It’s been quite a while since the release of the first season of Log Horizon in 2014, but I’ve made it a point to revisit this series because honestly, I never gave it a fair shot in the first place. This time around, I wanted to approach the series with a much more open and honest look. In retrospect, it was painfully clear to me that my initial resentment and dropping of the series stemmed from my tastes around that time. These tastes had imposed unrealistic expectations on Log Horizon, making me incapable of seeing the deeply rich world building it was setting in motion. I was like one of those narrowminded, bumbling buffoons with a magnifying glass; instead of using that magnifying glass to hone into the beautiful world of Elder Tale it was unraveling, I tunneled onto one specific area, hellbent on setting it all ablaze. Log Horizon never stood a chance. How could it? Quite simply, I had been chasing the highs of Sword Art Online, crowning it as the golden example of what every anime dealing with the MMO genre should be like. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it was impossible for me to ever really enjoy Log Horizon under those misguided expectations. I had condemned the series to be nothing more than a shadow of Sword Art Online when in reality, the two series couldn’t be more different. Log Horizon’s strength as a series comes in the way it constructs the world of Elder Tale, building upon the elements of the mmo genre to create a sense of adventure unique to its identity.
The premise of Log Horizon is actually quite simple. It centers around a college student by the name of Shiroe, who through some freak of nature, finds himself stuck in the popular MMORPG, Elder Tale alongside countless other people. What he finds is that the game is no longer the same he once knew. Together with some friends, he attempts to piece together the mystery that holds them hostage in this new world while also trying to do what he deems necessary for this new society to prosper.
To me, the exploration of the different player types and societies was the greatest allure of the first season of Log Horizon — it’s what drew me to MMOs during my childhood in the first place. It wasn’t all about the flashy graphics or cool combat mechanics. No, it goes far beyond that, incorporating all the potential avenues available for community to come together, share ideas, or even clash amongst one another. At its core, it’s about being able to explore the vast world in whatever manner you see fit, with whoever you deem fit; the many ways people can interact with one another through activities, guilds, parties, events, market, or even pvp; or how freedom of expression comes into play, allowing you to define yourself. Maybe you don’t want to be in a guild, but you still want to play with others. Maybe you love doing challenging content with groups of people, acquiring glory and a set of elite equips to match the title. Maybe you just love killing other players because, well… just because you can. Or, maybe you prefer the less barbaric using the economic side of things with merchandise, crafting, and gold to control market. Whatever the case, you see all of these facets of an MMORPG society utilized in a way that just makes perfect sense for the world of Log Horizon.
Essentially, all the archetypes of the MMO genre are there as a foundation and expanded upon to make even the characters dynamic. Take for example our protagonist, Shiroe. He is a lone wolf who had once preferred to avoid people all together, rejecting all the countless guild requests he was offered on his quest to complete all the elite content the game offered. Now, because it had proven to be more difficult to undertake end-game content on his own, he was forced to seek out likeminded individuals, banding together to form the most elite party known to the world of Elder Tale, The Debaucher Tea Party. Within this party, he grew alongside his friends and comrades to boast more confidence in himself and those around him. Shiroe wasn’t affixed to the loner status; he sought to accomplish his goals in a way that transformed and made total sense for not just his character, but how MMOs operate in general. In MMOs, even if you’re a loner, there are often benefits to partying with other people simply because it’s not always possible to get what you want alone (whether it’s that legendary weapon drop or some other rare loot no one has). Often times, you need a well-balanced party setup with different roles to counter your weaknesses in order to beat end-game content. For Shiroe, this is exactly what Debauchery Tea Party was; a ragtag group of players who all have the goal of defeating challenging content in mind. In many ways, the bonds the party formed had set ripples within the society of Elder Tale in motion, becoming the catalyst for many of events that transpired later on.
With that said, Log Horizon is more than anything, a world-driven story. One of the draws of Season 1 of Log Horizon is how it spends an incredible amount of time establishing the structure and systems in place of the world. The information is handled in careful digestible bits so that those who have not played the MMO genre are still capable of understanding how things work. To some extent, it often feels as if you’re a new adventurer, exploring the inner workings of the world of Elder Tale and learning the mechanisms and roles as you go.
You’ll see all of the same systems present in any MMO game: the guilds, market, social politics, combat, exploring, monsters, crafting, dying, dungeons, raiding, towns, and even the different type of species. The characters in the world have to fend for themselves, learning how to operate within the parameters of a world that blends reality and the game itself. It uses all of these things as a foundation, allowing the system to transform in unpredictably clever ways. For example, the characters realize that the food tastes like crap, so they all put up with it until suddenly, someone discovers you can cook the food traditionally instead of using a preset command. This in turn leads to larger developments down the road where the characters realize they can use this to their advantage. There’s the problem of learning to battle when you used commands as a crutch. The characters have to learn to cope with fighting in real-time, mastering their techniques through repetitive practice much like in real-life. There’s also the problem of a lack of system of government, allowing things like monopolies and player abuse to happen. Even boredom is presented as a problem which is ridiculous when you think about the fact they’re stuck in a game. Everyone and everything is intrinsically motivated, making everything feel just right.
By season 2, however, it seems as though Log Horizon’s vision blurries, stretching a bit too thin by attempting to develop each and every character, regardless of how impertinent they were to the story. The result is a narrative that is completely convoluted and melodramatic, neglecting the once fun, quirky main cast of characters. Many of the main characters like Nyanta and Naotsugu fall off to the wayside. Akatsuki becomes a rather flat character, deemed to be stuck in a state of perpetual sulking. I hate what they did to these characters. As if it weren’t insult enough with what the series did to the main cast, they introduced a myriad of characters right towards the end, making it hard to care about what exactly was going on. I could appreciate that Log Horizon felt the need to establish the characters further, but it came at the cost of keeping the narrative well-directed and focused. However, even with the weaknesses, season 2 was still quite enjoyable. It just didn’t hold a candle to season 1.
All together, even after the downward spiral that is season 2, the series is definitely worth watching. There’s enough substance, insight, and fun present for just about anyone to enjoy.