Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Blu-Ray - Collection 1
The game of Elder Tale offers countless challenges for the many players who brave its world. But when Shiroe wakes up in Elder Tale on the day of a new expansion's release, he finds himself trapped in the game, unable to log off and return to reality. Now, Shiroe and his companions Naotsugu and Akatsuki will have to make their own way in this world, learning to master its new obstacles and turn Elder Tale into a kind of home.
Following on the heels of mega-hit Sword Art Online, Log Horizon takes the concept of being trapped in an MMO world in a very different direction. Its emphasis is much less on the “trapped” and much more on the “world” - instead of focusing on its characters in their attempts to escape their virtual reality, it catalogs the ways they explore and adapt to it. What-ifs and worldbuilding are the keys here, and that all begins with the protagonist Shiroe.
Shiroe is inseparable from what Log Horizon is - his analytical mind is the perfect vehicle for Log Horizon's love of knowledge and inquiry, and his scheming “Villain in Glasses” ploys facilitate a great deal of the show's drama. He's a fun person to be around, and though Log Horizon uses him to relay a great deal of its nigh-limitless exposition, his explanations of worldbuilding and gaming mechanics rarely drag. The show's first episode sets the pace for how Log Horizon will build intrigue throughout - it intersperses explanations of classic MMO mechanics (the role of tanks, how crowd control works, etc) with reveals about the specific quirks of actual life in an MMO (how death works, how guilds respond to their changed world) to essentially lay a trail of worldbuilding breadcrumbs to keep the audience invested. And though its first narrative arc is a simple rescue mission, the show then moves into arcs that take full advantage of Shiroe's mastermind personality, as he begins to conquer his environment and turn an anarchic collection of gamers into a fully fledged city-state.
The characters surrounding Shiroe are less inherently compelling, but they generally pull their weight. His initial companions Naotsugu and Akatsuki work well enough as a boisterous, girl-obsessed warrior and brittle, kind of insecure ninja respectively, and though the show doesn't deeply explore its heroes, it certainly possesses a real fondness for them. The cast really opens up once the show reaches its midpoint, and Shiroe begins establishing the Round Table that he intends to govern the in-game city of Akihabara. At that point, the characters' simplicity and obvious roles end up becoming an asset, as the show is able to manage several conflicts at once by divvying them between the diverse cast. The show is at its best when its characters all have something to do - in the slower, more sedated moments, Log Horizon tends to lean on repetitive character gags that wear out their welcome very quickly.
As mentioned previously, it's once Shiroe starts moving into nation-building that Log Horizon really hits its stride. Instead of merely focusing on the mechanical dangers of life in an MMO world, Log Horizon explores all the consequences of this shift, from the players' changing relationships with former NPCs (now fully-fledged characters known as the People of the Land) to how a former reliance on game mechanics must interact with the emergent need for a true rule of law. As a classic mastermind-style character, Shiroe knows that knowledge is power, and he manages to parlay what knowledge he discovers regarding the changing nature of their world into a commanding seat at the council that rules his home. The games of negotiation and politics that form the bulk of Log Horizon's middle episodes are a real highlight, and the broadening of scope introduced by the People of the Land's own rulers promises more satisfying games of debate and manipulation to come. Between this and MAOYU, it seems clear that author Mamare Touno is a master of mining the intersection of fantasy worldbuilding and political brinkmanship for compelling drama.
Log Horizon's love of worldbuilding and broad-strokes characterizations end up being something of a double-edged sword. Though the intersection of game mechanics, fantasy structure, and human psychology inform many of the show's best moments, the amount of sheer information the show needs to convey about game mechanics and various relevant characters means the show is extremely heavy on exposition. Sometimes this is directly related by Shiroe, sometimes characters engage in “as we both know”-style conversations to get the information out, but the overall effect isn't the most graceful. And the show's often one or two-note characters mean that the low-key slice of life moments between dramatic peaks often drag and repeat themselves. The show's divided strengths and weaknesses and its overall languid pacing mean that episodes definitely vary in quality and engagement, though there fortunately isn't any single long bad stretch.
On the aesthetic front, Log Horizon is a strictly functional production. Though the character designs are distinctive and expressive enough, the show's visual framing almost never demonstrates any real directorial voice - it's all straight-on shots of characters in conversation and slow pans while exposition's being covered. There are rarely any interesting or beautiful visual compositions, and all of the show's tension is built through the fundamentals of its plot. Additionally, Log Horizon's animation is extremely limited - though the show isn't really focused on providing exciting fight scenes, what fight scenes do exist are flat affairs, and there isn't much subtle character movement to provide visual personality to its cast. The music is similarly subdued, offering a limited variety of strings and chimes that seem to embody the videogame ethos of “make music that won't get annoying even if it's repeated for hours.” Log Horizon evokes a compelling world through its writing, not through its visual execution.
Log Horizon's dub is generally solid, though there are definitely some choices that take getting used to. Mike Yager offers a somewhat more flip take on Shiroe's part, and some of his lines are awkwardly staggered in their delivery, but overall it's a fine take on the character. Naotsugu being envisioned as a kind of surfer dudebro (“What's your damage, man?”) actually works perfectly well for his character, but the biggest adaptation shift has to be Nyanta. In contrast to Jouji Nakata's “elegant butler” affectation, Nyanta's personality and affectation is now a literal (metaphorical) “cool cat.” Having watched the sub while it was streaming, the change took some adjustment for me, but now I frankly can't see the character any other way. There aren't any extras included with the show, and the bluray cover is just a set of the main characters' models copy-pasted over a generic background, but Log Horizon isn't a show you watch for the pretty pictures anyway. Overall, Log Horizon offers a compelling take on the trapped-in-an-MMO conceit, and though its presentation definitely leaves something to be desired, the base intrigue of its thoughtful worldbuilding and narrative mindgames make it well worth a watch.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A-
Animation : C-
Art : C
Music : B-
+ Thoughtfully explores a rich and complicated new world; Shiroe's political games keep energy high through the second half.
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