is barely damaged. But the fact that he cannot attack can be definitely a great weakness especially since it’ll be difficult for him to level up. Because of this, he has to rely on others to fight for him. You can already imagine that this puts Naofumi in an even more difficult spot since nobody wants to be in a party with him.
Protagonists in other isekais are usually not considered to be weak. Of the more well known isekais, the closest one to be considered “weak” is Subaru from Re:Zero. His only power was resetting to an unknown point in time after he dies. Other than that, he did not have any magical powers and physical strength and relied on other people to help him fight. Like many isekai’s protagonists, Subaru’s strength came from the knowledge he gained in each lifetime. Lots of protagonists who would fall in that “weak” category would rely on their knowledge as their strength. We see this in Log Horizon, No Game No Life, and Saga of Tanya the Evil. All the protagonists in these series are all very smart and use their brains to get through a situation instead of physical and/or magical skill.
Now, because Naofumi isn’t strong and he’s hated, he does find ways to get around situations. Granted, they’re not the most noble ways a hero should do things such as owning a slave or threatening shop owners, but he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to prepare for the Waves. Even though his tactics are unethical, I don’t put any kind of blame to him. I usually get upset if a main character does something wrong or stupid, but in this case, I understand why he does the things he does.
If we didn’t see any of this from his point of view, we’d consider Naofumi a little unlikable. He’s so negative and always looks angry. He also doesn’t trust people easily especially after being betrayed. He didn’t trust those who wanted to help him and even for a while, he didn’t even trust Raphtalia. But because we know his backstory and his pain, his unlikable characteristic is understandable. If he tried to change to get townspeople to like him, it would have been a wasted effort as there is a much deeper reason the Shield Hero is despised. Instead, he just keeps his hate for them as much as they hate him.
So why is his awful charisma a reason why I think Naofumi is a great protagonist? Well, because we know deep down that he is a good person with a great heart. Beneath his outer doom and gloom persona is someone who wants to give a better life to Raphtalia and despite the country hating him, he does still do his duty as a hero to save people. He thinks about the well being of others while the other heroes think about their fame of being a hero. The contract between his outer persona and his inner side makes that good side of him much stronger.
Naofumi is written in a way where the audience sympathizes with him. He’s constantly antagonized by the people who claims are his allies and people he has to protect. He’s weak and has to resort to unethical practices to survive. And because of all this, he’s not charismatic. He’s not the typical protagonist we see in many isekais and it’s a breath of fresh air to see to be honest. The struggles he overcomes is much for satisfying to see.
I don’t want to say that other isekai protagonists are worse than Naofumi. Every protagonist has their own struggles and demons they have to overcome. However, Naofumi is different from a lot of the ones I’ve seen and is written a little bit to my liking. I love underdog characters. I think stories with those types of characters leaves the most impact for me.
Hope you enjoyed this read! I really love Rising of the Shield Hero and may write more about it depending on what topics I can come up with or what’s a hot talking point at the time. But that is it for me. I’ll see you all next time!