Log Horizon Part 1 (Episodes 1-13) (Cert PG)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 322 minutes approx.
Anime fans seem to be very lenient when it comes to shows which arrive with a concept which has already been done before, and I don’t just mean rehashing harem set-ups or angsty teen mecha pilots saving the Earth either. Log Horizon is a show that is in danger of being ignored for essentially being, on first analysis, a Sword Art Online clone.
If you haven’t guessed by now the core plot involves a group of MMORPG players of the globally successful fantasy game Elder Tale who have found themselves inexplicably trapped within the game itself and must learn to survive within it until they can find a way out. So far, so SAO. Unlike SAO however the cause for this extraordinary phenomenon to occur appears to be a fault with the latest expansion pack Novasphere Pioneers, therefore the game itself is the de facto villain and not an external antagonist deliberately trapping the players as part of an act of despotic villainy.
Many antagonists appear during the journey of our cadre of heroes, lead by the bespectacled tactician Shiroe, burly braggart Naotsugu and cute ninja Akatsuki. They locate other online friends of the Crescent Moon Alliance, fronted by sisters Maryelle and Henrietta, forming an unofficial coalition with them along with a skilled chef cat-man named Nyanta and a young druid Serara. As the political playing field begins to get divisive and dangerous, Shiroe is forced to form his own guild to keep himself and his friends in the right path of survival which he names Log Horizon!
The story first appeared as a novel by Mamare Touno, almost hot on the heels of SAO but every success story brings its imitators and some do it better than others. Touno has added some significant differences which should alleviate plagiarism accusations even if the central concept is too close for comfort. For starters, no-one can be killed in the game and the players retain their on-screen avatar forms, which explains the likes of Nyanta, and other aesthetically unique characters.
Another thing to strike the viewer is how this show is much more light hearted and comedic in its tone than SAO, ramming the message home with all the usual affectations like chibi forms, sweatdrops, exaggerated tantrums and the like. Hell, they even manage to throw in a beach trip episode! While it may grow old for some, Henrietta’s weird loli-crush on Akitsuki does provides us with some fun comic interludes as the shy and stoic ninja is being chased across the screen by the older woman with a cute dress for her to try on!
Yet it when it needs to be serious the script does hold its own against other shows in the various political and tactical subplots. Taking its cue from the likes of Berserk and Code Geass, quite often time is spent in round table meetings where the guild heads convene to discuss matters of propriety and governance as well as possible alliances, to further illustrate the complexity of the game and how quickly the trapped players have apparently embraced their fate.
It is rather interesting that even in a hyperrealist state power can go to people’s heads, which one can take as an observation of the effects of the wish fulfilment mentality engendered by living vicariously through a video game character. With the lines blurred as to whether the characters are actually living or not, Touno has addressed this with a clever if improbable take on the issue of food.
Whenever our heroes eat, the food may look genuine but it tastes bland, as it is, after all, not real. However there is a catch that a top ranking chef, like Nyanta, can create genuinely tasty and edible food if they source the ingredients from genuine in game stock. In other words slay a few wild boars and make some tasty burgers! This in fact becomes a key component in Shiroe’s plan when Crescent Moon opens a food stall, the profit from which funds their future campaign.
Many familiar aspects of the gaming world are adhered to throughout, such as the power levels and rankings of the players and their vulnerability when struck during a battle. While players cannot die they can be defeated if they incur enough heavy blows to diminishes their health points, but many fighters are canny enough to partner up with those with healing powers. Communication is also still possible via the online message systems while some player have audio connections too.
Fights and battle scenes aren’t as frequent as they are in other fantasy shows, which may disappoint some viewers but the upside is that they mean more when they do occur. In keeping with the genre the battles involve swords and other medieval influenced weapons suffused with magical properties for the killer blow. Big power moves have ostentatious names which are called out Bleach fashion before being executed all delivered in typically boisterous and colourful fashion.
Satelight Studios are responsible for the animation and have created a world for the setting which fits in nicely with the milieu of fantasy landscapes and enchanted set pieces the genre demands. Character designs are fairly standard and often unremarkable, possibly a side effect of having such an extensive cast. The main players are mostly distinguishable enough from the others, leaving those on the periphery to blend in to the crowd.
The big question is whether Log Horizon should be dismissed as an SAO clone and not be bothered with ever again due to the recycled premise. Surprisingly no, it shouldn’t. If anything it is the more focused of the two shows by chronicling the adjustment of the players to their new world, and with the humour injection, much more fun. It may have a lower budget and follow conventions but its earnestness is rather endearing.
Not a classic but it certainly exceeds expectations.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 2 Only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black