Log Horizon is a 25 episode series animated by Satelight and based off a series of light novels by author Mamare Touno who also wrote the original novels for Maoyu: Archenemy and Hero. The premise starts off when one day players of an MMORPG known as Elder Tale one day find themselves trapped in the world of the game and are unable to log themselves out. Now the players must figure out how to survive in their new world and discover a way back home.
Having been announced and airing during a time where “gamer” type shows were rampant with adaptions such as Btoom!, Accel World and most famously Sword Art Online, Log Horizon had to prove that it was different from the rest of the pack in an over-saturated market. Thankfully over the course of the show Log Horizon has not only managed to prove itself to be different from other shows of it’s genre but it’s also proven itself to be a shining example of a genre defining show as it stands out from its predecessors.
One thing that stands out as different from similar shows at the beginning of the series is that the players aren’t explicitly told they’ve been trapped in the game, as they all have to find that out for themselves, and they aren’t given any indication as to how to escape from the game world either. Additionally there’s no threat of death as players can respawn at the local Cathedral and be on their merry way. So what is there to do exactly? Well the first few episodes are spent exploring this as main character Shiro along with his two companions Naotsugu and Akatsuki kind of aimlessly travel through their sector of the game world before taking on a request to rescue a girl named Serara from a guild ran by a over the top mustache twirling villain (okay well there’s no mustache but you get the idea).
On their journey they see how other players are dealing with their situation. Some are taking advantage of it to obtain power and dominate other players and guilds since there aren’t any consequences to killing them. Others are wallowing in misery as they try to find something meaningful to do or get excited over (and it doesn’t help that the food in the game world has no taste). After completing the rescue in epic fashion and getting over some of his loner issues, Shiro decides to start his own guild called Log Horizon and to try to make the world a better place for all the players in it.
It’s at this point that Log Horizon ceases to be a regular “trapped in the game” esque show and evolves into something else entirely as it dips into more fantasy world elements. Shiro’s plan to change things directly coincides with his desire to save a pair of young twin players from yet another evil guild of mustache twirling villains and thus he manipulates the other guilds of their home server Akibahara to do his bidding (mostly through solving the aforementioned food problem from earlier) and apts to force them all into a alliance of sorts to establish a quasi-government and provide some order to the town. Political battles and tactics become the norm as Shiro and the other members of the alliance must deal with the NPCs who are also known as the People of the Land, as they’re revealed to have their own agendas and goals in mind and the two sides compete to stay on top of the other.
Through it all though, Log Horizon never fully abandons its RPG fantasy premise. The mechanics of the game after often worked into the world itself with the players having the ability to dramatically twist the rules to their benefit and later revelations show that there are consequences to death for the players. There’s also a much more typical RPG-ish threat that takes up most of the middle section of the series and has more traditional action going on through the first season ends with another potential political threat.
There are some minor issues with the show as Shiro’s plans, while generally exciting, can sometimes be a little bit too perfect and overshadows some of his character flaws at times. Additionally the clear-cut villains of the show tend to be over the top and extremely blatant in their evil which can be a little grating for a series where motivations and planning are otherwise complex. These issues thankfully aren’t enough to drag the show down much but they do cause some bumps in the road every now and then.
The cast of characters for the show are all largely likeable and entertaining. Shiro is a pretty interesting lead as he starts off as a bit of a loner and though he largely stays in the background for his plans (and eventually earns the nickname “The Villain in Glasses” due to the underhandedness of his plans) he learns to open up to his guild mates and by the end of the first season they become the backbone of his desire to change the world. The supporting characters are also fairly interesting as some such as Crusty who is one of the leaders of Shiro’s alliance and Princess Lennesia prove themselves to be little more than who they largely have to play the part as, with both of them having some unique sides to them beneath the mask. Some of the other characters are a bit more true to their archetypes but the largest surprise in the supporting cast is Minori, who is one of the twins Shiro rescued earlier on as she largely admires Shiro and slowly learns to adopt his way of thinking, largely becoming a bit of a mini-Shiro herself and becoming a good tactician in her own right.
Production values for the show are fairly average as is typical for NHK produced shows though the animation can occasionally step up a bit for some of the actual fight scenes. The character designs are also pretty standard though some as Nyanta’s (a cat-man) do stand out a bit. It’s music is pretty solid with some strong orchestral tracks here and there and it’s opening theme song Database by Takuma-Feat stands as one of the most ear-wormy and ridiculously catchy songs of 2013 and once you hear it you’ll never be able to forget it regardless of whether or not you like it.
Log Horizon is vastly different from other shows of it’s genre in that it isn’t so much as struggle to survive as it is a struggle to maintain order and living life comfortably. It’s largely thanks to that though that it has evolved into a genre-defining series and stands out as not only being a pinnacle of the genre, but also as one of the best shows of 2013.
Avaiable for streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll