Notice: This review covers both seasons.
Many say that a show should be judged based only on its own merits and not how it compares with others of its kind. Nothing can be more far away from this concept that Log Horizon, which will forever be compared to Sword Art Online. And rightfully so, since it came out so close to it, just to cash in on its fame and get money out of the starving for more SAOtards who couldn’t wait for another sequel full of harem, deus ex machinas, and super perfect anti-social gamers.
At the same time, it is also considered to be the anti-SAO series, for focusing on completely different aspects. Yeah, the premise where people are trapped in a videogame is the same, but that doesn’t mean much. Right now Overlord is a show with that happening all over again, and yet it’s just a comedy. SAO is fantasy empowerment, and LG is more about world building. Since death is not permanent, there is nothing of grave importance, as SAO pretended to have before throwing in tentacle fan service. The conflict is as light as it gets, with the trapped players simply trying to get along. This is what makes the show to be slice of life instead of action / survival.
It’s not like there aren’t any battles in this show; it’s just that with the penalty of death removed, and no apparent way to escape, people don’t do something out of necessity, as they do it out of boredom. Stuff like looting and pseudo-killing are done just to break the monotony. As for our main heroes, they want to stop all that, because… um, they are good people. Yeah, that is what the conflict is all about. Later on they try to make it seem more intriguing by mentioning how you lose some of your memories every time you respawn, or how the NPCs actually have personality and are not drones. Despite those attempts, the whole thing remains a light comical adventure about the micromanagement of a society within an MMO.
Coming from the same guy who made Maoyuu Maou Yuusa, everything is about economy, and a satire of fantasy tropes. Some would go as far as calling it a subversion, but that would be incorrect, since the plot is way too easy-going and doesn’t do much with what it makes fun of. Even if it’s decent in the characterization of the cast and in the immersion to its setting, it doesn’t do a particularly good job with the material at hand. To the most part it feels like a slapstick comedy with harem flavor, the two things that ruin all good ideas, any light novel ever had.
Of course very few anime fans will notice that, since they will be too preoccupied with laughing at said humor and shenanigans, as well as fangasming over the MMO terminologies. Even though the battles are meaningless, if you are a gamer the familiar concepts will shut off your suspension of disbelief. You probably won’t even notice how sloppy the exposition is, such as many of the players not knowing very fundamental powers, even if they are at maximum level, and have been part of this world for years. Everything is explained when it happens for the first time in the series, which means we get the classic case of someone standing still and explaining what he just did in the middle of a heated battle, even if it’s supposed to be something the characters should already know of.
It is cheaply manipulative when the show attempts to pass as strategic by explaining skills and spells that are used for the first time. We, as the audience, never knew a character could do all that up until that moment, essentially making every strategy to be an asspull. It does make sense after they explain it to you but it is by no stretch of the word smart; the author is making up stuff as he goes along, based on the demands of the plot.
The characters are not deep or complex in any way; they are easily defined by a few quirks and a simple mentality, which is usually there just for laughs. Thus we have the assassin chick acting like a slave to a bookworm mage, who is friends with a pervert paladin (talk about acting out-of-character). They are fairly cartoony and goofy, defined by very familiar archetypes and fetishes, so you never feel like they are real people, even when they are supposed to be. Which is another proof of why the show is not a subversion. It also feels out of character when some act scared if a bad guy is looting or killing them. Such acts means absolutely nothing if you can’t really die or you just lose a few trinkets.
With all that said, the first season looks ok and has a very catchy opening song. It is a decent job coming from an average in budgets studio like Satelight. The second season on the other hand is inferior in almost everything, so it’s no surprise that very few liked it. DEEN is notorious for its terrible budgets and bad animation, so it made everything to look run down. Plus, the already simple storyline was further simplified by becoming nothing but minor missions and meaningless training sessions. None of its interesting concepts were developed in any way, leaving the viewer with nothing of interest to look forward to. Plus, the pacing became a snail, because they had to adapt far less novels with the exact same number of episodes as the first season. Plus the focus moved away, from the interesting characters, to some minor unimportant ones, some of which were annoying kids doing nothing but talking on a wagon. And as if the in-series problems weren’t enough, the second season of SAO began airing along with the second season of LG. With a worn off novelty, and the content being crap, it lost its reputation as the SAO killer.
It is fun if you want to see online communities working in an easy going way, and how social skills and strategies are more important than grinding monsters out of screen, and then having time skips every 20 minutes just for the heck of it. Log Horizon is honest about what it is. It doesn’t promise you to be a scary action survival before soon turning to a harem with tentacles, rape, and incest. It is also not exciting because there is no tension, and loses steam as it goes on. Unless you are in for the comedy and the gaming terminology, you will get bored of it very fast.
In other news, the best “trapped in a videogame” anime, is still Hack//sign for NOT being about videogames but rather about isolation and a critique on escapism through a fake persona. It might not have been funny or exciting, but it was serious and moody throughout its run.