When people think of spectacles they may think of intelligence, they may think of fashion, but in the case of this anime they may think of villainy.
Log Horizon began as a series of light novels by Mamare Touno in 2011, and has since then gone on to spawn several manga adaptations and two anime TV series, each 25 episodes long. In comparison to other anime covered in this column it is most similar to is the more popular series Sword Art Online (No. 34), in that both series feature a similar plot involving characters trapped in a fantasy video game. However, the series do differ in many ways, especially in the lead characters. Whereas Kirito, the lead character in SAO is a straight forward hero, the lead character in this series is more complex.
The series revolves around the fantasy MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) “Elder Tales”, set in a version of the world several centuries into the future following an apocalyptic event, and in which the players fight monsters and take on quests. By the time of the 11th expansion pack it has become hugely popular, but when the 12th expansion pack is released a horrible error occurs, resulting in 30,000 players in Japan forcefully logged into their game, taking up the guise of their gaming avatars. The players soon discover that they cannot log out, the in-game food has no taste to it at all, and even dying is no form of escape as the players just reincarnate.
The central character of the story is a bespectacled-player named Shiroe, who plays one of the weaker “supporter-type” character types in the game, but is still hugely respected and feared by everyone else in “Elder Tales” due to his brilliance as a strategist and his often Machiavellian ways of getting what he wants. Hence his nickname: “Villain-in-glasses”. Shiroe later meets up with two friends of his: defensive (and slightly perverted) player Naotsugu, and assassin Akatsuki, who Shiroe help by eliminating her male avatar and returning her to her normal female body. Because of this Akatsuki not only swears total loyalty to Shiroe, but even seems to love him. She also has the habit of beating up Naotsugu whenever he mentions panties, and than asking Shiroe for permission to beat him up after the attack.
The trio start off by getting in touch with old friends in their section of the game in Akihabara (an area of Tokyo and real-life geek capital of the world) and helping to rescue people, but later Shiroe takes on even bigger challenges. Stopping people who are getting thrills of beating up weaker players, especially children; helping the artificially created characters in the game known as the “People of the Land” live in peace with the players, trying to establish peaceful relations in Akihabara and beyond, and stabilising the economy. However, with Shiroe being the way he is, the arrangements always seem to benefit him in some strange way, as well as everyone else.
During the course of the series Shiroe and his allies eventually set up their own “guild” of players. In one of their earlier missions Shiroe, Naotsugu and Akatsuki successfully cross a dungeon and as a prize get to see a spectacular sunset. Recording this in their memory logs, it was this sight which inspired the guild’s name: “Log Horizon”.
As stated it is easy to compare Log Horizon to SAO: they are both stories about being trapped in video games, they are both originally based on novels, and all their novels and manga are released in English by the same publisher (Yen Press). However, it is the differences that are really interesting.
Firstly is the characters themselves. Most of the characters in SAO are very black-and-white, with Kirito very clearly the hero, righting wrongs and saving people. Shiroe in Log Horizon also rights wrongs and saves people, but he is always seemingly doing something which leads to some other benefit for him personally. For example, one of Shiroe’s other friends in the game, a duel-sword wielding anthropomorphic cat called Nyanta, knows how to prepare food in the game to make it actually taste of something rather than nothing. Using this knowledge he starts to make and sell testable food, and helps use this money to both help some child players who are being exploited, but also to virtually take over the entire economy of Akihabara.
It therefore may be more accurate to describe Shiroe as being an antihero. Certainly his reputation spreads throughout the game for his more villainous side. Even other characters in the series that also wear glasses are compared to him; with non-glasses wearing characters expressing fear at those who do.
The other major difference is the role of death. In SAO characters who are killed in the game are also killed in real-life. In Log Horizon they are reincarnated, so even death is not an escape. SAO seemingly has the more dramatic plot, but Log Horizon’s idea of being constantly trapped also has an appeal, with some possibly arguing it is the more intellectual of the two.
It must also be said that one other reason people like Log Horizon is that there is in some circles a level of snobbery against SAO, with people claiming some anime fans like it just because it is popular. The general insulting term bandied about is “weeaboo”, a term normally meaning any person who adores Japanese culture more than any other including their own, but also came to mean any annoying anime fan in general, and more recently one who just likes really popular anime to look cool. However, what people fail to realise is that those who tend to call someone a weeaboo are very often weeaboos themselves. I myself hate the term.
Log Horizon is an entertaining story with great characters that keep it together. Well worth a watch.
The first series of Log Horizon is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from MVM Films. Both series can be streamed on Crunchyroll.