March 25, 2014

Review: Log Horizon

Living Myth - Log Horizon

Back in January, I gave my mid-season preview of this MMORPG-themed anime (check that out first, if you're unacquainted with this series). Now that all 25 episodes of the first season are out, it's time to see if the show has lived up to its potential!

First, the good news: Log Horizon remains just as enjoyable throughout the full run of the season, without getting tired or resorting to wet-blanket cop-outs and forced clich├ęs. There are some good action sequences, the visuals are always colourful and attractive, and the "game mechanics" element remains important without getting lazy or sloppy. Those who were bracing to have the rug pulled out from under them in the second half, a la Sword Art Online, can breathe a sigh of relief. All throughout, this is an anime that celebrates every aspect of the MMO genre with fervor.

Living Myth - Minori
"More dots!  More dots!!"

The third quarter focuses on an escalating problem having to do with an impending goblin invasion. Tensions rise between the "adventurers" (real-world players who used to interact with the world of Elder Tale as a virtual game environment) and the "people of the land" (non-player characters, but seemingly just as real now as any other person). Each side has their opinions about who bears the most responsibility in fighting off the encroaching threat, but complicating matters is the fact that NPCs do not "respawn" at some cathedral when they die -- they just die. Adventurers always come back, seemingly immortal, but it becomes apparent after a while that they too have something to lose in the process.

Living Myth - Sahagin

One of my favourite moments occurs when some of the younger characters are grouped together for a dungeon training mission, to learn how to act as a team in combat. While discussing their classes and unique abilities, they work out what their roles will be and how to best engage a group of monsters. Of course, the mage initially has a problem with delaying high-damage spells until after the tank gains aggro from the enemy. It simultaneously served as a small character-building scene and a cute wink at anyone who's had to suffer through similar coordination problems in these types of games.

It's rude to acknowledge the presence of a stealthed character.

Unfortunately, as viewers approach the final quarter of the season, they may start to wonder where this is all going. By this point, a few arcs that have begun and concluded, but not much of an overarching story connecting it all. Indeed, the last 5 or so episodes involve a lot of parties, festivals, and fluff. Some of this could be dismissed as "filler," although to be honest it's not that it's bad or without substance -- it just doesn't feel very "high stakes," like something big is about to happen to cap off the season. And at the risk of revealing some "un-spoilers" -- nothing "high stakes" actually happens by episode 25. No double-crosses, no earth-shattering reveals, no last-minute plot twists. One new character swoops in to spout some ominous words that may inform the complications of the season to come, but it's by no means a cliffhanger ending. At this point, you're either hooked by the show's charms or you're not.

So, the second half wasn't quite what I was hoping for in terms of plot -- but I can't really say I was disappointed, either. Maybe the ending was flat, but it's only an "ending" in the sense that there won't be a new episode until the fall when Season 2 starts. Honestly, it's not a plot-heavy kind of show anyhow. It's a cute fantasy with generous doses of goofy humour and a loving focus on genuine MMORPG situations. And it's been consistently fun throughout its first 25 episodes, which is a compliment that even the best anime sometimes struggle to earn!

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