If you followed me on twitter (@incompetantcrit) in the past few years, you may have noticed my complete anger and hatred towards one of the biggest anime hits of the past few years, Sword Art Online. In my many rants against this series, I’ve gone on about how much it tries to appear better than the actual material, constantly trying to poorly hide the fact that it is a nerd wish-fulfillment fantasy of the most obnoxious variety. It tries for the action spectacle and fails because it focuses too much on how much of a Mary Sue the protagonist is and how every girl wants him because he is great at video games. Even before the second arc, SAO disgusted me. So, imagine my curiosity when I hear about a series that is the opposite of SAO. I had to see what it was.
Well, it was definitely smarter than Sword Art Online.
Log Horizon is the anime adaptation of the light novel series of the same name by Mamare Touno which follows a group of players who get trapped in an MMORPG called Elder Tales when the new expansion comes out. Only, unlike SAO, the players do not die when killed (they respawn in the town cathedral) and the group, led by Shiroe, decides that they must create something resembling civilization in order to continue living in the game. As such, the show is less focused on having the players perform amazing feats in-game as it is in them trying to figure out how to perform normal, everyday actions. An action scene is treated like just another occurrence, but actually cooking food with flavor is treated like a major victory. Intelligence is valued over strength and the day is won by those can out-think their enemies. This should be good.
Well, maybe Statelight should’ve been told that, since this show looks dull. The color scheme is a collection of bright colors dulled out to the point of seeming flat, which fails to keep the eyes interested. The designs are quite generic, with no elements which seem to pop out to the viewer. The show only has interesting backgrounds, which are never focused on because it takes away from the characters giving a constant stream of exposition. This is one of the most visually unimpressive anime I have seen in years.
The visual shortcomings of the series would be forgivable if the story was interesting and engaging. Unfortunately, it does not. Roughly 75% of all of the dialogue in the series is used for world-building, explaining details of how the world looks, the mechanics of magic, the history of the game, etc. The remaining 25%, meanwhile, is split between lame comedy and actually interesting plot. This means that the stretches between interesting story elements (the true cost of death, the younger players striving to become stronger, the rescue of the twins from the guild) are spread thin while we are treated to excitement like “why can’t NPCs cook food with flavor?” (I’m not kidding, the food thing goes on for the entire first half of the season) If you like world details, then this show will work for you. I, on the other hand, kept looking at my clock, wondering how much longer this would be.
Which brings us to the final nail in the coffin: Shiroe. Where Kirito from SAO was “Mary Sue-level God Gamer Who Shall Bed All”, Shiroe is “Mary-Sue-level Strategist Who Shall Rule The Land”. As a protagonist, he is dull and uninteresting. Touno made him too powerful as a strategist and, as a result, every conflict involving him is lacking in tension. There’s never a doubt that he’ll win the day because he always knows how the enemy will fight. And when he’s not playing that role, he is portrayed as a dork with no identifiable traits except “prefers working behind the scenes”. Every second following him makes me tired because he is too overpowered for this story. As a protagonist, a bookworm is not far removed from a video game jock.
To be fair, there are some good elements in this show. The interesting stories (the rescuing of the twins from the guild, the trek to Susukino, Rundlehaus’ entire character arc) could have made good OAVs if stripped of unnecessary exposition. The world-building does lead to some interesting conflicts where the details are crucial to winning the day, which showcases how tightly and intelligently put together the series was, and some of the character interactions are legitimately likable (Rusty and the princess springs immediately to mind). It’s just a shame that you need to wade through so much extraneous padding to get there.
The Japanese seiyuus do an average job for this series. They say their lines, they fit their characters, no one stands out. Oddly enough, the same is said by me for the Sentai Filmworks dub. It’s not as bad as some of their other dubs, but a Funimation dub it is not. It’s listenable, but that is all.
This show is not bad. Considering how negatively I came off, I need to emphasize that: Log Horizon is not a bad show. It just a show that succeeds at providing the entertainment that turns me away. I may eventually look at the second season, but for now, I don’t desire returning to the world of the Elder Tales MMORPG anytime soon.