Maoyu, Log Horizon, and the Shandification of Fantasy Anime

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.

5 thoughts on “Maoyu, Log Horizon, and the Shandification of Fantasy Anime

  1. Welp, when this was posted I decided to finally start watching MrBtongue (don’t get me wrong; I’m super open to new things and especially analysis shows I’ve not seen. Taking the time to get into new stuff is hard to justify some times of year, however), and came over here once I finally (after yeah like almost two months whatever) got to the Shandification video and holy damn hell it blew my mind into chunks. This man is a genius and I’m so glad you’ve introduced me to him.

    Reading this post, my brain kept relentlessly imagining it in your voice doing a MrBtongue impression. You ought try that sometime! That dry, deadpan-ness would fit you magnificently.

    I can’t come up with any response to the actual post here XX. I’m just super interested in how this guy’s material engages me so much.

    This afternoon I was watching his ‘Youtubia’ video, and one of my friends showed up and came into my room 13 minutes and 30 seconds in. Now that I was secondarily considering how the video would be perceived or understood by her, alongside watching it myself, I was amused to realize that she ended up getting *the entire point* of the video. Just those last three minutes are all you need to hear most of the video’s thesis and argument.

    This underscored for me something I obviously had immediately noticed about Btongue’s writing; it’s somewhat repetitive, spends half its time explaining to you *what it’s going* to explain to you, and generally goes around from idea to idea in a circle.

    Plinkett reviews similarly will weave in, out and around its actual points.

    Pretty much, you’re the only reviewer on the internet who puts a lot of focus into conciseness. While that style is certainly really appealing (and basically what I’d been imitating the most in those videos I was doing, having no other clear ideas on where to take them), and makes for fantastic re-watchings/re-listenings, at this point it’s–from my perspective–what I think is the number one reason (above even “the anime community isn’t as big or into reviews as video games” and “you don’t have enough jokes”) you haven’t taken off in a seriously big, 30-thousand-views-a-video, 1.5k Patreon way.

    The Dissected Series by Roger van der Weide is the analysis show I’m always the most excited for, but when I think about it, it’s usually not *super* deep, revelationary or informative. But, the *way* its content is packaged is EXTREMELY ENGAGING to me.
    The show hardly stops at “here’s what doesn’t work about this aspect of this one story”, but often goes “here’s how this aspect of this story relates to *everything else* in writing, and the human experience”.
    I probably have a diagnosable platonic fetish for comparisons, charts, timelines, taxonomies, graphs and lists. Btongue connecting the dots between Nietzsche, German expressionism, Noir, Cyberpunk and Shadowrun returns felt like an angel was giving me a lap dance.
    When Roger tells personal anecdotes and several examples and starts drawing charts to set up for big ideas, this feverish hype overcomes me.

    For whatever reason, (but most likely because of however close I probably am to being autistic) your videos haven’t yet had that effect on me. I know it’s really great, and I put it on my phone and keep listening to it until I’ve really satisfyingly digested it, but my brain barely ever starts to get excited and drive me to pause and walk around in circles.

    I *really* think this is because of how your stuff is structured and composed. There’s hardly any buildups or introductions, rarely a comparison to other works or anything outside of the subject matter at all except in brief passing, and virtually never a final summary/part where all the ideas click together into the ultimate thesis.

    If thinking of a video like a piece of more conventional media, and considering how its flow and structure are experienced by the viewer; your videos have a relentless, maximum-speed pacing that never takes a breath and then stops all at once in a thud. Even your Lain and KnK videos–though they have silent moments, slower narration, more tangentially-related exhibits and more personal content–never go backward, never set-up or build-up the incoming material, and still mostly are self contained without a lot of comparisons to other work.

    I just scrolled up through your channel and thought about which of your videos I could remember giving me the most hype when I first watched them. What I came out with was, the Ghost in the Shell Overview, the two Kill la Kill videos, and the Madoka analysis. This really surprised me; none of those are my favorite things by you. The answers to why I remembered them injecting me with excitement, however, wrote themselves.

    The Ghost in the Shell video, being a look at an entire franchise spawning multiple mediums, has a sensation of build up. Almost like the franchise is a character that keeps developing as it goes through new experiences; we learn what it’s like as a manga, we learn what it does making a sequel, we learn what it does as a movie, what it does as a game, ext.
    So when we finally get to Stand Alone Complex and slowly start realizing how fucking enamored with it you are the more you talk about it, it feels *super triumphant* 8), like this franchise finally pulled it off; knocked it out of the park; hit it big, and I’m cheering it on! You go, intellectual property I’ve barely heard of! Be all that you can be!!

    The KLK videos had me sucked in because for one, I was hyped about the show itself, but mainly because there was so much build up to it on your part through your original podcast, your Tweets during and after Otakon, and your Otakon vlog.

    I guess I agree with your feeling that the Madoka video isn’t well structured, because it felt like a long journey across a bumpy road. It has a noticeable “that was that segment, now here’s the next segment” flow, with the feeling of a beginning, middle and end. And for once, you actually spend a lot of time setting up the show instead up jumping straight in, because you actually more-or-less had *more* to say about the show’s conception, creation and reception than you did about the show itself.

    When I put it that way, it makes me realize that’s the real key here: I suppose it’s that you generally *don’t care* to set the stage for the context that the show exists in (even though you certainly care a lot to *learn* about it). You don’t feel the urge to go on an elaborate analogy, or to spend 5 minutes talking about some other work that plays in to what your video is titled after.

    So I guess what I’m really saying here is, if there were a suggestion box in your brain, I would tell it to consider becoming *more interested* in contexts and metaphors and taxonomies.

    Now that I think of it, Footwear doesn’t really do this either; his critiques are similarly mostly self-contained, and I think that’s the reason I still haven’t been able to get as engaged with his work as I constantly and to be.

    Now that I think of THAT, maybe it’s an age thing. Roger van der Weide and (I’m assuming) Mr. Btongue are both in their 30’s, and it’s in your 30’s that you start having enough life experiences, cultural reference points and mental maturity that your brain starts connecting the fuck out of stuff.

    • You’re dangerously close to reading my mind Davoo. I already planned that the major stylistic change I plan on making in 2015 is to slow down my writing and go for longer, more clearly explained points in the style of MrBtongue and Demolition D+. I recognized this problem myself around the time that I made this post and watched all of MRB’s vids again.

      The funniest thing about your criticism too is that you can find numerous instances of me and Footwear arguing that “context is everything” in a review. I think even he does a better job than I’ve been doing a lot of the time though. Most of the reason I’m so pumped to do the Psycho-Pass video though, is precisely because I want to use it as a chance to write something very meticulously instead of hauling ass through it like I usually do.

      • I guess my goal for 2015 is to become adept in the craft of visual communication; starting with throwing this cartoon character thing in the bin for now and trying to do live action. I’ve been going through old AVGN episodes and studying them to the molecular level; something about how he puts together even the 2006 episodes has this magnetic aura that has your eyes glued to the screen and makes every cut and sentence connect and resonate.

  2. Pingback: Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #2. Log Horizon [+ List Update & Top 10 OPs] | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

  3. You should try the MaoYuu manga. It’s a great adaptation that manages to fill all the gaps in the original script that Mamare wrote. Unlike the anime. Which only cut from that script. Nvm.

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