Text version and links:
Watch Log Horizon on Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/log-horizon
Game Theory: Why You Play Video Games: http://youtu.be/MyUC_28HIvA
Why and How I Play Games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcSGkwtL7S0
Omoikane on Everquest and Log Horizon: http://omonomono.com/2013/10/28/everquest-and-log-horizon/
Before I spend a couple thousand words gushing over how much I adore Log Horizon, I’d like to acknowledge some things that might bother others about the show. First and most prominently, Log Horizon has a kind of cheesy and repetitive sense of humor. There are some jokes that get old quickly, and appear a lot, in the early episodes especially. If you’re a bit of a jaded anime fan, I could see why these lame jokes would turn you off early into the show, if you don’t immediately notice a lot of things to love about it as I did. I can only promise you that these jokes are such a minor nuisance in an otherwise rich and splendidly written series that they didn’t dissuade me from giving the show a ten out of ten score.
Moreover, we should be clear on what kind of show this is, because I’m probably going to refer to it as “exciting” in this post, and that could be misleading. Log Horizon is a show where most of the action happens through conversations, strategizing, and world-building, often with very long periods of build-up that lead to immense payoffs. I could see calling the show slow-paced, because it has such a large cast of characters and tackles so many things at once that it can take a long time for real progress to be made.
However, the show is always incredibly DENSE with things going on. Even though the plot isn’t moving in huge leaps from episode to episode, every little detail is used to create multi-layered payoffs when you look at the big picture. One of the series’ major themes is that everyone in the world has a part to play in how everything moves forward, so we often will be treated to a large amount of information about the world and characters before we find out why all of it is relevant. Personally, I enjoyed every single second of it, soaking up all the world and character building as I went, but I could see people getting bored of the show if they’re not used to waiting a while for major plot events to go down.
Log Horizon’s specialty comes in how its story operates on two different levels. On one level, there’s the simple actions of the characters, whether they be hanging out, or doing a quest, fighting bad guys, etc. On the other level, all of the little things that happen contribute to the bigger picture of what’s going on, and until you’ve gotten through six or seven episodes of the show, it won’t really be apparent how large of a scale the story takes place on. While the major story events happen slowly, the scope of people affected by these events is ever-broadening. What starts as a show about three adventurers, quickly becomes the story of a guild, a city, a country, and so forth.
I’m telling you all of this now because I think that, while Log Horizon might not be the most dramatic show around, some of its big payoffs will probably be more satisfying if you don’t already know about them. The magic of these moments comes in the way that the show keeps feeding you little details about this and that, before tying all of those little things together in one big reveal. As such, for me to analyze this show in a lot of depth, I’m going to have to spoil some of the big payoffs.
Consider what I’ve said up until now as something like a guide for going into the show if you haven’t seen it yet. I’ll add, too, that the major themes which make me love this show so much are those of understanding the human condition. The way Log Horizon understands what it takes to make people happy, and to function well as a community, is where its genius lies, in addition to the fantastic world-building that you’ll appreciate the more you understand MMORPGs and what makes them fun. With that endorsement, I recommend that if you haven’t watched this show yet, you go do so now and come back to this video later. If you don’t care about spoilers, or really aren’t convinced it’s worth your time yet, then keep watching; but otherwise, stop the video now.
If there’s a question at the center of Log Horizon’s construction, it might be, “what would happen if an MMORPG world became reality for its players.” It’s not so much a story of being transported into a video game, as it is a video game world becoming the real world for certain people. Unlike in shows such as Sword Art Online and the .hack franchise, the game Elder Tale from Log Horizon is NOT a futuristic, immersive game played on some kind of fancy headgear. It’s just a modern, very popular MMORPG that’s been running for nearly twelve years, and is played with a keyboard and mouse, on a monitor, by people wearing headsets.
This distinction is important, because the characters make a point to illustrate throughout the show that the world they’re in isn’t quite the same as Elder Tale. The world appears to be real and is fully interactive not because the game was hyper-advanced, but because reality itself has become synonymous with that world.
In this way, Log Horizon doesn’t really have the science-fiction elements that similar series do. It distinctly lacks a focus on technology or futurism, and hardly considers the questions of how and why everyone has been taken into this world–without more than a mention of the idea of “getting out” until much later into the series. The fact that Log Horizon takes place inside an MMORPG world is absolutely vital, but what’s really happened is that a world has been created where the mechanics of an MMORPG are reality, and the chief concern of the show’s world-building is to figure out how that kind of place would operate.
The players who’ve been taken into this world are known as adventurers, and they have not been teleported into the world as their true selves, but rather have embodied their avatars. The show is kind of vague about how this works; Akatsuki is first turned into a man because she’d been playing against her gender, but it’s also implied that the characters have the faces that they did in the real world, which is a bit confusing. The one thing which bothered me about this show more than anything was the simple fact that Akatsuki seemed to be the only player who’s in-game avatar was a totally different gender and size from her real self–but that’s more a personal suspension-of-disbelief issue.
By inhabiting their in-game avatars, the players jump the bridge between their real and virtual capabilities. At first, everyone tries to operate their characters using the command lists that would’ve corresponded with keyboard shortcuts and menu options in the video game, but this comes with problems of its own. What the players then realize is that actually performing the actions as they would in their own reality, will produce the results that their in-game bodies are capable of. In other words, if their avatar can shoot a laser beam, then they too can shoot a laser beam, as if it were something they could always do.
As befitting of their nature, adventurers can die and return to the cathedral, at the cost of exp and item loss. They are as strong as their level would imply, meaning that they can perform incredible feats. For all intents and purposes, they ARE their video game avatars, which begs the question of how a world can function with people who have these capabilities.
The first issue that crops up is that after the initial panic dies down and everyone starts living day-to-day in this world, they immediately become bored. With nothing to work for, and no reality in-between being in this game world, players are aimless. Many turn to player-killing and guild factionalizing, and a sort of rank-and-file system naturally forms, where bigger guilds oppress smaller ones and everyone quickly becomes depressed.
Log Horizon’s first stroke of genius is to start off with a very simple arc. Shiroe, Akatsuki, and Naotsugu travel across the country in order to rescue a little girl named Serara from a city that’s been taken hold by a cruel guild leader. In the course of this small adventure, we get to learn all the basic building blocks of this world, from how combat works, to how characters operate, and the nature of food in this world as tasteless, bland shit. Here, the show is almost playing a trick on the viewer. It’s leads you along this simple plotline while constantly feeding you little details that seem like they’re only meant to explain the mechanics of this world.
It’s only after the heroes have rescued Serara and returned to Akihabara that things really open up, once Shiroe decides that he’s going to fix the status of the town. The seed is planted in episode five, when Nyanta explains to everyone that food can have a taste if a chef-class player actually cooks it on their own without using the command menus, just as skills can be used by intuition as long as the player knows those skills. The scene where this is first revealed is gratifying in itself, because we’ve seen the characters eating the world’s shitty food in every episode until now, so we really feel their happiness when they find out that real food can exist.
Upon the group’s return to Akihabara, Shiroe sets his plan in motion, and the first major step is his careful introduction of real food into the populace. The existence of this food creates an immediate revelation for the people, as it’s something not only worthwhile to spend their money on, but both limited and expensive. This invigorates the population, to the point where my favorite line in the show happens after one character eats a bite of a burger and says, “this is going to change the world.”
That was the moment I knew that I was watching something special. It wasn’t just the way the show had built up to this, by introducing us to the concepts which would apply to making food as early as episode two, preparing us for the reveal in episode five, and then blowing the top off in episode seven with this grandiose payoff. It was how that moment so perfectly captured a basic human need–something that most people would never think about until it was right in front of their face.
What made this resonate so much with me is that right from the first time the characters bit into the world’s disgusting food, my immediate thought was, “I’d never want to live in this world.” The taste of food is entirely too important to me. As someone who’s clearest memories of being poor are that I didn’t have enough, or good enough, food–as someone who’s been to another country and been homesick for the food of my country more than anything–as someone who spends far more money on going out to eat than I do on anything else–the idea of not being able to taste my food is just horrible. So when Naotsugu and Akatsuki first bit into Nyanta’s food and literally cried, I felt a well of emotion knowing that I, too, would’ve cried my eyes out. And when those simple burgers brought about a revolution in Akihabara, it was the most true-to-life thing I could imagine.
When Shiroe establishes the Round Table to generate order in Akihabara, he succeeds by appealing to the most basic desires for freedom and individuality by setting simple rules anyone could agree upon. With only a few deft moves of knowing the right things about the game world, and about human nature, Shiroe completely changes the way Akiba operates and the kind of atmosphere surrounding it. People quickly catch on that the way to be happy in this world is to not simply think of it as the Elder Tale game made reality, but as a reality built on Elder Tale’s mechanics, upon which they will play out their entire lives. With this in mind, Elder Tale transcends the idea of being a video game, and becomes a world, that happens to run on the same rules as a video game.
A bit later in the series, when the People of the Land are under siege by the Goblin King’s hordes, Crusty makes a point to Princess Lenessia that what’s special about adventurers is that they are free, and that they value their freedom more than anything. It’s through this idea that Lenessia realizes that adventurers can’t be thought of as a group–they’re a community of individuals under no jurisdiction. Without completely understanding what she’s doing, she travels to Akihabara herself to ask adventures for help on an individual basis. However, Shiroe and Crusty take advantage of this by understanding that while adventurers are individuals, they are also part of a collective in that they are human.
And more importantly than that, another thing that makes Log Horizon so special is that it’s characters are all nerds. Even though they’ve taken on in-game personas and professions, the bottom line is that all of these people are video gamers who are trapped in a game version of Akihabara, the otaku capital of the world. They help Lenessia by presenting her squarely down the middle of nerd interests. They give her moe appeal in her outfit, and by showing the strength of her resolve–and they tap into the inherent response that people feel towards a narrative. When everyone sees what comes across as a likeable character calling them to do something important, it taps into the core parts of why people play video games in the first place–feelings of competence and operating within a narrative structure. I recommend watching some videos that I’ll link in the description about the basics of what makes video games fun, for a broader idea of what I’m referring to.
Log Horizon doesn’t only know MMORPG mechanics in and out well enough to form a compelling world around them–it also understands why those games are fun, and the mentality of the players inside of them, in a way that marries the characters and their setting together beautifully. Anime blogger Omoikane wrote a fine post which I’ll link below about how when he found out that Log Horizon’s author, Mamore Touno, was an Everquest player, he immediately felt a connection like the author must have experienced Everquest in the same way he had, because the story captured the feelings of that game so perfectly.
I would describe Log Horizon as a “refreshing” and “satisfying” series, not just in the context of being an excellent anime, but in terms of providing an invigorating feeling for the viewer. Log Horizon is a feel-good show. It’s not a series that has you questioning whether or not characters are going to be happy in the long run, but keeps you tuned in to how they’re going to pull it off. It shows how people must form connections and work together to figure themselves out, and it does this while satisfying our intelligence. We know the series is aware of what it’s doing, so we can just be concerned with riding the electricity of its fervor. Log Horizon is the kind of show that gets me ready to handle reality and to find my own resolve to pursue happiness and community in my life. Even the opening song reflects this in how it gets me totally pumped up.
–show stupid dancing–
But as exciting as the broad strokes of this story are, it’s the abundance of little details that make the show such a rich tapestry. I couldn’t possibly mention every single line of dialog and piece of background knowledge that I loved about this show, but at the very least I want to talk about and analyze a lot of the main characters.
First off, one of my favorite characters from the beginning was Akatsuki, the adorable assassin girl. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize the character designs in this show as generic, including with regards to Akatsuki, but personally I was in love with her design immediately. The fact that they gave her a ton of different outfits to wear throughout the show was a huge bonus, and I just wanted to own figures of every version of Akatsuki there is.
Oddly enough, despite her prominence in the show’s ending theme and promotional art, and the fact that she’s around from the beginning, Akatsuki plays one of the smallest roles in the series, since all she really cares to be is a dedicated ninja in service of Shiroe. Akatsuki is one of the show’s most hardcore role-players, and it was fun to think about how her instantly falling in love with and binding herself to Shiroe was exactly the kind of thing that I’ve seen happen in hardcore internet role-playing.
Akatsuki’s arc is very subtle, with her minimized presence over the course of the Goblin King arc, but once she comes back into focus a bit, it becomes apparent that her lack of presence has been bothering her as well. Even though Akatsuki is devoted to and in love with Shiroe, there’s a sense that being at his side all the time takes a toll on her in that she isn’t particularly helpful to the kinds of things he usually does. Shiroe stays in the background plotting and scheming most of the time, and rarely needs to step onto the battlefield, which is most of what Akatsuki is really good at.
It’s interesting to watch her sort of struggle with reconciling her devotion against her boredom and lack of purpose, especially towards the end of the show when, as she makes slow, hesitant progress with Shiroe, the emergence of other girls who are also in love with him forces her to act. Even though the show never really presents Minori as any kind of threat for Shiroe’s affection, the fact of her existence alone causes Akatsuki to progress–and she’ll need to, for lack of realizing other parties that are attached to him as well.
The subplot about Minori and the other kids playing the game can be a little tedious at times, just because it doesn’t produce the same kind of broad-sweeping effects that the actions of the adults have; but it’s clear pretty much from the beginning that these kids are building up to become something big down the line, especially Minori. Her admiration for Shiroe and sponge-like soaking-up of his teachings clearly parallel the relationship that Shiroe had with the leader of Debauchery Tea Party, even down to the hints of unrequited love. Minori is desperate to follow in Shiroe’s footsteps, and by the end of the first season, it seems like she’s quickly growing into a force to be reckoned with. If we get to eventually see Minori step out of Shiroe’s shadow and come up with larger schemes on her own, it will offer that much more opportunity for wide-scale planning. This girl will be wearing the glasses of a true villain soon, I promise.
In the name of capping off Shiroe’s love interests, Henrietta is fantastic, even if she does get saddled with the most frequent and obnoxious joke in the show. Before it was even made explicit that she had a thing for Shiroe, I thought it was interesting how she kind of makes his perfect match, being able to follow along with and participate in his plans easily, and having his same kind of shadowy disposition. It feels like she’ll eventually bring out even more competition from Akatsuki in that she more closely reflects Shiroe’s needs.
I’ve brought up these three girls who are all in love with Shiroe, and I think it’s fantastic to note how, while Akatsuki does have her devotion and romantic focus as one of the biggest aspects of her character, none of these three are JUST in love with Shiroe. While Minori is fixated on Shiroe, it’s more out of her desire to be like him, and to grow up herself, than it is on her actual attraction to him. Henrietta only seems to realize her attraction towards the end of the season, or is trying to beat it back, but her affections run pretty wild regardless.
The reason I’m pointing this out is that I really hate it when I watch a show where all the important female characters are in love with the male lead for no reason, especially when that love becomes their defining characteristic. All three of the girls in love with Shiroe have pretty good reasons: Akatsuki likes him for the basic reasons that she likes his personality, and is dedicated to her role-playing as the loyal servant. Minori has an all-too-natural schoolgirl crush on him as the guy she not only respects and wants to be like, but who essentially saved her life several times. Henrietta likes him because their personalities are incredibly similar to begin with. Each of these characters’ attraction to Shiroe is believable, and the fact that all three girls have other personality traits, and that there are plenty of other important female characters who aren’t in love with Shiroe, make it so I’m never bothered that this guy has three girls in love with him.
The villain in glasses himself is fantastic because even though he’s incredibly powerful, and well aware of how powerful he is, he’s still kind of an awkward dorky guy. Even among his friends, and the people who respect him immensely, he naturally melts into the shadows where he can scheme and plot. Shiroe plays things close to the chest and is able to take big risks with a lot of confidence, which makes his scenes always exciting. Plus, while most of the people that he’s using to put his schemes together aren’t aware of the big picture of what he’s doing, we as viewers get to follow him along his line of reasoning, so that when he reaches a big conclusion, we’re never far behind on the same train of thought. It’s a great way to make Shiroe seem intelligent and overpowering without appearing to just pull stuff out of his ass, the way the characters in No Game No Life always appear to do.
What I love most about Shiroe’s character is that even though he’s able to make these huge moves and bring everything back up when the chips are down, there’s still a clear sense that he’s not really in control of anything. He’s thinking a few steps ahead of everyone else, but that doesn’t mean he’s all-knowing, and there’s a constant fear that if he slips up, the rug could be pulled out from under him. We see hints of this in the last arc of the first season, where he narrowly avoids a bad situation by finding the right solution at the right moment. However, even then, the seeds are spreading that all the bad rumors and reputation that he’s allowed to surround him might bite him in the ass. It’ll be interesting to see how he continues to pull through in future seasons.
Lenessia and Crusty
Watching the beautiful princess Lenessia’s interactions with Crusty are always a blast because they have such a weird kind of chemistry together. There’s always this vague tension, where Crusty is painted as vaguely villainous in the specifics of how he is helpful. He’s obviously manipulative, but his intentions are good, and it’s fun to watch Lenessia begrudgingly follow his lead just because she knows that he’s probably right, as annoying as his rightness may be. I also love how both of them can often read one-another instantly, but when Crusty does it he always points it out, causing Lenessia to get extra pissed off when she can’t read what he’s thinking. It’s a weird kind of relationship, but definitely entertaining, especially with both of these characters turning out to be such power players in their own rights.
Nyanta isn’t one of my favorite, nor one of the most interesting characters in Log Horizon, but I think that he’s the one who most perfectly illustrates how well the author can capture the kind of people who play MMORPGs. Nyanta is a hardcore role-player, who insists on speaking in a strange manner and integrating cat noises into his speech to match his character. Serara sees him exactly the way that his character is meant to be seen–as an older gentleman, whose immense swashbuckling skills are only matched by his kind-hearted demeanor.
But what I love most is the vague lines that Shiroe and Naotsugu have about him in episode five, which basically imply that he’s really just kind of a big, likeable dork. He’s talking and acting this way because that’s the kind of escapism he was going for, and in reality, or even playing with this guy inside the original game, his insistent role-playing might’ve come off as obnoxious; but now that he’s really embodied this character and exists in this world, he gets to actually live the persona he’s always portrayed. Shiroe hints that he’s probably not nearly as old and dignified as he seems, and even implies that he’s probably a furry, when he off-handedly wonders about whether Nyanta would be okay with a human girl being in love with him. His character works precisely because we understand that he’s not REALLY an older, dignified badass cat-man, but that being in this world has allowed his dorky role-playing to flourish.
Anyways, I could go on about how much I love every character in this series and how awesome all of their scenes are, but I think I’ve made all of the analytical points that I can by now, and I don’t want to end up recounting the entire show this way.
If nothing else, I hope I’ve made you understand why this show is so fascinating and satisfying to me. This is a show about how all the little pieces and details come together to form a larger whole, and I think it’s fitting that the whole of this show is greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe not every character design is gorgeous, though the ones that are really are, and sure the show looks almost the same in 480p as it does in 720. Sure it’s got some dumb jokes here and there, but the things the show does well, it does so well that they can’t go without recognition. The music is mostly fantastic and fitting, the voice acting is pretty solid across the board, and almost everything about the show is just kinda pleasant. Even the animation is way better than people seem to give it credit for. No, there aren’t a lot of big flashy action scenes, but I don’t remember seeing almost any off-model frames, and drawing all those dudes in big-ass armor has to take an eternity. Plus, the background art is really nice.
Overall, I adored the first season of Log Horizon, and I’m really excited for season two coming out this fall. Even with twenty-five episodes under its belt, the series feels like it’s only just opening up, and there are still such a huge variety of things that can happen, even in the confines of what the show has set up already, that I feel like this story has a long future ahead of it. Considering that this season already covered the first five of seven currently-published books, the second season will probably only be thirteen episodes and easily catch up with the books, but I’ll be glad if hype for this series stays up, and the anime keeps getting made for as long as it needs to.