Log Horizon 2
Episode 17

by Nick Creamer,

In spite of largely sticking with the kids' team, this was a dense and rewarding episode of Log Horizon. There were plenty of silly gags and small character moments in the first half, accompanied by little moments of interesting worldbuilding. And in the second half, a trip back to Akihabara and final sequence with the kids offered new conflicts, new complications of the world, and the potential merging of two of the show's major narrative threads. All sorts of compelling variables are being stirred together in this season's final act, and I couldn't be happier with where the story seems to be heading.

The first half of this week's episode continued directly from last week, as we learned more about Roe 2 and spent time eating (of course) and taking baths. Roe 2's connection to Shiroe is still something of a mystery, though her talk of performing the castling spell with her “brother” is obviously pretty suspicious. Aside from that, the main thing we learned about Roe 2 is that she likes to be called a big sister, a gag that wore out its welcome about three seconds after being introduced. We also got an endearingly silly scene of the three girls all giving each other a hard time about their romantic troubles, with Isuzu seemingly very comfortable in her lopsided relationship with Rudy and Serara being as ridiculous as ever in her Nyanta fantasies.

Outside of the slice of life stuff, this first half also had a couple intriguing elements of worldbuilding. Beyond simple things like the vampire subclass and summoning items having durability, one of the most interesting reveals here was Shiroe referring to the Odyssey guild as a “nostalgia group” - a group dedicated to finding a way back to the real world. It's not surprising that such groups exist, but the fact that they're unusual enough for Shiroe to specifically call them out is a neat reflection of how much the Adventurers have come to accept their lives here. We also learned some more weird details about life as an Adventurer (apparently their bodies self-repair and self-clean, which makes sense, but is weird to think about) before returning to Akihabara for a brief but eventful scene with the Round Table.

Back in Akihabara, the leader of Honesty raised an issue that's been a long time coming - the problem of vast income disparities within the Adventurer community. For the high level hunters or craftsmen, or those working in larger guilds on high-yield products, money is plentiful - but for people who are either low level, not skilled in high-demand fields, or simply uncommitted to this world, just getting by consumes most of their income. Though videogames often superficially resemble meritocracies, in a world like Elder Tale, all the inherent inequalities of society naturally creep in. And with skills so rigidly defined, the societal lines of haves and have-nots can become even more pronounced in an artificial world than the real one.

First off, it's classic Log Horizon to think to address the idea of income inequality here at all. That's doubly true given that videogames are so often presented as places where inherent inequalities don't exist - even shows like Sword Art Online play off underlying assumptions of “you earn what you receive” that betray a very specific view of “how the world should be.” But beyond just raising these issues, the way the Round Table reacted to proposed ideas of income distribution was intelligent and totally believable. In response to proposals like “crafting recipes should be made public” and “the highest earners should bolster the lowest,” the big crafting guilds essentially countered with libertarian talking points. “Redistribution won't make people work harder. You have to reward society's hardest workers. Great things are only accomplished when the best workers know they are secure in what they've earned.” These are simplistic points that don't really interact meaningfully with a fully-formed society and economy, but that's part of the point - these aren't historians and politicians, they're a bunch of gamers who've suddenly found themselves the Heads of Industry in an entirely new world. Not only are they likely inclined to buy into the meritocratic dream of videogames (like with William's speech from earlier in the season, which actually struck at the unhappy place such beliefs often arise from), but they simply don't have the expertise to handle ensuring society doesn't let people fall through the cracks. Marielle's counter of “throwing parties to get people to contribute” is rightfully called out as condescending and insufficient - but the actual answers here are far more complicated than anything these heroes have had to deal with.

That scene was easily the standout moment of the week, and was a direct elaboration of the promise inherent in a show that's interested in actually interrogating the nature of gaming and society - not just in elaborating videogame rules, but in engaging with an underlying “psychology of gaming.” But the final scenes of this episode were no slouches either, as Tohya's team ran into a woman who seems to be Nureha in disguise, and finally came across that Odyssey Knights “nostalgia group.” Their use of a portable temple was the show's most dire elaboration yet of the risks involved in dying in this world - it seems that their over-reliance on convenient death has actually sapped them of personality altogether. Between that, the secrets of Tohya's growing party, and the economic troubles at home, Log Horizon couldn't be better positioned for an excellent final stretch.

Rating: A-

Log Horizon 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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