Review: Log Horizon (Vol 1)

(art by Kazuhiro Hara)
(art by Kazuhiro Hara)

For general information on this series: Log Horizon entry

This review is for the first volume of Log Horizon by Mamare Touno. The English edition was released by Yen Press in April 2015. The second and third volumes have since been released, and the fourth will follow in March 2016. So far, there are nine volumes available in Japan.

Vol 1 - The Beginning of Another World
Vol 1 – The Beginning of Another World

I was first introduced to the story of Log Horizon through its anime adaptation (more specifically, it’s first season), which I tried on a whim and ended up enjoying a lot more than I expected to. The characters are easy to like, and I found the story’s focus on society-building, economics, and political maneuvering quite interesting. But despite the subject matter, the plot remains fairly straightforward and the topics introduced are easy to digest.

The first volume follows a young man named Shiroe, who one day finds himself (along with several thousand others) trapped inside the world of an MMO fantasy-themed computer game. He and his friends are adventurers such as mages and knights, and spend most of the book working out all the rules by which the game-turned-reality world is governed. Log Horizon is very much a setting-driven narrative, and it is the characters’ struggle regarding how everyone should go about their new lives that serves as the central focus of this volume.

I have never played the type of game that Log Horizon and other stories (such as Sword Art Online or Overlord) have used for their setting, but I was able to follow this story easily enough thanks to the level of detail Mamare Touno places in his world-building. Actually, some readers may feel he goes a bit too far in that respect, as it’s pretty common to find a whole page of explanation for things that perhaps only needed a paragraph.

Most of the things I liked about the anime, I liked just as well in the light novel. Shiroe, Akatsuki, and Naotsugu are a fun group of characters to follow, and Shiroe in particular has a bit more depth than I feel is typical of light novel protagonists. I also appreciate the tone of the story in general–it’s got a sort of slice-of-life feel to it, with a positive atmosphere and an emphasis on teamwork and strategy.

I do have some hangups with the novel, and they mostly relate to the way the story itself was written. I feel the book was translated really well, so I think my issues stem from the original story. When it comes to fiction, the general rule of thumb is “show, don’t tell.” In Log Horizon, I believe the author does well to show–but then tends to backpedal and tell us everything he just showed us. We are shown how battles and professions and commerce all operate, but then we get in-depth explanations for everything. It makes the narrative feel very repetitive, and bogs down what is already a slow-burner of a story.

For an example of beating a dead horse, one of the main characters (Naotsugu) is more or less the laid-back sidekick who makes dirty jokes but is still (overall) good-natured and reliable. This is clearly evident from his dialogue and actions, but the author still takes the time to explain all this to us every chance possible. And for an example of something that simply felt out-of-place: nearly every time Akatsuki was involved in a scene, the author would take the time to explain how she is such an impeccable beauty. Not to say she isn’t cute, but I always felt she was more… an everyday individual like the others? (Albeit a pipsqueak?) There are lots of little things like this that feel a bit strange.

At any rate, fans of fantasy setting world-building should certainly give Log Horizon a try, as it definitely has had a lot of thought put into everything that falls under that umbrella. Those who want a snappier, tighter-paced read may wish to look elsewhere however–or perhaps consider trying the anime instead. I try to avoid this suggestion, ha ha… but I feel it’s fair to mention in this case. And in the event the franchise does click with you, the books will certainly offer more details that fans will enjoy–so do always keep the original source in mind, okay?

Cho’s Rating: Maybe Recommended

3 thoughts on “Review: Log Horizon (Vol 1)

  1. “every time Akatsuki was involved in a scene, the author would take the time to explain how she is such an impeccable beauty.”
    I thought this kind of thing was the common trend of writing when it comes to LNs? They seem to go to great length reminding the audience that a heroine is beautiful (yet scarcely describe, in fine detail reminiscent of the classics, exactly how she is beautiful). At least, the male-oriented LNs seem to do this; the female-oriented ones seem to add a finer touch.

    To be honest, Log Horizon’s attention to detail feels more like… gamebuilding, than worldbuilding. It does worldbuild, as it goes into the society, hierarchy, traditions, values, culture, but the author spends such a painstakingly amount of time on game statistics and mechanics that it really makes it hard to immerse into the world and not continuously be reminded that it’s still a game. This actually feels kind of jarring given that the whole premise revolved around a game that became larger than life. Every time the plot seems to transcend the veneer of ‘game’ into ‘society’, the author’s writing yanks it back =\

    1. I thought this kind of thing was the common trend of writing when it comes to LNs?

      I don’t know, I suppose I don’t read those sorts of LNs as much. At any rate, I thought it just felt out of place for Log Horizon, especially when the viewpoint character Shiroe is more the cerebral type. (Not to say he can’t find Akatsuki attractive; the issue stems primarily from the more general criticism of the author’s constant repetition.)

      This actually feels kind of jarring given that the whole premise revolved around a game that became larger than life.

      Hmm, the concept behind the world of Log Horizon though is that the laws that govern it are a sort of hybrid of real-world physics and video game mechanics. I found it pretty clever personally, such as this volume’s take on how cooking food works. (i.e. The food has to be prepared in a normal real-life fashion, but rather than actual cooking talent you need to have earned and “leveled up” the game-world cooking abilities in order for the food to have taste.) I’m less familiar with the “world as a game” setup than other readers might be though, so perhaps this sort of thing won’t impress everyone as much. The author certainly tends to ramble on, but the theme of a society being built on game world laws always felt sound.

      1. Yeah the hybridized world is something expected for the genre, not only MMO-reality light novels but also the far older genre of scifi virtual reality fiction — think Tron and the likes.

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