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Based on a manga series by Marare Touno, Log Horizon is an entertaining fantasy series for the whole family set in the world of online gaming, comparing elements of Japanese and Western gaming and creating a rich world.
In Japan, a World of Warcraft-like game, Elder Tales, has received an expansion and somehow all 30,000 players end up trapped in the game world that is a scale model of the nation. Three high level players are some of the victims trapped in this world, Shiroe, a magic user and a skilled tactician, Naotsugu, a frat-boy like warrior, and Akatsuki, a tomboyish assassin. It is up to Shiroe and his allies to bring order to the world and make sense of the changing nature of Elder Tales.
There are been many anime series set in the world of computer games and virtual reality, from video game tie-ins like Digimon and Monster Rancher to movies like Summer Wars. Log Horizon stands alongside series like that with pride setting out a complex, well-thought out world filled with a huge cast of characters. It is a great series for MMORPG players and fantasy fans. The Elder Tales expansion is about a world changing event known as ‘The Apocalypse’, while in World of Warcraft they famously had an expansion called ‘Cataclysm’.
The first 13 episodes in the series is a collection of mini-arcs within the wider narrative that lasts around three to four episodes. The first arc being the characters figuring out what they can do within the game world and going to another city to rescue a missing character, then followed by Shiroe coming up with a plan to rescue young players who have been captured by more powerful players. Another arc includes Shiroe and his allies bringing governance to the world and dealing with the outside world while the younger characters are trained up by the more experienced players. Unlike shows like Digimon and Monster Rancher, which showed us the real world and eased us into the worlds of their respective series, the creators of Log Horizon throw us into the deep end where all the characters are aware of their surroundings and the rules that dictate it. Some people even embrace the chance to live out their video game fantasies, and Shiroe and his cohorts are skilled players who just needed to test their limitations.
Continuing the comparison with Digimon and Monster Rancher, Log Horizon is an action-packed show filled with big monsters and battles and, like the first two shows, characters in Log Horizon shout out what their attacks are doing as they are doing them. Log Horizon also displays information about any new character who is introduced – like when a new monster is introduced in Digimon giving the name and class and sub-class and level of the character. Fortunately the information in Log Horizon is translated into English when in Digimon it was left in Japanese – even when it was broadcast outside its home nation.
Log Horizon goes in depth with its world building. The world is geographically based on Japan, but split into four nations and there are many factions, from various guilds to leadership of the Non-Player Characters (People of the Land). As Shiroe and his allies try to bring order to the city of Akihabara it shows the nitty-gritty of state building, from creating a form of government and the political manoeuvring that comes with it, creating the rule of law, international relations, and the early formation of an economy. The series is well thought through in terms of its politics, addressing issues like law-and-order and human rights, and it is a delight for people who are interested in history and politics. One of the great moments in the first 13 episodes is Shiroe having choreographed a political coup and a rescue mission at the same time. The presence of the players into the world disrupts the equilibrium, from players trying to kill and dominate others, to The People of Land going from mindless programming to sentient beings.
The art work is of a high standard. The character designs are a mix of Western like characters from World of Warcraft, like huge knights, sorcerers, elves and dwarves, to Japanese style character like ninjas and samurai. The series even has human/fox hybrids and anamorphic cat people. The world of Elder Tales is also a mix of medieval architecture with a post-apocalyptic Japan – showing the buildings and highways covered in grass. There are even great little details like when Nyanta, the swashbuckling werecat flicking his ears like a real cat and the animators were very fond of characters who wore glasses adjusting them when making a powerplay.
Log Horizon has plenty of angst from its characters, particularly Shiroe the perpetual loner, who we hear through his inner monologue talking about his past in the game and trying to figure out his new surroundings. We also get to hear Akatsuki’s thoughts as she tries to impress Shiroe and harbors romantic feelings and the healer Minori feelings during her capture. Despite this, the series is also very funny, having many running gags, like the tiny Akatsuki beating the huge Naotsugu whenever he says anything sexist, the toyboyish Akatsuki being treated as a doll by the leadership of a guild and the ability of Marielle, the leader of the Crescent Moon Alliance, to get stressed easily. There are even cute moments of animation such as a group of characters talking political strategy and Akatsuki sits there confused with questions marks around her.
The English voice acting is more mixed. Most of the acting is fine but some of the characters’ voice are just reduced to base stereotypes, like Naotsugu being given a typical jock voice and Marielle sounding like a Valley Girl. Jovan Jackson as Nyanta does has a very smooth voice. The English voice acting is tolerable but the Japanese is better.
Log Horizon is a great series for families, being action and character driven, and wonderfully complex. It should whet the appetite for World of Warcraft fans looking forward to the movie adaptation.