“Everybody has got to die, but I’ve always believed an exception would be made in my case.” – William Saroyan.
Anime set in the world of gaming have been popular recently, especially series like Sword Art Online which has attracted both love and hate from anime fans. A more recent and less divisive anime appears to be Log Horizon, the second series of which has just finished streaming. Now the first series is currently being released by MVM, so it seems a good time to compare the merits of the two.
Log Horizon takes place in the video game “Elder Days”, which is set in a fantasy world based on the real world, only reduced to half its real size. When the 12th expansion pack was released some form of error occurred, which is now known as the “Apocalypse”. As a result, over 30,000 Japanese players left the real world and are now stuck in Elder Days itself. The players soon discover some horrible truths: they cannot communicate with the outside world, almost all food has no flavour to it whatsoever, and if you die in the game all that happens is that you are brought back to life again. Thus everyone is imprisoned, seemingly for life, in this virtual world.
The story locates itself in Akiba, the game’s version of Akihabara, and begins with one player named Shiroe, a master strategist and dubbed the “Villain in Glasses”, who plays a supporting “Enchanter” in the game. He is one of the game’s most famous players, but is not a member of any of the large “guilds” of players. Shiroe soon meets up with old friend Naotsugu, who plays a defensive “Guardian”, and a short female “Assassin” called Akatsuki, who offers her services to Shiroe after he gets rid of the uncomfortable male avatar she originally used in the game. Together they decide to team up.
First they visit an old friend, the head of the Crescent Moon Alliance guild, Marielle, who has the annoying habit of hugging everyone she meets; and her friend Henrietta, who has the annoying habit of wanting to make Akatsuki look as cute as possible. Marielle asks Shiroe for his help in rescuing one of their guild members, a young girl “Druid” (healer) named Serara, who is currently being protected by an old friend of Shiroe’s, Nyanta, an anthropomorphic cat “Swashbuckler” (duel weapon user). Shiroe, Nyanta, Naotsugu and some others used to be part of an informal group of elite players known as “Debauchery Tea Party”. Shiroe agrees to take up the task, which in turn begins to set up a chain of events to try and make their world a better place by forming his own guild: “Log Horizon”.
There are plenty of similarities to SAO: both series are based on light novels; both these light novels and their manga adaptations are released by Yen Press in English translation; both are set in the world of video games; and all the characters are trapped in a virtual world and cannot get out.
In terms of differences, the first is that in SAO the main driving force of the story is that if you are killed in the game, you die in real life. In Log Horizon you just get brought back to life, again and again, with no chance of escape. Arguably SAO‘s plot is more dramatic because of the “life-and-death” aspect. However, Log Horizon‘s idea of being forever trapped also has a strong appeal. It is akin to the afterlife, with the characters in a form of virtual Purgatory with seemingly no chance of escape. Also, Log Horizon is set in just one game whereas SAO takes place in various worlds.
Another key difference is that the roles of the characters in SAO tend to be “black-and-white”. Kirito is very clearly the hero and the baddies are very clearly baddies, resorting to various vile deeds including the sexual. Shiroe however could be described as being more of an antihero: he is constantly manipulating events behind the scenes, with some versions of the story in other media describing him as “Machiavelli with Glasses” rather than just “Villain with Glasses”.
The other characters are also very different. In SAO they tend to be basically all human or humanoid (e.g. fairies). In Log Horizon there are humans, elves, dwarves, kemonomimi, and purely anthropomorphic animals. This is one of the few anime around which features regular characters that you could describe as “furries”. The only other example I can think of is Chopper from One Piece.
In terms of production, the animation is average. The music – by Yasuhara Takanashi – is good. The main theme, “database” by Man with a Mission featuring Takuma is cool, and is one of those anime theme songs that is sung in both Japanese and English. The end theme, “Your song” by Yun*chi is also nice, but I prefer “database” personally.
There are some minor issues with the subtitles. In one scene an ID of one of the characters appears naming the character “Isaac”, but straight after this Shiroe refers to him as “Issac”. Also, the only extras in this collection are clean opening and closing themes.
Both Log Horizon and SAO have their merits. SAO has the thrills, but Log Horizon is more cerebral. They are both entertaining in their own ways.