I must say, I am quite grateful to Log Horizon for plowing through the break between seasons, as doing so meant that it got done before the majority of the other shows from this Winter 2014 season. Being able to knock out at least one review before the end of season rush, even just one, is a huge help. So, thanks to NHK for keeping Log Horizon going. You’ve made my job easier.
Log Horizon had the misfortune to be broadcast just a few seasons after the preeminent MMORPG-based show of the decade, Sword Art Online, (and that’s a fact, whether you like it or not). For me, they were different enough to not really bear any true comparisons, but I would say that Sword Art Online is the superior of the two, for all its flaws. Log Horizon gets a 6/10 from me, and its comparative ranking can be found at the Ongoing Rankings Page.
Log Horizon starts off with the recognizable premise that seems to be present in all MMORPG-based anime: a bunch of players get trapped inside a game. However, Log Horizon takes a somewhat different approach to the problem. The characters in the game seem to pretty much accept that they are stuck and won’t be able to get out (or they just don’t care enough to worry about it), and so the main focus of the show is less about survival and more about establishing order in a world that starts off with only a few rules.
Presentation-wise, Log Horizon is nothing special. The OP (“datebase” by Man With a Mission feat. takuma) and the ED (“Your Song” by Yun*chi) are both great, meriting my own aquisition of the songs, but the OST and animation are pretty standard stuff. To some degree, this speaks to Log Horizon‘s apparent desire to avoid being all flash and contain real substance.
As far as substance goes, Log Horizon succeeds on some fronts and fails on others. However, it is often bogged down by slow pacing and an excess of dialogue. Now, let me be clear. Some of my favorite shows (Blast of Tempest, Bakemonogatari) are incredibly reliant on dialogue; I’m not the type of person who has to have action every moment of a show. However, Log Horizon has lots of dialogue that could have been cut down, compressed or otherwise streamlined. Expositional episodes like episode 14 wearied me with their sheer verbosity, and while you could argue verisimilitude for the political conversations, there’s no obligation to show us every bluff, stall or filibuster.
This may actually be a fault derived from the fact that this is an adaptation of a light novel series. Log Horizon doesn’t fully take advantage of the visual medium’s ability to cut between scenes, to leave the audience to fill in the fluff political posturing and only show those moments that are really significant. In the print medium, there’s a lot more tolerance for dialogue, but when you’re just watching a bunch of people sit around and scheme and plot behind each other’s backs, it gets duller the longer the lip service continues without actual consequences.
In the end, it may be less of a content issue and more of an execution issue. The high points of the show (Shiroe revealing his hand at the Round Table meeting, the battle against the goblin armies, Shiroe saving Rudy) are great examples of the power the show can muster, but the set-ups are often just too drawn out.
Log Horizon does raise a number of interesting thematic discussions, one of which is on nature of leisure. Early on in the show, Shiroe notes that survival in the world of Elder Tale is remarkably easy. In other words, the adventurers have unlimited leisure time: they could do anything they wanted, anything at all. Instead, we find them oppressing others and languishing around the city. It’s fascinating. Is this not the gamer’s dream? All your needs are take care of, and you have the ability to play the game as much as you want. So, why are the adventurers doing nothing? I suspect that it could partially be a matter of saturation. Games eventually become boring, too much free time eventually caues a lapse into boredom.
But, perhaps even more than this, Log Horizon makes a statement about the necessity of rules for human beings. Humans are, by nature, limited creatures. We can’t know everything, we can’t do everything. We are subject to certain natural laws (the laws of physics, etc.), as well as laws that we impose upon ourselves (government). The initial world of post-Apocalypse Log Horizon, in effect, exists as a world where many of these laws have been removed. Food can be made without effort, magic exists as a means to fighting, survival is basically effortless. And so the population falls into inaction and oppression.
Shiroe’s establishment of the Round Table begins to form laws, and the discovery of the method of cooking/invention (basically, where skill is the law that governs creation) motivates the Akihabaran population out of their doldrums and creates a functioning, active society. Under the Round Table’s rule, Akihabara experiences an explosion of inventiveness, creativity and economic recovery. The unlimited freedom of pre-Round Table Akihabara brings out two of the worst sides of human nature, while regulated life after the Round Table is formed prompts the best side of humanity to surface in the adventurers of the city.
As far as the characters of Log Horizon go, they are somewhat hit or miss. Minori, Isuzu, Tohya and Rudy are by far the most interesting characters in the show, as they learn to work and grow together. Rudy’s arc, in particular, moves him from being a loudmouthed fool to a insecure kid to, finally, a confident member of Log Horizon. Minori, as well, grows a great deal over the course of the series. Among the other main characters of the show, Crusty and Lenessia stand above the rest. Shiroe, while fun to watch, can be somewhat blank-faced at times, and poor Akatsuki is pretty much relegated to a purely ornamental role by episode 10. All the characters can be fun to watch at times, but some are hamstrung by their roles in the plot.
Overall, Log Horizon winds up as an interesting conceptual show that explores some interesting theme, but falls short of excellence because of the execution. It also, other than the stuff that is going on with Minori’s group, generally lacks emotional resonance, caught up as it is in the logic and rationality-driven world that is formed around Shiroe and the political scenes that make up most of the show. It’s not that Log Horizon aims to be emotionally compelling and fails; it’s just that the world the show inhabits is a generally unemotional one. It’s a lot of adults playing at adult things.
Log Horizon isn’t a must-watch, but for those who are fans of the MMORPG-based premise, it will be a nice entry into the sub-genre. It explores some interesting themes if you’re looking for them, and has some moments of plain awesome. And a whole lot of flashing glasses.
Reasons to Watch:
- If you like plots and schemes, you’ll love the games in Log Horizon.
- Rudy is a character worth watching the show for.
- The high moments are excellent, even epic; and there are numerous other smaller awesome moments scattered throughout.