Those who know my review style know that my anime critiques contain some deep thought about the message that is often found in a series. And those who know of author Mamare Touno’s works know that he can make an entertaining story with a brief lesson in political and social science. It seemed inevitable that I would eventually review an anime based on one of his works, so here it is!
This is a combined review of the first and second seasons of Log Horizon‘s animation. Here are some limitations to my review:
- The bulk of the discussion will be on political and ethical philosophy as it appears in Log Horizon. As interesting as the metaphysics and epistemology are in the series, I will only mention those briefly.
- Most of the discussion will be coming from the second season as it is the freshest in my mind.
- I admit never to have read any of the light novel that the series is based on. A much more critical analysis, I’m sure, can come from there.
- I will not be discussing comparisons or fan theories for the series; so no “which is better” or “what if” scenarios. I will be focusing on the animation as it presents itself only.
So without further ado, let’s log in to this review!
Log Horizon brings us into the world of the fictionally popular virtual game series, Elder Tale. The game has been online for about eight years in real time, but after a recent expansion, every player in the game finds themselves in a tragic turn of events. With the new expansion pack, no player can log out, and other new features to the game are to come, so gameplay will never be the same again!
In the midst of the Elder Tale apocalypse, players discover the game’s newest mechanics quickly, but they also have differing opinions on how matters should be handled because of that. No one can log out of the game, but they will also respawn after death; so adventurers are essentially granted a kind of immortality. But even though players will never parish completely, they continue to hold on to core values of the game, such as looking for ways to level up, finding the best gear, or expanding guild control and leaving everyone else behind. The world of Elder Tale is in disarray, until the enchanter Shiroe arrives on the scene.
With Elder Tale in a state of chaos after “The Apocalypse,” Shiroe wants to create a new world in Elder Tale, one that the people will be comfortable living in. By creating a guild of his own called Log Horizon, Shiroe and his friends establish a guild republic within the city of Akihabara, where players can feel like they have at least some control over the world they now have to live in. Without being able to log out or die, players find it difficult to enjoy simple things like food that actually tastes like food, or being able to complete enough quests for money. With the changes in Elder Tale comes scarcities in resources, and the desire for certain kinds of players and their talents shifts with the culture. Cooking, for example, is often treated as a trivial commodity in many RPGs, but rapidly gains demand after players discover that food tastes better when it is cooked by a professional.
Soon enough, Elder Tale’s city of Akihabara becomes a vibrant town governed by the adventurers, players who have been locked in the game, and order may perhaps be restored. But as their town marks itself as a stable center of a players’ republic, the NPCs called the People of the Land have other interests involved.
Adventurers may be able to respawn, but People of the Land do not; and any NPC that is killed is gone forever. This necessitates even more kinds of laws that the players must concern themselves with: the welfare of People of the Land, who were once treated like commodities as well. But to what extent are these ethics enforced?
Existing in this new world of Elder Tale isn’t an easy adjustment, as new world laws mean that some crimes against Adventurers and People of the Land alike are reevaluated. For example, torturing or coercing players into certain activities are acts against their will, and are therefore met with more severity than simply killing them and letting them respawn in the town cathedral.
Other changes to the world’s laws come as time progresses in Elder Tale, such as a powerful magic that can change a Person of the Land into an Adventurer, or bringing about technologies from a modern world into the fantasy realm, bringing a creative side to the game’s mechanics.
But with the rapid changes to Elder Tale’s laws come very crucial questions: how does one truly feel alive in this world? What is going on in the real world at this very moment? Is there a way for them to return to it someday? And when they do, what happens to all the relationships they have established with the denizens of Elder Tale?
If you think of the first season of Log Horizon as the establishment of the social norms of a new Elder Tale, the second season starts to piece together ways in which players will find meaning in their own activities, in hoping to someday return to the real world.
Just when Shiroe and the others think they have found a decent way to live in Elder Tale, new mechanics change their world. While death is still not much of a thing, Adventurers discover that respawning comes with the cost of giving up a fracture of their memories of the real world. This brings on somewhat of a psychological element, as the fear of death is now reintroduced, but with a different set of consequences. But like anything else in this world, not everyone perceives these threats and desires in the same way. There is no better part of the anime that reflects those divisions than when the younger members of Log Horizon go out on a journey for themselves: a point in the series that unfortunately confused most of the fans watching it.
In the wake of a mass invasion on a small town, the young adventurers find themselves caught between the threat on the town and the would-be heroes who casually protected it. Over a year has passed since the Apocalypse, but some players, such as the likes of the Odysseus Knights, believe that the world is still a game, and they welcome death as many times as it takes to complete the invasion they thought was some kind of special event. These Knights find themselves to be “heroes” of the world, essential to the protection of common citizens, still waiting for the time when the portal back to the real world will open.
The Knights feel a sense of entitlement in this world as Adventurers, and even look down upon Adventurers like that of Log Horizon’s members who are more cautious and caring for themselves and the People of the Land. They may think it’s a game, but to our protagonists, this world feels more important to them than perhaps the real world itself!
I won’t bore you with all the essential back stories behind every last member of Log Horizon, but I will say that their raison d’être consists not necessarily of being the best gamers, but the desire to feel alive, regardless of circumstance. The whole reason order and creativity were established in Akihabara was through the need to feel alive in a game that otherwise trapped all of them! No one is different in that no one has ever chosen to exist in this world, whether they were Adventurers who unfortunately got stuck on the server, or People of the Land who were programmed into it. But what we do have a choice in is how we decide to carry ourselves in that world thereafter; and there are an infinite number of choices on that matter.
In the middle of the battle, Roe2 and Minori share a deep conversation on what it means for them to have connected at this point in time, and what it means for them to live in this world. Minori questions what purpose Roe2 has for being here, as she has a striking resemblance to her guild master, Shiroe. But in such a brief moment, Minori realizes that knowing Roe2’s purpose and history isn’t as important as the connection they made here and now: a student training to become like her master, and a wandering traveler that she affectionately calls her big sister. Those kinds of relations seem to matter more than any kind of grandiose purpose.
Roe2 further admits that we fight in this world in hopes that everyone may be happy. That state of pleasure is important to all of us as individuals, but it is naive to think that everyone will be happy when the world is at peace, as there are many who will always address the need for change. To ensure everyone’s happiness is not a state of pleasure, but a way of life that allows anyone to pursue happiness in a meaningful way that makes it their own.
So no, they don’t fight to become the game’s greatest heroes because that’s what they’re supposed to do in the game. They fight to give themselves some kind of satisfaction, whether it is in the act of doing or in the results that come out of it. It is something that we also hope we can do for ourselves as well as for each other.
Finally, I would like to address the dilemma that Shiroe and the others face in the final arc thus far, and that is having to choose between making Elder Tale a habitable place for Adventurers and People of the Land, or focusing their attention on finding a way out. While I’m sure many of us would argue one side over the other in an endless discussion that boils down to whether or not even our own world is worth living in, I find the show’s answer to be the most practical one.
After a huge battle with a new raid boss and a struggle within himself, Shiroe finds a way to contact Kanami, a player he knew from before the Apocalypse but has since fallen out of touch with him. Kanami has since been playing on China’s server, but in their conversation, Shiroe considers a third option to the problem.
Let’s face it: neither Elder Tale nor the real world is perfect. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. And yet, even if they can find a way out of the game and back to the real world, that doesn’t discount all the experiences they had in this virtual world! The world itself may not be real, but the connections they had made with others through it most certainly are. That’s no reason to give up on one for the sake of the other! And that’s exactly what Log Horizon plans to do, from here on out!
If you want to know what happens next or learn about the details I didn’t mention, I suggest reading the light novel or giving the anime a second watch. But before I finish talking about this series, I can’t leave without mentioning Shiroe’s foil, Akatsuki!
So to end, I will just leave you with a funny moment from Elder Tale’s resident assassin, as somewhat of a reward for reading through this extended anime review! Thank you, if you somehow got through reading this entire post…
You already scrolled down, didn’t you?
So if you like some action-packed anime that adds some thought-provoking ideas into its narrative, watch Log Horizon. And remember: always focus on the things you can!