With the sequel just around the corner, I guess I better say what I want to say about the first season before it’s too late. Well, how do I put this… I didn’t like it. I mean, I don’t hate it like I hate a show like Sword Art Online, but I found Log Horizon dreadfully boring to watch. Maybe it just isn’t a show that I’m supposed to marathon. I initially tried to watch the show in one sitting, but I just had to stop after a few episodes. I did eventually finish watching the whole thing in a handful of sittings, but it was a painful ordeal. The show isn’t without its merits, but it has some serious flaws as well. And at this point, I seriously wonder if I’ll ever like any anime that claims to be about an MMO. This is rather peculiar because, well, I haven’t stopped playing MMOs since Final Fantasy XI first came out. I’m no Ultima Online “superveteran,” but I’ve still been at this for quite some time. I just love the idea of a massively multiplayer online RPG. I’ve played almost every major one that’s come out. So why is it that these anime series bore me so much? This is just one of the many problems I have with the Log Horizon, but I find that these anime series tend to keep skipping what I enjoy the most about MMOs, and that’s the part where the hero builds his character. Where is that goddamn part, man? In Sword Art Online, we simply get a timeskip, and all of a sudden, Kirito is this badass swordsman. And what do I get in Log Horizon? Shiroe is a super intelligent strategist who’s already at level 90. Not only that, he knows almost every goddamn thing about the game. Yawwwwwwn.
I mean, sure, there’s a story reason for this. Elder Tale is a successful MMORPG that has been out for quite some time now. A new expansion is coming out, so a bunch of people, including our hero and the people on his friends list, log on to play the game only to find themselves trapped in the game world. Still, you can justify it all you want, but at the end of the day, we’re missing out on that classic hero’s journey from chobo to gosu powerhouse. What I enjoy most about MMOs is seeing my character level up, acquire new spells and abilities, acquire cool-looking gear, so on and so forth. It goes without saying that I’d probably like to see the same thing too in a story about people playing an MMO. Sure, Shiroe gets new spells throughout the course of the show, but these instances are few and far between. In fact, there’s hardly any emphasis on character building whatsoever. Our hero and his allies are super capable from the start, and fittingly, I’m just super bored. Like a lot of shows, you have to look to the side characters to see anyone actually grow and get stronger. So there’s this summer camp thing for the younger players to learn the ropes. Unfortunately, they’re not the main characters. Alright, sure, you can argue that I simply had the wrong expectations for Log Horizon. In fact, you could argue that the story is about transcending the RPG part of the MMORPG altogether. And to give credit where credit’s due, this is honestly the only redeemable thing about the show.
So these characters are trapped in an MMO world, and instead of just being all nihilistic about it, i.e. randomly PKing people for fun, they try to treat the world as though it’s the real thing. This is foreshadowed from the very start when the characters initially complain about all the tasteless food in the game. When you treat the food as though it’s a video game mechanic, i.e. you try to cook by combining the ingredients through the RPG menus, everything comes out tasting horrible. If you want your food to actually taste like food, you have to take it seriously. Like literally seriously, if that makes sense. Food is no longer just a simulacrum that arbitrarily removes your hunger. When you treat it like the real thing, it may as well become the real thing. For instance, you gotta put the diced cubes of meat on the skewer, season them with spices, then hold the skewer over an open flame until the meat is cooked just right. In other words, the world is what you make of it. Sure, you can see Elder Tale as a game, and if you do so, nothing will have any meaning because video games are just video games. But that’s all on you. You’re the one who didn’t give the world meaning just like how you’re the one who didn’t give the food any flavor. The world starts to change, however, when you start giving it meaning. Cooking delicious food is just scratching at the surface of what the adventurers can do, too. Soon enough, they have invented a prototype steam engine, which has never existed in Elder Tale. The question soon becomes, “What else can we change about this world?”
Naturally, the NPCs, a.k.a. the “People of the Land,” have also come to life. If anything, they’re more “real” than the real people themselves. After all, they don’t magically respawn at the cathedral when they die. When they die, they actually die. So who’s really real here and who’s fake? A large part of the story thus revolves around the uneasy alliance between adventurers and the NPCs, especially when a horde of goblins tries to invade. There’s also all the sociopolitical stuff involving the various guilds and Shiroe’s attempts to turn Akihabara into a legitimate city. Rather than bludgeoning us with the idea that death is totally serious business (with them losing bits of their memories, though, it still is kind of serious business), Log Horizon puts the onus on the self-proclaimed humans to take back their humanity. This is kind of odd, of course. People play video games in general to escape from the real world. One thus presumes that most of the trapped 30,000 adventurers had logged into Elder Tale that one fateful day to do that exact, same thing. All of a sudden, they must now ignore the fact that they’re in a video game, and make the world around them seem like the real thing. What’s the point here? In fact, is there even an overarching point to the anime? It’s hard to say. Much of the narrative seems aimless as it just goes from one story to the next without any real final goal for our heroes to achieve. Maybe this is all just one long build-up to something big in the sequel. After all, all those World Fraction stuff does seem kind of intriguing. For the moment, however, the story lacks much of an endgame. But then again, if we’re all about making the world seem more like real life, then we must admit that real life doesn’t really have an endgame either.
Unfortunately, Log Horizon has major problems that detracts form the overall experience. The narrative is crippled by how voiceover-laden it is. There’s this bizarre need to have every character feed us paragraphs upon paragraphs of inner dialogue that I’d dare say it’s rather masturbatory. It feels as though the author is super proud of his brilliant strategies, so he has to make sure we are really aware of this. But even when there are no brilliant strategies to go over — even when a character is just mere seconds away from dying — our characters continue to yap, yap, yap. And yeah, I know part of the narration feeds into the world-building. Not everyone has played an MMO before, so the story has to clue the audience in on the mechanics of the game. What’s a cooldown? What does this spell do, what does that ability do, so on and so forth. But there’s got to be a better way than bludgeoning me with voiceovers and narration. This can’t be the extent of our storytelling abilities, can it? It doesn’t help either that I find none of the characters remotely charismatic. If the main character isn’t a badass who can destroy everything in his path through sheer strength, then he’s a wide-eyed, ganbatte-it-up shounen. But if he isn’t that either, then he’s this mastermind strategist who knows everything. It’s just the same boring shit over and over. And for the love of God, can he stop pushing his glasses up? I fucking swear I see him do that like twenty times in a single episode. But like most shows nowadays, he’s just this brilliant know-it-all, and naturally, every character worships the ground he walks on. Naturally, every girl wants to fuck his brains out too. Shiroe might not be the standard dual-wielding jackass, but he still feels like a self-insert character. He’s still a special snowflake in a world that’s supposed to feel real.
The supporting cast isn’t much better. Akatsuki is this tiny, pubescent-looking girl, but dude, she’s totally a college-aged woman in real life! And don’t you call her small! As previously mentioned, she’s one of the many women who have this instant infatuation with the main character. Akatsuki even insists on calling him her master, which just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Even if you say she’s just roleplaying as an assassin, and ninjas usually answer to a master, she quickly becomes an obvious love interest without Shiroe having to do much of anything. And the “jokes” between her and Naotsugu are just annoying. It’s like Flanderization, but they don’t even get a chance to be normal before they get Flanderized, y’know? Right off the bat, the two of them fall into a routine where he say something perverted, she kicks him, then she asks Shiroe for permission to kick him. It isn’t funny the first time, and it never ever becomes funny at any point after that. But does this deter Log Horizon? Heeeeeeeeeeelllllll no. Enjoy these shitty, cliched character interactions until the end of fucking time. It gets even better when the goddamn cat man joins the party, so he feels the need to throw in “nyahhhhh~” at the end of every other sentence he utters for the rest of the series. At one point in the story, the focus of the narrative shifts away from Shiroe and his sociopolitical stuff to watch a bunch of kids tackle a dungeon. Problem is, they’re not Shiroe, who is thinly-developed to begin with. As such, I have no investment in these kids succeeding at some dinky dungeon. Every single character, including the hero himself, is utterly and painfully one-dimensional.
it doesn’t help either that the character designs are bland as fuck. For instance, the anime repeatedly tries to convince us that Akatsuki is hot as hell, but even if I was into tiny midget characters like hers, she’s about as generic as they come. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she’s just some non-playable ninja character. But as it turns out, she’s the main heroine of the story! Whoops! But don’t get me wrong; I don’t want them to look like weird raid-geared World of Warcraft freaks. There’s a middle ground, though. I’m not asking for the characters to look flamboyant, but at the same time, they don’t have to this boring. For all the world-building, the world itself isn’t very interesting to look at either. It’s all just a bunch of generic fantasy locales. I feel like if you’ve seen one fantasy anime, you’ll have seen them all. Worst of all, the animation quality leaves a lot to be desired, too. And after watching Satelight bungle M3 – Sono Kuroki Hagane all spring and summer long, it wasn’t exactly a treat to watch Log Horizon in action. I can hardly believe that this is an anime that aired just earlier this year. Heads are sometimes too small and mishapened, bodies are sometimes too big, and the action scenes feel perfunctory. You’re definitely not watching this show to be swept away Satelight’s animation prowess. Oh, a new studio is heading up the sequel? Let’s take a look… Studio Deen. Welp!
So with all that I’ve said above, why would I even watch the sequel to Log Horizon? Again, the story isn’t without its merits. If you can get past the cardboard-cutout characters, the uninspired setting, the lame humor, the mediocre animation, and the meandering direction to the narrative — which admittedly might be intentional — there’s something potentially intriguing about where the story is headed. What exactly does Shiroe want to do to change this world? Is there any point to returning to their previous lives if this life is just as real? But like a lot of shows of its type, I dare say Log Horizon doesn’t quite know its limits. There are way too many characters so none of them really stand out (unless you’re the sort who just automatically falls in love with character types), and every attempt at humor falls woefully short of the mark. If the sequel can just cut the bullshit and focus on the more serious aspects of the narrative — minus the narration… oh for the love of god, take out the shitty narration — then we might just salvage something out of this whole mess. I’m not going to get my hopes up, though. At the moment, I have Log Horizon on my list of things to watch for the soon-to-come fall season, especially since it appears to air on the same day as SAO, but it’s all tentative at the moment. I won’t hesitate to drop the show if it becomes too much of a slog to sit through.