Gadzooks! The appearance of Log Horizon in UK stores has got my plagiarism senses buzzing… and who can blame me? This anime adaptation of the books written by Mamare Touno (a naughty author who was recently charged for dabbling in tax evasion) is set in a fantasy MMORPG where the players are trapped and unable to log out. Hmmm, that sounds awfully similar to the smash hit series Sword Art Online doesn’t it? I shouldn’t be surprised though, as anime history is rife with examples of popular shows serving as the inspiration for pretenders looking to emulate the original’s success. The resurgence of magical girl shows after Madoka Magica took Japan by storm is proof enough of that. The question is whether Log Horizon is a shameless rip off or a show worthy of your precious cartoon watching time. Read on to find out.
The popular online role-playing game Elder Tales (not to be confused with the unpopular Elder Scrolls Online) has just released an expansion pack attracting thousands of players back to its servers. Virtual adventurers far and wide are keen to explore the new Novasphere Pioneer levels, but little do they know that the expansion’s new content could potentially keep them occupied for literally a lifetime. For some unexplained reason, the Elder Tale fanatics are teleported to a virtual reality recreation of the MMO and bestowed with both the look and powers of their in-game characters. Sounds like a larper’s dream come true, were it not for the fact that there is no way of exiting the game and returning home.
Log Horizon shares its name with the guild founded by a bespectacled chap named Shiroe. Back in Japan Shiroe is nothing more than a humble grad student, but in the online world of Elder Tales he’s a mighty spell caster who is renowned for his strategic mind. Shiroe forms the Log Horizon group to protect the vulnerable and establish order in the lawless virtual land he now finds himself in. Aiding the sorcerer in his endeavours are his travelling companions Naotsugu and Akatsuki. Naotsugu, a beefy knight clad in armour, is the muscle of the team and an unabashed womanizer whilst Akatsuki is a sneaky ninja who specializes in tracking. Despite being a lone wolf Akatsuki pledges her loyalty to Shiroe after he uses his magical gifts to switch her gender from male to female (via the consumption of a sex change potion.) Enchanted brews are quicker than hormone treatment and considerably less painful than going under the knife!
Having watched part one of Log Horizon (courtesy of MVM Entertainment’s DVD set, which contains the first thirteen episodes) I’m pleased to report that my concerns over the show’s originality have now dissipated. Although Log Horizon and Sword Art Online share a similar premise the way they go about telling their stories is very different. Out of the two SAO has the more straightforward plot – focusing on a couple that have to conquer a tower in order to escape their virtual confines. Log Horizon on the other hand is slower paced and boasts a larger ensemble cast. Thirteen episodes into the series and I’m still unsure where the script is heading. The story arcs contained in this inaugural collection are simply content with exploring how society acclimatizes to life in a fantasy world.
Slower paced doesn’t however mean that Log Horizon is dull (thankfully this MMO caper is no .hack clone.) The series may not be as action packed as SAO, but it still has it’s fair share of battles. Early on for example Shiroe’s party is forced to tangle with both hostile monsters and an unfriendly group of players. The later episodes are more dialogue heavy, with the narrative shifting towards politics between the adventurers and sentient NPCs, but I was never bored thanks to the amiable cast. As a Spice and Wolf fan I especially enjoyed the business centric arc were Shiroe begins to procure funds by opening up a medieval McDonalds. The show’s regular doses of comedy also help keep things from getting stale. The adorable Akatsuki is regularly in the thick of the laughs, be it in scenes were she smacks Naotsugu for being a perv or moments were admirers cannot resist giving her a hug.
My rating for part one of Log Horizon is four stars. It exceeded my expectations, so I am looking forward to watching the rest of season one. I’ll eventually get round to watching season two as well, although I hear that the quality dips from that point on due to an unwelcome change in studio.