First Impressions – Log Horizon

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Yes, we’ve been here before – more or less.

The elephant in the room with Log Horizon isn’t just Sword Art Online.  It’s also the many other variations on this theme that have come before, inside of anime and out (the best of which is Tad Williams fantasy trilogy Otherland).  Still, SAO is the most relevant not just because the memories are so fresh, but because it’s stunning financial success raises the spectre of cashing in for any series of a similar vein that follows it.  Fair or not, Log Horizon and any other series attempting to do what it does will have to live with that for the foreseeable future.

The most fundamental question for me is whether Log Horizon has anything new to offer in what’s a very played-out arena.  And based on the premiere, it’s not easy to say.  It certainly scores points with me for including a Triffid, and in general the tone of Log Horizon is lighter than most of the series that have walked this path (it certainly lacks the florid self-seriousness of SAO).  If anything the feel of the show is more reminiscent of some incarnations of .hack or, even more, Fairy Tail – the latter not entirely surprising given that it shares the same director, Ishihara Shinji.

To a certain extent there’s also a commonality with Outbreak Company and shows like it, in that Log Horizon is clearly presenting itself as partly a satire of this successful genre.  But as with O.C., merely making light of those clichés doesn’t mean you’re free of them yourself – in fact, it can be a bit of a crutch to try and excuse away a lack of originality in the writing.  And if I have a major problem with the premiere of LH it’s that all of the characters feel extremely generic.  The seeming main character, Shiroe (Terashima Takuma) is a nerdy otaku-type whose weapon is his brain.  Naotsugu (Maeno Tomoaki) is a classic ecchi doofus with big muscles and a big mouth.  Akatsuki (Emiri Katou) fills the GAR-moe pandering slot with aplomb, even adding in maid cafe vocal affectations.  There’s a guild seemingly built around the worship of kawaii, and even a nauseatingly cute little sister type, Serara (Kuno Misaki) who needs rescuing.  We also catch glimpses of two children (brother and sister?) who appear to be recruited to one of the guilds (or something worse), but no explanation as to their role).

Will Log Horizon go the all-out satire route here, or try and play it both ways as a lighter take on the SAO/.hack template?  Too early to say, but I will say this – as much of a disappointment as SAO turned out to be, its premiere was certainly more engaging than this one.  There’s a very good reason for that, apart from the simple fact that the art and animation was clearly superior – Kawahari Reki may be terrible at writing characters but he’s great at creating interesting alternative worlds, and that obviously lends itself to a strong opening for a series.  Alas SAO was pretty much a straight downhill arc from there, so maybe Log Horizon will go the other way.  There’s no denying that it seems refreshingly free of the ponderous gravity of SAO, and the MC seems to be more of a regular guy that an infallible Marty Stu.

In the end, though, while “not SAO” is a nice start, it’s not enough to make Log Horizon a must-see show.  The world here doesn’t seem especially inventive or striking, the humor is spotty at best and the characters don’t make much of an impression – perhaps that will change, especially the latter.  The details, to the extent they matter, seem pretty familiar – 30,000 Japanese and “hundreds of thousands” worldwide mysteriously stuck inside the MMORPG “Elder Tale”.  What we don’t know is what happens if you die in the game – happily, the characters do show the common sense not to put that to the test – but if in fact death in Elder Tale means RW death that would certainly be in contrast to the overall tone of the series.  There’s other evidence this world isn’t as advanced of comprehensive as some online realities – the food and water has no taste, for example – and perhaps there’s interest to be mined in Elder Tale being not quite a true alternative reality, but instead a sort of purgatory of the senses.  There’s enough here to keep me coming back for a few episodes, assuming the pandering doesn’t get out of hand, but so far at least Log Horizon doesn’t seem to offer much that’s compelling.

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  1. E

    First episode almost feels like a slice-of-life that takes place in a MMORPG world, and extremely curious on which direction it will take. I am hoping for an old-fashioned adventure show since the the teleporters weren't working: maybe a Kaminai in a digital age and normal lighting? Sign me up.

    On the other hand, I had the same impression that the first episode of SAO was better, at least more attention-grabbing. Though I do have a feeling that this show is the command pitcher with 4 decent pitches, and has higher floor than SAO's 98 mph fastballs in the dirt.

  2. H

    Without the hype and over the top introduction that SAO had, I still think that if this show stays at the level it showed throughout the rest of the series, it will end up far above where SAO ended up. I liked SAO up until Alfheim Online, but can see where it had problems even up until then.

    I like that this world is more like an online world, and that there's no real explanation why they're there yet. I also like the 'this wasn't a Virtual Reality world before but now it is?' idea.

  3. D

    Since this is being written by the author of Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, I have a good feeling about the possible direction this will take. I'm going to guess Guild/PvP politics and economy, and that's really interesting to me as someone who always liked to delve into these aspects of MMOs I played.

    Also, on another note, are you going to give White Album 2 a try, Enzo? It's completely disconnected to the original White Album so you don't need to worry about that, and I felt it was one of the better first episodes this season.

  4. Yeah, I'll watch the premiere and post on it if it interests me enough.

  5. i

    I liked it. It wasn't so serious but neither was it too stupid. It had a simple middle ground and the comedy suits my taste, as does the art and animation. The pandering also feels like it will be used more as a comedic tool than a hook so I don't mind it too much. Admittedly it did not blow me away like AoD's premiere did but it made me laugh and overall have a good time.

    SAO too had a good first arc before becoming IMO the small balls of shit that stick to a cows ass but LH I feel the light hearted approach works better than the self-silly and self-indulgent SAO. Elephant in the room? Ha its but a mouse I say.

  6. i

    I finally realized what Log Horizon reminds me of – Tower of Druaga. Not SAO but that weird offbeat anime that was one of the original Gonzo's last and I liked it so I think I'll like LG a lot too.

  7. That's not a bad comparison, though I suspect this show is not going to be as conspicuously whack as that one was.

  8. t

    althought it seems like SAO, it is not. LH has much more emphasis on characters and team work, it isn't "kirito will do everything in the end". plus, we could really see the detailed world of MMORPG than in SAO. and it's only the first episode.
    clearly there are still doubts whether the series can be decent enough to watch and not turn into SAO disappointment, but the debut so far was decent enought to keep in.

  9. J

    why the comparison? I thought SAO is just a glorified Single Player game?

  10. E

    I thought that wasn't confirmed yet?

  11. P

    Being as much of a .hack// fanatic as I am, now that they've ended with .hack//link (and yes the quantum ovas) I'm looking for something to fill that niche in my viewing. Hopefully this series will not disappoint.. SAO was good up until the Alpheim part, but let's not talk about that..

  12. R

    What you guys dont menton that hook me was the fact that the world of Log Horizon really works like a real mmorpg, diferent from Sao and Hack.
    Also the fact that they dont use virtual reality, they coment how is weird to walk in a diferent body and how things looked trought the monitor.
    Also they dont know how to fight because they used to fight in the computer.
    That is diference enough to me to look as a new deal.

  13. j

    Season 2 has been announced this fall cant wait

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