There are several similarities between today’s feature, Log Horizon, and series #10, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova. Most obvious, they are both the only series on the top 10 to air in the past year.
But there are similarities in my internal monologue, as well. As there is always new anime, and my personality as a viewer is always changing, there is definitely a fluidity component to what I quantify as “favorite series”. Both these entries are likely candidates to drop off the list in the future, and not even replaced by new series, but just because my affection may wane over time to level out. Almost all of the other series on this list are -probably- here to stay in the next fifteen years or so, certainly the higher up we go, the more committed I am to their spots. They may jockey for position, but I don’t think, say, Madoka is danger of falling off (act like you’re REALLY fucking shocked Madoka is on my list somewhere).
Ars Nova may slide up the scale if my enthusiasm remains as strong as it does today. Log Horizon…
It will probably come down to season 2, and if that pollutes or enhances my opinion. It is scored higher than Ars Nova, however, because I can objectively see that in most regards, Log Horizon is just better. Objectively.
So this is mostly my stacking the list in a manner consistent with time. #8 and #7 I actually have less -affection- for (as of this very moment), but they have been around longer so I award them merit on “staying power”.
Without further delays.
Elder Tale is a game with thousands of worldwide players. During the release of a game expansion, thousands suddenly find themselves trapped inside the game, where they feel themselves physically walking around, yet in a world that looks identical to their beloved game, governed by many of its rules.
Shiroe, our protagonist and viewpoint character, is a bit of a social outlier, but with him are his best friend Naotsugu, along with the female “shinobi” Akatsuki, who returns Shiroe her loyalty after he saves her from a potentially awkward situation.
The series follows our trio adapting to the new rules of their world, and those of Shiroe’s old clique, the Debauchery Tea Party, a high level challenge group who have become famous to Japanese players for their ability to beat difficult content, but by the time of series start have mostly gone their separate ways.
Log Horizon has several big focuses. The first is that of the Elder Tale game itself, exploring its mechanics operating in this strange world, and generally the frame under which most of the series’ heavy action takes place.
The second is the character dynamics. One of the best features is that not everyone thinks this is the best thing EVAR. Some people are just stuck. They miss their old lives and are really only here because they were playing as a manner of politeness with friends or family. Other interesting issues are players who, in our world, are physically disabled suddenly finding themselves not only able to walk, but physically powerful to boot, and on the whole it’s an exceptionally well thought out community that inhabits this Elder Tale world.
The third, and the main reason you’re probably here, is the political thriller that plays out. In a world where murder has no serious consequences, and game mechanics seem to be just as important as traditional physics, along with the NPCs, whom Elder Tale names “People of the Land”, who have their own politics to sort through, the new “inhabitants” of Elder Tale suddenly find themselves needing to think outside the box about how this new world must work.
It is this last part that really gives the series its punches. While Log Horizon’s pace is slow, it is such a way because it does the business of these first two items while slowly progressing the third. But the payoffs generally make the slow pacing worth it.
Ooo, Maybe it’s not TRYING to be World of Warcraft
Log Horizon’s biggest contribution to being on this list is really quite simple. I play MMOs, and Log Horizon is just about the first MMO-series to get it right.
MMO based anime are nothing new. the .hack franchise has been around for decades, and Sword Art Online remains quite popular. Mentions to Accel World and Amatsuki.
But the thing is, beyond some cosmetic details, these series rarely feel like someone is actually IN a game. The Elder Tale game, while clearly taking its cues from Everquest, feels like a genuine, well thought out game that people might ACTUALLY be playing. One of the big issues for Sword Art Online is that the game trappings are rather flimsy, and don’t feel any different from a generic fantasy anime.
To put it a different way: .hack and Sword Art Online feel like anime that tries to sneak into the gamer crowd. Log Horizon feels like it was created by the gamer crowd and tried to make its way into an anime.
And there are a LOT of little details that are subtle nods to gamer communities. Such as Nyanta’s guild of all-furries disbanding because of drama, or the blame game the trainees play in their first dungeon, it’s all just a wonderful little in joke throughout the whole series.
The Devil Wears Glasses
One of the draws is a simple truth that the show will lay out, but we the viewers have a hard time swallowing: Shiroe is a villain.
Sure, he might be a benevolent dictator, but he is undoubtedly aware of his own amoral nature.
One of the best examples is before the revelation that he hams up his “villain-ness”: Lenessia’s speech. The framing of this scene is brilliant, and the fact they spend so much time prepping for what, on the surface, seems to be an impromptu-speech. Shiroe’s reputation as the villain serves him well, setting up the perfect strawman argument for the public to side against when the beautiful little princess takes center stage. The way this all plays out is incredibly smart, and yet completely understandable from the point of view of the common “player”.
Shiroe imposes order on Akiba by force, and as Henriette says, “Devils know they’re bad. Shiroe doesn’t.”
It’s a rather grounded world, in that regard. Sure, the world would be super if we could just believe in each other Naruto style and that turns all of our enemies into our friends. But when has that truly ever applied to the real world? Even “laws” in the United States are “suggested” by the federal government, with the threat of the purse for the states to carry it out (see: legal drinking age), even though it’s all carried out under the guise of “for the common good”.
In this, Log Horizon grounds itself by applying real-world style solutions to the fantastical world of Elder Tale. Because while the world itself is magical and epic and all that sugary good stuff…the people who suddenly find themselves inhabiting it are flawed, normal Human beings. So thus, they must apply solutions that work on normal, flawed Human beings.
And, you know what…mark your calendars…I didn’t honestly mind the harem element that popped its head up here. Now arguably that may be because Log Horizon is not a harem series, not EVERY girl is after Shiroe’s pants. But he IS the only guy who gets multiple ladies chasing his man parts, so I’m half counting it. And I give it a pass because…you’d probably need to play an MMO to understand, but everyone hits on the guild master. Everyone. Clever sneaking it in, Log Horizon.
Elementary, Dear Nureha
While we’re on topic with the harem…
Log Horizon did an amazing job of letting us in on glimpses into the rules of physics as they apply in Elder Tale, such as cooking leading to building new technology. None were better than Nureha.
Nureha rules Minami, the player city akin to Osaka as Akiba is to Tokyo. And she does this by buying the graveyard, making death in the entire Western zone permanent for those who don’t fall into line. She’s a dictator, and brutal at that, set up as Shiroe’s counterpart. These things were made possible, to be sure, by the evidence laid out to us, but rarely can you anticipate the clever ways Log Horizon will employ its strange physics. While we may have not quite seen how the spells would be worked, or the technological aspects, or the ways the People of the Land would interact with our heroes, Nureha was different.
She is, in effect, applying what Log Horizon does best with its blindsides, and giving that to the entire series, to us, the audience. A moment of “Yeah know this feel good ride you’ve been on? It could have been so much worse.”
Admittedly, as of this moment, this is purely set up for season 2. But it speaks to the darker aspects someone with Shiroe’s drive and intellect could employ to enforce her will. I must admit…for the first time I’m rooting for the kitsune. Her subclass doesn’t hurt either…I hope she sticks around for more than five episodes. A flat out antagonist would be against-type for Log Horizon, but as a devil to tempt the devil-in-glasses? It’ll be fun.
Oddly…I Like the Mood
Log Horizon is much more light hearted than most of the stuff you’ll be finding in the Top Ten. There is sophistication, but it is not funereal.
And the way it effortlessly swings from emotional heartstrings moments, to political drama, to slapstick comedy is nothing short of genius. Each episode runs the gambit of emotions and one of the secrets to its generally slow pace that makes it feel like so much has happened, while on paper, it’s actually been very little, usually.
These elements are helped considerably by the atmospheric help they get from the soundtrack. It is one of the stronger ones out there. Along with a strong OP to set the tone.
A Good Cast…but…
Much like Akuma no Riddle, here there were a multitude of well developed characters with dimensions to them that made them all rather interesting. Even Rudy, who enters as Mr. Obnoxious eventually elevates to be pretty damn enjoyable.
There are, sadly, two big stand outs who need improvement.
And, somehow, they ended up being two of the leads.
Naotsugu arguably demands this less. He is the optimistic brawler with pervert tendencies. Kind of a one-note character, but the guy is at least generally well-meaning and gregarious, so he fits into the situations the guild finds itself in seamlessly. We also know from his days in the Debauchery Tea Party that he’s got some serious combat prowess, and a good team player who has been tested repeatedly, so while we might see the big doofus in front of us, it has an edge of Jack Sparrow silliness to it, that we know at any moment he can be relied on if shit gets serious.
Akatsuki, however, is probably the character most in need of a life saver in the upcoming Season 2. She’s at about the same level as Naotsugu, maybe a little more developed, but so much more of the DRAMA falls on her shoulders that she really demands a couple extra layers.
Hell, Nureha has a much more developed personality than Akatsuki and she was on screen for ten minutes.
There really has to be more to Akatsuki than having a crush on Shiroe…right? Hello? Hello? This thing on?
We get the impression she was a roleplayer before the Apocalypse. Alright. But that doesn’t tell us a lot about her personality. Some people roleplay because it’s a release for issues in their real life they can’t deal with in reality for whatever reasons. Some just enjoy the world building involved. Some just get THAT attached to their characters. Many writers roleplay as a form of practice, it’s a work habit for them rather than leisure.
What, you think you can tell me which one Akatsuki is?
Look, as the one-note character who punches Naotsugu, she’s fine. But the story wants us to take her emotional plight seriously, so we need more FROM her. Minori was great, we have a strong sense of WHO Minori is, not just in Elder Tale but we had peeks into her real life, and same goes for Nureha. Their characters make SENSE to me.
So why is the one in this love…uh…quadrilateral, who holds up her end of it least the one the show seems to be siding with? What, because she’s selflessly devoted to the man like a good Japanese girl? You gotta do better than that.
My problem with Akatsuki is that she has no depth. Let’s look at Isuzu, who has little to her, as well. But in keeping Rudy’s secret, she showed that she was a trustworthy confidant, something we’d never really seen of her before. And the way she uses her Bard skills shows how much of a team player she is.
What does Akatsuki do that shows us she is anything more than Shiroe’s utterly devoted ninja servant? “Oh why do you need more than that Doll? Huehuehue”. You shut your mouth before I cave it in. We spend 25 episodes with this girl, and I know nothing about her now that I didn’t already know at Episode 3. It’s the show’s fault for emphasizing her role.
As I said my future opinion of Log Horizon is greatly dependent on how this coming season turns out. Fortunately that is….two weeks away.
But it is a great show, a rare treat on my favorites for playing heavy themes, while not ever getting bogged down in despondency. I strongly recommend you get caught up before October rolls around!
And I assure you, we won’t see it’s like for some time.
So that was Number 9, what could be at Number 8? Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Time to pull out the lesbians in a world of girls who break.