Question: How does one mobilize a gigantic group of nerds to go to war?
Short answer: Moe.
Log Horizon is a show about social psychology, and about exploring the different reasons that human beings form and maintain societal structures to live and work within. The setting is that all of the players of an MMORPG that’s been running for ten years have suddenly become their in-game characters, in an MMO world that has now become real. In a place where death is now seemingly meaningless and resource scarcity is ostensibly a non-issue, what reasons could people possibly have for banding together as a group? What do they have to work towards?
The first major issues that arise in the series are those of boredom and depression. No one really has any good reason to work or to do much of anything because there’s nothing to gain from it. This problem is radically upended in phenomenal fashion during the first great scene in this anime, wherein the residents of this world find out that it’s possible to make delicious food here, after having believed that all food in this world was tasteless up to that point. The ability to purchase food immediately causes an entire economy to form, and gives people a reason to go on adventures and to make money, raising the public morale exponentially.
After that, the adventurers then have to deal with the fact that even in a world wherein everyone is immortal and doesn’t really need anything, some people can find ways to take advantage of one-another and to make their lives miserable. So, their society makes a huge, complicated shift born from the need to establish and enforce humanitarian laws, and to inject some kind of structure for decision-making into their culture. It’s after this major shift that the foundation for a unified society is truly formed, and the adventurers of Akihabara become a political entity in the world around them.
But the adventurers aren’t the only people trying to maintain a society in this world–the former game’s NPCs, known as the People of the Land, have also taken on a consciousness of their own in this new world–and unlike the adventurers, they face all of the mortal problems that normal human beings of the middle-ages would have. After all, for the characters in the stories of MMO games, everything that’s happening is all-too-real, even if the systems surrounding their narratives are built out of how human players would interact with them.
So in the middle part of season one, the newly unified state of Akihabara has to form a relationship with the kingdom of Eastal which they inhabit, and which is so fundamentally different from them in function that their cultures are difficult to reconcile.
All of this precedent is what leads us into the simple chain of events that kicks off the Goblin King arc, and leads us to one of my favorite scenes in the show, at the start of episode eighteen.
The premise is simple–an in-game event has begun, in which the Goblin King is resurrected and leads a giant goblin army to attack the people of Eastal. If the People of the Land tried to fight off the Goblin King’s hoards, then they will most likely suffer a massive loss, both in their armies and their populations. The adventurers of Akihabara, on the other hand, could probably handle the goblin armies easily, and don’t stand to lose much of anything by trying, since they are immortal. The worst that can happen to them is that they will lose a small piece of their memories each time that they die, which only a few of them have even figured out at this point.
It would seem like the cut-and-dry solution is for the adventurers to take out the Goblins and save Eastal; except for one thing: that the adventurers have no incentive to do so. There isn’t much in the way of measurable benefit to taking on the goblin hoards, and if doing so could mean losing pieces of their memories, then they may in fact stand to lose something. The people of the land have nothing worthy of offer to the people of Akihabara, who are practically gods in this world; and what’s more, there is a lot of political push and pull over whether the people of Akihabara should get involved at all. The kingdom of Eastal is worried about the adventurers holding too much sway over them if they allow them to be considered as members of their counsel, whereas the adventurers feel as if they’re just being used by the council if they have to fight their battles for them without representation. The talks on how to handle this situation seem to reach a stalemate, up until a cute girl steps in and changes the whole nature of the conversation.
Princess Lenessia recognizes that, all politics aside, the real pressing matter at hand here is that the People of the Land stand to suffer a massive loss at the hands of the goblin king, and that trying to guilt-trip or strong-arm the adventurers, who take great pride in their personal freedom, is not going to move them to fight. Instead, she requests to ask appear before the adventurers directly, to apologize for the attitude of her kingdom, and to ask them for help as volunteers–and so that’s exactly what happens; but it’s the framing of this entire scene that makes it so genius.
On a broad level, what we have here is an understanding of the human response to narrative. People living in a free society don’t tend to respond well to guilt, or to the idea that they are supposed to do something because it’s the right thing to do. Among those who prize personal freedom and choice, the best way to mobilize them is to convince them that they want to do what you want them to do of their own accord; make it seem as though what they will do for you is beneficial to them, even if only on an emotional level, and you can earn their desire to help you.
If you’ve ever contributed to any kind of crowdfunding campaign–especially one like patreon (by the way, patreon link in the description) where the money isn’t going towards bringing a product into existence persay, then you’ve experienced this for yourself. Someone like me convinces you that the work I do is beneficial to you emotionally, and that you will be able to continue reaping that benefit if you support my ability to keep doing that work. My entire livelihood is essentially built around convincing people that their money isn’t worth as much to them as the emotional or intellectual impact of my content, and that they want me to keep doing what I do.
But in the case of this scene, there’s more to it than merely the creation of a narrative to inspire the people to action: it’s also the fact that Lenessia is a moe girl, and that the adventurers are a bunch of nerds–and this is where the staging of the scene comes into play.
The world of Log Horizon is a miniaturized recreation of the real world, but in a post-apocalypse setting that has regressed to a state of middle-ages sword and sorcery fantasy. As such, most of the major towns are built into the ruins of modern-day society–and the main town in which the series takes place is in the ruins of Akihabara.
For those who’ve never heard of it, Akihabara is basically Mecca for otaku. It’s a town loaded with doujin shops, game stores, maid cafes, idol events, and anything else an otaku could dream of. You most likely know it as the setting of Steins;Gate, or for being visited in no shortage of other anime series. It’s one thing that Log Horizon is set inside of an MMORPG, which is already a very nerdy hobby, especially considering that most of the players are high-level raiders who were playing the game for half a decade or more before they got sucked into it; but the fact that the show is set in Akihabara, and that the society which the players build there so quickly comes to resemble the real deal, serves as a constant reminder of what kind of people this show is about.
As MMO players, the idea of a big special event is enticing all on its own–especially since this is the first one they’ve been treated to since being trapped in the game. But the series main character and resident evil genius Shiroe monopolizes on the princess’s gambit by staging her plea for help as an Akihabara stage show. The first step is to get the princess dressed up in the world’s most adorable armor set–styled, of course, not for practicality, but for showing off just the right amount of leg and hugging the contours of her body in just the right places to strike that perfect balance between innocence and eroticism. I don’t think it’s a coincidence how parts of this armor set and Lenessia’s hairstyle bear resemblance to one of the most beloved waifus in anime history, Saber. The dolled-up version of Lenessia looks like a figure that would come with a special edition video game release–and later in the series, we’ll even see actual figures of her being sold on the streets of Akihabara, which is a hilarious and beautiful detail.
As viewers, we are aware that Lenessia is, by and large, a lazy layabout who doesn’t like to get involved in her kingdom’s politics–but who, thanks to the resolve granted to her by talking to the adventurer Krusty, is deciding to put effort into something for once for the sake of her kingdom. For us, this is a sort of gap moe–the fact that she’s trying so hard in spite of her personality is what makes her adorable. For the adventurers, though, it’s more straightforward–an incredibly adorable, real-life princess is up on stage in Akihabara begging them for assistance in complete earnest. This is about as moe as it gets, and the crowd is convinced to go to war instantaneously.
Log Horizon is one of my favorite anime series of all time, not just because it’s such an interesting exploration of how societies and economies function, but because of how it fully utilizes the idea of taking place inside of an MMORPG world. Not only does the show thoroughly understand the mechanics of the game type which it uses for its backdrop, but it also understands the kinds of people who play these games, and what it is that draws those people in. The fact that these players are, by and large, a gigantic band of nerds, is integral to what kind of actions they take or how they involve themselves emotionally in the world around them–and this fact is also the driving force behind the show’s third truly great scene, which comes in the form of a ridiculously long speech in episode ten of season two about why one player cares about MMOs so much to begin with, and how this motivates his party to continue fighting.
Log Horizon is a series with a lot to unpack inside of it, as its setting is so densely detailed, and so many of its characters have their own unique plot threads and arcs to unravel–but what really sells the show for me is how all of its elements can come together to form these really huge moments in just about every other arc. Lenessia’s speech may not even by my favorite or the best scene in the show, but the way that it simultaneously takes the nature of this world and the people in it, and each of the characters involved into consideration and unifies them all in one turning point scene is totally genius, and the single moment that perhaps best reflects the strengths of the series as a whole.
Let me know if you loved this scene as much as I did in the comments below, and stick around on my channel for more Great Scenes In Anime in the future. Be sure to check out the previous video in this series where I covered my favorite scene in Shirobako, and if you want more regular content from me, be sure and subscribe to my vlogging, let’s play, and podcast channels which all update pretty much constantly. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!