The Rising of the Shield Hero is a dark but exciting isekai series that's slated to return in the Spring 2022 anime season, complete with fan favorites from the unfortunate Naofumi Iwatani to the beloved demi-human Raphtalia and the winged Filo. Demi-humans like Raphtalia have it rough in this world, but their fortunes are taking a turn for the better.
Shield Hero fans were introduced to Raphtalia early on, a girl with upright animal ears and a furry tail. She's not a typical anime cat-girl, however, nor is she part raccoon or fox as some might have guessed. She is actually based on the tanuki, a canine species found in real-life Japan. Tanukis are everywhere in pop culture, and Raphtalia is just the most recent example of many.
The History & Anatomy Of Raphtalia The Tanuki
Native to the kingdom of Melromarc, Raphtalia was born about ten years before Naofumi and the other Cardinal Heroes arrived to save the land from the Waves. She lived as a tanuki-based demi-human in the coastal town of Lurolona until slavers raided the town and captured her and her friends. Later, she was sold to the cruel nobleman Idol Rabier and put back on the market, when Naofumi bought her and added her to his party as a swordfighter. Raphtalia later got a chance for revenge against Idol Rabier, defeating him in single combat.
Raphtalia is Shield Hero's prime example of how demi-humans' physical features can rapidly age after leveling up, soon resembling a girl in her mid to late teens rather than a child after just a few months in Naofumi's party. She still retained all her animalistic traits though, including her upright tanuki ears and trademark tail. Raphtalia's tanuki features pay homage to the popularity and cultural significance of those in real-life Japan, where they have always played a major role in folklore and art and still do today.
While the tanuki physically resembles raccoons and badgers, they are a separate species, and those in Japan are slightly different than the ones found in mainland Asia. The term "tanuki" is sometimes mistakenly translated into English as "raccoon" or "badger," which may add to the confusion. In Shield Hero, Raphtalia's strong attachment to Naofumi may be a reference to how tanukis are monogamous creatures, with a mother and father raising their pups together until the young ones leave the den. These animals are also highly sociable in general and may live in packs.
Tanukis In Other Japanese Anime And Pop Culture
Tanukis often appear in traditional Japanese folklore, but also in modern anime movies and TV series. They are often humanoid or allude to the species' supposed ability to shapeshift at will. Aside from Raphtalia in Shield Hero, tanukis also appear in anime such as BNA: Brand New Animal. This series, streaming on Netflix, stars the humanoid tanuki Michiru Kagemori who lives in a world where Beastmen such as her and humans co-exist -- but they are often at odds. Michiru must discover the truth of how a former human was transformed into a tanuki Beastman, while also dealing with themes of oppression and discrimination. It may remind fans of Beastars and the Western animated feature Zootopia.
Tanuki characters show up in other works as well. The 2019 Japanese video game Team Sonic Racing features the tanuki character Dodon Pa, while the 1994 Studio Ghibli-animated film Pom Poko features a group of intelligent tanuki who employ their shapeshifting abilities in an effort to keep developers away from their homeland. Finally, the Animal Crossing game series involves the recurring tanuki character Tom Nook, whose name sounds similar to "tanuki." Raphtalia may be rather unique in Rising of the Shield Hero, but she's far from alone in folklore and popular media.