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The MMORPG “Elder Tales” is enjoying great popularity, and those who play it not only like the many class and sub-class options, but also the way it uses a fantasy/post-apocalyptic version of the real world for its setting. With guilds, NPCs, special quest rewards, and all the other RPG trappings, it's just a nice way to escape the everyday...until a new patch update somehow pulls all of the players into the game for good, making it their new reality. Unable to die, forced to eat bland food, and unsure why they are now living in the game world, the players now must struggle to figure out how to govern their new existence – and if there's a way to end it.
It is very tempting to compare Log Horizon to Sword Art Online: both are novel-based anime series about people mysteriously trapped in an MMORPG, struggling to figure out how to get back to the real world and dealing with the consequences of living in a fantasy realm. For that matter, the earlier .hack/ franchise also could be thrown into the comparison blender, encouraging cynical viewers to write off Log Horizon as just the latest show to buy into a concept that sells to otaku audiences. To be honest, a few of those cynical criticisms may be right and merited. However, if you give Log Horizon a chance, you may find that it is neither a .hack/ nor a Sword Art Online ripoff, but very much its own show with its own unique take on what has become a sub genre of fantasy.
Log Horizon's story takes place within the popular game “Elder Tales.” The show takes pains to introduce us to the basic mechanics, showcasing the fact that everyone is allowed a class and a subclass, and detailing some of what that means for specific classes. Cast and cooldown times are also mentioned, and overall we get a very real sense of how this functions as an actual game, something that definitely sets Log Horizon apart from its brethren. As the game is on its eleventh major update, it seems safe to say that it has been around for a decent amount of time, and many players have reached the apparent level cap of 90. The game's world is a blend of typical fantasy (griffins, medieval technology) and a post-apocalyptic vision of Earth, with each country's servers looking like modern cities after some sort of disaster which ended the world as we know it and introduced magic. The major city on the Japanese server is Akihabara, although it is interesting to note that it is only referred to as such in the subtitles; characters all call it “Akiba.” This is where the majority of characters begin the game, have their home bases or guildhalls, and is also where dead players respawn.
Shiroe, the hero of the show, is a lone player (in that he doesn't seek guild membership) who in past days was the great strategist of an informal group of players known as Debauchery Tea Party. Once he finds himself stuck in the game, he quickly assesses how best to survive. He parties (as in forms a party) with two in-game friends, warrior Naotsugu and assassin Akatsuki, and very soon finds himself helping the guild Crescent Moon Alliance to retrieve a guild member stuck in a far-off city. All of this, which basically comprises the plot of the show's first six episodes, is really just a cover for Shiroe to figure out how his new reality functions, and episode six ends with him making his decision on how he will best be able to cope with living in the game and what needs to be done to ensure that life will be able to go on for a larger number of players.
One of the first things that Shiroe and his merry band discover is that it is not possible for a player character (PC) to die. If a player killer (PK) kills a PC, she will simply respawn as she would have when Elder Tales was just a game. This is more problematic that it might at first seem – now they know that death is not an option to exit the game, and it also turns the PKers against non-player characters (NPCs), who may or may not come back to life. Episode five, in fact, goes into more depth about the NPCs, with Shiroe noticing to his surprise that they have personalities and backstories. Naotsugu marvels at this having been included in the programming, but it certainly causes one to wonder if that is the case. What if the NPCs, called “People of the Land,” are, in fact, people? That rather than being trapped within a game, the players have been transported to a different place that merely functions like the game? While this may be reading far too much into the story, the idea is intriguing, and would add an extra dimension to the story.
One of the major faults of Log Horizon is the artistry. While backgrounds are fascinating and capture the idea of being a fantasy land one could live in, characters are all somewhat bland and generic in design, which is a bit of an accomplishment given how many character creation options there apparently are. Perhaps this is best seen in two specific characters, Akatsuki and the werecat Nyanta. Akatsuki, we are told, is very pretty, but this is not apparent from her design; in fact, she's one of the less striking female characters on screen. As for Nyanta, while details such as his cat feet are wonderful, will certainly give people .hack/ flashbacks in terms of his coloring. Added to this is some clumsy looking CG for monsters and a few spellcasts, both of which can jar the viewer out of the episode. Apart from this, the other major issue is Naotsugu's personality. While on the one hand it is a nice change to see a guy truly own up to his preferences, he goes too far and hits offensive territory with his “perverted” comments too often. Your tolerance for him will vary based on your comedic preferences, but for some he can be line-crossingly obnoxious.
Now that Shiroe has established what he wants to do and has come to realize that a real, working government is required to ensure peaceful survival in this new game-based world, it seems likely that Log Horizon will delve into ever-newer territory. With some distinct differences from its genre buddies, this is a show shouldn't be dismissed as “just anther ripoff” before giving it a chance. Its first episode is slow to establish this, but as it goes on, Log Horizon looks like it has the potential to expand rather than rehash the basic premise of players trapped in a game.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Goes in some new directions with politics and the potential held by the NPCs. Imagery of the cities is pretty striking if you are at all familiar with the real locations.
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