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 can’t wait for another sequel full of harem, deus ex machinas, and super perfect anti-social gamers who help people because it makes sense.
So yeah, here we are again with a premise where people are trapped in a videogame. Only this time, death is not permanent, since you will just respawn in the nearest temple. You know right away it is not a grave issue, like SAO pretended it was before throwing in tentacle fan service. It is light conflict where the trapped players just try to get along, many of which don’t do that and just loot and pseudo-kill others for fun. Here is where our main heroes come in to save the day because… erm, because they are good people. Yeah, that is the whole conflict, some guys who are bored and do nasty thingies with no real repercussions, and some other guys who try to stop them because they have nothing better to do. That’s all there is to it, really. They try to make it seem more intriguing at points by mentioning how you lose some of your memories every time you resurrect, or how the NPCs actually have personality and are not drones. Despite those attempts, it still remains a comical and light fantasy adventure all the way.
The story is based on light novels by Touno Mamare, the guy who also wrote Maoyuu Maou Yuusa. He never tries to create a serious story, and loves to make parodies out of stereotypes. Despite the light approach, he still manages to have better characterization and immersion than SAO, since over there it was just some generic super perfect dude doing everything, while being surrounded by people who can’t do anything without his divine presence. Over here, you get teams of players, each one having a certain role in battles. Nobody can solo armies and big bosses like that asshole Kirito could; over here you need teamwork and coordination to win. Thus it offers a much better feeling of what MMO battles really are like.
Of course lots of things are still quite off in terms of realism. Many of the players don’t seem to know very fundamental powers even if they are at maximum level. Yes, you heard right, the main players are at max level since episode 1 and just raise their secondary classes, which have no real impact in their happy-go-lucky adventures. Thus nobody can be stronger than them in terms of statistics and it all boils down to strategies and teamwork. And since the heroes happen to excel in those elements, they are basically flawless and you are just watching them casually showing of their mental superiority as they overcome with ease all challenges. So all the fancy terminology they use during action scenes is just there to confirm their status as the picture perfect super team. Again, not exciting, but at least it is about brains over brawns. And they sure don’t try to make it seem like equipment or items play any role, since nobody seems to wear something that gives him extra durability, or does spells that the others even heard of.
Exposition is by far the weakest aspect of an already weak story, since everything is explained exactly when it happens, a thing which makes it sloppy. For example, they explain the game terminology in the middle of the battle, as if there is no other way to let the audience understand without rubbing it to their faces. Opponents and on-lookers will be stand still while the heroes are infodumping the hell out of everything, even for things everybody should have known in-series. It looks ridiculous when you see how all the strategies they use in battles are based on skills and spells the audience never heard of up until that moment. It does make sense after they explain it to you but it is by no stretch of the word smart; it feels like the author is just making them up as he goes along based on what the plot demands.
The characters are just ok for the type of style this show goes for, but are not deep or complicating 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). Any attempts the setting does in order to present a world where anarchy rules and people do stuff out of boredom is rendered useless when you see how nobody seems to care much about whatever happens. They act scared when someone is looting or killing them but that means absolutely nothing if you can’t really die or you just lose a few trinkets. They are all still defined by very well-established archetypes and fetishes, so you never feel like they are real people. They are fairly cartoony and goofy, lack backdrop stories or long term objectives to offer some openings for character development, and take it too easy considering their situation. So they might seem cool and funny at first, but down to it are very shallow and easily forgettable.
The one aspect SAO beats it at, but then again if you are watching a show just for the visuals and music, you really don’t care about what the show is all about. Not that they are bad; they are just ok, nothing fancy, better than most of whatever a small studio like Satelight can offer. It’s enough to get a good feel of a virtual fantasy setting but you are never going to be mesmerized.
It will never have the sales or popularity of SAO, just because it is easy going and without awesome production values. It will still be remembered as a better version of SAO, since it did a far better job at showing how online communities work, 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. I can even say how we were all expecting it to be a SAO clone instead of being hyped to the moon, and thus when we go to see something better fleshed out with less expectations, it ended up being an overall better experience. Log Horizon does not betray you, since it remains the same as what it shows you in the first episode. It doesn’t promise you to be a scary action survival before soon turning to a harem with tentacles, rape, and incest like SAO did. That is something quite respectable. Although it still isn’t exciting, so unless you are in for the comedy and the gaming terminology you will get bored of it very soon. I still consider the best of “trapped in a videogame” anime to be Hack//sign for down to it 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.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
General Artwork 1/2 (okey-ish)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Voice Acting 3/5 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/5 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 1/2 (easy going)
Pacing 1/2 (easy going)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 1/2 (some)
Conclusion 0/2 (incomplete)
CHARACTER SECTION: 4/10
Presence 2/2 (funny)
Personality 2/2 (silly but well founded)
Backdrop 0/2 (none)
Development 0/2 (none)
Catharsis 0/2 (none)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (better than SAO but that’s it)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little going on)
Memorability 3/4 (good for what it is but simply too light)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
Art 0/1 (looks average)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 1/3 (feels simple and easy going)
Characters 2/4 (they are funny but not great in any way)