Log Horizon – Season 1

Log Horizon – Season 1

20140514-211722.jpg30,000 players of the MMORPG Elder Tale suddenly find themselves trapped in the game – amongst them, veteran gamer Shiroe. Trapped, they must continue to fight monsters and NPCs as normal whilst trying to figure out what’s happening around them, the less experienced characters looking up to the more experienced ones for guidance. Once proud of his ‘loner’ status, Shiroe finds himself forming the guild Log Horizon with his ‘tank’ friend Naotsugu, female assassin Akatsuki and others who he now travels with. The aim of Log Horizon? To change the world of Elder Tale at a foundational level.

Log Horizon is an anime that takes the idea of being trapped in an MMORPG and uses it to explore the very concepts of the setting and how real people would actually function in a fictional reality. It is most certainly not the first anime to focus on people being trapped in an online game (.hack//Sign, Sword Art Online, and the rest…), but its approach is different. You don’t actually see the ‘real people’ trapped by the game. All the action is set in Elder Tale which means it has a definite break from reality. It all serves to make the world the characters are trapped in more substantial.

20140514-211653.jpgAt first the players believe that they are just trapped in Elder Tale, but as the story progresses it becomes apparent that this isn’t the only thing that has changed: monsters are tougher, portals connecting the world are broken, and it seems that NPCs are developing their own thoughts and personalities. As a result, much of the first half of this anime is all about the characters learning the ways in which Elder Tale is changing around them and, as a direct assault, the ethical and economical impacts that this has on its inhabitants – just like it would in the real world: creating food that tastes nice, buying property and forging weapons.

But of course, the biggest change between the game world and the one the players are trapped in are the NPCs who, far from just dishing out quests and the same few sentences of flavour text, seem to be real living, breathing people. This casts the players as an unstable element in the fantasy world they inhabit: they serve no king, have no long term goals, and are supernaturally strong compared to the average NPC inhabitant. Moreover, each player has his or her own twenty-first century mind, packed to the brim with revolutionary technology that those in this medieval setting can’t even hope to dream of. Simply put, the players are both the greatest resource and greatest threat to the NPCs and their way of life – and the NPCs know it.

20140514-211710.jpgUnlike Sword Art Online, Log Horizon is not a death game anime. If you die in battle in Log Horizon, you simply respawn at the cathedral of last city you visited. Thus, death holds no fear for the player. However, this doesn’t take anything away from the anime itself, as Log Horizon has so many other storylines and ideas developing – so the terrible threat of perma-death isn’t needed as a plot device here. Log Horizon is more about living and forging a civilisation than it is about escaping ‘the game’.

Being able to re-spawn technically means that characters can never, ever die. Shiroe realises early on the implications of having a population of smart, strong immortals with no goals or basic needs that have to be addressed. Thus, he sets about a plan to build a society from the ground up to both control and give purpose to the players trapped in this new world. Watching as he does this by exploiting human nature and the new rules of this new world is another of the anime’s strongest points.

20140514-211826.jpgUnfortunately, before the anime gets down to exploring the rules of the world, the sociological impact of being trapped in a game world, or the affect of the players upon the world’s native population, we have to suffer through a short “rescue mission” story arc. Now while this arc does serve to tell us, the viewers, more about the world, it only shows us the barest surface. Rather than the captivating thought experiments that come later, we are treated to little more than your standard fantasy adventure: the heroes go on a journey, face dangers, rescue the maiden in distress, and defeat the comically evil bad guy despite the overwhelming odds in his favour.

20140514-211637.jpgEvery once in a while, the plot and intellectual exploration grinds to a sudden halt to explain the basics of how to play an MMORPG. Granted, it is necessary world-building information, but unfortunately, if you have ever played an MMO with any sort of dedication, these sections of the anime feel like sitting in on a child’s math class. Everything they are expositing about is such common, basic knowledge that it is nearly mind-numbing. Even the PVP fights and dungeon-crawling we witness are little more than an addendum to whichever MMO tenant has recently been mentioned (that said, if you have no MMO experience, you will likely be grateful for these information overloads).

While the first few episodes of Log Horizon are a little cliché, what follows is well worth the wait. If you like sociological/economical thought experiments or are an MMORPG gamer, you will likely find yourself captivated by what this anime has to offer. If, however, you are looking for fantasy-action to fill the void let by Sword Art Online, you won’t find that here. Log Horizon is far more interested in building a world and exploring the implications of said world than in high-stakes fight scenes. And as the series heads into its second half, it looks like there is plenty more of this intriguing story to come.