I’ll be honest, When I’m deciding what shows I would consider good, as opposed to a show that I just happen to enjoy, I generally tend to reward more points to a show that has more in-depth writing than one with huge flashy action scenes. That’s not to say that shows with flashy action scenes are bad, or that those shows can’t also have good writing or interesting ideas. I think a lot of the Fate series makes that point well. My point is that a show needs more than two characters trying to beat each other to death in order to be considered good. This is where the debate between Log Horizon and Sword Art Online comes in.
Log Horizon in a lot of ways borrows elements of Sword Art Online’s premise, although at that point it would also be fair to say that Sword Art Online borrows a lot from the .hack franchise’s premise. Both of the show’s start out in familiar situations in their respective first episodes. A male protagonist who plays a lot of video games suddenly gets sucked into a world based on a game he’s playing and can’t get out. However, even though the show’s start in similar places, the show’s both take radically different approaches.
Sword Art Online is quick to focus on Kirito and the people around him, with the first couple of episodes actually remaining quite tragic. Kirito is trapped in a world he can’t escape from with a bunch of people he doesn’t know. Not only that, he is hated by a lot of people for simply having been a beta tester and thereby having a stronger character. A lot of this focus is quickly replaced by a focus on Kirito and gang’s quest to get out of the game. Kirito meets a lot of female companions and the show quickly turns into Kirito’s Not so Happy Harem Time with fighting.
This shift away from unique character development is ultimately what leads to the show’s lackluster finish. Full disclosure, I am not the biggest fan of SAO, if you couldn’t already tell, but even I would admit its strength are indeed strong. The show’s animation is extremely detailed and its musical score is impressive to be sure, but as I said at the beginning, a showy presentation can only do so much for a show’s quality.
Log Horizon, while admittedly losing out on things like animation and musical score, does what Sword Art Online tried and failed to do: write an interesting story and build an interesting world. Log Horizon chooses to focus on its characters in the beginning and stay focused on developing those characters throughout the entire series. Log Horizon’s main character Shiroe, in comparison with Kirito, has a distinct personality (an intelligent, sensible leader who knows how to engage in Diplomacy and work behind the scenes to achieve his goals). Kirito comes off most of the time as a typical shonen protagonist who thinks that he can achieve anything he wants by just believing hard enough.
Log Horizon’s writing also speaks for itself in the way it uses details to build its world from the ground up. It is explained in the first episode that world that the characters are in a world like the one they knew as Elder Tale, but not Elder Tale itself. Many of the world’s rules function the same way as in the game, but some details like the types of monsters in specific locations have changed, and also the way that they travel to other parts of the game (mainly through the transportation gates) no longer works. This hints to us that the world they are now is not necessarily what they think it is.
The show also differs in how the characters feel about the world they are in. While almost all of the characters in Sword Art Online agree that breaking out is the immediate focus, Shiroe takes a much more pragmatic approach. He, of course, is worried about getting back to the real world, but he also feels that there needs to be a sense of order in their new world for the time being. In order to accomplish this goal, Shiroe sets up a council with the leaders of the group’s largest guilds and hammers at a plan to cooperate and keep the people happy. Parts of this plan include trading agreements for different clans, organizing what is effectively a standing army, and also solving the problem of food not tasting like everything.
One criticism that is fairly leveled at the show’s story is the arc during the first part of the show where Shiroe and company go and rescue a little girl from a guild of thieves. Most of this arc does very little in terms of the overall story except for introducing us to two new characters. However, what the show presents in those first few episodes is enough to keep us interested. It explains the basics of combat in an MMORPG setting, as well as explaining the class system, all stuff that while boring to someone who has experience with desktop MMOs like this, is vital to someone who doesn’t. Sword Art Online, meanwhile, does very little in establishing much of anything when it comes to rules in its own world, and often times resorts to Deus ex Machina plot explanations of “Kirito is a beta tester, therefore he is invincible to all damage ever.”
Not every show can be perfect. In Fact, most shows won’t excel at everything. There is always going to be something a show could have improved on and made itself better. Log Horizon, while certainly having its flaws, is unmistakably a much better-written show than Sword Art Online.
What do you guys think? Am I right? Am I wrong? Is Asuna worst girl? Let me know in the comments. Bye for now, Friendos!