Text version and links (video version highly recommended though):
This post is intended as a sort of follow-up to MrBtongue’s video on The Shandification of Fallout. I highly recommend watching that video before reading this, as I’m basically going to write under the assumption that you’ve seen it already and therefore know what I’m talking about.
I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that light novel author Mamare Touno is frustrated with the fantasy genre, or at least that he was before he started writing. His debut series, Maoyu, opens with the big dumb hero bursting through the front doors of the demon lord’s castle, hoping to kill him and put an end to the war between humans and demons; only to find out that not only is the demon lord a hot girl who’s in love with him, but that the entire war between humans and demons is being generated by the leaders of both nations as a way to keep the economy afloat.
There’s something about the way the demon lord offers the hero a seat and says “let’s talk about economics” which cuts to the heart of what Maoyu is all about. Originally written in script format and posted on the Japanese message board 2channel, Maoyu is a story in which none of the characters have names and there is no exposition outside of dialog. Its story is very broad and moves very fast, without too many intimate character details or dramatic set pieces. For the most part, the series is only interested in one thing: explaining how economics would work in a generic fantasy universe.
In many ways, I feel like Mamare Touno has built his career on MrBtongue’s famous question of, “what do they eat?” Food is central to the demon lord plan to build an economy in which war will no longer be necessary, and the first major twist in Log Horizon comes from answering that very question, though I’ll get to that show more in a moment. Given the nature of Maoyu’s beginnings as a series of scripts on 2channel, I think it’s probable that Touno’s goals with Maoyu were more about subverting the traditional focus of fantasy stories and fleshing out the economic setting of that world, as opposed to telling a great tale; and it’s true that while Maoyu is fun to watch as an exploration of those concepts, it ultimately isn’t all that memorable due to its lack of really interesting characters and drama. Which brings us to Log Horizon.
If Maoyu could be said to have been born of Touno’s frustrations with the fantasy genre, then Log Horizon could be born of his frustrations with the trope of characters being teleported into a video game world. (I know it’s certainly helped me to deal with mine.) Touno has stated that he was a big time MMO player as far back as the Everquest days, and I think there’s little question that no author has captured the feeling and world of an MMORPG better than Touno has in Log Horizon. Hell, in a lot of ways, Log Horizon is deeper with its worldbuilding than most MMO games are themselves, so it’s possible that Touno was frustrated with MMOs too, in a way similar to how MrBtongue is frustrated with them. (I also find it likely that Touno’s characterization of the three girls who are romantically interested in the protagonist was born out of frustrations with how such scenarios are handled in other series.)
Log Horizon is all about answering the questions of what would happen if a video game world became the real world. Instead of falling into the trap of admitting the dissonance between the narrative of the game world and the way that players interact with it, the series seeks to build a world whose logic is structured around the mechanics of the game. It almost paradoxically feels more realistic because it utilizes the mechanics of MMO games, as opposed to pretending that the fantasy world inside the game exists beyond those mechanics.
Unlike with Maoyu, this time Touno utilizes intimate character and world details to flesh out the story much further, and delivers on big dramatic moments directly generated from the world-building and characterization. While Log Horizon is more linear and has more clear progression than Tristram Shandy, it nonetheless features plenty of minor characters, side stories, and and restful moments which give the narrative breathing room, and make the story feel intimate and engrossing.
While Log Horizon isn’t without its issues, as I’ve talked about in my full analysis of the series, I really do think that it’s among the best and most interesting fantasy series ever put to animation, just because its world is Shandified so perfectly. To me, the mark of a great fantasy world is when you can imagine what life would be like for anyone who lives there; whereas the mark of a great character is when you can imagine how they’d react to any situation–and the world and characters of Log Horizon have both of these qualities. Log Horizon is the kind of series that could probably run for another ten or fifteen years and still engage me, just because I wouldn’t get tired of learning new details about the setting.
Whether he continues writing Log Horizon forever or moves onto another story, I’ll definitely be following Mamare Touno’s career from here on out. Besides the fact that he’s earned cool guy status by holding QnA sessions on 4chan’s anime and manga board, his storytelling inclinations seem deliberately aimed at areas which interest me, and I could stand to see a lot more authors taking a similar approach.