So you may have noticed the latest argument in the anime fandom concerns how to respond to Naofumi’s treatment of Raphtalia as his slave. Should he be praised/defended because he improved her living conditions and treated her better than her previous owner? Or criticized because, well, he owns/owned a slave?

Obviously, one can do both. It’s not like we have to pick only one choice, like some warped ethical multiple choice quiz.

What I’ve seen less discussion of, and which is potentially more interesting, is the problematic nature of how she was set free.

Disclaimer: I am not saying she should not be freed. Of course she should. It’s just that there are a few tiny problems with how it was done.

The king and his daughter (the people supposedly interested in freeing her) gagged her, hauled her off, and even dismissed her own view of the matter out of hand without any interest in hearing what she had to say. What more effective way to tell someone, and a woman at that, “You have no agency”?

As Naofumi ultimately acknowledges, both he and they only saw Raphtalia as a tool, that is, as a thing rather than a person.

The same motif appears again when the heroes of the Sword and the Bow point out that someone interfered in the duel. When asked why none of the people spoke up about it, the two heroes revealed that the king had ordered the people not to. He forced them to be silent, just like Raphtalia. To him, they are all just tools as well.

Is this what passes for freedom in this country? Because it doesn’t look very free.

It doesn’t matter whether they are called slaves or not. It doesn’t even matter if they have some limited choice over things like what they can eat. (As a slave, Raphtalia also was given that choice.) If the choice to say what you wish only exists at the will of another, you’re a slave.

In the ethical tradition I grew up in, we used two Latin words to make this distinction: uti “to use” and frui “to enjoy”. We are supposed to use things, and enjoy people. “Enjoy” here has the sense of the pleasure that comes from, say, watching your child learn and grow, or having a delightful conversation with a friend over a beer (or the beverage of your choice; I won’t judge), or playing sports with your team. (This last example is rather Shonen-like!)

In short, frui is the enjoyment that we get from the Other as other. It’s the pleasure found in someone because they are different from you.

Hatred, discrimination, and everything that goes along with them don’t arise merely because people are different; the problem appears when we try to make what is Other into what is Not-Other, to reduce it to our own identity. By seeking to extend our identity to another, we’re trying to turn them into tools for our own will. Things to be used.

So both Naofumi and the king had it backwards. The difference is that Naofumi finally saw his error and changed course. So I’m really hoping he and the free Raphtalia can develop a new appreciation of, and enjoyment of, each other.

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10 thoughts on “Shield Hero: A Slave By Any Other Name”

  1. Slavery is an ongoing issue in this series and I’m interested to see whether the anime follows the same course as the light novel in terms of how it deals with it. So far it has pretty much stayed on track but it will be interesting to see if they’ve taken some liberties with future developments.

    1. I haven’t read the source material, so I’ll be interested in seeing what you say as the anime progresses.

  2. It is certainly apparent that it was malice rather than love that motivated the king and her daughter to act the way they did. While slavery is an objective evil, it is hard not to esteem Naofumi, as a benevolent slave owner, higher than people who see Raphtalia as subhuman and only want to release one specific slave while permitting slavery to exist in their kingdom at large. Aristotle, ardent republican that he was, opined that all of the citizens in a kingdom are the king’s slaves, and this particular king acts that way.

    Episode 4 was the most moving episode of the season so far. Good points about uti and frui. I think that Aristotle says that bad men can only have friendships of utility (uti), while the virtuous can enjoy real friendship (frui). Naofumi had become the former type of person, and Raphtalia reopened the possibility of him becoming the latter.

    1. Thanks for bringing Aristotle into it (though I’m sure he would have used the Greek terms, not Latin!). Regarding the subjects being the king’s slaves, is that in a monarchy or a despotism (which for Aristotle were different kinds of government)?

      1. Good question. I can’t remember where precisely I read that line. I searching through Aristotle’s Politics, I find that he says that barbarian kings almost seem like a tyranny because their subjects are considered slaves–having no rights before the king. However, the subjects essentially agree to this rule, and the king does not require a mercenary guard as in the case of a tyrant. Other Greeks also looked at the populace of Eastern kingdoms as crowds of slaves.

        From what I gleaned, Aristotle seems to think no one is worthy of being a king except for a primitive tribe where the king is essentially the alpha male or during the heroic age where people willingly made their chief benefactor king.

        1. Huh, I thought he had a higher opinion of it. Though to be fair, it’s hard to tell in English whether he’s talking about ‘tyranous’ or ‘basileus’ which are both translated as king.

          Iirc, he thought an aristocracy would be best, however.

          1. Aristotle describes five different kinds of monarchy. Certain kinds are esteemed more highly than others. I’m going off of the Benjamin Jowett translation, which does make a distinction between king and tyrant. If you’re translation does not, you would do yourself and the entire English-speaking world good to throw it out in the trash. There are probably better translations of Aristotle out there than the one I’m using, but the Jowett translation seems okay and it’s free.

            It makes sense that Aristotle thought that aristocracy was the best form of government of the three. The Founding Fathers also preferred to have a certain elite rule–landed property owners. Much better than mob rule, which, following the opinion of the ancient Greeks and Romans, is how they thought of democracy.

          2. Thanks! Just to clarify, I don’t have a particular translation in mind, just was making a general observation about one of the vagaries if translating from ancient Greek into modern English (something I have a bit of experience with). Glad that your translation makes that distinction.

  3. I’ve not seen a single episode of Shield Hero, but, all the same, your post was a fascinating read! I wish that more people would derive enjoyment from something “other”, something that differs from their own views, culture, experiences, etc. But, at least from my experience, that doesn’t often seem to be the case…

    1. Thank you, Ty-chama! I know what you mean. I do think that in general we’d be happier if we chose to enjoy the Other more.

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