Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quick Review - Log Horizon

Quick Review – Log Horizon

Rarely do I write about anything not gaming, however, my feelings on this particular anime are rather strong. Not strong in that the show makes me overly emotional in one direction or another, but strong in a quiet way. Before I review the yet to be finished anime Log Horizon let me first give some background. As some here know I am a huge fan of Record of Lodoss War and have followed it in all of the different media available state side (I even have the Dreamcast game). For many years I was a part of the anime community, I remember the days when manga was mirrored, came out maybe two times a year (or as monthly 2 chapter comics) and had to be special ordered because no Walden Books, B. Daltons or Barnes & Nobles would carry more than a single copy of nearly anything. From 1994 until around 2006 I collected everything I could afford and that I enjoyed … and that was the problem in the end, I no longer enjoyed the hobby. Around 2006 the titles coming state –side and that were available in the (then grey area legal) fan-sub community began to shift away from what I liked and more into fan-service, squeaky voiced, pudding-headed material. I was not impressed. There were exceptions during this time, I love “A certain Scientific Railgun”, “Ouran High School Host Club” and “Angel Heart” (a pseudo-sequel to “City Hunter”). However, these were few and far between and the situation on the manga front was not much better.
Enter a few months ago. After nearly seven years away from the hobby a friend of mine told me I needed to watch an anime called “Sword Art Online”,  a show that I believe needs little introduction. I was intrigued and mainly because of the premise. I was one of those .hack// people back in the early 2000s and had the games, the manga, watched every episode (subtitled and dubbed) and trolled various forums until the entire fade imploded in on itself. So another anime about people locked in an online world, debates on the nature of life and reality, death being a true and real consequence … I was sold. At least I was up until the end of the first half of the series and after that I couldn’t be bothered, but I now had a crunchyroll account and a new hunger for my old hobby.  Enter Log Horizon.

The Premise

The idea behind Log Horizon is nothing new at this point. In the near future there is a super popular MMO title played the world over. Something happens and people get stuck in the game. The difference here is that the reason is not known. In SAO it was a crazed developer and in .hack// it was … a dead crazed developer. In both previous cases the near future technology allowed for a near VR experience in the game world which was used as the tool for the badness to draw the individual into the game world in a real sense. In Log Horizon everything thus far indicates the traditional mouse/keyboard set-up and character need to learn how to actually fight, cast spells, etc as thy once did in the game. This is where Log Horizon makes it mark: it focuses more on the learning than on the action. What do I mean? I mean nation building, politics, war briefings, cooking, and dancing. The show is about learning to live in a new world, about people who are not politician or nation builders learning how to form governments, learning how to lead more than a small guild and so on. Take Log Horizon and set it in fifteenth century America and it would work because the show isn’t about being locked in an MMO, it isn’t about magic and war. It is about founding and living in a world lacking in a pre-existing structure.

The Review

The series centers on a high level magic user (class: Enchanter) named Shiroe, a loner who refuses to join a guild because of trauma that has yet to be explained in the show. Shiroe is joined by a cast of other characters all of who wake up to discover that they are in the world of their favorite MMO as their avatars (I am so happy btw that the show used avatars instead of toon). At first the series takes the course of any real person in a fantasy world route with explorations, discussions on the nature of the world and a daring rescue to another land. Shiroe and his friends are quite honestly real heroes, different for the current trend everywhere of the dark, anti-hero, these guys are doing good for the sake of doing good and that is refreshing. It is this the high level character, one of a minority of people within the realm of the new world, who works to better the lot of everyone (or at least his Hub town) through acts of good that really make this show shine. Early on in the series the show contrast’s Shiroe and his friends natural goodness with that of a group of high-level characters who have brought their hub town to the brink of collapse due to selfish desires and a mentality of might makes right. However, the show is also quick to note in a lot of ways, which even those with an innate goodness of nature can be darkly cunning to reach their goals.
In this the show is a lot like the old fantasies of Arthur. War and battle happen, good men do evil things but all of it is for the noble cause and all for the betterment of others, not the self. It is truly inspiring to me to see this in an era where such thoughts are laughed at.
While the first section and a few others down the line hold true to traditional conventions for this genre (explaining powers, combo sets, cool downs, fighting monsters, using rare “raid” items, etc) the majority of the show is rather slow paced and focuses on the political intrigues of the players stuck in their game world with the game world itself. This anime has to be the first time I have ever felt more tension at a negotiation table than in a battle. The back and forth between the trapped players (Adventurers) and the People of the Land (the NPCs) is where the best aspects of the show forth. The writers (both of the original novels and the anime) show a real sense of political double talk, hand waving and so on. Watching the Adventurers and the People try and size each other up, the back room talks between the sides and the looming war all show strength of writing little seen of late.
The political sections are so engrossing and gratifying to watch that when the show switches to more of an action/adventure story with side characters I want to throw up my hands, shake my monitor and growl for it to get “back to the good stuff.”
Surprising it is the action/adventure aspects of the show that remain the weakest and the only negative I have for the series thus far. Through out the show there are NPCs or low level character present who have little concept of what is going on with the big badass level 90+ characters. To this end those low-level and NPC characters are supposed to act as a stand-in for the audience as they are gently spoken to about game mechanics, class differences, cool-down timers and the effectiveness of a properly balanced party. It is this need to walk the audience through the meta-world building of a rather cliché MMO system that brings the series down a few steps. Some things are obviously needed (class, subclass, combat roles) some things are not (cool time times, party balance, spell effects that are obviously shown on screen) but whether something needs to be explained or not the writers insist on explaining. This may be due to a fear of alienating an audience that may not have ever played an MMO, however, I would like to give the audience the benefit of the doubt that the mechanics of the MMO genre are not to hard to guess at effectively for the propose of watching a television show.

The Rating

I cannot rave about Log Horizon enough. The show is amazing in its structure and in what it is trying to do. I am amazed by the philosophical and political undertones and well as the elements of classical heroic fantasy … however, the constant chatter to explain the inner workings of an MMO make me want to lay my head on a table and fall asleep. To this end I give the show at 4 out of 5 and now if you’ll excuse me I need to watch episode 23!

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