Review: Log Horizon 2nd Season

[Synopsis]: The second season of Log Horizon resumes where the first left off, focusing on Shiroe (Terashima, Takuma), his friends and allies in Log Horizon, and the many adventurers trapped along with them in a strange world resembling Elder Tale. Financial problems cripple the Round Table Alliance forcing them to seek out new methods of paying for the upkeep of Akihabara while Krusty and D.D.D. lead a campaign against the Goblin armies in Zantleaf. On top of these concerns, the looming threat of war between the People of the Land grows by the day and the world itself seems to be changing around the adventurers in unforeseen ways.

[Characters]:

Though the second season of Log Horizon has its issues I think it is fair to say that one of the areas where it actually improves upon its prior installment is in respect to how it explores its characters. While hardly any of the characters were outright bad last season I think its fair to say that our understanding of them was shallow at best and many of their appearances within the plot felt purely ornamental like in the case of Akatsuki. From the get-go Log Horizon makes it clear that it will take a more active interest in its cast by starting out with an arc focusing almost entirely on Akatsuki, supplemented by the overarching plot concerning Akihabara’s finances and a newly appeared serial killer. Though Log Horizon’s characterization suffers a bit in its second half I think the first half of the show is noticeably stronger than the first season in respect to its characters.

The second season of Log Horizon rolls with Akatuski’s self doubt and the awareness of her non-relevance that was established at the end of the previous season. Listening to her genuinely sulk and explore how to become a stronger person is both endearing and makes a lot of sense given how little we got out of her last season. Due to her assassin class and role position all she can do is fight but she finds herself lacking and relatively weak compared to the other adventurer’s at Shiroe’s side and this causes her to do some much needed soul-searching. Because of a lot of her insight is delivered through internal monologue it is nice to hear in a straightforward manner just how jealous she is of Minori, how petty she feels for having those emotions, and how her own-self doubt cripples her. While it is no masterwork of development, this kind of introspective and endearing insight is exactly what Akatsuki left me wanting all throughout the first season and I was happy to see it manifest here, if only a little late.

In much the same way, some interesting work is done with some of the recognizable side-characters from the first season, bringing them into a more compelling place. Though we hardly recieve any insight into William Massachusetts in the first season after he storms out of the Round Table Alliance, the first half of the show belongs almost as much to him as it does Akatsuki and his characterization was definitely the most entertaining part of the first half of the show. Rayneshia also amasses a fair amount of screentime however her development is a bit dull by comparison. This insight eventually becomes a little more interesting when she feels caught between her friendships with the adventurer’s and her position as princess and ambassador however she effectively vanishes after the show’s half-way point and doesn’t return in any meaningful way. These instances of character insight are definitely the strong points of Log Horizon’s first half however character-centric episodes do tend to slow the overarching story down considerably at times.

As the show relaxed a bit in respect to its voracious world-building present in the first season some of the pressure slides back onto the characters to perform and entertain which is something they weren’t tasked with all that often beforehand. While I think the first half of the show rises to the task quite surprisingly I also think its later episodes fail to do so and make those areas of the show all the worse. My problem rests primarily with the children’s arc which takes place shortly after the show’s midpoint. The children the first time around gave pretty compelling insight into the basics of the game and what an MMO looks like from the perspective of new players however, in the second season, they lack the same utility to the story they once offered and when they fail to bring interesting characterization to the table the whole arc is left feeling barren and pointless. In this instance the show’s interest in its characters and its individual exploration of the children backfires and with very few interesting side-interests to distract from their boring developments the arc can only be described as a disappointing slog.

[Art/Animation]:

The art and animation of Log Horizon’s second season is perhaps one of the most contraversial areas of the show as the studio handling its execution changed from Satelight to the infamous Studio Deen. Before devling into the show’s visual shortcomings I want to first say that I think the show gets a slightly worse rap than it deserves in this area as I found the first couple arcs of the show to be animated at an acceptable-level and some of the strengths of the previous season remain intact such as the diverse adventurer backdrop. The action scenes are pretty lackluster with some highly infrequent exceptions however I would argue that the show is not damaged too badly because of this. The action sequences were hardly reason enough to watch the show previously and so their execution in the show’s second season shouldn’t be enough of a reason to drop the show for anybody who enjoyed it previously.

With all of that said, it does become immedietly apparent that Log Horizon has taken a considerable hit in respect to its visuals. I found the first episode curiously low quality despite the second, third, and so-on being noticeably better off however it certainly set the worrisome, aesthetic tone of the show. There is markedly less detail put into wardrobe and facial expressions and some character designs look distinctly different. Marielle and Nyanta for instance both look a good deal different in almost all of their appearances throughout the second season however the real damage being done is in the rampant quality drops during the second half of the show alongside the bland character expressions. I feel that the first season of Log Horizon was easy to take for granted – it wasn’t flashy but it had a crisp aesthetic and never wavered in its visual delivery. Though I find the first half of the show fairly tolerable it does go considerably downhill after the show arrives at the children’s arc where its character design quality is quite poor on top of everything else. The show partially returns to form for its final arc.

[Story]:

The first episode of Log Horizon’s second season is certainly interesting as it starts off in media res and concludes with a seemingly important scene with vague implications; it was definitely a good hook into the show that promised entertaining things to come. The first arc of the story which spans roughly 12-episodes in its entirety primarily on a new raid that Shiroe discovers and wishes to conquer. This was undeniably an engaging way to start off the new season as it was subject matter we had heard a good deal about in the previous season but had never actually encountered. The raid can drag on at times but given William’s characterization and Akatsuki’s serial killer arc taking place simultaneously the show never remains dull for long and is enjoyable throughout its first half.

To go along with this, Log Horizon continues to present interesting ideas and game mechanics such as animation cancelling and reckless adventurers who get a thrill out of dying. One of my favorite examples of thoughtful writing is a dialogue between Nyanta and Tohya where he warned him not to grow accustomed to dying or take it for granted. He reminded him that resurrecting was the exception and that one might lose something of themselves if they perceived such treatment as the norm. The actual conversation is a footnote within the show however it is one of the first examples of longstanding psychological conditioning present in the adventurer’s new lives and I felt it was a brilliantly poignant point to make how they all are changing gradually.

The first half of the show is decidedly stronger than the arcs that follow in terms of thematic strength however that is not to say that it doesn’t differ a great deal from how Log Horizon handled itself in its first season. Slightly more generic themes such as friendship and how to conduct yourself in relation to the people you know permeate the show in place of the more intricate political stratagem of the first season. The show still operates in an explanative and analytical manner more often than not and so the missing political element isn’t felt to the degree it might otherwise might have been. However, for those who found Shiroe’s bureaucratic scheming to be the most interesting element of Log Horizon’s first season, its absence will certainly feel more pronounced.

Perhaps my most disheartening qualm with the show outside of just how poorly executed the children’s arc was is that the show simply lacked the same level of literary execution it sported throughout its first season. What I mean specifically is that the manner in which the second season of Log Horizon developed its plot points and foreshadowed upcoming events was very notably worse than how it did so in its first season. My chief example is how the new season delivered its information to the viewer. The first season often discussed the story and world of Log Horizon openly at all times, constantly laying the seeds for future developments and events and allowing the viewer to pick up on connections and understand why the world behaved the way that it did. In the second season however the manner in which this same information is delivered is crude and sometimes frustrating.

When the characters need to overcome an obstacle the solution is almost always presented in immediate relation to the characters at the time of their need rather than arising organically or over time. When something transpires it feels downright irritating to listen to characters just one scene-transition away discussing the implications and meanings associated with the topic despite having no knowledge themselves that they are actually explaining something immediately relevant to both the characters and the viewers. The information is definitely more spoon-fed this time around rather than planted all throughout the story as it was in the first season. The solutions to the problems that arise are often very straightforward, the presentation of information is hamfisted and contrived, and some topics like ‘The Teachings’ are needlessly obfuscated leaving the show feeling less intelligent than its predecessor.

Things go downhill rather violently around episode 15 or so with the start of the Children’s arc and despite recovering to a point of acceptable visuals after its conclusion never fully recovers what made the first half of the show enjoyable. There are still interesting developments however the lack of nearly any enjoyable character insight after the beginning of the children’s arc combined with a poorly paced finale leads to a pretty underwhelming second half of the show.

[Music]:

The music remains much the same as it was in the first season; many of the previous soundtrack themes and songs are present in the new season and they continue to benefit the show in a similar way, emphasizing Log Horizon’s adventurous and epic subject matter.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Ultimately I think that Log Horizon’s second season gets a worse rap than it might deserve as I was quite surprised by how entertaining its first half was given the season’s notoriety. While the show comes off as less intelligently written at times and drags in its latter half I don’t think these admittedly major blows to the show are enough to entirely eclipse the good elements presented by the show early on.

As to whether or not the season is worth watching I will say this: Those that enjoyed the first season of Log Horizon because of its world building, intriguing adaptation of game mechanics, and its cast of characters will likely still enjoy the second season of the show. Though it has many issues Log Horizon itself remains interesting in an overarching sense as many of the developments and events that take place in the second season remain interesting despite their shoddy juxtaposition and delivery. It is the execution on a literary and visual level that damages the show not the direction of its overarching plot which remains fairly interesting and entertaining.

 

Rating: 6

I gave Log Horizon’s second season a 6 because I believe it was a large step down from what the show accomplished in its first season however that it remained entertaining if only for the first handful of its arcs. The focus on character insight breathed new life into the cast and offered a strength to the story of Log Horizon that did not previously exist though the poor visual execution and uninteresting latter arcs attempt to undermine this.

[Recommendations]:

I think Log Horizon’s second season will appeal to the same people it’s first season once did as it doesn’t stray far from its original subject matter despite its ultimate execution differing. I would warn that those particularly attached to the political elements of the first season may find them lacking in this installment however the same style of thinking is still present within the show and so they may find themselves entertained regardless of this difference.

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