Tonight we tackle a show made for the geek version of Emiya Shirou from Fate/Stay Night.
Log Horizon is a further entry in the recently popular genre of Stuck-in-an-MMORPG anime, founded by .Hack, but most infamously represented by the controversial Sword Art Online. This latter fact has somewhat corrupted the reputation of the entire concept and no mention of Log Horizon has been able to rid itself of haunting parallels to SAO. There are, however, discrepancies between the theme and setting of Log Horizon and SAO that make them very different.
Allow me to preface my arguments with the fact that yours truly is a fervently passionate player of mass multiplayer online role playing games, specifically World of Warcraft, and in catering to us veteran players of WoW, Log Horizon has done a fantastic job. Unlike in SAO, where the setting of an online game is essentially an excuse for Kirito to alternately angst and swing swords around, Log Horizon’s plot and fights are very much saturated with online game mechanics. The spells that appear are fairly familiar to us WoW players: Akatsuki the assassin uses [Stealth] and a finishing move called Assassinate not unlike [Eviscerate]; Naotsugu the guardian uses Anchor Howl, an area of effect taunt similar to [Mocking Banner] modified for PvP, and Castle of Stone, which acts much like [Last Stand]; a druid makes a secondary appearance in episode four, whose healing spells heal over time just like WoW druids’ are, and all character’s abilities are seen to have cooldown timers similar to those in online games.
Better than the WoW ripoff is how faithfully the series conveys various memorable aspects of MMO gaming: from the way the main trio fight off bandit players by marking targets, tanking enemies and crowd controlling healers, to the exhilaration of riding on a flying mount for the first time in game, which makes one disproportionately excited about a seemingly trivial arrangement of pixels.
As much as this series caters to hardcore MMO players, it is, strictly speaking, a flawed anime. (K: but you repeat yourself) Most prominent among its issues is the main character’s tendency to talk the audience’s bloody head off. While I am entirely aware of the hypocrisy of one blogger who regularly writes thousands of words on completely pointless subjects complaining about exposition, Shiroe treats every viewer like they are the aforementioned brainless protagonist, and insists on spending a good third of each episode delivering monologues about fight mechanics, which is about half as long as what my old raid leader spent. Unfortunately, for those who know great deal about MMOs and are therefore able to understand his spiel, this is entirely redundant, and for the rest of you peasants, it’s probably quite dull, despite it being necessary for the uninitiated to have a full understanding of the situation.
Another problem is the fights the anime chooses to show. Of the four episodes that are out, two featured fights that are player versus nooblet bandit players, and two featured the cast fighting mobs that are a lot lower level than them and possess no special abilities. Those who read this review with full knowledge of the MMO environment (and therefore possibly equally bored by my exposition as they were by Shiroe’s) might know that the three of the most exciting types of fights in WoW are the large scale, twenty-plus player PvP battlegrounds, ten or more man raids, and high level 3v3 arena matches. As a PvE player, I would very much like to see them face bosses that have breath mechanics, cleaves, meteors, tail swipes, fears and dispels rather than the kind that just look big and scary as featured in SAO. As beautifully as the fights are animated, if they are going to go down the route of pedantic technicalities (a decision we here are contractually obliged to support), they might as well go full monty with it and put in all the mind-numbing complexities of boss fights in there as well.
Overall, the best way to describe Log Horizon is niche. There are those anime fans among us who spend and spent way too much time in a virtual fantasy world like me and Kelloggs (as much as he would like to pretend to put those days behind him) who can appreciate the amount of work and time wasted the creator put into MMORPGs, but to the rest of you, well, I hope you like listening.
Although it does help that the assassin is an adorably awesome loli ninja.