Log Horizon season 1January 18, 2021
Production: Satelight / NHK studio.
Director: Shinji Ishihara
Writer: Toshizo Nemoto
Seen on Netflix.
Elder Tales, is a typical MMORPG open world. With one small difference: due to an event called Apocalypse, players are stuck in the game. All players online at the time of the game update are unable to return to the real world.
Shiroe, Naotsugu and Akatsuki unite in order to survive in a world whose rules have changed. Shiroe is an enchanter, an outstanding high level strategist. Naotsugu is also a level 90 player, guardian class, and just like Shiroe, he was part of the Debauchery Tea Party, a legendary team of players, now dissolved. As for Akatsuki, she is a level 90 Assassin. Shiroe will allow her to change her form physical, more appropriate to her real sexual identity. In exchange, she becomes her guard and, like any Shinobi, she needs a master, a role she quickly entrusts to Shiroe.
They realize that living in a virtual world does not only have advantages: while the touch sensations are startling with realism, the food has the same bland taste no matter what you eat and the resurrection is far from guarantied. They also understand by testing their skills against monsters that they should easily defeat that their actual actions are more effective than going through the in-game controls.
If these players live respectfully, this is not the case for all adventurers (name of players in opposition to villagers, non-player characters). In a world with now undefined rules and without the presence of giant guardians who appear as soon as the adventurers break the rules, the existing guilds impose their power on others, especially as they have a huge number of members.
This is what will entice Shiroe to put some order in this world, starting with Akiba City. This will of course also go through different quests, including some rescue missions. But the universe will prove to be more dangerous than expected and difficult to control. A new challenge for experienced players.
I started Log Horizon because of its classic but sympathetic pitch and the fact that two seasons (the only two by the way – a third would be in preparation but delayed due to coronavirus) are available on Netflix. It was while writing this column that I learned that the series was an adaptation of light novels written by Mamare Tōno and illustrated by Kazuhiro Hara (translated by Yen On in english). There is also an adaptation in manga format (published by Yen Press in english).
I must admit that the anime did not give me any wow effect, I watched the episodes on lunch break like a little habit that settles slowly. This is already a good sign since I have not stopped the series and its evolution has still managed to arouse my interest. The series is quite original in its design and breaks the codes of classic anime.
Actually, nothing is happening…. Well, not much. Yes, there is action, but since the story is roughly about how to put a world back in order, it focuses more on politics and diplomacy than fighting and frantic action. That said, there is still an obvious shônen structure with the hero, already quite powerful from the start and who will still gain in skill. But all this is hardly impressive when you realize that he gains his experience by drafting documents.
This is perhaps Log Horizon’s greatest strength: the consistency of its story. If few actions are spectacular, we realize that Shiroe is indeed clever (not necessarily manipulative as he is sometimes called) and that each of his decisions will have an impact thereafter, even if it will actually happen three or four episodes later.
Shiroe is an experienced player, respected (although he believes he is just an adventurer like the others) and has a good understanding of how the Elder Tales system works. The fact that he does not meet much opposition could make the series quite dull but since his social skills are not necessarily the most developed, it is nice to see that an entire secondary character gallery that will have a most essential role.
Between the members of friendly leagues and the beginners that we will follow for a few episodes while they try to level up, there will always be something not to lose interest. The starting trio of characters will still be present but will not be the center of each episode.
This said, there are, as this is often the case in mangas or animes, things that will be strange (at least to Europeans). Love stories don’t care about the lovers’ ages. Some characters seem close to the majority, others clearly younger and yet the romances are present.
Naotsugu is a character who loves panties and I thought that kind of humor was dead with Oolong from Dragon Ball or Ryo Saeba from City Hunter. Apparently not, even if Akatsuki will know how to put his ideas in place, even before he finishes his sentences. A nice running gag but one that comes back a little too often in the series. Moreover, some scene parts, such as the straightening of glasses, synonymous with super-check-move-god-I’m-so-clever-ha-ha-ha are quite repetitive. So much so that the series finds a way to make fun of this gimmick at the end of the season.
Animation has its ups and downs. The opening credits are perfect (it gives me chills, a guarantee of quality, even if musically, I find the chorus a little weak) as are the inter-episodes. Some parts featuring hordes of various monsters are clearly produced by computer, more or less well integrated into more classic 2D sets. It is not that obvious and if you are not too attentive, there is a good chance that it will go unnoticed.
I felt that some transition scenes are left in the hands of less experienced interval animators and if the editing sometimes saves a few scenes, there are still some where only the mouth of a character moves. But since this is a TV series, with no specific funding, this is quite normal quality for this knid of show. The character design is great and the variety of different heroes shows that the universe was designed with care.
Log Horizon is a slowly developing but not boring curiosity. If you are an MMORPG enthusiast, the first episodes may seem a little too educational to you, but for noobs, they will allow you to take your marks in a well-codified universe. The directing is correct, the great epic moments are scarce but well placed over the 25 episodes.
There are only the last two episodes that I “binge-watched” because I wanted to know more. Everything is very logical and announces some nice things for the second season.
We will see if the promises are kept, if the events will gain in dynamics now that an enemy is clearly recognized. And then, there are also some thoughts that may appear in the minds of viewers who want to guess certain scriptwriting twists. I have a nice hypothesis under my belt but I wonder if it is correct. 😉