Sophie’s Japan Blog is four years old this August so, after a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I decided to celebrate this birthday by making this month on the blog all about… anime! Seeing as anime was one of the first things that sparked my interest in Japan, and I still watch a fair amount of it, Anime August seemed like a good idea. There will be reviews, interviews, special features and, of course, a competition! Let’s kick the month off with the first review, Log Horizon from MVM Entertainment. You can buy part 1 here and part 2 here.
The ‘children/teenagers are sucked into a digital world and suddenly become really awesome at fighting’ is a pretty familiar anime plotline – starting off with Digimon and more recently with Accel World and Sword Art Online‘s global popularity. Log Horizon doesn’t exactly revolutionise the format but there are a number of things that make it stand out from other anime series similar to it.
Log Horizon takes place inside the MMORPG Elder Tales (a reference to Elder Scrolls Online?), a fantasy world filled with monsters and magic and medieval-looking towns and castles. When the latest expansion pack launches, millions of players across the world log in then find themselves trapped in this new digital world! Veteran gamer Shiroe manages to find his online friends fairly quickly but there’s a lot to discover in the new world – new towns, monsters and quests – and a few unwelcome surprises – if you die in the game, you regenerate in the cathedral. In other words, there’s no way to leave.
What Log Horizon does particularly well is immerse its characters in its new surroundings. Everyone isn’t suddenly a pro-gamer and there’s a lot of testing out how much the new real world is like Elder Tales. It also goes into the rules of MMORGs for the benefit of those who haven’t played one before – explaining class systems, magic use and so on. Sometimes it does get a bit too technical and geeky but it definitely helps build up the rules of this new unfamiliar fantasy world. The longer I watched Log Horizon, the more I wondered whether I should finally try out World of Warcraft. It would have been a bit more believable (as far as the show’s premise allows) if the characters seemed at all bothered about how to get home. Rather than the show being one about people trying to get back to their real world, it shows how people immerse and familiarise themselves in their new world, which is quite an interesting take on things.
In terms of characters, Log Horizon has a very colourful range of people and classes (mage, ninja, swashbuckler etc) but I found most of them fairly stereotyped and there was only a little bit of character development. Shiroe, as a veteran gamer, is the cool tactician whose reactions to situations in the game change as the story develops. Little ninja Akatsuki is serious and tiny and regularly punches boob-loving Naotsugu in the face, which is a formula that admittedly gets stale pretty quickly. That said, while there are a number of stereotypes, this is a shounen (young male) series so you could be forgiven for expecting the characters to be there more for entertainment than development.
(minor spoiler warnings ahead… ) I personally felt there were a number of things that Log Horizon could have developed but didn’t in its 26 episodes. For example, halfway through the series the goblin king returns, which prompts a huge swarm of monsters that the characters have to rally against to defeat. A few episodes are dedicated to pretty cool fight scenes and decent character development, but after one big battle everyone goes home and no one seems bothered about going on to kill the goblin king. Also, I thought the end of the series would be dedicated to an epic battle or explanation of why everyone was trapped in Elder Tales, but instead a town festival took up the last three episodes. I should stress that Log Horizon’s charm lies in the way characters interact with the digital world, rather than one random encounter after another, but I didn’t feel season one ended on as a high note as it could have. Season 2 aired in Japan last year, so we might see that on UK shores soon…
Log Horizon does have it charms, and I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I was still in my teens and was particularly partial to the shounen genre. For fans of the genre, this show does tick a number of teenage fantasy adventure clichés, which are popular for a reason, and offers a number of new interesting takes on the growing MMORPG anime category. For that reason, this series gets a 7/10!