Review for Log Horizon: Season 2 - Part 1
It’s time to head back to the database, as the second season of Log Horizon is upon us. Personally I was hoping for more of a spreadsheet vibe for the next series, or even a Powerpoint presentation, but I guess those are harder to rhyme for the theme song. But it is all change when it comes to the DVD release of the second season in one respect. Instead of doing the full localisation that Madman did for the first series, giving it the PAL transfer treatment, this time Madman opted to merely stick their logo in front of the Sentai discs, and as MVM are using Madman’s masters for the UK release, that’s what we see here too. The disc count goes up by one, and it’s an NTSC presentation. Of course it’s what’s on the discs that counts, and Log Horizon was one show that started me on the route to conversion when it comes to ‘trapped in an online-RPG’ anime; previously one of my least favourite of genres. This time the story was really well thought out, engrossing and smartly done. I’ve been looking forward to Season 2 with unreasonable anticipation.
Elder Tales was a popular RPG, one that had grown and prospered online, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans and gamers worldwide. One of them is an Enchanter named Shiroe, who has levelled up to the max, but has done so by eschewing the usual guild system, and going it relatively alone, opting for loose and brief alliances rather than being tied down to a guild. Then one day, the newest expansion pack is added, the Novasphere Pioneers update, and suddenly Apocalypse occurs. Now all of the gamers that were online are ‘trapped’ in the game. They can’t log out, and dying simply resurrects them. Now they are full time residents in a fantasy, alternate Japan, still in the game, but now no longer playing, but actually living their lives according the gameplay rules. But as time passes, this online community starts developing in unexpected and unsavoury ways, certainly not the Elder Tales gameworld that Shiroe and his friends initially wanted to escape into. If he wants to make a positive change in this world, Shiroe might have to do the unthinkable, start a guild of his own...
Previously on Log Horizon, it had turned out that while game mechanics might have been fun for playing games, when it came to living in a world governed by game mechanics, that led to a whole lot of inequality and suffering. So Shiroe and Log Horizon had started out by subverting the game rules to create a more equitable and pleasant society in their little kingdom of Akihabara. But at the start of this season, it becomes clear that some rules are harder to subvert, especially when the Round Table runs short of money, and it turns out that the concept of money-lending doesn’t exist in this world.
Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1 offers 13 episodes across three discs thus.
1. Shiroe of the Northern Nation
2. The Outlaw and Mythril Eyes
3. Abyssal Shaft
4. Shattered Wings
5. Christmas Eve
6. The Lost Child at Dawn
7. The Maidens of Suifuu
8. Akiba Raid
9. The Changing Battlefield
10. Guild Master
12. Kunie’s Gold
13. 2.14 Tender Trap
Log Horizon comes to the UK from MVM after going through the localisation mill of Sentai for the dub and subs, although this time Madman just stick their logo on Sentai’s discs and strip out the trailers. What we get is an NTSC 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, progressively encoded for those with compatible equipment. It’s clear and sharp throughout, with well defined characters and adequate animation, perking up for the action sequences, but doing little more than the minimum for the character interactions. The colour palette is somewhat subdued, although not for the game interface design. The fantasy world design is both effective and unimaginative, if that is at all possible. The world of Elder Tales is presented as a mirror of the ‘real world’ albeit one reclaimed by nature. No traffic in the streets, buildings covered in vines, cities co-existing with jungles. As a post-apocalyptic world it’s striking and effective a look, but it didn’t take a lot in the way of imagination from the animators and world designers to come up with. The show scales-up adequately to an HD panel, but if you’re watching it on an HD set, you might as well go for the Blu-ray release.
You have the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, this time with the translated subtitles and a songs and signs track locked to the appropriate audio stream. Given the plethora of stat displays for the Elder Tales interface, you might be pressing pause quite often in the show to take in what people’s special skills and level attainments are. I was happy with the original language track, stereotypical characters notwithstanding, and everything came through with clarity and the right degree of presence. Speaking of stereotypical characters, they’ve combined the effeminate male with the cat-person stereotype for a new level of annoying, not just the voice, but the subtitles too, delivering cat-puns ad-nauseam (or should that be ad nyauseam?). I gave the dub a quick try, and unlike the usual Sentai efforts, I wasn’t immediately driven to pressing the off button. However the English dub did sound a little hollow to my ears.
The discs present their content with static menus, jacket pictures, and each episode is followed by translated English credits.
Disc 1’s sole extras are the textless credit sequences. I guess the localisation by Madman amounts to the Sentai trailers being stripped, and that’s it.
The first season of Log Horizon took its time to grow on me. For the first six episodes, it seemed like just another online role-playing game cliché, before it revealed its trump card of society building, and slow and measured character development. It wasn’t about the characters playing the game, but the characters subverting the rules of the game to make a better, more equitable world. That was the hook that eventually drew me into Log Horizon, and it wasn’t exactly hurried about developing its story after that. You got the feeling that it was only scratching the surface with those first 25 episodes.
In comparison to Season 2’s first half, season 1 is a Usain Bolt sprint. After all this time, I’m a little cold on the world of Log Horizon, and I faced Season 2 part 1 in much the same way that I did the first release, waiting for a hook to come that would pull me back into the show. 13 episodes in, and I’m still waiting to be honest. It’s as if the first season was the proof of concept, the bait to reel in the fans, and once they were on the line, the creators could take their time with the rest of the story, take it slow, that is Shonen action series slow. The rate at which the story develops, we may be here for a good few hundred episodes before we get to anything world-shattering. The problem with that is that the author of the light novels upon which this series is based, Mamare Touno, had a little problem with the Japanese tax man, and while the situation was equitably resolved, it looks as if the light novels are on hiatus for as long it takes for his rehabilitation in the eyes of the public to be complete. The anime will be on hiatus for just the same reason.
As for the first half of season 2, it’s all about money! Previously, the Log Horizon guild led by Shiroe established a haven of civilisation in Akihabara, removed from those living purely by game mechanics. They learned how to create in this world, cooking, building, and manufacturing items. They began to trade and negotiate with the People of the Land (those who in the game were NPCs). They created a system of government and laws that gave opportunities to people, a world far removed from game rules of hack, slash, and collect, where only the strongest prevailed. Naturally the ‘game’ world threw obstacles in their path, challenges to be faced, but through lateral thinking, Shiroe and Log Horizon prevailed.
At the start of the second season, the Goblin War still continues in a far off corner of the realm, but the real issue is with the lack of money. One of the things that Shiroe did to preserve peace in Akihabara was to acquire the property there. But holding onto that property requires a ridiculous level of expenditure and the money is running out. What’s worse is that wealth always came from the defeat of monsters in the game, and there is no concept of credit. So at the start of this season, Shiroe’s first problem is to maintain Akihabara’s liquidity, and he has to do it within the game rules. He has to organise for a Full Raid into a dangerous dungeon. It’s this story that occupies the first twelve episodes of the season.
This isn’t all of the story though, as this time he leaves the ‘cute as a button’ ninja Akatsuki behind in the city to guard Princess Raynessia (the spelling’s changed for the second season), and she has a crisis of confidence at being left behind, and starts looking for a way to level up her abilities. This coincides with the coming of Christmas, and the arrival of a serial player killer in the city. Death isn’t permanent for Adventurers, but Akihabara is supposed to be a peaceful zone, where such crimes are policed. Akatsuki and the other Adventurers have to deal with the killer, only it turns out to be harder than anyone thought.
That is the big deal about Season 2 of Log Horizon. Everyone thought they had the game world sussed, they knew the rules, and they knew how to work within them, or in Shiroe’s case, how to subvert them to best advantage, but now it looks as if the world is fighting back, changing the rules as it goes along. The Full Raid that Shiroe and his team face is harder than anything anyone has ever dealt with in Elder Tales, and all of a sudden Player Killing is allowed in Akihabara, even while it is protected. Small things start changing too; the ‘flavor text’ that merely adds aesthetic charm to game items, now suddenly has an actual effect, and things become increasingly difficult. Once in a while, in the background, something will happen that relates to the world of Elder Tales, and the Apocalypse that has left the Adventurers stranded there. There’s a development with Krusty during the Goblin war that is dealt almost as a throwaway, but is bound to have great meaning with the bigger story.
The interesting world building still goes on, and there are character developments that do appeal, particularly for Akatsuki and Shiroe. This first half of season 2 is something of a journey of self discovery for both of them as they learn to trust more, and rely on others. But you do have to deal with the usual character clichés as always. I must admit that I don’t get tired of Naotsugu being punished for dirty thoughts time and again. But Nyanta the camp cat is tiresome, although not as tiresome as the cat puns in the subtitles. This season introduces the cute, annoying cross-dressing idol character, and once again it seems that they’re ticking the character interaction boxes off a checklist. It may serve as a comfort zone for a long-standing anime fan, looking for a bit of the same-old same-old from their shows, but if you’re looking for originality and complexity, Log Horizon can be disappointing.
There is still much to like about Log Horizon, but with the advent of Season 2, the pace drops to the glacial. Half a season for a single arc is just too much, especially as not a lot actually happens, beyond the usual character interaction antics. I still like Log Horizon a lot, and it might be my favourite of its genre, but it doesn’t make it easy. I hate to say it, but with this collection, I was entertained and bored by it in equal measure. I don’t see the novels resuming anytime soon, and neither do I expect the end of Season 2 to conclude the story, but hopefully the pace will pick up, and it can stop at a decent and satisfying point.
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