Back to the Horizon: A Beginner's Primer on Log Horizonby Rebecca Silverman,
Players log into their favorite MMORPG, eager to experience the newest update. The next thing they know, they appear to be inside the bodies of their avatars rather than just controlling them on a screen. Somehow, the latest update to Elder Tale has pulled its users into its world, forcing them to find a way to survive in what was once nothing more than a game!
Does this sound familiar? It should – even without naming the game the characters suddenly find themselves in, it could be the plot of any number of stories in the “trapped in a game” subgenre of the now-ubiquitous isekai field of stories. But this particular iteration is one we haven't seen in anime form since 2015: Log Horizon. Although it shares a lot of similarities with the series that came both before and after it, it still stands out for the way it builds its world, its characters, and the unique details about how the players navigate their stress relief becoming their lives.
But first, why has it been so long since Log Horizon last graced our screens? Season two of the anime certainly didn't have any sort of hard conclusion, and the source light novels also had a three-year gap in their Japanese publication. The answer lies with the creator, Mamare Touno (who also is behind the earlier MAOYU series): he had a little problem with his taxes to the tune of 30 million yen. In 2016 he was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to ten months in prison. This sentence was suspended for three years, contingent upon his good behavior and an additional fine of 7 million yen for his rights-management company. Those three years are now over, and so Log Horizon is able to pick back up in both anime and light novel forms. The anime then suffered a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but season three will at last air this January.
Since it has been so long, this seems like a good time to take a moment to remember the plot and characters of the previous two seasons, which covered the first ten light novels.
The Basic Plot
The story of Log Horizon begins when Shiroe, whose last clear memory was him getting ready to play the newest update to his favorite Elder Scrolls-like game Elder Tale, wakes up and realizes that he's in the body of his game avatar, and the setting he's in looks way too real for a traditional MMORPG. Somehow, he and everyone else who was logged in at the time have all been transported into the game's world, which now functions like a combination of a real world and the game itself. Among the revelations are that the NPCs, known as the People of the Land, are actual people, with lives, personalities, and everything else they were largely deprived of back when Elder Tale was experienced as a game. Even more worrisome is the fact that when a Person of the Land dies, that's it – unlike the players (now called Adventurers), there's no coming back. That means that the Adventurers have to make a pretty dramatic shift in their thinking not just about the world they've found themselves in, but also about the way they treat the People of the Land. That's not something everyone can or even wants to do. A lot of Adventurers see the People of the Land as less than – merely NPCs they can do whatever they feel like to. This faction also isn't interested in getting along with the rulers of the game world (which is a perfect scaled-down replica of Earth, so the Japanese players are now living in a version of their own country retooled as a fantasy kingdom), something that Shiroe, as the de facto leader of the game's Akihabara, is definitely keen on.
Over both seasons of the anime, Shiroe's goal is to make their new reality into something workable: a place where they can use the remaining game mechanics to forge a life for themselves, build relationships with the ruling class, and maybe someday figure out how to get home. To this end he not only forms his own guild, the eponymous Log Horizon, but also the Round Table Alliance, a governing body of Adventurers from the biggest guilds based in Akihabara. Adventurers in Minami, another city, came up with something similar but somehow more sinister: Plant Hwyaden, a group made up of both Adventurers and People of the Land.
A Few Major Plot Points
While Shiroe is now a member of Log Horizon, back when the game was still just a game, he was a member of a raid party known as The Debauchery Tea Party. The informal group disbanded when the players' lives got too busy, and of the twenty-seven original members, only nine were actively playing when players were transported into the game's world. Three of those members are now part of Log Horizon: Shiroe, Naotsugu, and Nyanta. Another member, Indicus, is the shadow leader of Plant Hwyaden.
In season one, Adventurers discovered that while they could be killed, they cannot die, instead respawning at the cathedral, a fact first discovered by Sojiro of the guild West Wind Brigade. (Season two reveals the existence of a portable shrine that serves the same purpose.) This isn't without cost, however: resurrections cost Adventurers a piece of their real-world memories each time, which Krusty, the leader of the guild D.D.D., confirmed. Usually they are small things, but they do add up. On the other hand, while players are awaiting their respawn in the cathedral, they can briefly visit their old lives, something more fully revealed in season two. Season two also introduces a group of Adventurers who deliberately seek out death in order to catch glimpses of their old lives; they're the ones with the portable shrine.
Food in the game world when created through the game's menu tastes terrible. It is only through actual cooking that Adventurers can get flavors other than “soggy rice cracker.” Nyanta, a felinoid swashbuckler, was the first to discover this.
In season two, it was revealed that there are people on the moon. They appear to be from the test server from the days before Elder Tale officially launched, and there's some debate about whether or not they hold the key to getting back to the regular world – and whether or not that's something that ought to be pursued, especially since so many people are making real lives for themselves in Elder Tale. Shiroe and Akatsuki believe that the visions of the real world Adventurers experience when they die may be related to the moon.
Main and Otherwise Important Characters
Shiroe is the primary protagonist who we follow from episode one. He has a long history with Elder Tale as a game, which helps make him a shoe-in for a leadership role, even though he has a more introverted, independent personality. The fact that he was the strategist for the legendary Debauchery Tea Party certainly helps, too. Despite having never been in a guild, Shiroe founds Log Horizon both as means of solidifying Akihabara as his new home and to help out some of the younger, lower-level players who were trapped in the game and are at risk of being taken advantage of. As a character, he's a combination of two of the less popular classes: Enchanter and Scribe. The latter, with its skill of Contract Art Ceremony, turns out to be very useful for its ability to rewrite the reality of the world, which allows him to save a young, lower-level guildmate, Rudy. As the series goes on, we see more of Shiroe working at his desk, although he does lead two major raids and attends the odd function at the palace to help solidify relations with the ruling People of the Land.
Naotsugu, Nyanta, and Akatsuki are the other senior members of Log Horizon. Naotsugu was another Tea Party participant and when he had to stop playing Elder Tales due to work, it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin. He had only just logged in for the update when he got caught up in the world-shifting event, but his easy-going personality lets him roll with more punches than a lot of people. He's basically Shiroe's right-hand man, but his obsession with women's underwear can undermine his appearance of usefulness if you haven't seen him in action. Along with Akatsuki, he's one of the first people Shiroe connected with in the new world. Like Naotsugu, Akatsuki is one of Shiroe's closest associates. An assassin, her original game avatar was male, but after finding herself trapped in his body, she used a potion to change her appearance to something closer to her real-world body. She and Naotsugu bump heads a lot, and she can come off as being almost fanatically devoted to Shiroe, calling him “my lord” as if she's role-playing even though this is now her life. Nyanta, chronologically the oldest of the bunch, is sort of the glue that helps hold the other three together. He's always calm and collected and sometimes comes off as feeling a bit like the dad of the guild.
The younger members of Log Horizon are Minori, Toya, Isuzu, and Rundelhouse, who also goes by Rudy. Rudy was initially a Person of the Land who wanted to be an Adventurer; he passed himself off as one (a sorcerer) until he was mortally wounded in a battle, at which point the fact that People of the Land die for good became more pressing. Fortunately, Shiroe managed to use his Contract skill to rewrite Rudy as an Adventurer. What this will mean for him if the others eventually find a way back to their world is unclear, and that's something that by the end of season two is starting to bother Isuzu, who left her former guild Crescent Moon Alliance to join Log Horizon. The two of them are very close, although just what that means is definitely up for debate, even among those who know them best. Isuzu's a bard and in the second season she creates the first new song ever to be written within Elder Tale's world – the 43rd song, which Rudy explains is incredibly significant to the People of the Land, who only ever had 42. She's got fairly low self-esteem and seems to see Rudy as a Golden Retriever as a way to be more comfortable around him, although she'd never say that. The final two members, Minori and Toya, are twins, with Minori taking her role as elder sister very seriously. She's a more serious person in general and her admiration for Shiroe turns into a crush by the end of season two. She and Toya knew Shiroe in-game prior to being trapped, and it was their situation – being taken advantage of by the predatory guild Hamlin – that really motivated Shiroe to start doing something. Minori's very sensitive in general, but especially about Toya – in the real world an accident has resulted in him needing a wheelchair, and she seems to worry about that a lot more than Toya himself does. For Toya, life in the game is something of a second chance, and he's not going to waste time worrying about whether that's okay or not. He's outgoing and can be much more confrontational than his sister, and he really just seems to be willing to take this life as it comes. That he is alive is very important to him, and he's not shy about calling out people he thinks don't understand that, as we see in season two when he's enraged by the knights deliberately throwing themselves into death over and over.
By the end of season two, Log Horizon gains one more member: Tetora. They join after the Abyssal Shaft Raid, transferring from another guild, and seems to enjoy making Naotsugu uncomfortable by flirting with him. There's some discussion about Tetora's gender – female in-game and male in the real world with the novels and anime differing a bit on that – but more importantly Tetora's a healer and a self-proclaimed idol who provides the perkiness that the other guild members lack.
Although not a member of Log Horizon, Serara spends a lot of time with them as a close friend of Isuzu and someone with a major crush on Nyanta. She's a member of the Crescent Moon Alliance, and saving her from the northern city of Susukino, where she was trapped, is one of the first major events of the series. Serara usually accompanies Log Horizon's younger members on their adventures and honestly, it would be easy to forget that she belongs to a different guild if it wasn't mentioned occasionally.
Marielle and Henrietta are the leaders of Serara's guild, the Crescent Moon Alliance. They've been real-life friends since their school days, and Marielle is the person who reaches out to Shiroe and asks him to help unite the people. It's Henrietta who explains what's going on in Susukino where Serara is trapped, and between the two of them, Marielle and Henrietta keep things running smoothly and back Shiroe up on many of his initiatives. Henrietta has a major weakness for all things small and cute – including Akatsuki.
Krusty is the leader of the guild D.D.D. and it was his testimony that confirmed that players who resurrect frequently lose bits and pieces of their memories. (Specifically, Krusty has issues remembering his cat.) Because of his wealthy family back in the real world, Krusty has an easier time fitting in with the nobles in this new one, and he's more or less become the liaison between the Adventurers and the Cowen family, more specifically due to his sort-of friendship with the second daughter, Reynesia. Krusty vanishes while on a quest and in his absence his fellow guildmembers struggle to hold D.D.D. together. At the end of season two, we find out that he's somehow ended up on the Chinese server and has joined up with Kanami, the old leader of the Debauchery Tea Party. In Krusty's absence, Reynesia has continued to forge an alliance with the Adventurers of Akihabara, which is moderately unusual for her, since she's generally not a terribly motivated individual. Because of that, her grandfather has decided that her younger brother Itherus will inherit the title and all of its responsibilities.
Although he's only nine, Itherus is a serious, determined boy, and he has a major case of hero worship for Isaac, guildmaster of the Black Sword Knights. Gruff Isaac can't quite figure out why Itherus is so attached to him, but he likes the little boy almost in spite of himself. Isaac works with Shiroe, Henrietta, and Marielle as a member of the city's governing council.
Although perhaps not quite as central to the plot, Soujiro is the leader of the guild West Wind Brigade, which is otherwise comprised mostly of women. It was Soujiro who discovered that Adventurers would still resurrect after death, and he's another former Tea Party member. Despite the fact that he's really popular with the ladies, he doesn't have any interest in returning that affection. His guildmate Nazuna, who was also in the Tea Party, is his closest associate.
There are many, many more characters I could mention, but in the interest of brevity (too late!), the final one it would be a good idea to remember is Li Gan. As the Sage of Miral Lake, he's the source of a lot of the important information that Shiroe uses to try and get a grip on the world of Elder Tale now that it has become his reality. Li Gan is perhaps a bit suspicious, but his information is sound, and he's enthusiastic about all things magic-related.
That should help get you back up to speed for when Log Horizon returns this January! Be sure to chime in with any other details in the comments!
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