Review: Log Horizon

[Synopsis]: With the launch of its most recent expansion pack, hundreds of thousands of players of the MMORPG game Elder Tale found themselves transported into what they believed to be the world of the game. Shiroe (Terashima, Takuma), one of the players affected by the event the players would later come to call ‘The Apocalypse,’ attempts to reason out their new world and along with his allies he met through the game, attempt to bring order to the chaos sparked by the sudden life-changing incident. With no means of escape, Shiroe and his friends attempt to discern the laws and rules of their new reality. In their effort to learn how to live anew, they gradually discover that the world they have been placed in is far more complex than the Elder Tale they once new.

[Characters]:

The world of Log Horizon is vast and while not every character encountered is of consequence, the large cast of the show reflects both the diversity and scale of its universe. For the most part, Log Horizon is a show that bills its characters as having fairly realistic personalities and exchanges as to better convey that the characters you know and the adventure’s they encounter are real people. One of the major examples of this is the scene that takes place directly after the Apocalypse where it becomes very clear through the many breakdowns and outbursts of the players that they are alarmed by what has happened rather than becoming oddly content with having to play the game. I think a little more time could have been given to this area in order to explore the individual grief and loss associated with the event but none the less it was an excellent beginning to the show that established the atmosphere of its characters well.

Perhaps an even better example of the realistic approach of Log Horizon is that a short while after the Apocalypse, the many player adventures become bored and simply laze around. While this might seem like a rather dull development it makes a great deal of sense for the characters, who barely need to exert any effort to stay alive and who lack any purpose in their new world. This is another great instance of a realistic reaction exhibited by the characters within a unique and thoughtful circumstance.

To talk briefly about Log Horizon’s protagonist and the viewer’s primary means of investigating the world, Shiroe exemplifies in excess the underlying logical structure of their new reality through his intelligence and methodologies. Having been a renowned strategist for a famous group of players before the Apocalypse, it becomes evident quite early on what kind of person Shiroe is – measured, calculating, and always scheming to stay a step ahead of everyone else. The show does well in exhibiting his intelligence by giving the viewer fairly consistent insight into what he is planning or why he thinks about something the way he does. This dramatic irony allows for Shiroe to execute outlandish plans and juggle many different schemes without appearing like he is making everything up on the spot or warping the plot unnecessarily around him. His plans are comprehensive and believable which makes their ultimate resolutions all the more entertaining.

While the show may endlessly elude to how powerful and intelligent he is Log Horizon does a decent job of grounding him as well. He has his own emotional baggage he must occasionally come to terms with however more importantly, he feels like a human being outside of his constant investigations into the world and his lighthearted interactions with his friends helps drive that trait home. Moreover, though he always seems to be a few steps ahead of everyone else, the show strikes a perfect balance where it seems as if any new insight could completely upset him or that a possibly unforeseen development might undermine everything he understood up until that point. This sensation is a great counterbalance against Shiroe’s otherwise overwhelming talent while all the while suggesting at his actual fallibility. It is this exact kind of characterization that keeps him far more interesting and endearing as a character than similarly ‘overpowered’ protagonist characters.

Shiroe’s compelling characterization aside, the rest of Log Horizon’s cast is actually rather flat however this is not a bad thing by necessity and simply speaks to a lack of interest towards character development on the part of the show – something that ends up working out well enough given its more prevalent interest in world building. Shiroe’s friends, Akatsuki and Naotsugu are both perfectly enjoyable however don’t change much after their introduction. Akatsuki suffers occasionally from becoming the subject of many of the show’s most recurring gags despite her otherwise serious persona. Her own recognition of her non-relevance and lack of presence in the show is enjoyable insight into her self-awareness and her relationship with Shiroe however lamp-shading this problem doesn’t make her all that more compelling by itself. All in all the cast of Log Horizon is enjoyable despite their lack of outright development and with unique relationships like the pairing of Rayneshia and Crusty and endearing personalities like Rundelhous, the characters are more than interesting enough to hold one’s attention.

[Art/Animation]:

Though doesn’t sport any particularly flashy animation, Log Horizon has a number of successes in this department. For one, the world of Elder Tale or rather – the world that Shiroe and the other adventurers were transported to, is both stunning and highly typical of the kind of setting an MMORPG would likely have. The backgrounds are well detailed and the settings are impressive, ranging from bustling player cities to immense castles and dungeons.

On top of this, the character designs are quite good all throughout and further reinforce the fantastical setting of the world. This praise goes beyond the recurring cast of main characters and applies equally if not more so to the many background characters that meander throughout the story. Their diverse and vibrant designs brought the world to life and augmented the sensation that there were supposed to be a great many different races and classes in the game. They really hammered home the idea that the new world of Elder Tale was full of players living their own lives and trying to get by.

Despite its subject matter and premise, Log Horizon is actually fairly light on action scenes however when they role around they are well-animated and exciting enough though the intrigue of the show ultimately lies elsewhere. To briefly cite a minor grievance, if there was ever such a thing as an over usage of the glasses-adjusting trope commonly used in designs like Shiroe’s then Log Horizon would exhibit this in excess. I think the trope itself is perfectly fine when used sparingly and to denote either cunning or intelligence however when it used in this way multiple times every episode it grows irksome. It makes the show feel overly reliant on a particular animation trick to denote that Shiroe has something up his sleeve or that he is scheming – something the viewer is well aware of within the context of the scene regardless. Fortunately the show finds ways to parody this and at times its comedic appearance helps alleviate its over-prevalence.

[Story]:

The overarching story of Log Horizon and the world-building therein is likely its greatest strength and the methodical manner in which its plot progresses keeps the show interesting all throughout despite its somewhat slow pacing. The show arrives at its premise instantly upon starting up and the attitude subsequently exhibited by Shiroe and his allies, that if they are to survive in this new world they must hurry and learn its rules and how to combat it, immediately places Log Horizon in a more thoughtful place than Sword Art Online and DanMachi. The story begins with a strong sense of realism insofar as the character’s reactions to their sudden predicament are emotional and varied. While some become distressed by this bizarre change and break down, others adapt quickly and attempt to discern what has transpired and what they are now capable of. This agency many of the characters possess gives the story the feeling of being fast-paced despite being primarily dialogue-driven.

Possibly the most interesting work being done in the whole of the show is how the world of Log Horizon resembles and emulates the MMORPG Elder Tale. Rather than taking to the world immediately as veterans of the game, many players find that there are major differences in playing the game first-hand. Food for instance is tasteless and bland which manifests as a heavy blow to the morality of the player-base and exists as a fairly unique yet realistic problem to encounter given the circumstance of the players. Similarly, issuing commands when in the heat of combat is initially far more difficult than when the players did so through a mouse and keyboard and so adjusting and discovering new ways to fight is one of the foremost obstacles  they must overcome. From the interesting implications of crafting and food to the adventure’s effective immortality in accordance with respawning and resurrecting at nearby cathedrals the way in which Log Horizon develops the laws of its world is nothing less than incredibly thoughtful.

To go hand in hand with this, the show itself is quite fair to actual MMORPG’s in how it presents its many concepts. Rather than loosely adapting certain mechanics and re-purposing them haphazardly, Log Horizon presents them surprisingly close to their original concepts. As an example, the game details early on the tactic of recasting a certain debuff closer to the expiration of the original spell rather than in time with its actual cooldown – a common burst tactic found in almost all MMO’s yet not something immediately apparent to many players.

There are many instances of these mechanics explained throughout the show and so those unfamiliar with MMORPG’s should, for the most part, feel at home with how the game is played. The combat of the younger players can at times be a bit boring because it is primarily used as a vehicle to explain MMO concepts and so it can occasionally drag on a bit if the concepts feel intuitive to the viewer. One problematic area that Log Horizon flirts with on and off is just how detailed its world and the actions of its characters are. This is immensely entertaining for the most part however the danger lies in that the more the show concerns itself with minute details and reasoning the further it opens itself up to scrutiny. By attempting to provide an answer and reason for every rule and action it becomes more apparent when actual flaws arise however these moments are so rare that the story that the good far outweighs any minor qualms that might emerge.

Over the course of the first half of the show, Log Horizon attempts to slowly reveal that the world the adventurers have traveled to is different than the game they once new. It is a new reality that heavily resembles Elder Tale though its intricacies are quite different. In a similar vein, it gradually becomes evident that the Non-player characters the adventurers once took for granted are no longer their templated selves and an interesting dynamic results where the NPC’s who don’t possess incredble strength or magic and who die permanently when killed are ultimately more human than the adventurers. These kinds of details and the thought that goes into the world building of Log Horizon is what makes the show so entertaining.

[Music]:

There isn’t too much to say about the music beyond the fact that it fits the adventurous fantasy-quest aesthetic of the world wonderfully. The triumphant themes echo the heroic nature of the adventurer characters while other parts of the soundtrack add to the tension and resolution of many of Shiroe’s plans.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

One question that I think is worth contemplating before launching into the show is if it is enjoyable for prospective viewers who have never played an MMORPG as so many of Log Horizon’s concepts closely mirror their in-game counterparts. I think that, due to the comprehensive and self-sufficient nature of the show that anybody can find it entertaining though those who are MMO-savvy may experience a heightened sense of enjoyment seeing the concepts they recognize play out in a compelling way. For those that have grown to fear the genre of adventure-game inspired shows after watching Sword Art Online or DanMachi, I would say that Log Horizon is very different from those shows despite sharing a similar subject matter and ultimately attempts to appeal and interest the viewer in very different and more thoughtful ways.

Rating: 7

I gave Log Horizon a 7 because I found it highly entertaining. The manner in which it blended game concepts with real world implications was very clever and the world building exhibited within the plot of the show was endlessly fascinating. Some reasons for why the show doesn’t reach any higher may be attributed to its use of over-repetitive gags or its lack of character intrigue beyond Shirou and a few other notable characters. Log Horizon actually has a pretty decent sense of humor however it is in its inability to use its gags more sparingly that they become tired at times and even repetitive at times. While it works well for the show to focus primarily on Shiroe and its world-building there is something left to be desired when it comes to some of its characters such as Akatsuki who are left feeling pointless at times despite their central involvement in the plot. The show is incredibly fun despite these minor things and its conclusion hints at countless interesting developments in the future. For those who enjoy MMORPG’s especially, I can see them easily giving this an even higher score.

[Recommendations]:

The most obvious recommendation I can give for Log Horizon is firstly to any viewers who have enjoyed MMO’s in the past and think they might enjoy the concept played out in this format. To those who feel disinterested in such a show after having watched Sword Art Online I would urge them to give the show a try as they are quite different in how they operate. Viewers who enjoy interesting world building will be fascinated by Log Horizon and what it does with its game concepts while those who enjoy dialogue-driven, scheme-centric shows will find similar enjoyment.

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