Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Anime Review: Log Horizon

So some people who don't follow me on twitter might be confused to see this title since I said I dropped it last fall and didn't talk about it at all during the winter anime round-UP. What happened was that I has caught up with all my current shows and asked twitter what I should try out next, Witch Craft Works or Log Horizon. They actually had me watch WCW first but I decided after three episodes that even though the through gender flipping of the situation amused me, if this had been your standard "girl has mysterious powers and is defined by equally mysterious boy" I wouldn't really be interested in it either so it's no wonder that it just wasn't grabbing me. I have also heard that originally both of those characters were female but even that doesn't really interest me (and why Riddle Story of the Devil doesn't either). So, I did have a few friends recommend LH to me a few hours later and decided to give it a second shot after all, especially since I hadn't dropped it for having a terrible first episode. 

Log Horizon

The Elder Tales video game series has been around for decades and millions of people worldwide play the Japanese RPG. So it's no surprise that a number of people were egarely sitting in front of their computers awaiting the new update, what was unusual was that thousands of them then woke up in the world of the game itself. There's no way to log out and if they die they'll respawn so in many ways it's just like being in the game, except playing a game and living in a game are two very different things, especially when the characters begin to notice that their new world isn't exactly like the one they knew.

I've never read either the Log Horizon or Maoyu light novels, they share the same author, but I really think the problem with the Maoyu anime had was that it just wasn't long enough in order to give it smooth pacing (since I was rather confused how I could enjoy the manga so much and yet almost forget an anime had been made). Both of these stories are heavy in the exposition, both having to explain the basics of their world to the viewer (I'd argue that by now most people know what basic mmorpg terms are but this aired on NHK after school so some of the intended audience may not have) and then just explaining what solutions and politicking our characters are doing. This is the kind of exposition I really like in anime because it's not really "as you already know" it's "you knew this thing and then what you didn't know was that I did that thing so that thing over there just happened and" so there's a lot more activity involved and you really are discovering the story along with the characters. And while some people adore villains for their manipulations and morally gray world views (more-so than a standard hero anyway) I honestly like it more when the protagonists of a story are the ones doing this since I find that gives it a tension which a villain's interactions just lack. LH has a lot of this going on and I enjoyed it, the story was paced well so it also broke up the scheming with a healthy amount of fighting (they are gamers after all) and the series has made full use of it's setting so far to explore not only what happens to the characters but what also happens to this world when it suddenly has a bunch of super-powerful people start living there and acting differently from how they usually do.

In case I've made this series sound too dry, LH is an adventure-fantasy romp at it's heart and the show is all about the characters trying to not just survive but to have fun with their new lives. As of where this season ended, no one has any idea how they ended up in the game or how to get out; some characters do have theories but unlike Sword Art Online that's not the purpose of the show and it really creates a different kind of tone. Actually the tone of SAO's first half (where it was a death game) seemed a bit strange at times since the characters were trying to take the time to admire their very deadly world, here that mindset makes much more sense and shows that there's less cross-over appeal between the two shows than you might think (ditto for .hack// which, based on the ones I've seen, seem to focus more on the character's internal conflicts versus whenever any of those characters get trapped in a game). It's a story that has a lot of room to get bigger (and, when I ended up finding some information about the sort-of-on-going web side novel series, it looks like it will) but I don't think the story will let its over-arching story change what's already so enjoyable or let it drag on too long. Of course come next fall I'll be able to see if I got this story's measure right when the second season airs and I really hope I have!

The art and music for this series are good but nothing spectacular (well, the opening has become a meme of sorts but personally the combination of death metal and j-pop-y-rock just didn't jive with me). What did stand out for me was how the show managed to have a colorful yet subdued color palette which I thought perfectly tied into the idea of this being a video game (which are just filled with over the top, impractical, shiny outfits) yet in the "real world" (which is generally less shiny). About halfway through the show I found myself thinking "wow, I wonder why this has so much less fanservice than Maoyuu, but I like it!" when I found out that since it airs on NHK (aka, a timeslot that is somehow considered educational) that the fanservice had been incredibly toned down and apparently the little gore the novels had were also cut. Considering that I like the show better for it I can't complain, although looking at some of the other shows that NHK has helped fund over the years (like Phi Brain) I really must wonder what their guidelines for considering a show educational are. 

And for a bit of an odd aside, I had looked up a little bit about the series as it was airing (I was trying to figure out who the clearly important girl from a few flashbacks was) and as I was shifting through descriptions I found a character who was going to pop up at the very end and I expected herto be rather sympathetic. Holy moley, it made me realize how while a few characters toe the line, no one is really a Mary Sue or Gary Stu in this series except this one, I am not looking forward to having her appear again in the story later*. I am looking forward to the second season however, especially since that last episode brought up a whole slew of new plot points and it would have been criminal to just leave those hanging. Although I do wonder, there is a web novel series for the story as well which must cross paths with the main story today (like it has world changing implications in it, which are canon if I understand it right) do I almost wonder if they'll begin seeding in that story to make the second season two cour again, probably not so I just hope there's enough material otherwise!

*And I'm talking like, has a horrible traumatic backstory which drew her to the game and seems to have let her be manipulated easily in the game, was "recognized" by the main character once, who doesn't remember it, and that helped set up her obsession and now wants to be with him because yeah! It's pretty bad folks. I'll also admit I'm baffled why this character is genuinely considered by the author to be one of the three girls Shiroe could end up with, although I'm also pretty confused by one of the other choices as well for the simple reason of a pretty big age gap. 

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