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Log Horizon Anime Review
Youtube Review (Please watch this instead of reading if possible)
Hello ladies and gentlemen, Entrav here. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of those shows that I greatly enjoyed watching week to week. Looking back, it actually became my most looked forward to 2-cour anime of the fall 2013 season. Now, before the show actually aired, people swiftly compared it to Sword Art Online as the premise seems very similar, but it’s clear that after watching even just a few episodes that the two are very different. The short premise of Log Horizon is that after a new expansion pack, the people who logged on at the time of the update gets trapped within the game world, Elder Tale, with no way out. The protagonists spawn in Akihabara, but cannot teleport to any other city and cannot log out of the game. Quality aside, Sword Art Online focuses on action and escaping the game world while Log Horizon focuses on the dialogue, negotiations, guild politics, mind games, the world building, game mechanics and actually living in the game instead of trying to escape it as people revive when they are killed. This creates a totally different progression of events as the game mechanics and the world itself are the primary drivers of conflict and major events in the show.
In the beginning, the main protagonist, Shiroe, basically tries to instill change within Akihabara after the city became chaotic as everyone realized they were trapped and couldn’t escape. The anime tries to create a sense of “wrong” within the world so that Shiroe can change it, but the whole ordeal with the EXP potions and what made Shiroe take a stance felt a bit more serious than it should have been. The portrayal of some characters almost living like slaves felt like it was created only to spur Shiroe to action and not created to be believable. It was a bit too dramatic at times and there’s actually no reason for them to live like slaves in the first place. I can’t say exactly what they could have done to avoid spoilers, but there was an easy thing they could have done to avoid suffering the way they did.
However, Shiroe’s resolution to the anarchistic state of Akihabara is very nicely done. He utilizes the game mechanics to his advantage through negotiation, guild politics, manipulation, his own wit and so on. He uses the greed of others, and other psychological factors to shape the resolution of this conflict in logical and unexpected ways. Seeing the mind games done well is always nice, but what really separates this anime from others is how the game mechanics play such an important role in these mind games and the show as a whole. In this anime there is what I will call “restrictive freedom.” Games in general imposes certain rules and limitations. For example, an MMORPG may grant players the ability to have houses and unless the owner gives special permission to players, no one else can enter. It’s not like real life where you can try and break in anyways. The game will literally not let you. Since Elder Tale is still a game, these kinds of rules still exist, but better yet, Shiroe greatly uses these game rules to his advantage making for some very interesting methods of dealing with events that you may not have expected which is probably because this kind of restrictive freedom is uncommon in other shows. It really is fantastic seeing it used in such a well-thought-out manner.
It is a bit of a shame that the level of manipulation and mind games are not used to the same degree in the latter two-thirds of the anime. It does, however, make up for that with even more world building. In Elder Tale, there is what is called the “Half-Gaia project.” This means that the game world uses the real world as a template and is half the size of the real world. No, I’m not shitting you. The world itself has a huge amount of potential. Though, do not go into this season expecting them to travel across the globe and have massive battles. More than anything, this season feels like a prologue, and it’s fairly contained in the main characters’ starting city. That said, it never bombards you with too much information and gradually introduces the world with a proper mix of examples and plot points along with its explanations. Without spoiling too much, there are things the characters can do that they couldn’t when they just played the game on their computers. It’s not only that the controls are different, but the very fact that they have precise control over their characters, unlike when they would give out commands to their characters via keyboard and mouse, is actually significant in how it impacts how they play the game. New dynamics within the game appear like the change in the combat system, fiddling with items first hand with precision, and so on. Game mechanics with a mix of real life factors complement each other to give rise to some interesting concepts that continue to grow as the show progresses and still holds tons of potential.
Whether it be the People of the Land, otherwise known as NPCs, the new expansion pack, the new level cap, new kinds of magic, or the mysteries surrounding the world itself that are far more relevant now that the characters actually live in Elder Tale, the world of Elder Tale makes me excited just thinking about it. There’s just so much to see and so much to explore, and the show does actually expand upon these things instead of leaving it to the side. In the later parts of the show, it teases you with the potential that lies ahead with larger and more significance events like the meta-event. I must say, however, that I was slightly disappointed with it as it lacks the tactics and strategy that I greatly enjoyed in the first third of the show. I understand that the studio doesn’t have a lot of budget to work with, but just giving some more detailed explanations of the map and the overall battle would have been helpful. Not that it doesn’t do this at all, but not nearly to the degree that I expected going into this event. It wouldn’t require much budget to give some background information on how formations work, what magic works well at what times, what tactical maneuvers the players can do, and things like that related to large scale raids in MMORPGs of today. Actually, since there are so many players involved, it could have been even more fantastic. Heck, just drawing a few arrows here and there would have helped.
There’s just a sense of scale to this anime that feels like it has been barely explored. I don’t want you to take this as me saying that the show didn’t expand upon this aspect well. It’s more like the possibilities are limitless and that things are only getting started. For what these twenty-five episodes have expanded upon world-building-wise, it did very well. It may not have an overarching story, but it doesn’t really need one. It’s an adventure in the world of Elder Tale with calmer slice of life aspects mixed in. It makes it feel like the characters are really living in the world, but sometimes it does lead to some episodes being quite slow. The set-up of some arcs don’t have a lot going on as the characters just converse and live in the world. I don’t think it’ll be too much of an issue if you marathon the series, but watching this anime week to week was a bit of a problem at those times. Nevertheless, having a mastermind like Shiroe is the perfect choice for this kind of setting because just as there’s a lot to experience, there’s also a lot to exploit. Shiroe shows exactly how he can take advantage of the world in creative ways, making for some great points of intrigue.
Enough of Shiroe, what about all the other characters? Well, this anime has a large ensemble cast, and it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that it helps make the world feel bigger and its events more significant with the show taking many different perspectives at once. Different facets to the conflicts all combine to create a greater whole that is quite enjoyable to watch as you see everything come together. But while everyone does have a role to play, the screen-time is spread so thinly among the players, except Shiroe, that characters like Akatsuki, Naotsugu, and Nyanta who held promise in the early parts of the show never got their chance to shine. In fact, Akatsuki is kicked more to the side the more the anime progressed, and by the end she just became a dress-up doll. Literally. It’s really a shame because I felt that the show could have fit in her development and her relevance to the story far more than it did. That’s not to say that all the characters aside from Shiroe suffered this fate. People like Minori, the fabulous Rundelhaus, and Krusty do get more exploration to their character. Does anyone aside from Shiroe stand out in this anime though? Not really. Even Minori, who gets the second most amount of development, isn’t that impressive of a character. It’s more like Shiroe is calling all of the shots and the rest of the characters just obey his commands. It may have been better for the characters to be more integrated in Shiroe’s schemes and actually have more of an impact in them instead of being characters that didn’t contribute much outside of slice of life scenes.
As for the comedy and romance… they are also not very well done. The comedy ranges from the typical slapstick humor to other random bits of humor you’ve probably seen before like how Henrietta is completely obsessed with dressing up Akatsuki. The romance only gets developed near the end of the anime and feels quite empty because of the lack of character development. However, these are very, very small complaints as the anime is not focused on comedy and romance. If you’re looking for an anime revolving around comedy and romance, you’re not going to get one from Log Horizon. Don’t expect it. Don’t go in having false hopes. The animations are quite average with not too many action scenes. It is, however, fairly consistent and doesn’t negatively affect the important parts of the anime like the negotiations, mind games, world building, and so on. As for the sound, THE DATABASE WOW WOW will keep you covered for the opening, and the ending is nicely implemented every episode to end things off with its instrumentals. Soundtrack-wise, since you could look at this anime almost as a slice of life in a game world, there’s a wide variety of soundtracks that range from calm to upbeat to sounding grand. Since there’s no scene that’s meant to emotionally affect you to a great degree, there are not really any superb and memorable soundtracks that will blow your mind as there’s nothing that warrants such soundtracks. Overall, the sound design and soundtracks aren’t bad and suit the moments in the show well, but nothing stands out too much.
In conclusion, Log Horizon is an anime that is surprisingly good at exploring the game world of Elder Tale by mixing in mind games, negotiations, guild politics, meta-events, mysteries, NPCs, real life factors, restrictive freedom, and so on in ways that you may not have expected going into this show. The game mechanics really do matter and have a huge impact on the show. It doesn’t feel like an anime with MMORPG aspects tacked on. It feels like an anime about an MMORPG. All of this gives unlimited potential for the second season to come this fall. Yes, we are getting a season 2. Just don’t go into this anime expecting something like Sword Art Online. You’re not going to get it. Yeah, the premise is similar, but that’s about it. There’s not nearly as much action, and the focus is completely different. I’m not even going to begin talking about the quality of SAO compared to this because that doesn’t even matter in this review. I don’t really understand why some people are comparing SAO and Log Horizon so much when at the core they are so different. I’m pretty sure we can agree that how similar two shows are go far beyond the premise. Anyways, if you like a manipulative and strategic main character utilizing game mechanics in interesting ways and some great world-building, you’ll have fun watching Log Horizon.