Sunday, September 07, 2014
There are many shows and books about people trapped in a virtual reality: Sword Art Online, Tad Williams' Otherland, The Matrix, many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes about the holodeck, etc. Most of the time these stories share a common element: if you die in the virtual reality, you die in the real world. Thus the story usually revolves about the protagonist trying to avoid the dangers of the virtual world.
Log Horizon is different. It is about a bunch of people trapped in an MMO, but with all the MMO mechanics intact. This includes resurrection when people die. This immediately removes the default danger of stories like this, and results in a far more unique show.
The basic plot is that on the eve of the latest expansion of the MMO Elder Tales, which has been running for eight years, all the players wake up in a world which is identical to the world of Elder Tales. They wake up as their characters, and can access all their abilities. They're just physically "in" the world, and have no way to leave.
The protagonist is Shiroe. He's an Enchanter, a non-healer support class that specializes in control, buffs, and debuffs. The show follows him and his group as he comes to terms with the new situation, and as he and others attempt to build a society in this new world.
The thing about this show is that the writer clearly plays MMOs. For example, one plot thread involves several newbies. In Elder Tales, characters below level 30 get an XP potion each day to help them level. So one guild tricks a bunch of newbies into joining them. They then imprison the newbies and force them give up their XP potions each day, and spending their days crafting. The guild then sells the XP potions to the highest level characters who are rushing to get to the new level cap.
When I saw that plot thread, I knew that the writer understood the MMO gamer subculture.
Another element the show does very well is showing how MMO players are different from one another, through the guilds. There are the crafting guilds, the merchant guilds, the small elite guilds, the large zerg guilds, and the small friends & family guilds. Guilds are a very important part of MMOs, and are a very important part of this show.
The final major element in Log Horizon are the NPCs. The NPCs, called the People of the Land, are the real inhabitants of the world. They're like normal people, who live and die. But now they have to contend with these immortal (and bored) adventurers.
The key thing about this show is that it is not about a virtual reality, but is about an MMO. The game mechanics are important, especially the Trinity and group mechanics. In fact, I rather think Log Horizon uses the Trinity as a metaphor for how society should work.
Now then, Log Horizon isn't a perfect show. It's low-action, though there is some. It has a lot of dialogue, and can be fairly slow. It's also Japanese anime, which means its sensibilities are slightly askew from Western ones. The pacing is a little bit off, especially in the last three or so episodes.
However, overall Log Horizon is a very good show, and nails the MMO subculture in a way that no other show or book has.
Log Horizon is available at Crunchyroll. You can watch it for free (with ads). A second season will be airing in the Fall.