There is a demographic of people who love to dabble in the virtual world of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO) to achieve escapism from stress and other struggles that plague their nature. Recently, there has been somewhat of a resurgence of interest for anime fans to watch shows that detail the life of gamers who play these sorts of games, with Sword Art Online being the forefront of it. Asking questions that detail whether the virtual world could become more real to us than what we originally thought of as real from when we were born should be the main theme for these shows to explore and bring a fresh new take on it. It’s just too bad that none of these shows in question ever bothered to in the first place and become generic as a result.
A year later we have Log Horizon, an MMO inspired anime that basically has the same scenario as the aforementioned show with only a few minor iterations here and there. Now before I begin, this won’t be a piece where I start to compare or contrast both Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, as many people unfortunately seem to be inclined to do so. Whether I think Sword Art Online was good or bad should not be a factor on how I think of Log Horizon in particular. Judging a show by its own merits without any outside influence of another show should be the number one key in critiquing any work. With that said, does Log Horizon really hold out on its own?
One thing to realize about the plot is the tone of the setting and how it feels very lighthearted despite the dire situation that all of the characters are in. As far as the characters know, they have no way of getting out of the game. Many have criticized this aspect as being somewhat unrealistic in how real people would react to something of this magnitude. It might be an understandable critique to offer, at first. However, as the show goes on it feels fitting based on the nature of how the characters feel about how they live and survive in the virtual environment. For how ever long they’ve been trapped in the game for years on end, at least based on their own confusing logic, that virtual world just becomes their own world and get used to it by then. It also helps to the show’s credit that they don’t ever show us the real world at all and keeps it a mystery as to how things are going to make the situation from the characters’ perspective feel more apparent to the audience.
While this might be one of the stronger points of the show, the story itself in how it is paced and told isn’t really nail-bitingly intuitive or well thought out. The premise isn’t that complicated to begin with, as we’ve been shown before, but Log Horizon seems to think that if they throw in multiple sub-plots into the mix to make it seem complex, it’ll succeed. Unfortunately, those sub-plots I’d mentioned don’t really amount to anything special in the long run and aren’t even that memorable because of it. Not only that, but that lack of memorability stems from the fact that all of these political and social constructs that Log Horizon’s world possesses aren’t really written clear enough, other then the fact that they’re there to establish some sort of basis for our protagonists to go somewhere. This comes into perspective with how many characters there are to follow in Log Horizon, but I’ll get to that later. The problems with the world-building might be more apparent after knowing that the original creator, Mamare Touno, was responsible for the creation of Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, which also had the same problems in its adaptation that can be compared to this one. These sorts of problems are very common in adaptations in this type of scale, but that can’t be an excuse at this point.
Though the massive cast of characters might seem like a huge negative, the way I put it, that shouldn’t mean that all of them are mediocre. The main cast of characters that are prominent throughout the show are extremely likable and hilarious to watch due to their numerous escapades with each other. It helps tremendously how they all have their own unique characteristics that improve the nature of every one of them, rather than making them all generic and uninteresting. The same thing can’t really be said for the side characters, regrettably so. With our main cast being Shiroe, Nyanta-nyan, Akatsuki, and Naotsugu, there’s this really fine sense of chemistry between these four characters that is ultimately lacking for our side/supporting cast. All of their archetypes mostly consist of them having a trait that tries to make them distinct, such as Henrietta having an obsession with cute things like Akatsuki, and Serara, who has a habit of wanting to clean things to calm down. At first it’s humorous, but after a while it becomes redundant and it doesn’t make them any more meaningful.
In an action anime centered around the MMO systems, it would make sense to make the anime feel like you’re really in an MMO game from the gritty details of cool-downs, being a tank, healing your party members equally, and conjuring status effects at the right time. I, myself, am one of these people who enjoy these types of games and, to me, Log Horizon is probably the only one that actually gets it right. Normally something like this would steer off into brainless shounen show cliches and there are a few here and there. Amazingly, Log Horizon gets the idea of taking its time for the characters to strategize their movements and actions rather than just blindly fighting off monsters without any sort of thought in the world. That make the action seem too slow or methodical to enjoy watching, but in reality, they do a very good job in the pacing of these fight scenes and keeping the action flowing seamlessly in order to give us a clear picture of what’s going on.
The art style can be construed as good, just not excellent in quality. The character designs themselves are very plain and ordinary enough for me to even consider them a triumphant success in artistic quality, but we come to expect that and for what it’s worth, it handles it decently to where they don’t seem to cut any obvious corners in the later episodes. As I’ve mentioned about the action being fast and flawlessly executed, the animation is a big part of why those are the case. The fluid character movements feel nice and kinetic to the spells that are cast and look pretty good as a result.
Voice talents range from relatively unknown voice actors to the familiar ones we’ve grown to be fans of giving their artistic liberties to full effect with Log Horizon. Emiri Kato as Akatsuki is devilishly cute and her being a fellow MMO fan sort of gives her performance an interesting spin. Even though Henrietta wasn’t that special as a character, Ayahi Takabaki manages to pull off the mature woman voice really well and gives her voice some new territory for her to explore for her vocal talents rather than more boyish female characters. Takuma Terashima proves himself worthy of being the main protagonist of a show and I hope to see him do more in the near future. Not to mention, I could listen to Jouji Nakata say anything with the word “nyaa” at the end of his sentences and never get tired of it.
For some of us who are fans of the MMO genre, Log Horizon should be the one show to be doing it right and while it does handle the actual MMO aspects brilliantly, the actual narrative and storytelling sets itself down from being great. I do appreciate the amount of depth it tries to convey that wants us to feel attached to the world, yet I can’t help but wonder if that could’ve been done to better effect had it made the narrative more tightly constructive and less cluttered. The saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” sums up Log Horizon perfectly. Only when the eventual sequel comes out we will know if the journey will be worthwhile enough to experience its imminent climax.