Log Horizon is a fantasy/adventure anime produced by Satelight. The show is based on the premise that a large number of people have been trapped inside of a fictional MMORPG. Obviously, there have already been several shows set on a similar premise of animating a virtual world. (.hack// and SAO are probably the first two to come to mind). So, what does this series do to set itself apart? The short answer is: they try to show a different take on the genre.
On a day known as The Apocalypse, Shiroe and two hundred thousand other players wake up in a world that resembles the world of the sword and sorcery MMORPG Elder Tale. Shiroe (a strategist) is accompanied primarily by Akatsuki (an assassin) and Naotsugu (a guardian/tank). The three of them meet up during The Apocalypse and set out together to learn what is going on in their world. Early on they find out some very basic truths about the world:
- You cannot log out of the game
- Dying in the game does not get you out of the game, you just revive at the Cathedral (a respawn point)
- The control screens seem to be part of their normal field of vision
- Characters can perform attacks and spells freely by simply moving their bodies or using vocal commands
- Food and drink provided by the game have no taste and a uniform consistency, but people do still get hungry
- Like with hunger, they do feel pain when they are attacked
- The portals in the game have been shut down making it difficult to travel between large cities.
It also turns out that Shiroe is famous for being a member of a legendary raid party known as “Debauchery Tea Party” (Naotsugu was also a member). His brilliant strategies and cold demeanor had earned him the nickname, “Villain in Glasses”. Despite not ever joining a guild (the predominant social structure in this online game) Shiroe is very well known and respected by other players. He’s even helped several of the obtain items or complete quests. Because of this he is contacted by the leader of the Cresent Moon Guild in the game city of Akihabara for help figuring out what is going on with the world.
After Shiroe is brought up to speed on what’s happening he starts to complete jobs and tasks while still gaining information about the state of the new world that he lives in. In addition to the players (called adventurers) he notices that there has also been a change in the NPCs (called People of the Land). Shiroe also realizes that, in this world, people lack purpose. They don’t need anything to survive since they cannot die and there is no real societal structure for them to live in which has caused some places to fall apart. Shiroe makes it his goal to build the city of Akihabara into a place that will be pleasant for both the Adventurers and People of the Land to live in. In doing so, he will discover more and more things that he has to deal with in this new world.
At first glance, Log Horizon feels like a plug and play anime. They flipped the roles of a few character archetypes, altered the rules of the game and then just plugged that into the general formula for a “we’re stuck in a virtual world” show. This feeling comes in large part because they take certain aspects of the genre for granted. For example, no one seems to really care HOW, they ended up trapped in this game world. Beyond that no one even really seems concerned. The characters seem to be incredibly well acclimated to the world of the game. This is really strange because this isn’t a virtual reality game, it’s a standard desktop game. This means the players aren’t used to being in some kind of augmented reality. Still, no one freaks out or panics, they just go on living their lives in the game. Another issue, that goes hand in hand with the lack of exposition, is that there’s a lack of discovery. Almost everyone in the show seems to know or be familiar with each other from before the show began. This really robs the audience of the chance to discover the characters in the same way. It’s like showing up at a party and everyone else there has known each other for years, it just doesn’t make you feel welcome.
There’s also the issue of what feels like overly simple production. I found it interesting that the entire 25 episodes keeps the same opening and closing theme since the trend seems to be to change those every 12-13 episodes. I found it less interesting that the show seemed to be content with using the lowest common denominator when it came to character design and animation. Everything is relatively bland with the exception of one or two scenes where they wanted to make the scenery look really nice. The characters don’t really have a lot of…well…character to their designs everyone is just a kind of generic anime character. I guess it’s appropriate because the characters themselves aren’t really that developed either. In the whole 25 episodes I don’t think we see more than one instance of actual character growth. Even though the story the characters are used to tell is interesting, the characters themselves aren’t. Shiroe may be the one exception to that statement, but that’s probably because his character is the great catalyst for change and plot progression in this show.
What the show does well (and better than most other shows in it’s same genre) is being true to the feel of an MMORPG. The screens and jargon in the show are more true to the feel of what an actual game is like. It also nails the sense of community that is so prevalent in online games. In real life, online games are communities within society. However, in this show the community is separated from society and is left to either run wild or to form its own kind of society. Shiroe takes it upon himself to be the catalyst for creating that society. Watching Shiroe manipulate and construct a society in this very unusual world is interesting. What makes this so interesting and so fun to watch is that the society is growing inside the rules of an existing structure: the game.
We don’t know exactly what all of the rules of the game are but the players do and it’s obvious they’re used to working the system. Everything that’s done by the experienced players feels like the move of a veteran game player. The winners of their fights are determined not by a character level but by how well a team can fight together and by the strategy that they use. When they talk to the People of the Land, it reads just like you would expect a “pick the right path” conversation with an NPC in a game. They manipulate the conversations to achieve the results they desire. The game itself is also constantly reacting to the adventurers actions. It’s so much like a game that it’s hard to tell whether or not the world is actually trying to guide the players to some undisclosed end-game. That makes the story feel very organic.
Also, I know I mentioned the opening and closing theme in the “negatives” section, but you really don’t need to change your opening when the first one is as infections as this one is.
This show is a much truer adaptation of the feel of an MMORPG than many of it’s genre predecessors but that is it’s strongest point. As an anime, it is lacking in having an overarching plot which can make it hard to get invested in the show because of a general feeling of a lack of direction. That being said, it is still fun to watch if you can get over some of those holes. The show does seem to prefer to tell stories in smaller chunks and through their characters. Overall, I’d say the show is above average with room for it to improve based on how the 2nd season pans out.