A review of the first season of the Japanese anime Log Horizon.
Log Horizon is not Sword Art Online and vice versa. I want to get this sentiment out as quickly as possible. Over the last couple years, I’ve heard a great deal about Log Horizon, yet never took the initiative to go into it. I have a whole backlog of either classic or currently popular anime already outside of my normal variety of cold reads and curiosities. One argument I’ve heard constantly is the comparison between Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and .hack.
I would like to insist that these three narrative tales are nearly completely distinct. If I were to describe Log Horizon, I would not even come close to emitting the title of Sword Art Online, or perhaps even the term “virtual world”. “Why?”, One might ask.
The truth of the matter is at their core, each production is about different things. Read my aforementioned SAO piece and you’ll have an understanding of how I feel about that particular production. However, if you were to try and look for those things within Log Horizon, they are nearly non-existent. Look back at .hack with this same mind-set and it should be clear that these products are simple different. Yes, they concern virtual worlds and RPGs. No, they do not have the same themes, same characters, same structure, same problems, among other things. They might look the same, but that’s looking at just the surface too much. I think it’s an important skill for people to learn to look beneath the surface of the products they consume. Anyways, I’ve probably rambled enough. On with the show.
The set-up of Log Horizon is simple enough. It’s an anime about a young man, Shiroe, trapped in a virtual world for unknown reasons. This set-up is for the most part pushed to the sidelines of the story. The outside world is not explored at all, and, outside of one character’s cat and a hint at one of the twin’s disabilities, the lives of the characters outside the game are untold. Oh, and that weird chick at the very end of the season. Outside of that, though, the set-up is mostly there to provide logic. It gives the series a way by which to bend the laws of reality for plot-sake. How is there magic, why are there nobles, how does parties and combat work, yada yada yada.
Side Note: One thing that can be pleasant for some and a pain for others when watching this series is the amount of exposition of RPG terminology in the beginning. Throughout the first few episodes, topics such as parties, hit points, classes, and more are thoroughly explained. Most people with mild experience with RPGs or MMOs will already be able to walk in with this knowledge.
This makes the show very accessible for some, but I imagine it must be tedious for others. I welcome it, personally. It also opens the doors for understanding the more advanced topic of party combat through the side character Minori. As a more advanced RPG player, it was interesting for me to get a grasp over the combat philosophy of the main character that I’m sure must be used to some extent in real MMO combat. (I’ve never raided in my life, haha). Again, this can be tedious for many who probably don’t care for this sort of thing.
Anyways, outside of how the show is set-up and contextualized, the show ends up being about much more than the virtual world, though. In the end, it’s very much about the real world. Unlike SAO, which focuses on adventure (for the most part), Log Horizon is about the relationship between society and ourselves, and how humanity is defined between the two. At a social level, it’s about how we create society. The ways in which we structure a world in order to provide safety and security for others. These are things that Shiroe emphasizes as important when enacting his plan to restructure city of Akihabara (where much of the show takes place). When speaking to the Round Table, he explains how laws are created by humans. The rules of the virtual world may exist, but they do not restrict us from creating our own rules and ethics. The show doesn’t explicitly explain this, but this is no different from our world. No matter what world we live in, there will always be basic rules. In the virtual, it might be that everyone can respawn upon death. In ours, it might be that sickness destroys crops and famine starve. The rules of nature are merely logic. They’re how we come to understand the world. After that, we create society. We create laws, rules that are enforced by humanity.
They exist within the logic of the world and create an order within the order. No matter what world we live in, under what logic we are forced to follow, there will always be a logic that we insist upon. I believe that is what Log Horizon is trying to explain.
Now, I’m not saying Log Horizon is only about this. Like many great stories, it’s multi-layered.
At a more individual level, it’s also about how we find a reason to live. A quote from the character of Chief speaking individually to Shiroe says this: “Any kind of life can go wrong, or sicken, or suffer. Lives get old, decay, and finally die. Disliking that fact because it hurts isn’t any different that disliking life itself.”
What he means by this is that we create reasons to live not despite our circumstances, but because of them. He understands that it takes “bad” to define “good”.
“If there were a thing that never went bad, I don’t know that I’d trust it,” says Chief. He continues to explain how their old group of friends were happy because they worked together to make it that way, outside of everything else. “Any treasure you attain without anyone ever working is no treasure at all.”
Overall, these things all form one thing: resolve. That is what Log Horizon is about to me. It’s about the resolve of individuals and the results of their ambitions. Society, humanity, and freedom. These are all constructions created by resolve. Understanding, peace, teamwork. These are all relationships that are resolve itself. These are all things that Log Horizon tries to explore. It’s about a virtual world, but in the end, it’s about how in the real world, or rather in any world, we find ways to work things out within a system. It’s like a video game really, haha.
The transitional set-up created at the end of the first season anticipating the second has me believing that they will explore the outside world a bit more, or at the least the question of how to escape this world. But that is for another day. For now, I believe the show is about how people create purpose for life within a world, any world.
The show is not the most impressive. It relies on a lot of tropes and cues that gives it the quality of a double-edged sword. One one hand, accessible and clear; on the other, quite predictable and tedious at times, especially politically. Despite this, I find it to be quite an important commentary on the world in ways that perhaps many have not seen it. I hope that in this I have perhaps opened up a better understanding of what I believe that it shows. I think that the show is very recommendable and high quality and can’t wait to watch the second season to see where it goes.