Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2014 - Log Horizon

This 'blog may be defunct but its writer most certainly isn't, and who would turn down the opportunity to spend their December being forced at gunpoint (okay, I may be exaggerating here) to watch anime that some random stranger thinks you might like. Probably. Maybe. Possibly. If you're really lucky. Yes, that's right, I threw my hat into the ring for the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa jamboree again this year, and this marks a brief return to the site after a six month hiatus. Heck, it is Christmas after all...

While it seems like almost everybody I know spends every single episode of Sword Art Online poised to tear it apart at the slightest misdemeanour (as well as a fair few major ones, admittedly), I've broadly found myself enjoying that series' sense of place and world-building, and of course its whole "living, breathing people trapped in a video game" scenario is clearly what led my Secret Santa to one of their selections for my perusal this year - Satelight's adaptation of light novel series Log Horizon. Given that its been recommended to me many a time before, I of course jumped at the chance to finally sit down and watch it in its entirety.

For all of my excitement, I have to confess that my first impressions of Log Horizon were... less than glowing. Visually, the series has a decently broad aesthetic and imagines its world - where 30,000 MMORPG players suddenly find themselves trapped in a very real version of Elder Tale, the game they've been engrossed in thanks to the release of a new expansion pack - rather nicely. However, the animation quality itself leaves a lot to be desired and certainly feels cheap, especially compared to the obvious budget afforded Sword Art Online. More egregious for me in its early running is that Log Horizon simply doesn't care about the origins of its premise, spending no time at all thinking up a plausible reason why people would suddenly be transported and trapped in a video game world and waving away any questions about that fact as far as it possibly can. Yes, people are upset at this jarring change in their circumstances, but that lasts for all of five minutes before everyone simply gets on with their new lives as if it was nothing unusual at all.

Thankfully, as the series progresses it becomes clear that there is method to this madness - yes, Log Horizon doesn't give a monkeys about why humans have been dropped into a video game world, but what it does care about is what happens when this occurs. In fact, it cares a great deal about this, and the show's greatest joy is watching its cast, led by the tactical genius Shiroe, come to understand the socio-economic and political impact of the descent of 30,000 new (and not to mention immortal) full-time residents of Elder Tale upon its world. At this point, the series morphs into how you'd imagine things turning out if Spice and Wolf author Isuna Hasekura wrote Sword Art Online, as the show explores the newcomers relation to the world's now-sentient NPCs known as the People of the Land, examines the impact of realising that there are opportunities beyond the mechanics everyone is used to from their time in Elder Tale as a mere game, and plenty more besides. This is blended with just enough action and set pieces along those lines to keep people on that side of the fence happy, without ever losing what is certainly a fascinating and thoughtful treatment of its subject matter.

This is all helped along greatly by the show's main cast, a growing motley crew of individuals who all bring something unique to the table yet interact in a believable way. Admittedly not all of the cast get the character development they deserve (Akatsuki, I'm looking at you), but with so much else on its plate its actually impressive how much Log Horizon manages to cram in on this level alongside its broader strokes that effect the whole world.

After that auspicious start and a fair number of episodes of doggedly trying to convince me of its cause, Log Horizon finally succeeded in winning me over to its cause. How much so, you ask? So much so that I've now caught up with and am watching its currently airing second season each week, that's how much. It might not manage to avoid all of the typical light novel tropes - Shiroe can be a self-insert character with the best of them at times, complete with a small but passionate harem that grows around him - but it still offers up perhaps the most unique take on the otherwise tired "trapped in a video game world" story I've seen, even offering a twist on the question of what happens when players die in that world. Its insistence upon viewing its concept in decidedly original ways is ultimately its biggest draw, and the fact that it manages to do so intelligently yet charmingly is why Log Horizon turned out to be very much my cup of tea... and there's nothing better than a nice cup of tea on a cold Christmas Eve, right?

No comments: