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ANIME REVIEW: “Log Horizon”

ANIME REVIEW: "Log Horizon"

Mamare Touno’s eight Log Horizon novels
had already been adapted to manga four times when the broadcast series based on
them premiered in 2013. (Yen Press has announced plans to publish the novels here
in 2015.) The first 13 episodes were just released on DVD and blu-ray on November.

The premise had often been used in novels, animation and
manga. After an unexplained event referred to as “The Apocalypse,” over 100,000
players of the MMORPG “Elder Days” found themselves trapped in the game world
with no means of escape. Players inhabiting their avatars have to find ways to
cope with life within confines of the game world.


Many Japanese players have gathered in a setting modeled on the
ruins of the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Among them is Shiroe (Andrew Love), a
bespectacled Mage whose skill at dealing with people belies his nerdy demeanor.
He quickly joins forces with three old friends—Guardian Naotsugu (Andrew Love),
a bold if not overly brilliant knight with a lecherous streak; Ninja Akasuki (Jad
Saxton), whose devotion to Shiro is matched only by her irritation with Naotsugu;
and suave, knowing Catman Nyanta (Jovan Jackson). They’ve all reached Level 90—the
maximum possible—so they make a formidable team.


As it becomes increasingly clear that they will remain in
the world of Elder Days indefinitely, the former players (known as
“Adventurers”) discover some of the old rules still apply. Adventurers can’t
die: if they’re killed in battle, they’re reborn in the cathedral of the home
town. But the automatically generated warriors who enforced the rules no longer
appear to stop evil-doers, and the transportation gates have stopped functioning.


Shiroe realizes that if the Adventurers apply skills they possess
in real life to elements in the game world, they can create things, from flavorful
food to new machines. But Shiroe’s greatest skill is diplomacy, and he deftly
manipulates the people around him, getting the leaders of the various guilds to
work together to improve the quality of life in Akihabara. Shiroe halts the  exploitation of weaker players by stronger
ones, improves general morale and reaches out to the People of the Land. The
People were just programmed background characters in the original game; now
they’re as human as the Adventurers, but less powerful.


As many otaku have
complained, Log Horizon
shares a basic storyline with other anime properties, notably the .hack series and Sword Art on Line. But the problem isn’t that premise has been used
before. A group of characters trapped in a setting that is simultaneously alien
and familiar offers myriad possibilities. But the filmmakers can’t seem to get
a handle on what Log Horizon
is supposed to be. Too often, the episodes in the first half of the
initial season play like a cross between Fairy
and .hack, without the
rollicking humor of the former or the ominous mystery of the latter.


There are simply too many characters in Log Horizon, many of whom enter
and leave before the viewer gets to know them, like guests stars performing a
quick cameo on a sitcom. Shiroe is an interesting figure: He’s clearly a real-world
nerd who discovered his true potential in the world of Elder Days. But his diffident
demeanor is at odds with the abilities he keeps demonstrating. He convinces quarrelsome
leaders from rival guilds to cooperate, and rescues a brother and sister
trapped by the masked crooks of the Hamelin guild. Much of the comedy is supposed
to come from Naotsugu’s cheesy lechery which infuriates Akasuki. But the gag quickly
degenerates into a one-note shtick that’s repeated until it becomes wearying.


A second 25-episode season has already been
completed. If filmmakers have refined the focus and found the story they want
to tell, Log Horizon could become a
highly entertaining series. The initial season isn’t bad, but it’s obviously
less than it could be.

Log Horizon: Collection 1 Sentai Films: $69.98, Blu-ray; $59.98, DVD; 2 discs

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