Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Anime Review: Log Horizon 2

I don't normally re-watch shows (due to a lack of time more than anything else) but I managed to marathon the majority of the first season before this second one started. The first season just really clicked with me, I liked how it tackled its conflicts (which were basically, how do we build our own world?) and liked the characters so I was excited for the second season. I was a bit worried since the show switched animation studios from Satelight to Studio Deen (who rarely makes a good looking show) but fortunately the majority of the staff went with the show so it's not a very noticeable transition at all.

Log Horizon 2

Where ever there are people there will be conflicts, even if they're inside a former video game as is the case of several thousand "adventurers". It's been a few months since that day so most of the players have adjusted and are creating new kinds of lives for themselves including the titular Log Horizon guild. But our characters here, guild leader Shiroe especially, don't just want to live in this world but to make it into a good world and a good life for everyone there which means going all over the place and getting embroiled in conflicts both with other players and with the game's native inhabitants alike.  

Overall I think I slightly enjoyed the first season a little more but that's not because this was a really weak installment. Instead it's because this season's weakest arc was its last one (funny enough the first season did the same thing) which wasn't a bad story but the resolution fell a bit flat. Here it's understandable, the staff had completely run out of novel material for the show and had to create a story that both wrapped up the season and left it open to a possible third season at some point. With all of that in mind they did a good job but the tone was slightly different, it lacked the even low-level stakes that the first few arcs held and felt a bit rushed compared to the slow build-up each previous story had.

Each arc of LH has low stakes on one level, our characters are effectively immortal and could even use their deaths as a way to get out of even the most dire situations (barring time limits) so the writing has to be extra creative to set-up a situation that the viewers want to return to each week. This does mean that LH is slow to start more of then than not and this is a show that does work a little better when marathoned or at least in large chunks, that may be another reason why I enjoyed the first season more than this one. Ultimately your enjoyment of the show depends on how much you care about the background world-building and the characters and the good news is that I cared a lot about both. Original writer Mamre Touno clearly enjoys thinking of some of the weirder mechanics in video games and he hasn't run out of ideas yet! Plus the series' "metaplot" has been introduced and worked into the story, abet a bit oddly since it was also involved in the anime-original ending, and it's promising an interesting eventual conclusion that I really want to see, either in another anime season or by reading the light novels. 

On a character writing level this season was better as it focused more deeply on several cast members (Shiroe of course but Isuzu and Toya as well, Akatsuki can be called a supporting lead by this point after being the viewpoint character for an entire arc). That was the most satisfying part of the series especially since these characters moments came about very naturally, I didn't go in thinking "oh this is the Isuzu arc", it was just the start of another arc and the focus very naturally shifted to the character's whose own struggles resonated the most with the larger conflict. I will admit that the side characters do tend to feel like a chorus at times, they're all nice characters but aren't always the most distinct so it's easy to imagine two, different characters saying the exact same thing. In the gap between seasons I also read-up on some of the background information for the show (like the West Wind Brigade spin-off manga and some bits about the maybe-canon RPG games) and I was delighted to see some of those side characters show up during the actual show. Actually, in the final raid every single character [in the raid] comes from one part of the franchise or another which I thought was a neat Easter egg for the fans and a sign of how much the staff of the show liked the work if they put in the time to do that instead of coming up with a generic background character to fill the space.   

There was one aspect of the show where the animation studio switch was obvious and that was in the character designs. I'm unclear why the designs did change (I'm simply not familiar enough with how that part of the production works) but the results were a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the male characters actually looked a bit better with the slightly leaner designs but some of the girls, Lenessia especially, just looked off and poorly designed. The rest of the art was consistent with the first season however, this show doesn't have the most inspired composition or animation (even though there are plenty of places to play around with it, it's a "solid" show) but the story is strong enough here that it doesn't need top-notch visuals to carry the show. The show also wisely enough kept the same opening as the first season had and the new ending song was delightfully cute, although Isuzu's new song in the series just didn't sound distinct or special enough for me to really buy into that important moment.

So overall I did really enjoy this installment, it's a fun show and I'm happy that Yen Press has licensed the light novels so I have a chance to check out that version of the story as well, now if only they'd license West Wind Brigade as well. In the meantime, Sentai has the license to both seasons of this show now and it can be found streaming on both crunchyroll and hulu.