Why I Avoided It Initially
The premise for Log Horizon sounded very much like Harem, er, Sword Art Online. It is true that much of the concept is similar: a fantasy MMORPG called Elder Tale becomes very real to the players.
Given that Sword Art Online had been such a disappointment after starting so well, I was reluctant to touch this genre again.
Why I was wrong
Although outwardly similar, Log Horizon is actually a very different world and story.
It appears that the game world itself has become a real world. The players are now physically within this world. Although many of the game mechanics still seem to be in place, these can now be avoided, subverted, or ruthlessly exploited.
It also means that the NPCs are now real people instead of limited programs.
This is where the story rapidly headed into territory that reminded me more of Spice and Wolf than anything else in the last 10 years or so. This is because it tackles issues of societies, and economies, that anime rarely goes near and does so in a fascinating way.
It also expresses attitudes, and methods, that I strongly agree with.
Turning Around “The Lord of the Flies”
Like Ryk E. Spoor I’ve read Lord of the Flies (once) and I didn’t like it for many of the same reasons. Log Horizon sets up a reasonable scenario for something like Lord of the Flies to start getting set up, and an even better scenario for turning it around.
As is fairly common for MMORPGs there are adventurers guilds and player deaths are not permanent – the character simply respawns in the Cathedral of the last city visited. These are part of the mechanics that have remained in place.
There’s also no law or real society within the game world at the beginning: that the NPCs have become people isn’t initially recognised, nor is the shift from transient to permanent player population fully appreciated.
So some players start carrying out Player Kills for the purpose of looting other players and some unscrupulous guilds start exploiting low ranked players in what is essentially a slave labour environment.
The operative word being “some” and this is enough to trigger a decline into barbarism until the rest of the world realises it and starts fighting back.
Or at least until our hero starts fighting back.
Like Sword Art Online the lead character Shiroe is an enormously experienced, and capable, player known as the “Villain in Glasses” for his abilities as a strategist.
However Shiroe is socially awkward on a number of levels and it takes a few episodes for him to understand the new world he is in, and what he should do about it.
Once he gets going, the whole world changes.
Although there is a running gag of Shiroe being the “Villain in Glasses” I see him more as Machiavelli’s The Prince with an iron code of honour.
A code that includes human rights for everyone, including the NPCs that Shiroe is recognising as real people.
A code that includes a functioning society that protects the weak, but still preserves the fantasy nature of the world and lets adventurers be adventurers.
A code that requires the use of just means to achieve just ends. There is one critical negotiation where Shiroe insists that his representatives tell the truth, because this is essential if his new guild Log Horizon is to be trusted in the long term.
Watching Shiroe set up the multilayered plan that relied on teamwork and trust was fascinating, seeing that code come firmly onto the table was jaw dropping, and it was the moment when I truly picked this as a spiritual successor to Spice and Wolf.
Splitting the Story
The last couple of episodes have introduced complementary A and B plots that build strongly on the foundation.
The A plot is the need to for the Adventurers to negotiate with the established societies of the People of the Land, and this is proving to be a fairly delicate business.
The B plot is Shiroe carrying through with his promise to support, and not exploit, the low level characters by running a summer training camp. Amusingly the game world is based on a half size map of the Earth, and much of the action is set in a shrunken, overgrown, version of Japan.
As of episode 12 it isn’t going well, but at least the young party had the sense to run like hell when they screwed up.
This is a series with Loads and Loads of Characters, but it actually needs them, and is handling them well. This was particularly the case when Shiroe had multiple plots running at once; he simply had to trust his companions to do their parts.
If anything the reverse is true, as Minori from the younger group shows definite signs of growth towards leadership so as to protect her brother and live up to Shiroe’s dreams.
Overall I’m finding myself liking most of the characters , and this is adding to the attraction.
Watch Log Horizon. It is quite simply outstanding, and I strongly regret not picking it up earlier. Note that the name won’t make sense for some time, but it is a plot point that I’m not willing to spoil (although it really should have been Long Horizon or Far Horizon).
Obviously there’s a chance that Log Horizon could stumble in the 2nd half, but at the moment I’m looking forward to following this one weekly.
I won’t inflict the utterly awful OP on you, but the ED is kind of cute (and utterly misleading in terms of how, ah, effective Akatsuki is as a PC):