by Rebecca Silverman,

Log Horizon

GN 1

Log Horizon GN 1
A venerable MMORPG institution known as Elder Tales has been played and enjoyed by millions without a hitch for years. All of this changes, however, on the day the twelfth expansion pack, Homesteading, comes out – suddenly players who log in are pulled inside the game's world. Now unable to logout or to die, the world has become a lawless fantasy nightmare. Shiroe, a level 90 player known for his strategic capabilities, realizes that if he wants to find meaning and stability in this new reality, he's going to have to do something about it...and he might as well start by helping out a friend.

Log Horizon, like many a recent franchise, began its life as a series of light novels, in this case by Mamare Touno, before being adapted into both anime and manga. As might reasonably be expected, the difference in the adaptive mediums make each version a little different from each other, and in this case, viewers of the anime might find questions answered more quickly in this first manga volume. While some questionable choices have been made for the English edition, Log Horizon's introductory book is an enjoyable fantasy escape with some very grounded concerns about what would actually happen if you found yourself living your favorite game.

The story opens with a young man sitting in front of his double-monitor computer. He's clearly tired and looks like he's been sitting there for some time, waiting for an update to download. Very clearly on the screen we see that it's for a game – Elder Tales' “Homesteading” expansion. As the clock hits midnight, he clicks “login”...and vanishes from his desk chair, the bottle of water he was drinking falling to the ground. The next thing he knows (and we know), he's in the game, but not as a digital avatar – somehow he's been transported physically to the Elder Tales world. He's not the only one – any player who logged in at the same time has also been pulled into the game, and chaos quickly ensues. There's no way to contact a game master, no way to log out, and no way to even die – the resurrection function is still working for the former player characters. Trapped, many players simply give in to either depression or mania, making the in-game city of Akiba a miserable place to be.

Unlike the animated version, the manga of Log Horizon does not follow a linear timeline. After the basic setup is established, we jump right into the plot of the story without even seeing how Shiroe meets up with his companions; in the second chapter we begin to flash back to where and how that started, although with no explanation as yet for how Akatsuki appeared to be a hulking male when Shiroe and Naotsugu first met her and for the rest of the book is a diminutive female. About all we know about them as a group is their classes and that they've worked together before; the rest will presumably be revealed slowly as the story goes on. Admittedly this set up works better if you are already familiar with the plot, and it could be very frustrating for those jumping into the franchise via the manga, largely because we don't really know enough about the trio to care about their well-being or the success of their mission. Shiroe gets all of the internal monologue, making him the most interesting and understandable of the main heroes, but it isn't until we meet Serara, a low-level player they're going to rescue, that the story really gets intriguing.

Perhaps it's because Serara is less familiar with the game that the story picks up when she enters the scene, or maybe it's just that she's a lower level and thus not as invincible; whatever the reason, it is through her that we begin to get a feel for what it's like to live in this world. Serara is stuck in Susukino, a northern city, and is being preyed upon by a guild of thugs who are using the inability of players to truly die to pick on low-levels. Serara is a healing class character, a druid, and thus not a frontline fighter like Shiroe, Naotsugu, and Akatsuki, which gives her an air of compassion. It is through her that we first see the NPC (non-player characters) who are native to the world and begin to understand that they might have actual lives outside of the game everyone else was just playing. This is one of the most interesting conceits of the series, and Serara's interaction with a boy and his father sets the stage for later events. The same can be said for the repeated mention of how food is tasteless to those who have been transported into the game world, although that gets harped on more than it needs to be. Yes, it is an important detail for later, but that dead horse has definitely been beaten into the ground by the end of the volume.

Unfortunately the non-linear storytelling does make it a bit more difficult than it needs to be to get into the book, and a crowded page layout doesn't help. Occasionally you have to really think about what order you ought to read the panels in, which certainly takes you out of the story and is particularly troublesome during a fight scene. More of an issue, however, is the font choice in Yen Press' English edition for the explanatory text. The font is very thin, white on black pages, and it is nigh on impossible to read in a few cases. Since it is used to give us important background information about the game, this is a major problem and not only slows down reading time, but can also give you a nasty headache. As with other Yen Press releases contemporary to this one, the binding is also a bit tight, making images too close to the margin difficult to see and in places compromising two page spreads. The cover is also a little odd on my copy, as if it wasn't folded quite right, making the spine look a little uneven.

These issues aside, Log Horizon's first volume is still an interesting read, and those who found Sword Art Online annoying may not have the same problems with this iteration of the “trapped in an online game” genre; in fact this book seems to have more in common with Vivian Vande Velde's 1991 YA novel User Unfriendly, which is sometimes credited with being the first book to use that plot. People who are already familiar with the story may have a better time with the manga version due to the occasionally jumbled timeline, but overall this is an enjoyable start to a story about adapting to living the game.

Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-

+ Story tries to ground itself in some of the basics of adjusting to the world, Serara's interactions with the NPCs has interesting implications. Varied character designs, good fight scenes.
Some font is almost impossible to read, non-linear storytelling can be confusing/annoying. Main trio is harder to get a feel for than minor character Serara, page set up can be an issue. Too much emphasis on food taste as a plot point.

Story: Mamare Touno
Art: Kazuhiro Hara

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Log Horizon (manga)

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Log Horizon (GN 1)

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