Saving the Virtual World with Log Horizon (season 1)

log horizon box art

 

  • Genre : Isekai, action, adventure, comedy, fantasy, mmorpg
  • Episodes: 25
  • Studio: Satelight

 

If you’ve ever played a mmorpg (or even just an RPG), I bet you’ve imagined what it would be like to live in the game. It’s o.k, you can admit it. We all have! The thrill of wielding magic and conquering epic quests. The joy of adventuring in the wide-open world. The potential of treasure and power beyond your wildest dreams! But have you ever thought about what the day to day would actually be like? The paperwork and logistics of developing a working economy, the diplomacy of negotiating with the native people, the chore of finding places to live, clothes to wear, actual tasty food to eat? And what if it was still more or less a game? What if you were still immortal, had access to your GUI and levelled your skills, but you just couldn’t leave. What then? For the thousands of players suddenly stuck in Elder Tales, the answer to that question has now become very important!

I’m one of those people who really wants to love isekai. More specifically, mmorpg based isekai. My years of devoted raiding and grinding in such games make the virtual world welcoming and nostalgic to me. Anything that can bring my love of MMOs with my passion for anime together is bound to be a favourite …right? I quite liked the beginning of /hack.sign but lost interest at some point. I didn’t make it past episode 6 of SAO. No Game No Life isn’t exactly that type of isekai and neither is KonoSuba. I was beginning to give up hope. 

Last year I saw The Recovery of an MMO Junkie which revived my interest in this very specific subgenre. Recovery isn’t an isekai but it had enough actual MMO gameplay woven through the story to give me a feel for it. This is when I heard about Log Horizon, I thought that maybe, my long quest for a mmorpg based isekai was finally over! Get it? Quest! Yeah… you get it.

Log Horizon ep1 (4)

it seems like a great place to visit

I don’t really have that much to say about the production of Log Horizon. It’s mostly fine. Visuals are fairly standard but consistent in pretty much every respect. You figure that the setting would have allowed for elaborate costume designs or fantastic creatures, but things are kept pretty simple. Basically, nothing’s bad but it’s not remarkable in any way. The production is sort of a zero-sum. Neither a drawback nor a strength of the series.

However, there were two elements that I found noteworthy. The backgrounds, and panoramas of the show, especially I earlier episodes where the action is more outdoors, are quite beautiful. The overgrown fantasy version of Akihabara featured in the game is so well designed that even 25 episodes later, I was still impressed every time I saw it. It just captured the wonder of looking around and exploring gorgeous magical worlds in a mmo. Unfortunately, as the season wears on, a lot of episodes started to take place primarily indoors which was less impressive.

Moreover, the voice acting was consistently good across the board. Not flashy, the script doesn’t give the actors much reason for particularly poignant or emotional performances, but there was something very natural sounding about the entire cast. I found it soothing to listen to them.

Log Horizon ep11-12 (6)

this would work on me

But you know, I was never watching Log Horizon for the amazing visuals. It looks fine, better than a few shows I’ve seen but what I was really looking for was an isekai that would invoke all those nostalgic mmo memories without just turning into a straight fantasy anime (which is nice but different) or become so repetitive that it puts you to sleep. Some minor spoilers will follow.

And well, that’s exactly what I got. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but Log Horizon really gives the impression of having been written by a gamer. Someone who understands and even loves gaming mechanics but doesn’t need to beat us over the head with them either. Like someone that just looked up the gamerspeak and puts it everywhere to claim cred.

There are a few “quests” and the usual adventuring for leveling sort of thing but what really made Log Horizon stand apart from all the other shows I’ve seen in this vein is the attention given to social dynamics. The players are in a new world where ordinary constraints no longer exist. After the shock and novelty of the situation wears off, they suddenly find themselves unmotivated and aimless. Playing a game and living it are two very different things and this has never been addressed as lucidly and realistically in past anime (or any fiction really) that I’ve seen.

Log Horizon ep7-8 (1)

ooohhhh – socio-economics! do go on!

Additionally, the NPC’s now empowered with personalities and essentially life still exists in this world under the same rules that they would have otherwise. In other words, they age and die, unlike players which creates very unusual relations and power dynamics. These are also carefully set up and explained throughout the season. It’s an important facet of the story and a truly fascinating one. The moral implications are countless, and it leaves the viewers with a lot of interesting dilemmas which will make you view games in a different light.

There is an interesting plot point brought up in the latter half of the season. Players that are killed can be rezed by a healer or respawn at their city’s cathedral, with a loss of experience and gold. Pretty standard mechanics. It’s eventually discovered that respawning is actually accompanied by some very minor memory loss. Not enough for anyone to really notice but it does stack. The memories lost are always of the players “real lives”, the ones they had before getting trapped in the game.

This isn’t really explored further in the first season but my theory is that eventually, once a player has died so many times that they no longer have any memories of their lives before the game, they essentially become an NPC, and the rules of the virtual world start to apply to them. If I’m right, that further makes relationships between players and NPCs complex and delicate.

Log Horizon ep7-8 (9)

are any of us, really?

I don’t mean to make it sound like Log Horizon is a sociology class. It can be if you chose to look at it that way, but you can just as easily enjoy the fantasy adventuring and battle strategizing as a fun romp through a virtual world. There is something for everyone. A bit of action, a bit of comedy, some unexpectedly touching backstories for certain players, there’s even the foundation for some harem antics.

If like me, you were searching for an isekai that will make you relive your raiding glory days, I recommend giving Log Horizon a watch. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and I can’t wait to tell you all about the second season which I will start tonight!

Favorite character: Marie(lle) and Rundelhous. You may not know this, but I have a thing for blondes. Also, Marie is actually amazing, it’s players like her that made MMOs such a welcoming place for me.

What this anime taught me: Merchant guilds hold a lot more power than we give them credit for and I should have joined one at some point.

You know what rhymes with Friady? Vodka

Suggested drink: Lone Wolf

  • Every time anyone says “pervert” – take a sip
  • Every time anyone thinks Akatsuki is cute – take a sip
    • you think she’s cute – raise your glass
  • Every time anyone has shiny glasses – take a sip
  • Every time anyone is eating – take a snack
  • Every time anyone mentions “Debauchery Tea Party” – take a sip
  • Every time Akatsuki says “Don’t call me shrimp”– take a sip
  • Every time you recognize MMO terminology – take a sip
    • if you are or were a raider – switch to energy drinks
  • Every time anyone says “People of the land” – take a sip
  • Every time anyone adjusts their glasses – get water
    • if they don’t have glasses – giggle
  • Every time Rudy sounds arrogant – stretch

Log Horizon ep1 (14)

I took over 300 screencaps….You can see them on imgur or Pinterest!

 

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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23 Responses

  1. foovay says:

    Log Horizon is far and away my favorite of the Isekai – for all the reasons you mention. It has a real plot and story that is thoughtful and goes well beyond “Oh boy I woke up in my game for real now lets play!” which is where most of this genre seems to be sitting. If you are interested in reading books in this genre, Play to Live by D. Russ (digital only) is a terrific series.

  2. Now I really want to do an episode by episode analysis of this show too.

  3. Martin Dick says:

    I really enjoyed Log Horizon and found it really thoughtful for the most part about what it would be like to be stuck in the world of an MMO. Perhaps the one part i thought they didn’t really cover was there seemed to be very little focus on their separation from the real world, Very few of the characters seemed to feel much about being separated from their family and friends. And I really liked the OP and the ED for both S1 and S2.

    • A Library Archivist says:

      Shows like Konosuba are meant to be a parody of shows like Log Horizon and the other isekai. There’s actually several like that. Death March To The Parallel World and Shield Hero are both isekais which munchkin the plot with rules lawyering extremes. Those characters don’t have much to go back to. Neither does the guy in Re: Zero. To be fair an isekai is just a modern adaptation of the extremely popular spirited away plotline that’s been used in folk stories for the last 90,000 years of human oral traditions. It is popular because anybody can relate to it.

    • Irina says:

      I agree, cnstantantly wanted to know what was going on in the real world and they didn’t seem to care enough…

  4. Dawnstorm says:

    Still wating for season 3. (For a very long time, maybe.) I agree with pretty much everything you said so I have little to say this time. Early on, I remember, the show could be a bit clumsy with its exposition. Maybe later on, too, but if so, I got used to it enough that I didn’t care eanymore. But, yeah, the social dynamics were great.

    (I never played any multi-player online game, so that’s an experience I don’t have.)

    • Irina says:

      I have now finished season 2 so I suppose I’m also waiting for season 3

      • A Library Archivist says:

        There is no season 3. It was just the two seasons and no wrap up ending. I think they wanted a movie, but most shows that get a movie just turn it into a clipshow with 40 minutes of content or commentary and beg for another season. Studios got wise to that so stopped doing movies for shows that refused to wrap up a series properly. There are lots of anime which fail this way. Pity.

        • A Library Archivist says:

          Heaven’s Lost Property is also like Log Horizon, only with more ecchi. That’s also a simulation, explicitly stated from the beginning by a couple of the characters (the scientist friend obsessed with flight and holes in the sky). They more or less admit that the pervy hero is the captain of a multi-generation ship crossing the cosmos, in cold sleep with a simulation to keep the crew from going insane. They show the pods in the second season.
          The angels are basically androids caring for their actual bodies, but the androids have gone insane, as AI’s do, while the simulation has become too real for the crew and they forgot their mission (crossing to another world to colonize, probably). Generation Ships are likely to result in serious madness, but they’re a popular topic in scifi for the last 80 years.

  5. A Library Archivist says:

    Since you mentioned the NPC question, have you ever seen the movie “AI”? Remember when the kid robot wakes up after an ice age and there’s robots wandering Earth and find him there, and wake him up? Now, I want you to imagine if all the characters that died in SAO get their memories of dying in the SAO death game wiped, but they still remember when they’re about to login and wake up in this devolved server. What if all the players in Log Horizon are AI recordings of actual people who have long since died in the real world, and the server is repaired, recovered by archaeologists (or aliens) no longer able to think or communicate with actual people and want to try and understand humans, and can’t really do it directly, so they boot the server and run the programs and observe, and when a character dies, they harvest a memory, only they don’t know how to do it without damaging the original owner’s software. That’s never explicitly said, but they come very close to admitting this in season 2. They can’t log out because they are recordings of people, good recordings, who don’t know they’re recordings. Its a philosophical point also made over the NPC question. Are they alive or not? If you’re all AI recordings in a simulation, what is the big difference?

    • Irina says:

      That’s a great theory

      • Dawnstorm says:

        It really is. A lot makes sense.

      • A Library Archivist says:

        The evidence is thin, unfortunately. I suspect that’s what the author had in mind. People logged into SAO died from dehydration in the anime/books if they weren’t found and moved to hospital wards in time. It was explicitly included in the plot. Log Horizon never has that and none of the characters show any signs of physical real world maladies affecting them in the game. That’s evidence they’re recordings of people, so good they don’t know it.

  6. I adore this series, and I think you captured a lot of what I liked about it!

    “but Log Horizon really gives the impression of having been written by a gamer.”

    I convinced my son in law to watch a couple of episode of this and Sword Art Online (keeping in mind I really like SAO, too). He plays a lot of online games, so I wanted to see what he’d say.

    His opinion mirrors yours.

    “Favorite character: Marie(lle) and Rundelhous.”

    I can’t fault your taste! The arc with Rudy towards the end… Damn, that was good stuff! (Trying not to spoil anything…) Seeing Shiroe basically break and remake part of the world’s magic system for Rudy is the kind of thing I dream about writing.

    I’d have to say Akatsuki and Henrietta are my favorite characters, though to be honest, I think I enthusiastically like more of the characters in this series than almost any other.

    “The paperwork and logistics of developing a working economy, the diplomacy of negotiating with the native people, the chore of finding places to live, clothes to wear, actual tasty food to eat? ”

    Wasn’t it just delightful to watch them wrestle with these items? Wasn’t Shiroe’s answer so much fun to watch play out?

    The second season for me wasn’t quite as strong as the first. At the same time, there were some more powerfully emotional moments, especially with Akatsuki. I’m really looking forward to reading what you thought of the second season!

  7. 7mononoke says:

    I need to rewatch this, it’s been years…
    Thanks for the review. 🙂

  8. GeatsxShogun says:

    Hope you enjoy the second season! One of my favorite series!

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