Log Horizon – Review
The promise of an intriguing story, the mystery of how our protagonist came to be where he is – as well as how to get home – and a sprawling adventure complicated by a complex political landscape are, unfortunately, lessened by lazy, rushed, still-frame animation, laborious explanations of aspects unimportant to the show as a whole, and stereotypical, one-sided, flat characters.
The premise of Log Horizon is captivatingly refreshing – all over the world, those logged into the MMORPG Elder Tales during it’s eleventh expansion update, find themselves (including 30,000 Japanese players) physically transported into the game, attached as their created avatars. It is comparable in plot to Sword Art Online but with enough significant differences to make Log Horizon its own, original entity.
In the opening sequence, the main protagonist, Shiroe, finds himself standing in an overgrown, long-abandoned city. Confused – along with thousands of other adventurers – Shiroe makes his way to the nearest village. People are yelling about the clothes they’re dressed in, wondering frantically as to where they are. After tripping over his own feet because his avatar is taller than he is in real life, an expansive command menu pops up in front of Shiroe’s face. This aspect begins the departure from more traditional magna and anime.
As a massive portion of magna/anime aficionados are also rabid gamers, and most RPGs are directly based on the artistic styles of the genres, combining the two only makes sense.
Log Horizon succeeds on many levels. Incorporating the concept of players being physically, as well as spiritually, transported into an MMORPG world, with its rules and structures already in place, is more entertaining than I would have imagined. Characters have Hit Points (HP) and Magic Points (MP), and while I would normally dismiss the idea as contrived, maybe even un-original, Log Horizon weaves these aspects into the story by giving easy-to-follow explanations of how this new environment works. However, herein lies one of the shows flaws. The need to navigate through the various command prompts and wheels needs only a few minutes of one episode to explain, not two full installments that feel as if they play as filler. Is the filler entertaining? You betcha. But, it is still filler and with twenty-five episodes in the first season, it eventually feels more like stalling.
Perhaps it is my affinity for thoroughly American/Westernized storytelling – in getting to the crux of the plot and learning of character motivations early on – that leads to my impatience with overly drawn out plots, sub-plots, and sub-sub-plots. With the understanding that traditional Japanese storytelling is heavy on prologue and setup before getting to the meat of the conflict in the story, Log Horizon doesn’t so much set up the story, but takes the audience by the hand as if they were a pre-teen, going into great detail of how the socio-economic, convoluted political system, and how to operate the commands of the world works and plays out around both the adventurers and NPCs (Non-Playable Characters). Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the slow burn of a good setup a great deal, but airing twenty-three-and-a-half episodes before showing the audience a possible antagonist seems to overreach the bounds of good storytelling by a few hundred feet.
Debating between the two biggest drawbacks of the show – the lack of quality in the animation and the shallow, vapid characters – is one that is additionally irritating when given how many things in which the show excels
Most anime seasons are usually either thirteen or twenty-five episodes in length. History has taught us the thirteen episode season shows tend to have much higher quality art and animation, while the twenty-five episode season shows use mostly still-frame animation with camera pans to give the illusion of movement. Log Horizon could have been the former, but went with the latter.
The story told throughout the first season could have easily been delivered in thirteen episodes, with greater emphasis given on the artistic quality of the central characters the audience is introduced to. Instead, two to three facial constructs are used for the entirety of the show; all are bland and lifeless, relying on over-exaggerated eyes to indicate mood and reactions.
The generic animation only lends to the already one-dimensional characters populating the world of Log Horizon. The hero of the show, Shiroe, is the calm, ever-confident strategist who rarely makes a mistake, who sees what no one else does, and always knows exactly what to do. He begins his quest accompanied by two friends, Naotsugu and Akatsuki. Naotsugu is the typical, immature, misogynistic “comic relief” who espouses nothing more than his deep appreciation and love of boobs and ladies panties. Each of these comments earns a brutal, physical retaliation from Akatsuki, who we are told is extremely beautiful, over and over again, because nothing in the actual artwork suggests she is any more attractive than the thousands of other characters who all look the same.
While Log Horizon succeeds at merging an MMORPG world with anime, as well as creating a deep, wonderfully complicated plot, the ultimate execution of the manga adaptation falters in too many of the essentials. Watching still-frame animation with only subtle movements meant to ‘imply’ action is no different from flipping through the pages of a manga. The transition of a manga to anime is meant to put true movement to the characters and action sequences, to bring to life the ideas and concepts first shown within the black frames of the page. Hopefully, the second season – due to air this fall – will work out the kinks and deliver what was hoped for in the first.
Author: Anthony Sulwer
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