Alright guys, this doesn’t happen very often, so strap yourselves in and grab some popcorn. Mark your calendars. I was wrong about a thing.
There, I said it. I was wrong about a thing, and even when you’re me sometimes that happens. Greg has been pestering me for like two years to watch Log Horizon and I never bothered. You know how when someone tells you about something enough times sometimes there’s like this buildup of inertia that makes it even harder to consume the thing? That happened. And then I forgot.
So now here I am almost three years late to the party and I can tell you definitively that Log Horizon is pretty good, and I probably should have watched it a while ago.
So for anybody not in the know, Log Horizon is about a bunch of people who play the MMORPG Elder Tale and wake up one morning to find that they now live inside the game. It’s a variation on the Sword Art Online schtick because there’s no virtual reality here, there’s no anything like that, they just woke up and live in the game. It’s still a game, there’s still menus and inventories and chat screens, but they live, breathe, and exist there now. The main character is a max-level Enchanter-class character named Shiroe, the important part of which means that he is not equipped for solo combat. He is not a character of the stabby hitty shooty variety.
Some considerable time ago I wrote an article about characters that are smarter than the people who wrote them. It’s something that continues to bother me when I see it, because as a relatively smart person I like it when characters that I’m watching are smart. I like being outsmarted by someone in a way that makes me feel genuinely outsmarted. Furthermore, I like this trope because a well written smart character makes the inevitable “Let me reveal what my actual plan was” scene that much more awesome. Shiroe is a smartly-written character.
Shiroe’s backstory is that when Elder Tale was still a game, he was the strategist for a high level group called the Debauchery Tea Party, who are a group of legendary people who basically dominated the shit out of this game. They were the best fighter, the best healer, the best whatever. The best everything. And he was the smart one. This leaves creator Mamare Touno with some very smart shoes to fill as the series goes on. But hear me out; as a callback to the original smart people article I wrote, here’s a scenario from early on in Log Horizon:
The players of Elder Tale respawn when they die; this will be important in a minute. One of the first things that people notice when they wake up in the game is that buildings in the game that were once just background art are now interactive and, strangely, for sale. It appears that all buildings in the world are for sale (for exorbitantly large sums, but still.) Because death is meaningless in this world, players who are trapped get bored and start killing each other and vital NPCs around the world. NPCs do not respawn when they are killed, which Shiroe sees as a problem.
So, he raises an arbitrarily large sum of money and buys the guild hall in the main city. By owning the guild house he has the right to decide who can and cannot access that area. If anybody reading has played an MMO before, you might see what’s going on. In addition to what an average guild house provides (an area for guilds to congregate and conduct, y’know, guild business) in Elder Tale the guild hall also controls a number of other features, most notably the banks. So Shiroe now has the ability to blacklist people from accessing their money and off-site inventories.
Using this as leverage, he and a select few others form a government and establish a sense of order to the city. Everyone rejoices because the world is no longer a lawless wasteland.
And that’s really smart! Shiroe was one of the first people to observe both that the city they all lived in now was in peril, and that major aspects of the game had changed in such a way that they could be manipulated. I totally buy that. It’s within the realm of possibility. Remember, for a smart character to be smartly written, he doesn’t have to do stuff that a layman could do, he just has to do things that are believably possible. This is what happened.
This brings me to the second aspect of the show that I find very refreshing: It’s mostly politics. Shiroe is thrust into a world that has no laws and where death is a minor inconvenience, and then says to himself “Y’know, I should start a government.” It’s like the wild west, it’s an untamed frontier, it’s great. And the rest of the series (So far, I’m not done) is all political machinations and like…economics. Which sounds really lame, but because everything has been presented in a way that is both intelligent and understandable it becomes really intriguing. What’s more, every step of the planning process is left in in such a way that you can really see how characters get from point A to point B in terms of their plans. There’s no (what I call) Scooby-Doo moment where they reveal that Velma found a signed confession off camera while Shaggy and Scoob were being chased by the swamp thing. It’s all very meticulously documented, which makes when plans come to fruition all that more satisfying.
So yeah, Log Horizon is a great show, and it’s a textbook case study on how to make a character seem smart. And if you haven’t watched it, you should watch it; although fair warning, Greg says the show ends on a cliffhanger. Fuckin’ Greg.