Weekly Digest 10/20/13 – Outbreak Company, Log Horizon

Outbreak Company - 03 -8 Outbreak Company - 03 -16 LH - 03 -4 LH - 03 -15

These are two series with some interesting parallels, but one of them is working considerably better for me than the other.

Outbreak Company – 03

Outbreak Company - 03 -1 Outbreak Company - 03 -2 Outbreak Company - 03 -3
Outbreak Company - 03 -4 Outbreak Company - 03 -5 Outbreak Company - 03 -6
Outbreak Company - 03 -7 Outbreak Company - 03 -9 Outbreak Company - 03 -10
Outbreak Company - 03 -11 Outbreak Company - 03 -12 Outbreak Company - 03 -13
Outbreak Company - 03 -14 Outbreak Company - 03 -15 Outbreak Company - 03 -17
Outbreak Company - 03 -18 Outbreak Company - 03 -19 Outbreak Company - 03 -20

Outbreak Company is definitely a better show than I figured it would be going in, though I’m at the three-episode cutoff and it’s still right on the edge as far as blogging is concerned.  It was certainly a lot of fun going through all the seemingly endless meta-references this week (the shout-out to Minaki-ke certainly being my favorite, though hardly a surprise given the studio) and the series has shown an inclination to take on serious social issues.  But it still strikes me as largely constrained by the very cliches it aspires to satirize.

That alone is a very interesting problem as anime problems go, and might just be enough on its own to keep me plugged in for a while.  Also interesting is the social commentary aspect of Outbreak Company – I haven’t quite decided if it’s trying to simplistically hold Japan up as a model of enlightened egalitarianism for the world to envy, or use the device of Eldant as cover to condemn Japan’s history of isolationism and xenophobia in a way anime normally can’t get away with through more direct means.  Again, I’m curious enough to find out that I might stick around for a while on that basis alone.

I’ve talked a lot more about the ideas behind Outbreak Company than I have the execution of the show itself, which I suppose is a compliment to the premise in a way.  But the execution is by no means irrelevant, and on-balance I’d say it’s been pretty good so far.  The latest wrinkle is a right-wing terrorist group called Baydona that’s taken offense at Shinichi’s insistence on building a school to teach the ways of Japan to the Eldantinians – even (gasp) the commoners.  Their leader gives a defense of their worldview that’s pretty much a grade-school history reader version of fascist thinking – the superiority of the master race, manifest destiny, protecting against the poison of foreign culture and ideas.  Of course the truth is that there are people in the real world who think this way – not just the monsters who throw acid in schoolgirls’ faces and blow up embassies but politicians in places far too close to home (both in countries where anime is made and where it’s watched).  So, simplistic though its presentation may be, Baydona’s way of thinking isn’t completely irrelevant to reality, and certainly not in a country with Japan’s history.

There’s some drama involving Myuseru at the close of the crisis at the school, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of suspense over how it’ll turn out.  It was certainly interesting to see her break out some Elven magic, and I suppose her actions will spark a predictable change-of-heart in Petrarca, who up to this point has been pretty much an annoying cliche that’s failed to rise to the level of satire.  This Zero no Tsukaima-esque side of Outbreak Company hasn’t been its strongest feature so far, and it’s where the show feels most like the type of series it’s trying to parody.   Even there we have two sides of the story, though, because it seems as if O.C. is offering a kind of defense of anime as pure escapism – which makes trying to figure out where the meta-line of the show is all that much harder to do.  As anime problems go, that’s at least more interesting than most.

Log Horizon – 03

LH - 03 -1 LH - 03 -2 LH - 03 -3
LH - 03 -5 LH - 03 -6 LH - 03 -7
LH - 03 -8 LH - 03 -9 LH - 03 -10
LH - 03 -11 LH - 03 -12 LH - 03 -13
LH - 03 -14 LH - 03 -16 LH - 03 -17

The three-episode rule claims a victim here, as I’m just not seeing enough in Log Horizon to keep me hanging around.  There’s a certain sanctimonious quality to the “This is not Sword Art Online!” claims defenders of LH make around-the-clock, but to be honest while I acknowledge that there are differences and it’s not anyone’s responsibility to defend a comparison made by someone else, I don’t see these two shows as being as dissimilar as those claims would indicate.

In the first place, a good deal of the praise I see heaped on Log Horizon could just as easily have come from discussions about SAO if you just changed the word “Akatsuki” to “Asuna”.  Are they the same character?  No – but the “waifu effect” is still the core of the appeal.  A cute assassin who calls the hero “My Lord” despite the fact that they’re the same age in real-life?  No wish-fulfillment there, no siree…  And the first quest of LH?  Let’s go rescue a moeblob imouto type.  And that doesn’t sound like it fell of the pages of SAO?  I see the same problem here as I did with Maoyuu – the author may in fact want to do something more meaningful and thought-provoking, but he can’t resist using an endless string of clichés in the process.

I certainly don’t think Log Horizon is as self-serious or ponderous as SAO (nor is it as visually appealing or possessed of as interesting a virtual setting), and there are interesting elements in the premise here.  It has an undeniable geeky cred in getting the details right that justifiably appeals to hardcore RPG experts.  Plus, the idea of Nakata Jyouji playing a cat-man called Nyanta has a definite appeal.  But I’m just not finding enough that’s compelling about LH to make it a really engaging series – I don’t find any of the characters we’ve met original or particularly charismatic, and the art and animation (Moria has certainly looked better) is decidedly average.  It can certainly be argued that Log Horizon and Outbreak Company are treading similar ground in terms of using tropes to try and transcend them.  I guess the reason I’m still engaged enough with the latter to probationally continue it and not the former is that I think Outbreak Company is taking a more interesting approach, and executing it in a more interesting way.



  1. i

    LH is fun for me. Something about how it compares to Tower of Druaga, though not as fun and wacky as that series, appeals to me. If I had to name its problem with viewers though it would be a lack of drive. It feels more like a random quest story where the characters simply switch from the real world to the game world and aren't too concerned at this point of getting out. There more adventurers than warriors. That on some level is good for me because its nice and laid back, like a slice of life with some meat.

    I also don't find Akatsuki annoying at any level primarily because she lacks the main qualities of annoying moe girls for me – she isn't shrill or a bitchy tsundere. As a result she works well with the laid backness of the series, where she's not in excess of anything.

    Its geeky, I like. Its lazy, I like. Its cartoonish animation, I like. And that OP, is sung nearly entirely in Engrish but that one bit sung in Japanese is for the perfect bit of J-rock. For me its just the kind of satire I want – simple basic fun.

  2. J

    If Akatsuki's RP is wish fulfillment, then Nyanta's nyans as well in this case.

    Anyway, I think GE is missing out on the big picture. Serara being cornered is an outcome of a bigger problem happening in the world where there's no law and order. She's not trapped by Monsters or quests, or anything by game design, but of fellow players themselves who riots in the city. This world is falling into anarchy and that would be the main story instead of what GE's describing here.

  3. Was Asuna's kawaii and moeblob rescue the "main story" in SAO? I would argue no – but it was still what put asses in the seats. I just find it harder to make out the difference than I expected when LH started.

  4. R

    >Was Asuna's kawaii and moeblob rescue the "main story" in SAO?
    Yes it was for the second half.

    Log Horizon charms lies in how well it's approaching the "trapped in a MMO" setting. All works I came across before failed to make their worlds feel like a MMORPG, but Log Horizon manages to make Elder Tale fee like a proper korean MMORPG. Specially in the character class / type of player dynamics that have been the core of the gameplay shown so far (No character was shown beating monster by himself so far, it's been all party gameplay.)

    But I guess it takes being experienced in what MMORPGs were to be able to notice all this. For example, by removing taste from the food, "Cooking" has now become probably the most researched mechanic in Elder Tale, as eating tasteless food must be a pretty torturous experience for the player's psyche. Do not be surprised when ingredients become one of the most valuable items in LH. I'm waiting to see how the upcoming rise of demand on those items will change how the game is played and the conflicts that will ignite. It's amusing because "Cooking" was never an attractive or fun mechanic in any MMORPG. LH seems to be setting up something like this.

    SAO had a similar issue: food wasn't tasteless, it just tasted different. But it never explored the gameplay implications of food. SAO just used that to enhance Asuna's waifu points.

    In any case, I think that LH has more in common with MAOYU than with SAO, sharing some of both MAOYU's charms and failings.

    By the way, it was already mentioned in the show but Akatsuki is a hardcore role-player.

  5. d

    I like the exploration of food as impetus for behaviour. SAO the anime only briefly mentioned it, but did so consistently over at least three episodes. Light novel obviously had more time to cover it. Food and taste was important to Kirito, enough that he'd sidequest for butter, and introduce that meme butterfly to Asuna early on so she'd also begin to consider the greater world at hand. While she would not sidequest for butter for her bread at that point, the idea stuck that she desires more than just to complete the game, enough that she'd dedicate a major portion of time and effort to it.

    Yes, food was used as waifu points in SAO, but it also had other implications as well. There's more to life than just being a warrior and completing the game, and people wanted other things. The cooking episode with the rare S-rank rabbit's implications were that the cooking ingredients faced extremely high demand and value, because other people valued it and to an extreme degree. Asuna had Kirito at knifepoint for it. While cute, she wasn't alone as the merchant was willing to pay high prices because he knew a lot of other people valued food and taste as well.

    No, the implications were given as much screentime, they are subtle on-screen, but they are there.

  6. R

    LH has yet to do his thing (or not) about food in its world, so there's not much to compare there.
    But what I'm trying to show Enzo is what "a MMORPG player" finds appealing in the fact that food is tasteless but there's this item that adds flavor to it. How there's potential for stuff to happen out of silly things we saw in these last few episodes.

    I don't know his gaming background but I see how this show will be very hard to blog to him.

    About SAO:

    Those "subtle game implications" are part of Kawahara Reki's great world building writing, which were wasted in the story that was focused entirely on Kirito.

  7. That's what I meant by "getting the details right" in the last paragraph of the post, Richard, and I do know enough to get at least some of why that has appeal. I guess I'm just not invested enough to make it a reason to keep following the series unless it has more to offer.

  8. Z

    "In any case, I think that LH has more in common with MAOYU than with SAO, sharing some of both MAOYU's charms and failings."

    >Well damn, that makes the whole thing sound more appealing now.

  9. G

    These 2 series are just fun to watch and I enjoy them both for what they are. Not every series has to be an earth shattering anime that changes the way we think of anime. Some are just fun to sit back and watch.

  10. A

    I think Outbreak Company is one of those shows which isn't as vacuous as it looks. Although it does irk me that they have the perfect opportunity for a cliffhanger and then blow it in the next episode preview.

    Log Horizon though struck me as one of those shows where if you play MMORPGS you might get a lot more enjoyment out of it than if you don't. Which is why I didn't even get through the first episode.

  11. K

    OC is definitely surpassing my low expectations. It's not too distasteful, and I have no problem ignoring the irritating/ annoying loli princess. If anything, it's a fun show to play "spot the reference", and it certainly split my sides when it came to Shingeki story time.

    LH seems to be playing the MMORPG trope traight, so I'm not really expecting anything much rom it. It's a decent watch and it doesn't pretend to be more, which is perfectly fine.

  12. E

    Interesting. A lot of Log Horizon defender here.
    I personally found it a disappointment myself.
    I love a cleverly planned story, and Log Horizon certainly isn't one.

    – A party of glasses guy as the strategist, kawaii loli as the assassin, bulky perverted guy as the knight
    – A quest to save a loli who seems to have awful fighting ability and good as maid only. Whoa, there, whoa.
    – A hairy big bad guy who have no real serious reason behind his action. Oh, I was bored to be stuck in this game, let's play the villain! We are not doing real crime anyway! It's all virtual!

    Well.. well… This is same reason to why Maoyuu Maou Yuusha sucked big time. There's no intelligence here. No creativity here. No real effort here. This kind of story, even we can write it?


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