Face Off: Sword Art Online vs Log Horizon

Ah, SAO. Every time I think I’m out, you drag me back in. I wish I could quit you.

Okay, so, in all those SAO posts I’ve made over the last few months, I would frequently visit other blogs and Youtube reviews to get a sense of just what it was about SAO that made it so hated. At many of these places, I kept reading and hearing the reviewer mention how much better another anime, Log Horizon, tackled the idea of being trapped in an MMO. Without fail, each cited it as a prime example of just why SAO was the worst.

Once I finished covering the various story arcs of SAO, I figured I’d give Log Horizon a go in order to challenge my perspective of SAO as being not as bad as it’s billed. I went in ready to see something amazing. Something like I’d never seen before. Something that changed my opinion of SAO.

What I got was one of the worst anime viewing experiences of my life, and raised a lot of questions in my mind as to how seriously I should take the anime critic community. I never fell asleep watching SAO. I did frequently watching Log Horizon.

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Seriously, I had to rewatch five of the fifty episodes again because I fell asleep while they were on. Anything that puts a viewer to sleep a tenth of the time is not good.

The reason for this is simple. Log Horizon was boring. Like, really, really boring. I didn’t even know anime could be that boring. That Phoenix Wright anime was more thrilling. Hell, that show about people making a dictionary, the one where they talk all the time, was more engaging.

That’s my viewpoint, however, and not an absolute. Here’s what is. Log Horizon is guilty of doing everything SAO haters claim SAO is terrible for. No, it is. There’s no escaping that fact.

Harem cheese? Check. Toothless stakes? Check. Overpowered, bland protagonist? Check. Weak supporting cast? Check. Pointless plot? Check. Call backs to previous events we never actually saw happen? Check. Fan service? Double check.

Seriously. Log Horizon actively does everything SAO is accused of, more blatantly. Yet, it’s hailed, while SAO is panned. Why?

I’ll get to that. For now, let’s take a look at both shows, up close, and see just how they really stack up. Fair warning, this is likely to be a rather lengthy post, as there’s a lot of things critics slam SAO for I want to get into, and how Log Horizon really does do them even worse.

Also, please refrain from jumping in to correct me on something until you finish the whole post. Trust me, it’ll be better that way for both of us.

Let’s start with…

The Protagonists

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In Sword Art Online, the protagonist is Kirito, an unstoppable swordsman who never fails at anything, beats every monster he faces single handedly, yet is despised by everyone for no valid reason. Except the women. Every woman wants him. He’s overpowered to the point he gets a skill nobody else can get, yet is bland and has no personality, with a dull character design we’ve seen a thousand times.

In Log Horizon, the protagonist is Shiroe, an unstoppable mage who never fails at anything, beats every opponent he faces single handedly, yet is despised by everyone for no valid reason. Except the women. Every woman wants him. He’s overpowered to the point he gets a skill nobody else can get, yet is bland and has no personality, with a dull character design we’ve seen a thousand times.

Now, I know those seem like some pretty wildly different characters, with one being a swordsman and the other a mage. If you look closely, however, you’ll see some similarities between them.

You gotta look super close, though, cause they ain’t real obvious.

Of course, I’m poking a bit of fun. They are basically the exact the same character, no matter how you look at it. The only actual difference is the swordsman verses the mage. You could make a case that Shiroe doesn’t beat his opponents single handly, but that’s splitting hairs. Without him, nobody would ever win a single fight they are in, so it is his singular presence that allows any victory at any point in time.

Let me be a bit more specific, however. First, with Kirito.

He’s not unstoppable. He almost dies several times. That’s the opposite of unstoppable. That’s very stoppable. He only ever survives because he never takes on any fight single handed, save one, during the Christmas Event. Every other battle he’s in, he has a lot of backup. Even in the Gleam Eyes fight, Asuna, Klein, and the Army guys were there and did their own share of fighting. Kirito just finished the battle. That’s not single handed.

Of course, I’m just referring the Aincrad arc. In Fairy Dance, he only wins one fight without help. In Gun Gale, he does win several on his own, but they were one on one battles with other players, so that’s not really the same. It is, yeah, but it isn’t. It’s a murky area, at best.

As for why he is despised, that’s because he was a beta tester. In any world, there will be those who are hated for the most superficial of reasons. In Aincrad, that was the beta testers. Kirito gave the new players a face to put to beta testers, and took all their anger and resentment on himself so the others could continue helping the new players in anonymity. He basically allowed himself to be hated for a purpose. After Aincrad, him being disliked never came up again.

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There was also no actual harem in SAO. Kirito committed to Asuna very early on, and has stayed true to that. He’s never wavered form it, and there was no competition between his female friends for who he would end up with. That’s how a harem works in anime, by the by. Various characters compete for the love of a character who remains undecided. Kirito decided by the middle point of the first arc. There was no competition. Just some friends, who liked him, but accepted his decision, and that was that. That’s not a harem.

As for the duel wielding skill, Kirito never wanted it. Akihiko Kayaba, the creator of SAO, forced that, and the role of hero, on Kirito. He never sought it, and never wanted it. He just didn’t want to die. That was Kirito’s only goal until he got involved with Asuna. That was when clearing the game became a priority to him. Before that, he just wanted to stay alive. Akihiko was the one who decided he’d be the hero, for whatever reasons he had. Kirito just did the best he could with it.

His character design is kinda ordinary, but that was on purpose, so I ignore that argument. On the other hand, he’s not so much bland, as he is just quiet. Kirito’s not a flashy person. He doesn’t try to draw attention to himself. Calling him bland is like saying he isn’t enough like a shonen hero, who is all flashy. Except we hate when shonen heroes are flashy. So, ya know, make up your mind.

Besides, Kirito being a bit reserved is kind of a big part of his character. It goes to his backstory. That whole thing where he found out his parents died and he was raised by relatives? Yeah, that. It messed up his view of himself. He was about ten or so when he learned, and went into SAO only four years later, at 14. That’s a rough time for most people, but his background made things worse. He’s quiet, reserved, and shy for a reason. Not just because.

Shiroe, now, is a whole different ballgame.

All through Log Horizon, Shiroe never once loses, except to his battle in the Abyssal Shaft. That’s it. Not just his only loss, but the only time he ever comes close to losing. Even then, it wasn’t so much a loss as a set back. At every turn, he’s already outsmarted every opponent he faces before the fight really begins. The supporting cast devotes giant chunks of episodes to talking about how amazing and smart he is, and how they’d all be lost without him.

No, really. Sometimes they stop in the middle of an actual fight to have either an internal monologue, or a conversation with another character, or both, about how great Shiroe is. It happens at least every other episode, and when it doesn’t, it’s made up for by having a couple episodes in row dedicate time to praising Shiroe.

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As for why he’s despised, I have no actual idea. He gets called the Villain in Glasses a lot, but we are never given a single reason for why he’s called that, or why anyone doesn’t trust him. They just don’t. At best, it’s pawned off as being because he “looks shady”, or because he won’t stand up in front of everyone. Except he does stand up in front of people, all the time. He’s always around the trusted people, yet for some reason, he isn’t trusted. That’s never explained beyond being something for him and others to angst about.

No, it isn’t.

All that needs to be done is for everyone to just admit that Shiroe organized the Round Table, and is instrumental in the success of Akihabara. No one ever does that. Not Crusty, or Mirielle, or anyone. They just let him be treated like crap, because he says it’s okay for everyone to treat him like crap, even though nobody has any reason to treat him like crap, and he never does anything deserving of it. It’s just a thing that happens for no reason, outside creating needless drama.

Unlike in SAO, Log Horizon has a full on harem. Several girls are actively competing for Shioe’s affection. Like, full on competing. There’s Henrietta, the treasurer for Crescent Moon Alliance. There’s Akatsuki, his loyal ninja bodyguard. There’s the central antagonist, Nureha. Then, there’s Minori. Sweet, annoying, little Minori. Who is about 12.

Shiroe is in his early 20’s. Yeah. And people bitch about Leafa.

To be clear, Minori isn’t like Akatsuki, a twenty year old who just looks ten. She’s actually about 12, maybe 13. She’s still in middle school, so at most, 14. And she is actively pursuing Shiroe, and competing against the others to be his girlfriend.

That’s a harem. A full blown harem. It’s got everything a harem’s got. Including the underage girl you know he won’t pick, and the one he obviously will in Akatsuki. It’s a total harem.

Shiroe also possess not one, but two skills nobody else has. World Class Magic, that he just up and does without any training at all, and his Full Control Encounter, which is apparently so totally amazing that it blows the minds of everyone around him. Basically, he’s just really good at orchestrating a raid, but it gets treated like the most amazing thing anyone has ever seen.

How anyone in this game beat a raid without Shiroe is never explained, since his Full Control Encounter is the only reason anyone ever wins a raid, which we only see happen twice anyway, so I’m not even sure what the hell this skill is such a big deal for in the first place.

Oh. Right. Cause Shiroe is the best. End of story. Nobody is better than him.

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As for his character design, it’s pretty ordinary as well. His character, on the other hand, is just dull. He endlessly acts modest, while everyone around him praises him for everything he does. And I do mean every fucking thing. He starts a guild, and people get teary eyed over it. Like, for real, start crying because he started a guild. He gets a party for going to another town and coming back with an obnoxious brat who cries constantly.

But nobody trusts him, except when they all love him. Ugh.

As for why he’s distant, that’s not really explained until well into season two. The first season just writes it off as he always felt alone, even in a crowd, and people always ask him for help. Basically, he’s emo. Season two tries to recast that, but it tries to recast a lot of things, and it only ends up making things more confusing. In a nutshell, his parents were working their asses off to give him a good life, so he was lonely a lot as a kid. While that isn’t an unbelievable background, or even a bad one, it is in conflict with his previously stated backstory, which undermines both versions.

In other words, his background, and why he’s so emo, change according to what the plot needs. It’s one way in season one, and another in season two.

A few last things about the protagonists.

Kirito never joins a guild after what happened with the Midnight Black Cats because he doesn’t want to be responsible for the lives of others. Shiroe never joined a guild because he doesn’t like the politics. Both of these are legit reasons, and I grant that. One is not better, or worse, than the other.

Kirito is aware that the girls who like him, like him. He never does anything to encourage it, but does still treat them as friends, because what else can he do in a such a small, closed community as Aincrad? Shiroe seems utterly oblivious to all the girls chasing after him, except Nureha, and that’s only because she flat out tried to seduce him. He’s the typical oblivious male lead of a harem, and constantly hurts the girls around him with his obliviousness. Because Log Horizon is a harem anime.

Kirito eventually accepts his role as Akihiko Kayaba’s hero in Aincrad, and fights to free everyone, out of a sense of obligation for all they have done for him, their friendship, and their support of his years as a solo player. Shiroe never accepts his position as hero. Ever. He remains in the background, content to be hated for no reason, but the mastermind behind everything. In other words, Kirito grows as a character, Shiroe doesn’t. Kirito accepts his mistakes and tries to change himself. Shiroe never makes any mistakes, not really, and never has to improve himself at all. He starts the series at level 90 for crying out loud, while Kirito started at level 1.

Now, I will say that Shiroe does admit he could be more open with people, but considering this is a lesson he has to learn repeatedly, it doesn’t really count as character growth, so much as it does going in a circle. Every major battle, his inability to communicate causes problems, until he realizes, all on his own, with no help from anyone, that he just needs to boss people around better. Then everything goes perfectly, because Shiroe is actually perfect, and just can’t admit it to himself.

That is not an exaggeration. That is how the show is set up.

For fucks sake, at least Kirito fails sometimes. More than I can say for Shiroe.

So, yes, Shiroe is actually everything that SAO haters hate about Kirito.

The Plot

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I’m going to focus on Aincrad here, as it is the arc that most frequently gets compared to Log Horizon. Just so we’re all clear on that. Everything after Aincrad sucks because it’s SAO. Aincrad sucks because it isn’t Log Horizon. That’s the quick version of why SAO sucks.

Actually, it’s the only reason SAO sucks. I’ll get into that more, later, however.

In SAO, 10,000 players in the first full dive VRMMO become trapped and have to beat all 100 levels of the floating castle of Aincrad. Dying in the game kills you in the real world. Which means they just have to win and everything is fine, cause SAO is weak sauce when it comes to plot.

In Log Horizon, a respectable 30,000 players on the Japan server of MMO Elder Tale suddenly find themselves in the world of the game. The NPC’s are all now real people. In order to survive they have to start a burger stand and overcome everyone having the sads, because it is brilliantly plotted.

What? That’s what happens.

Okay, okay. Log Horizon is actually broken down into lots of mini arcs, so it doesn’t actually have a main plot. Or a plot at all.

Yeah, lemme get into this better.

SAO is a death game that is forced on the players. One of the big criticisms of SAO is that nobody would actually be upset to be taken to their favorite MMO. Except, SAO isn’t anyone’s favorite. It’s a brand new game nobody has ever played. Also, I’m pretty sure nobody really wants to fucking die to be in their favorite MMO. That death part is kinda important. It’s why everybody wants the hell out. Playing an MMO is fun. Dying is not.

Not to mention, getting out may prove impossible. There’s no guarantee enough players will survive to make escape possible. Should that happen, they can do nothing but wait for their real world bodies to die, killing them anyway. There is nothing simple about this. It’s fight and possibly die, or wait and die, all without ever seeing your friends, family, and loved ones again.

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In Log Horizon, nobody ever dies. They respawn back at the Cathedral, which instantly removes any stakes from the world. There is no threat, because nobody can actually die. They respawn and carry on. The second half of the first season foists the possibility of losing memories every time they respawn, but nobody knows if that really happens or not. Until season two, where it not only does happen, but you have to go through some kind of weird vision trip on the Moon, a thing that was never mentioned once in season one.

The reason this cripples the story is because despite nobody being able to die, they try to act as if encounters have stakes. They don’t. The first story arc sees Shiroe, Akatsuki, and their irrelevant panty obsessed idiot sidekick, Naotsugu, going to another town to rescue a young player from another guild. Serara, the girl being held there, isn’t actually in any danger from the guild that’s taken over the other town. They can’t kill her, just send her to the Cathedral. Still, she acts as if she is terrified of death, and constantly warns Shiroe that going against the cartoonishly evil leader of the other guild will get him killed. She whimpers and cries as she hides behind Shiroe, who soothes her weak womanly heart with his brave manliness.

That is what happened.

Later, Minori and her idiot brother Tohya, are held captive by a guild and forced to do their bidding. Forced by what, I don’t know. They can’t actually be hurt. All they had to do was walk out. If the guild members stopped them by violence, they just go to the Cathedral, where they can walk away completely. Nothing is actually holding them there. All their gold has already been taken, so at worse, they will suffer an XP loss, but at their level it would have been very minor. Yet, they need Shiroe to concoct an absurdly elaborate plan for their rescue, which is suppose to be tense, but isn’t. Will they escape the guild hall, or will they be killed?

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Well, if they get killed, then they respawn, so technically they have escaped the guildhall, so I don’t guess it actually matters, now does it?

Which is kind of the problem with Log Horizon. We’re suppose to care about the fate of the characters, but they are never in any kind of danger. Even in raids, the worst thing they face is having to start over. That is not exactly compelling.

Instead, we’re offered other stakes. Like, everyone in Akihabara is sad. So, they make a burger stand, and now everyone is happy. They might have to go to war with the NPC’s, which when you can’t die, isn’t exactly a threat. Seriously, being immortal kind of swings every battle in your favor. When NPC’s die, they stay dead. At that point, numbers don’t matter.

Ah, but who will give them quests so they have something to do?

Uh, NPC’s stopped giving quests the moment they became real people, which is why everyone had the sads and needed a burger stand to cheer them up. Except that later on, we see a group of nobles complaining that adventurers are no longer accepting jobs, by which they mean quests. So, wait… what?

Let me be clear. Trapped in a world where there is no point in doing anything would suck, and be depressing as hell. I agree with that. The food tastes like crap in this world, so good tasting food motivates people to at least grind for cash.

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There’s a bunch of problems with this.

First, let’s say there are 1,000 people in Akihabara. There’s more, but let’s go with 1,000. Out of that 1,000 people, nobody figured out that regular skills work the same as attack and defense skills? Really? How many stupid people are there in this town, cause that’s just basic logic.

Second problem, how do we know NPC’s aren’t giving quests? The players are now in a physical world, and the NPC’s behave like real people, so it is logical to assume that the manner in which quests and rewards are given has changed. Did anybody look into that, or did they just go find an NPC and poke them in the face trying to get a dialogue box? We don’t know, because we never see that. We’re just told NPC’s don’t give quests. Which is directly contradicted later by the nobles, who are pissed that players aren’t accepting quests. It’s a break down in communication that a good 1,000 people couldn’t figure out, even though it just requires basic logic to think it through.

Last problem. 1,000 people, and nobody can think of a single fucking thing to do? Start a new football team, using game skills. Get people excited and joining a team, forming a league, and get people to pay to watch, with the pot going to the winning team. Organize a recon group to explore this new world they are trapped in and report findings on how things have changed back, charging the guilds for this intel. A ton of people would ump at that. Shit, just go grab an empty building, offer a few people jobs as strippers, and charge an entrance fee. You’d be surprised how fast people will make money to see nudity.

Those are all ideas just off the top of my head, and not even all of them, so this post doesn’t go on forever, that over a 1,000 people in Log Horizon couldn’t think of, because they are all too stupid, and need Shiroe to figure out every blessed fucking thing for them. Entertainment, information, and sex. Those are three things that always sell in any world, and anyone can offer, obtain, or trade.

Yes, guys can be hookers and strippers, too. So, yes, sex is something anyone can offer, obtain, or trade. Anyone.

Basically, Log Horizon has no actual stakes. They don’t know how they got stuck in the world of the game, and they don’t really seem terribly interested in finding out. It might have been a spell from inside the game world, or it could have been the moon aliens.

Yes, there are moon aliens. Cause why the fuck not. One of them is walking around in Shiroe’s backup character, Roe 2, who is also a sexy vampire chick with nice boobs, cause why the fuck not?

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Say what you want, but the plot of SAO’s Aincrad arc makes a hell of a lot more sense than Log Horizon. At least there were stakes. Something that motivated the characters to act. Besides people being bummed out, I mean. Death or being sad. Gee, lemme think which is worse. Hmmm.. I dunno. Those are pretty close.

No, dying is worse than being depressed. Cause then your dead.

Now, to be fair, a lot of folks have said that the real plot of Log Horizon is the trapped people figuring out how to live in their new world. Which would be an interesting plot, if they didn’t figure it out immediately and then go on to deal with treaty negotiations, aliens, and the batshit crazy antagonist who slinks around and purrs at Shiroe a lot. A story about actually dealing with living in an MMO world would be interesting, but this isn’t it.

Because the damn thing can’t decide if it’s a game or not. Which brings me to…

The Mechanics

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SAO is a game, but the game isn’t what SAO is about. The mechanics aren’t relevant, because that isn’t the story. The story is Kirito and Asuna. The game is just the frame work. So, no it doesn’t have to be a fully realized and functional game setting. It just needs to be passable.

Actually, the game mechanics of SAO make perfect sense, but that would take a whole other post to get into, so let’s move on.

Log Horizon is also set in a game, but tries to make it as close to a WoW knockoff as possible. Which it fails at. Because once it is no longer a game, but a real physical place the players are trapped, why do they still have HUD’s? The NPC’s are now real people. The players have to learn how to cook, must sleep, and only have an inventory when the plot needs them to, but everything has menu buttons, status bars, and screens.

Basically, Log Horizon can’t decide if it’s players trapped in a game, or players taken to a real world identical to the game. It tries to have it both ways, and fails at either, because again, there are no stakes to anything they do.

SAO never pretended to be about the game, or even a game we would recognize. The complaint against it is based on it not being one we recognize. So, yeah, basically what people are bitching about is that it isn’t WoW the Anime.

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WoW isn’t the only MMO out there. My favorite is DDO, which looks nothing like WoW. It doesn’t even play remotely like WoW. There are different MMO’s that operate differently. Not all of them have to look like the one you might be familiar with, whether because you played it, or because you saw that episode of South Park.

Not to mention, how would a VRMMO actually play? What would it be like? Nobody knows, because that technology doesn’t exist. Log Horizon tries to build on existing technology, by being a WoW knockoff, but then ignores the game aspects for long stretches to focus on Shiroe’s harem, the tragic circumstances of whiny kids who could just walk out of their tragic circumstances any time they want, and political negotiations that have no bearing on anything later on.

SAO may not be realistic, but Log Horizon makes no fucking sense at all, because it keeps changing depending on what ramshackle set of circumstances they want to throw at the characters. It is actively everything that SAO is hated for.

The Secondary Cast

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If I’m going to stick to talking about Aincrad alone, this becomes a problem with SAO. There’s not much of a secondary cast. Asuna is more a second protagonist in the Aincrad arc, which limits us to only a handful of characters. There’s Klein, the girl crazy best friend character, and Egil, the more serious and adult character. There’s Liz and Silica, who only appear in a single episode each. There’s Heathciff, who as we all know is actually Akihiko, the creator of SAO, and Kuradeel, the drooling batshit crazy character of Aincrad. Every SAO arc has to have a drooling batshit character, after all.

Yes, I said that. In Fairy Dance, it was Sugo, who literally drank the tears of Asuna as he laughed manically. In Gun Gale, it was Shinkawa, who collapsed into gibbering lunacy as he tried to kill Sinon. SAO has never been good at complex villains outside of Akihiko himself. Mother’s Roasario featured no villain or antagonist at all, which was probably for the best.

I’m getting ahead of myself here. We’ll come back to antagonists in a minute.

Anyway, there’s not a lot of characters to really explore with the Aincrad arc outside Kirito and Asuna, as they are the only ones who get any real screen time. Which is fine, since the story is about them.

Log Horizon, on the other hand, has a huge and diverse cast of characters, including a number of antagonists that aren’t actually villains, just people with opposing goals. The immediate secondary cast includes Naotsugu, the panty obsessed idiot, Nyanta, the smooth talking older player, Minori, Akatasuki, Tohya, and a bunch of other annoying children, and way too many other characters to effectively go into.

Really, the cast is huge.

This works for and against Log Horizon. In the pro column, it lets us take focus of Shiroe when we need to do something other than admire him. Crusty, the leader of another guild, is a decently crafted and realized character who seems at first to be a standard jackass, but turns out to be very thoughtful and reasonable. In fact, outside panty obsessed idiot Naotsugu, and cat character who doesn’t know how to hold a sword Nyanta, most of the male characters are pretty well crafted. At least, the ones over the age of 16 are. The kids are all obnoxious brats.

The women, however, are very poorly done. Mirelle, the leader of the Crescent Moon Alliance guild, spends most of her time pouting, throwing tantrums, and swooning over Naotsugu, for some reason. In the English dub, they gave her a valley girl accent, which actually fit a little too well. Her treasurer, Henrietta, is one of Shiroes’s harem bunnies, and has a weird obsession with cuddling Akatsuki, as well as dressing her up like a goth loli. It’s one of the shows running gags, and it runs out of steam very quickly, as those two things are about all there is to Henrietta.

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I’ve already mentioned Minori, so I’ll move on to the other whiny brat, Serara, who’s only role in the show is to cry and fantasize about marrying Nyanta. So you know, Nyanata is apparently the oldest person there, over thirty at least, though he frequently refers to himself as an old man. Serara is about twelve, if that old. So, yeah, that whole thing is just weird. While pretty much every romantic subplot in Log Horizon is executed with the awkward fumbling of blind and horny sixteen year old, the Nyanta/Serara one is the most grating.

Then, there’s Lenessia. What a wasted opportunity this character was. A Princess among the former NPC Free Cities of Eastel, she is frequently described as a cowardly and lazy person. Except we never see her being either. In fact, we only ever see her being pretty much the opposite. When she isn’t moon eyeing over Crusty, or hating him. It goes back and forth.

The cast expands later to include a character previously only mentioned, Kanami. I can’t say much about her, but, well, I can bet you can guess how to enter her code.

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She and Shiroe have some kind of history, and she’s basically a super powerful fighter of the Monk class, who jiggles around a lot, and is overly enthusiastic. She really doesn’t have much of a personality beyond that, and possibly being Shiroe’s ex, and maybe the mother of his child. That part wasn’t real clear. Nothing about her character was real clear, though.

Then there’s this guy.

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Yeah. That’s Leonardo. He’s a ninja frog. I don’t even know what else to say at this point. That’s a legit character in this show.

Then there’s Roe 2. That’s Shiroe’s sexy, vampire alt that’s being controlled by an alien from the moon. When in doubt, throw in a female version of the main character, I guess. Beats giving all those kids personalities beyond whiny.

No, I really didn’t like the junior members. Following them on their second season quest was teeth grindingly painful. I kinda kept hoping they’d die, but nobody can die, so all there was to do, was just endure until the show focused back on a character I found less annoying.

Sadly, Akatsuki’s arc was already over at that point, so we never did get back to a less annoying character. Just more of these annoying kids being treated like they mattered.

While Log Horizon has a much larger cast, not all of them get as fleshed out as they need, with the female characters getting the most shortchanged. Frequently given character traits that are just synonymous with Girl, like crying, or being in love, or practicing cooking, they ultimately serve no great purpose in the story, which is always a shame.

Of course, SAO wasn’t a lot better. Outside of Asuna, none of the secondary characters in the Aincrad arc really did anything other than give Kirito some one to talk to. So, yeah, on this front, both shows are kind of a wash.

At least Liz and Silica got more characterization later. Not much, but some.

The Antagonists

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Yeah, I already kinda cheated and talked about the SAO antagonists. Or lack there of. This is really the biggest weakness in SAO, to be honest. Everyone that Kirito faces off with, save Akihiko, is exactly the same, and that same is binky bonker looney toon. There’s no depth to the villains, which makes their defeat kind of empty.

The reason for that is because as nutso as they are, sooner or later, they would have gotten caught anyway. They would have gotten to do more horrible shit, but eventually, they would have gotten caught even if Kirito hadn’t intervened. What gives them stakes is how they affect Kirito.

Kuradeel would have killed him. Sugo would have done much worse to Asuna. Shinkawa would have killed Sinon, after doing worse to her. It’s repetitious, and pretty one note.

I could make an argument about the bad guys in SAO are analogies for real life difficulties we all face, but this is already going on way longer than I intended, so maybe I’ll end up tackling that another day.

Seriously, SAO. I wish I could quit you.

On the Log Horizon side, the antagonists aren’t really antagonists for the most part. There’s Demiquas, who’s laughably over the top as the most stereotypical villain I’ve seen in anime for a while. All screaming about how great he is and how he’ll crush everyone, in a world where that is utterly pointless. After him, though, there’s not really an actual antagonist for a while.

Lord Malves shows up, but is comically inept as a villain, and sent packing with barely a fuss. That’s when Nureha shows up, and oh, look, she’s bug pants crazy.

I’m starting to think loopy doo is the only way we get bad guys in MMO themed fantasy anime.

Image result for log horizon nureha

Nureha continues on as the central antagonist of season two, but she’s being bullied by an even bigger bad, Intics. I have no idea who Intics is, but she’s a total stone cold bitch, because she’s a bad guy and a girl, so it’s either that, or she’s crazy and in love with Shiroe. Because actually having some kind of characterization that isn’t one dimensional would be way too much to ask of a female character.

We also get recurring antagonists in the Genius monsters, which are apparently moon aliens sent to gather mana, thought that whole story arc makes about as much sense of Nureha’s sultry rantings over Shiroe. The only reason I even bring them up is because part way through season two, we are referenced back to earlier events, during which battles with Genius monsters took place. Except they didn’t, and nobody ever mentioned them.

This is relevant, because that was a major bashing point of the Gun Gale arc. Don’t build on something we didn’t see. Which Log Horizon did, in the exact same fashion, with flashbacks and everything. That’s literally the same thing.

Don’t bitch about something one show does if you are going to praise another show that does the exact same fucking thing.

Overall, neither show really ever offers up any antagonist that’s worth a crap. Both go with either the not so bad, really, as Demiques later gets a redemption arc in much the same vein as Akihiko’s from Fairy Dance, or straight up giggling loon. In this regard, they are basically the same show.

Well, Log Horizon does have moon aliens, so I guess that’s different. Stupid, but different.


Image result for log horizon akatsuki

Now, for the most part, I’ve been pointing out how Log Horizon does everything SAO is accused of, only worse. Here, I want to show how the two series are actually radically different. Because, it’s the execution and intent that defines a story.

SAO is a love story. That’s all it is. It isn’t about the mechanics of the game world, or even Akihiko and his death game. It’s not about anything except Kirito and Asuna, who found each other, fell in love, and in that gained the strength they were lacking alone. They have one of the most functional, believable relationships you’ll find anywhere in anime, built on trust and respect for one another.

At it’s core, that’s all SAO is. A love story. That’s why nobody who enjoys it cares about the rest. Because they love that love story. As a love story, SAO is is great, too.


Log Horizon is about something totally different. It’s about accepting the things you can’t change, and doing the best you can to build a life, no matter where you find yourself, or who you are surrounded by. That’s the whole point of Log Horizon, and in that, it is a great show.

Yes, SAO has a lot of flaws. I’ve never denied that. It also has a lot of strengths. As does Log Horizon. Where SAO focuses on the action, Log Horizon focuses on things like economics, social disparity, and the importance of diplomacy and communication to avoid conflict.

Those aren’t the things I disliked about the show, either. Spice & Wolf is one of my favorite animes, and it’s all about economics and trade negotiations. That’s pretty much all Spice & Wolf is about. I loved every minute of it, too.

So, why didn’t I enjoy Log Horizon?

To put it simply, it was the characters. With SAO, I felt a connection to Kirito. When I was his age, I was searching to escape myself in D&D, and ended up finding who I wanted to be, both in the roles I chose, and the ones I was given by a DM, as well as in my interactions with the other players. SAO let me forge a connection with Kirito on that basis, and in him, I saw myself at that age, and could relate to his feelings and experiences.

I never felt that with anyone in Log Horizon. Most of the characters annoyed me, and the few who didn’t, bored me. Akatsuki has a good character arc early in the second season, but they ruin it by having her growth be all about being good enough to be with Shiroe, instead of being good enough to be okay with herself. She gets that second one, too, but her motivation is still about Shiroe primarily, which robs her of her own motivation to just be good with her.

Image result for log horizon akatsuki

The rest of the cast was just never anyone I connected with. I felt nothing for them. I was never concerned for their well being, or invested in their success. There was never anything that made me feel like any of it mattered. Which is ultimately a failure of execution, as with a cast that large, there should have been someone I could invested in.

Instead, we got Tetria, who I wanted to beat with a mallet. Until she stopped moving. Forever.

Which is again, kind of the problem. The characters in Log Horizon bored me, annoyed me, or made me hate them. That’s not what any author, or creative team, should be shooting for.

Yes, yes, I already know. Subjective. I’ll get to it soon enough. Keep your pants on. One other thing first.

The rule of writing, the only rule that really matters, is Show Don’t Tell. This is where Log Horizon really turned me off. It tells constantly, but shows never.

This is why we get the secondary characters having long conversations about how brilliant Shiroe is. It’s telling. It doesn’t show, however, as in order for me to believe Shiroe is really that brilliant, I’d also have to accept that everyone else in Log Horizon is a pants crapping idiot.

Let me give an example. Shiroe purchasing the Guild Building. In the context of the show, this was a power move on his part to force the other Guilds to sit down and talk, rather than just stomping about doing whatever they wanted. If we had actually seen that happening, it’d be easier, but most of the guilds and their leaders are people we meet for the first time when Shiroe reveals what he’s done.

Very quickly, we discover that Crusty is not an idiot. Except, in order for Shiroe to have pulled this off, he’d have to be. Crusty runs what is arguably the largest guild in the city, and is a fairly observant dude. He must have noticed that the guild building was something they could now buy, so that he didn’t do something about that with the massive resources at his disposal makes him a blithering idiot on the simple grounds that it implies he never considered someone else would buy the building and use that to their advantage.

Which is just what Shiroe did. So, in order to accept that Shiroe’s plan worked, we must assume everyone else is utterly incompetent. Had Crusty forged an alliance with Issac, another master of a large guild, they could have beaten Shiroe to the punch while he was off rescuing Serara, and then dictated whatever terms they wanted.

Instead, nobody thought of it, and everyone was shocked that Shiroe had. Because they are all stupid.

Image result for log horizon krusty

Actually, it was written that way so everyone could be amazed at how smart Shiroe was. That’s the only reason it happened that way. So we could be told Shiroe was brilliant, rather than seeing it.

Here’s the easy fix. Shiroe barely gets ownership of the building before Crusty and Issac. They arrive just a moment to late. That’s it. That’s all that had to happen. Now everyone looks less stupid, and Shiroe still gets to be smart, but we see how his plan to gain ownership was something that could be executed faster. No need for the telling at all.

Instead, nobody ever even thought to do what he did, including the merchant guilds, who actually ponied up the money. That they didn’t think to buy the building that housed the only bank in the city is staggeringly hard to buy, when they obviously had the money. The threat of someone gaining control of the bank would have been reason enough to motivate intelligent people to band together.

But then we couldn’t be told how smart Shiroe was.

SAO has the opposite problem. It shows, but rarely tells. Kirito gains a lot of levels from doing quests and grinding, but we are never told how he was so far ahead of other players who had the same quests and grinding options he did. We’re just shown him being more advanced.

This continues all through the series. He was able to duel wield in his fight with the Salamander general during Fairy Dance, even though duel wielding isn’t a skill that’s available in ALO. He was faster and more advanced than everyone in GGO, but may not have even been playing his Aincrad character. So on and so on, and we all know the points.

Image result for Sword Art Online anime

Now, if Show Don’t Tell is the rule, what’s wrong there? Frankly, it shows things that can’t be explained. Show, yeah, but you still gotta do a bit of telling so we understand what it we’re seeing.

On the other hand, don’t spend all your time telling. You gotta show something besides a close up of Shiroe pushing his glasses up as dramatic music plays and he explains exactly how he’s going to win. Let us see him laying the ground work for his smart moves, instead of just revealing them after the fact, and having him explain his plan in detail. Don’t explain everything after the fact. If we know he’s already won, why are we invested? There’s no tension, no expectation, or anything.

Both shows could do with a lot of balancing in this area, to be honest, but for my money, SAO edges out in execution for one simple reason. It doesn’t bore us to death with long winded explanations that are repeated again a bit later by another character. While SAO could do with more telling, it does show enough we can fill in the gaps ourselves if we choose. Log Horizon assumes we’re too stupid to understand, so it just explains everything, every step of the way, but never shows us anything.

That is a difference that, for me, is pretty major.

Subjective, again, but again, I’ll get to that later.


This is SAO.

Image result for Sword Art Online gif

This is Log Horizon.

Image result for log horizon gif

That’s all I can really say about it. In animation terms, SAO kicks Log Horizon’s ass.

Well, honestly, what kills Log Horizon is all the close ups on people pushing their glasses up their nose. It only takes a bit to realize it’s often recycled animation. It’s even more noticeable in season two, when they had a better budget and didn’t need to keep doing it.

Which, yeah, the budget constraints aren’t the stories fault. It’s just the frequency of that glasses push started getting on my nerves. Petty? Yes. But then again, so are most of the complaints against SAO, so fuck it.



SAO has Yuki Kajiura. End of argument.

Log Horizon’s music was done by Yasuharu Takanashi, who also did the music for Fairy Tail, and generally earns fawning praise from me. Yet, there was something about the music in Log Horizon that sounded familiar. As if I’d heard it in another anime.

Pretty sure you don’t want your audience trying to think of another show while watching yours. I’m not sure what happened there, but it was weird, as Takanashi is one of the few composers I’d consider to be able to hold his own with Kajiura. Something was off, but who knows what or why it happened.

Still, for all that Takanashi is a gifted musician, Kajiura really did some amazing work on SAO. So, yeah. I’d buy the soundtrack to SAO, but wouldn’t to Log Horizon.

In Conclusion

Image result for log horizon gif

There’s more I could get into, but this is already an absurdly huge post, even for me, and I figure we’d all like to get back to our lives at some point. So, I’m just gonna offer up that subjective argument now.

Let me start by saying that SAO is not a great anime. Even among the people who love it, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who will say it’s great. Good, yeah, but not great. It has issues, and a lot of them, but it is entertaining, and since it is entertainment, that’s all it has to be. As entertainment, it is also wildly successful, and there’s no arguing that. Debates over whether or not it should be are irrelevant. It is, and that’s that.

Log Horizon is held up as being superior to SAO in every way, even though, as this lengthy post has gone to great pains to explain, it actually isn’t. So, why do people praise it so much?

Because it isn’t SAO. That’s why. That’s all there is to it. If I am to be viciously critical, there is no real reason to hold Log Horizon with any more regard that SAO has, because it is every inch as bad about everything SAO is panned for.

This doesn’t make it bad. It isn’t great, either. Like SAO, it is entertainment, so if you are entertained by it, then it has succeeded.

I was not entertained by it. There’s a lot of reasons for that. The characters, the setting, the plots, and my issues with those are just as fair as anyone’s issues with SAO. It is even completely fair to say that the way people talked about it gave me unrealistic expectations of what it would be like, which could never be met. That’s probably even true.

I wanted to like it. Hell, when I sat down to watch the first episode, I wanted to love it. I want that with every anime I watch. I always want to find the things about any anime that let me love it, even when the show itself is trite, predictable, or just plain dull. With Log Horizon, I never could find anything to latch onto that let me love it. That happens sometimes.

It doesn’t make Log Horizon suck as a show. It just made it a show I didn’t enjoy. That’s all. It doesn’t mean nobody could ever enjoy it unless they were stupid, or had worthless taste in anime. If somebody enjoyed it, that’s great! I’m happy to know that. I didn’t, and there’s no changing that, but it doesn’t affect the worth of the show at all.

It just means I didn’t like it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

There’s also this one other thing to consider. Despite their similarities, the two shows really aren’t even in the same genre. Outside the trapped in an MMO concept, which has only be used maybe four times, and as such, isn’t a genre, they are radically different in intent. SAO falls more into the death game genre, while Log Horizon falls more into the transported to another world genre.

Image result for sword art online asuna

Why are they even really being compared? I don’t know the answer to that, and this post isn’t about comparing them so much as it is addressing the way Log Horizon does everything SAO is hated for. If I were to get into the particulars of the plot, they aren’t enough alike for a comparison.

All I can assume is that the MMO ties are why people seem to think they are comparable. They really aren’t. One focuses on surviving, while the other focuses on economics. Those are pretty radically different, no matter how you cut it.

So, which show is objectively better?

I dunno. Which one did you enjoy the most? That’s the one that’s better. Cause there is no objectivity in being entertained. If you are, then you are. If you aren’t, then you aren’t. Anyone who says one or the other is objectively better is full of shit because they cannot objectively measure another persons enjoyment of entertainment.

Which is what made me want to write this all to begin with. Log Horizon is never reviewed as Log Horizon. It is always reviewed as the anti-SAO. That isn’t even remotely fair to Log Horizon. The show is never allowed to be judged on its own merit, but rather in how it does things different from SAO. AS I’ve gone over, it actually does those same things, just in a very different way. They are still there, often even more blatantly, but that’s never brought up in any of the reviews I looked at. Just how it’s better than SAO.

Removing SAO from the equation, would I have enjoyed Log Horizon more? Probably not. The only reason I even watched all fifty episodes was so I could talk about it for this post. Otherwise, I probably would have dropped it after the third or fourth episode. It just held no appeal to me as a series, with or without SAO existing, and that never changed.

Again, this doesn’t mean Log Horizon is bad, or that it sucks. It just means I didn’t enjoy it. That’s all that means.

Image result for log horizon gif

I did enjoy SAO more, for a lot of reasons, most of which start with what I talked about in regards to feeling a connection to Kirito. As entertainment, SAO was more entertaining, and that’s the real bottom line.

Look, we all love it when an anime turns out to be full of deep thoughts and big ideas. That’s never bad. It doesn’t mean every show has to be that way, though. Sometimes, it really is okay to just be entertained by something. There’s room for both in the world. Hell, there’s room in our own viewing schedules for both.

Now, I know sooner or alter, somebody is gonna stumble on this and decide to explain to me why I really didn’t enjoy Log Horizon. That’s a fact of the internet. So, let me go ahead and help them out.

“You didn’t get how deep and well written it was, cause you’re stupid!”

No, I did get how deep it was suppose to be. It just never came together in a way I found convincing. As a writer, I saw all the ways it took shortcuts to get to the conclusions it wanted. As a published author, I get to say that, and you get to shut the hell up.

“You’re just bashing it because it wasn’t full of mindless action!”

Go back one month and read my review of Haibane Renmei, where I praised the ever loving shit out of it. That show has no action at all. It’s just characters talking. It’s one of my favorite animes ever. Now, shut up and go wipe the foam off your mouth.

“You’re only bashing Log Horizon because it isn’t your perfect precious SAO!”

SAO isn’t perfect. It’s just more entertaining. That’s all. If I were to rank my top twenty favorite animes, SAO wouldn’t be in them. It’s good, but it isn’t great, nor is it perfect, or even my precious. I’m not Gollum, you nitwit.

“It’s not like you could do something better!”

Oh, you sweet child.

My first role playing game was the D&D Basic set when I was ten. I’ve played every version of the game since then, actively, for 34 years now. My first console RPG was Quest For The Rings on the Odyssey 2 back in the early 80’s. Since then, I’ve played a fuck ton of table top RPG’s, console games, computer games, and yes, MMO’s. Basically, I’ve got over thirty years experience with this genre of gaming.

I’m also, once gain, an actual published author. So, yes, if I decided to tackle the trapped in an MMO concept, I could do something better. Something that would have a fully functional game system, well crafted characters, and a plot that actually made sense. That’s the benefit of being me, which admittedly, doesn’t come with a lot of other benefits. Or any, really.

Why don’t I, then? I dunno. Not interested, mostly. If I change my mind, you’ll probably see it here on this blog at some point, or for sale on Amazon. Until then, just assume I’ve actually got better things to work on than proving you wrong.

That should pretty much cover most of the arguments. There’s always variations, such as claiming Log Horizon is art and SAO is mass market, and I don’t appreciate art, but you get the picture at how those are the basic things someone could say. Everything else is just a variation on them.

So, last thing I’m gonna say here about all this. Then you can go back to your tacos.

Image result for sword art online frog legs

Yes, I can see you have tacos. I also noticed you aren’t sharing them with me, but I’m a nice person, so I let that slide.

Not to be a broken record, but enjoyment of a piece of fiction, no matter the medium, is something only you get to decide. Critics can offer their opinions, but it’s important for anyone who who reads or listens to them to know that they are just hearing an opinion. Same goes for me. I’m only offering my opinion. You can take it or leave it as you wish. What I enjoy and what you enjoy may be two completely different things, and that’s fine.

The problem I had with the critics fawning praise of Log Horizon was that it never covered any of the things I brought up in this post, so it gave me an unrealistic expectation of what the show was going to be like. What would have been something I found curious but boring ended up being a massive disappointment. It’s important, even when sharing our opinions, to be honest about the good, and the bad.

There is a lot I can see in Log Horizon that is good. A whole lot. Without characters to get me, personally, invested however, there was no reason for me to care about that good. That’s going to be true of anyone, with any anime. If you can’t feel invested in the characters, you aren’t going to become invested in the story.

No creator of content of any kind can craft characters that everyone can become invested in, either. That’s not possible. So, our opinions of all forms of fiction in every medium will always be subjective. Every critic of anime is offering their subjective view, not an actual critical analysis, and that’s something we all need to bear in mind.

Best thing to do is go watch a show yourself, and form your own opinion. You may leave here and go watch Log Horizon and find it’s one of the best shows you’ve ever seen. That doesn’t make me wrong, or you right, however.

It just means we have different taste. Nothing else.

Let’s try to remember that, yeah?

Image result for sword art online asuna kirito gif


59 thoughts on “Face Off: Sword Art Online vs Log Horizon

  1. I managed exactly two episodes of Log Horizon before I put it on hold because I was bored. I always assumed it was due to my mood at the time and eventually I do intent to actually watch it through. However, from their opening episodes, SAO never bored me and I quite like Kirito as a character so I’ve always enjoyed SAO. By the end of episode 2 of Log Horizon I would probably struggle to even name a character and I certainly didn’t like any of them.
    Thanks for sharing this. It was a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s how I felt after all fifty episodes, so don’t expect it to change much if you return to it. There’s a lot of characters whose names I couldn’t be bothered with learning, and even more I wish I could just forget.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, maybe the issue is it isn’t that SAO or Log Horizon are better or worse (though most people wil continue to compare them). Clearly these two shows are appealing to very different audiences because of their approach to conceputally similar subject matter.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I will begin with I feel that you made several good points that I never consider before.
    I only have a few problems with what you are saying.
    – You seem to be a bit nit picky. I understand that you are trying to prove your point, but sometimes it is just overkill.
    – I feel that when you watched Log Horizon that you either went in with unreasonably high expectations or a desire to hate it.
    – I feel like that not all your points have sound ground to stand on.
    – I also feel like Log Horizon is just not your cup of tea, while SAO is something you enjoy.
    – I feel like you did not look as hard for faults in SAO. For example, I felt that SAO skipped huge portions of time which is my main thing against sword art online.

    I will be completely straight with you now.
    You did raise my opinion of SAO, not because I had many of these false beliefs that you mentioned, but because I was focused on one thing that I did not like which did not allow me to see it good points. Also, you lowered my opinion of Log Horizon, although I still do like it. I still think you were unfairly harsh and missed some of its good points, but I also see several not all (specifically one that I disagree with) of your points that show the faults of it.
    Finally, truth be told, I did not read the whole thing. I mean, you were really nit picky so it was sooooooo long. Sorry about that, but I wanted to defend Log Horizon in the slightest. It is definitely not for everyone, but there is a certain appeal to it, which I think you skipped over. For me, it was the idea of cleverness that I enjoyed. It may not have been completely clear or defined and everything else might not be that good, but there are qualities to it that shine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You would be correct, and I admit it in the last portion of the post, that Log Horizon just wasn’t my cup of tea. It did not appeal, for a wide variety of reasons that have everything to do with my personal taste. Log Horizon isn’t a bad anime, it just wasn’t one I enjoyed. It also isn’t better, or worse, than SAO.

      Speaking of SAO, I’ve covered that shows faults, and was frequently even more harsh on it than I was on Log Horizon in past posts. I didn’t feel the need to retread that ground for my more frequent readers, and as you said, this post did end up being really long. Which wasn’t my intention, but still the way it ended up.

      Here’s the most important thing. Love Log Horizon. Just because I didn’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean you are wrong because you do. Always defend the things you love, and never feel bad for doing it. Even as someone who didn’t enjoy the show, I’ll always say you have every right to enjoy it, and be happy that you do.

      My issue isn’t even with Log Horizon, but the critic community who made it sound like a totally different show than what it was. I really was expecting to have my mind blown, and was excited for it. The more I watched, the more I realized they had not covered this show honestly. That’s what I have a problem with.

      So, I shared my opinion. It’s just my opinion, not an immortal fact. It’s okay to disagree, to have your own opinion, so long as at the end of the day, we respect that we just have differing opinions, and that’s all it is. The fate of anime doesn’t hang in the balance, after all.


  3. Log horizon is made for nerds by nerds, log horizon is all but politics and humans coming together to survive in the new world. SAO is made by a dumb person for the mainstream people. both are different in their own right, but still, as a nerd, I like Log Horizon better. I think I will also do a log horizon vs SAO post. Thanks, and on offense.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No offense taken. As I always say, and even said in this post, enjoy what you enjoy. This is all my opinion, and nothing more. The only difference between me and everyone else who posts reviews praising Log Horizon and bashing SAO is that I admit my opinion is subjective, rather than trying to claim it to be objective.

      Is SAO a great anime? Lord, no. It has a crap ton of problems. None of which makes Log Horizon better, any more than the good points of Log Horizon make SAO worse.

      That said, if you enjoy Log Horizon more, than rock on. I’m glad you do, and I’m happy it brings you joy. It didn’t me. That’s all. It isn’t even about who made them, or why. It’s about having a different opinion, taste, and preferences. Nothing more.

      Though, I will ask, if you are gonna do a Log HOrizon/SAo post, at least be honest when addressing the faults of Log Horizon. No review I saw prepared me for the harem cliches, cause they didn’t mention it. That’s kinda cheap, really.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Uhh… Minori and Atkatsuki actively compete for Shiroe’s affection. That’s a harem, and it’s done in a really cliched manner. With them fighting over getting to feed him. That’s a classic harem cliche. Nureha and Henrietta also vie for his affection. That’s four women all trying to win him. That’s a harem.

          Everything has cliches, too. There’s no such thing as a cliche free story. My problem isn’t with that, or even with Log Horizon, but with the way the faults the show has are routinely ignored in an effort to make it sound better than it really is. That’s the fault of reviewers, not the show.

          Also, I went in expecting amazing. Not a better version of SAO. Just something that was amazing. Because that’s how it was billed by, again, reviewers. It wasn’t, in my opinion, amazing.

          However, I will say that you’ve already offered at least one of the arguments I was expecting, and even listed in the post as one I would hear. That SAO is mass market. The history of SAO tells us straight up that this isn’t the case, but okay. Tell me this, then. Why is that bad?

          Seriously. Why is something have wide appeal bad? If Log Horizon was multi-million dollar global franchise, would that make it bad? Of course not. It would make it the exact same show it is, just more popular.

          Mass market isn’t a negative. It’s a byproduct. Nothing more.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. About SAO, SAO has one of the blankest slate characters in the history of anime(ie. Kirito). Hardcore anime fans don’t like gamification of anime And SAO is a staple of that. Log Horizon doesn’t have a harem in traditional scans. Love triangles in log horizon mostly exist for comedic purpose only. It is not harem in a serious sense, It doesn’t get in the way of its story and it is also not a part of the story. So saying it has harem will be idiotic. Again Log horizon is made for nerds like me, that is why it has a good reputation with skeptics. SAO is made to appeal wider audience that logs the horizon, so skeptics nerds like me don’t like hyped stuff so hence spread hate about the series. SAO is your typical harem/action/adventure anime which people who watch more than 300 anime have seen countless time so critics don’t like to see that stuff again and again. Believe me watch 300 animes and your mind will change drastically(It also depends on what you watch.)

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Wow. Okay.

              Dude. For real. I am a nerd. I’ve been a nerd for forty years. Log Horizon isn’t “for nerds”. It’s just a tv show, exactly the same as SAO. Both are just tv shows. That’s all they are.

              One just happens to be more popular with more people than the other. That’s it. There is no greater meaning to it. Shit happens like that. Doesn’t make it good or bad. Just makes it the way things are.

              Yes, it is a harem. It influences both Minori and Akatsuki’s entire story arcs. Nureha’s entire story arc, as well, and by extension, the entire plot of the second season. You can’t just hand wave that away.

              Kirito and Asuna got married by about half way through the Aincrad arc, or a quarter of the way through the first season. Where’s the harem? Oh, right, it doesn’t exist.

              Does any of that matter? Not even a little. Because, again, they are just tv shows. Neither is high art, and neither is the the worst thing ever. It’s just a tv show. Seriously.

              Why is 300 the magic number here? Or is that just a random number you picked? Doesn’t matter either way. How much anime you watch doesn’t change the quality of any particular show. How much you’ve seen is irrelevant to whether or not you can notice giant plot holes, logic failures, and wild inconsistencies in writing. For example, respawning carries no penalty, then suddenly maybe it does, then suddenly it involves a vision trip on the moon. That’s inconsistent, and how much anime I watch has nothing to do with it.

              If you were half the skeptic you claim, you’d see the issues Log Horizon has for what they are, instead of trying to wave them off by pointing at other things, or questioning my ability to watch a tv show properly.

              For Pete’s sake, man. If you love Log Horizon, go ahead and love it, I’m not trying to stop you. I’m just pointing out where the show is weak or has issues, which nobody else in the critic community apparently has the balls to do.

              Personal view. Log Horizon sucked.

              Personal view. SAO sucked slightly less.

              You want to disagree? Fine. Go for it. I don’t mind. I’m totally okay with you holding a different personal view.

              But that’s what it is. A personal view. Not an absolute truth. Let’s not act like it is.

              Liked by 2 people

  4. Judging a piece of art requires experience, with experience your views slowly change just as your life experiences change you read my post about artistic objectivity here: https://animeindianphilosopher.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/is-art-objective-or-subjective/

    and wait for my review on both SAO and Log Horizon, and yes this 300 magical number is how much anime I have watched probably more. Of corse, I am not good as someone who watched 1000 animes but I know what I am watching and I know how to criticize it. I am known to criticize famous anime. In your post, you don’t bring strong arguments against Log horizon but you try to rant about it that how bad it is because you love SAO and hate people who hate on SAO. I can understand this position but defend what you love doesn’t mean that you criticize a show baselessly. Criticism is not about hating but is about explaining the problems in technical language, I have also done this foolish mistake but no matter. You don’t like log horizon I have no problem with it, but of you hate on it baselessly just like the people who hate on SAO with very good arguments, then I have a problem. In the end all it matters that you enjoy it or not. But if you didn’t enjoy it then at least put together some convincing arguments, please don’t be like those console games,Thanks,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry, but you failed to understand the post. I am of the mind that you did not read all of it.

      First, anime is not art. It’s just television. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Television can be art, but it is not always artistic. Nor does it have to be. Television can also be entertainment, solely for the sake of being entertaining.

      I don’t love SAO. I’ve made numerous posts about the problems SAO has. The purpose of this post isn’t even to defend SAO, or to bash Log Horizon, but to point out where they make similar mistakes. Mistakes that the critic community willingly turns a blind eye to.

      Nor do I hate Log Horizon. I can see why people enjoy it. I didn’t. That doesn’t give me a reason to hate it.

      What I dislike is dishonesty. Based on every review I saw or read of Log Horizon, I expected something wildly different than what I got. Because those reviews were not honest about the shows faults, choosing instead to focus solely on the merits. Faults that, to be brutally honest, are the very same as what they claims to hate SAO for. That’s the purpose of this. To point out where the two shows make the exact same mistakes, and the hypocrisy of the critic community for ignoring that.

      I have spent several posts discussing the flaws of SAO, so I didn’t feel the need to cover them again, in as much detail, for this. That’s all.

      The arguments I offer are only lacking in in your opinion, because you had already chosen to dismiss them before you even started, if for that matter, you even read the entirety of this. Which I now find myself doubting, or you would already know what my conclusions were, which you don’t seem to.

      Also, no, how much you have watched has nothing to do with your ability to gauge anything. Intelligence does. Because I’ve seen hundreds of animes. Way more than 300, I can tell ya that.

      Finally, there is no objectivity in being entertained. Attempting to appreciate art, much less television, or medium of fiction, from an objective stand point is utterly pointless, because you cannot objectively measure entertainment. It isn’t possible. Worse, doing so denies art, and fiction, the very purpose it exists to fulfill.

      Art is suppose to move you. Not be measured in a clinical fashion. That you don’t understand this baffles me.

      Ah, well. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Personally, I say fuck objectivity. I have no need for it. Total waste of time. It can’t tell me what I enjoy, so what good is it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “anime is not art. It’s just television” our argument ends here, If a person doesn’t consider anime as artform then I don’t think I can argue with him. Have you even read my post about artistic objectivity? I never said that art is objective but I can say that if you tell me your history, your phycology, your mentality, and your lifestyle then I can determine by using that information which animes you will like or not. The objectivity is a used to study artistic expression not to enjoy it, Objectivity is used to understand why do you like it in the first place. Anime is art, everything you do is art, you are surrounded by art, so studying art is the greatest thing a person can do, art is an expression of self so it exists everywhere. Your post is also an art and my comment is also an art. This is a very basic thing, television is just a hardware where you view artistic masterpieces. If you don’t know what is art then I don’t think your post has any credibility and I am wasting my time.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Sorry, but no, you can’t judge what I’ll like based on anything about me. Because what I like isn’t based in anything. I can find beauty, or enjoyment, or just entertainment, in almost anything, so it isn’t something you can narrow down with a simple set of preconceived notions.

          That’s called having an open mind. It’s something objectivity can’t give you. Objectivity is the act of closing everything down into quantifiable measurements. Emotions, feelings, being moved, can’t be quantified, and that is what appreciating art is about. Feeling it. Having it speak to you on a purely emotional level, and connecting with it because of that.

          You aren’t appreciating art. You are measuring it.

          And no, not everything is a form of art. That’s just absurd. I’m sorry, I get that you really think that, and in a lot of ways, I can even appreciate it. But it’s a condescending lie designed to make people who think it feel superior to others. It’s bullshit, in other words.

          Not everything is art. Not all anime is art. Art is not everything. When something is artistic, it’s freaking gorgeous, I agree. But not everything is, and that’s as it should be.

          Not everything should be art, or even considered it. That diminishes actual art.It buries it in a sea of noise and nonsense. It undermines the very concept of art.

          I’ve got over forty years of studying actual art, as a creative individual, under my belt. Don’t try to tell me what art is. It’s my damn life. It’s what I do.

          Anime is television, that sometimes gets to be art. It is not art just because it exists. It has to earn the right to be called art.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Now, If we continue to argue what is art and what is not thigs are going to get bloody there might be a third world war. Either way, I am writing about both art and log horizon so check it out. Arguing here won’t take us anywhere and yes television looks like this:

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I’ll happily look at it, but don’t expect me to agree with you, or to change my point of view on this. Art is the one thing I truly cherish, enough I can’t, and won’t let it be dragged down to become something common. Art is never common.

              Though, the link isn’t showing up, so I can’t go see it. WordPress is being a pain today, it seems.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Art is never common. That’s why it’s special, and why it’s art.

      Granted, there in lies a fundamental difference in our point of view. For me, if art is common, then nothing is truly art, because it has no greater meaning or purpose. It is only when a work elevates itself to become art that it stands out, and is special.

      Everything else is just work. It can be good, or entertaining, but it isn’t art.

      Here’s a good example.

      I enjoy Burst Angel. It’s fun, and fairly entertaining. It doesn’t say anything of meaning, but it isn’t a complete waste of time. It’s a work of fiction, that I can watch, and not feel as if my time was totally wasted, on a rare occasion.

      Haibane Renmei, on the other hand, is art. It says a great deal, with intent, meaning, and purpose. It is an eloquent metaphor, executed with brilliance.

      One is good enough popcorn fare, while the other speaks to the viewer on a raw, emotional level. This doesn’t make Burst Angel bad, it just doesn’t make it art, either. It’s a work, but nothing more. Which is fine. I appreciate it for what it is.

      It’ll never be art, though.

      Haibane Renmei, Spice & Wolf, Fruits Basket, Ga-Rei: Zero, El Cazador de la Brujah. These are shows that pass that mark, just to rattle off a few, and become art, because they are about more than just being a piece of work. They have something meaningful to say, and speak to the viewer on that pure, emotional level.

      That’s the difference, in my opinion. Art moves. Work just entertains.

      So, to bring it back around to our original conversation, does this make SAO or Log Horizon art?

      That depends. Did one or the other speak to you on an emotional level? If it did, then it was art. For you.

      Art, and it’s lesser cousin entertainment, can only be judged so by the individual doing the observing. Thus, there can be no accurate objective measure of what is art, any more than there can be of what is entertainment.

      If you, personally, find all anime to be art, that is your subjective opinion, but not an objective fact, because an objective fact is something that must be proven, and you cannot prove the worth of art to anyone who is not moved by it.

      There fore, art is subjective, as is my appreciation of it, and yours as well. Even my measurement of what is art, and what is just work, is purely subjective. Objectivity cannot measure art, because all art is subjective.

      So, as I said, I appreciate your point of view, even as I disagree with it, because of my subjective viewpoint on what makes art. Yours is different, so what you define as art, is also different. That’s literally what being subjective is.

      Once again, I leave you with my conclusion. Fuck objectivity, because it’s a total bullshit waste of time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Define art, and who decides what is art and not. Art is not a measure of quality but art is the imaginative expression of humans, Art is a fundamental property of us human, anyone can create artistic pieces. Are the good or bad is a different matter. Once again objectivity doesn’t decide what is good and what is bad, objectivity is used to study patterns in artistic work and hence used understand the animation, direction, music implementation, worldbuilding and other aspects of artistic expression and how those aspect affect viewer. Artistic objectivity is a science like any other. No one can decide what is good enough to be called because no one has that right, imagine will harry potter, a song of ice and fire, and even animes that you spoke of called art in dark ages, No! because they don’t fit people’s ideology. Art as a measure of quality is a very narrow-minded view, you can say something is an artistic masterpiece but you can’t say it is not art. As long as a work contains sweat and imagination of any human it has right to be called an art.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You just don’t get it.

          Only I get to decide if something moves me, makes me feel, or makes me think. Only I get to decide what is art to me. Nobody else.

          Hopefully, one day, you’ll be able to appreciate both art and entertainment.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Again that is very one way view to look at things. If something moves you that is art for you but if somethings doenst move you but move other that is not an art. God Damm I simply say that every human expression is art, as for something that moves you is masterpiece for you, if something doesnt move you then it is bad example of art for you. You can choose what art is good or not, you cant choose do deny existens of art if it doesnt fit your taste.


            1. Well, yeah. It is a one way view. It’s my singular view, as a singular person. That’s why it’s called a view point.

              And yes, I can choose to deny that something is art. It’s easy. That thing isn’t art. See? Simple.

              Look, this isn’t hard to understand. Art is subjective. What I find to be artistic is not what another person will find artistic. Because art is subjective. If the viewer is removed, art has no meaning, because it is subjective. You can’t objectively define art, because it’s subjective by its very nature.

              That’s how it should be. If we all agreed, then nothing new would need to be created, because we’d all define art the exact same way. Artistic sense would stagnant into a small point of what everyone agreed on.

              So, art is subjective, and determined by the taste of the individual. It’s just that simple. If that means you choose to define everything as art, then that’s just your subjective view point, no different from mine of art being a limited field. It’s all subjective.

              Pretty much everything is subjective, really. Except tacos.

              Now, I know, you are going to continue to try and convince me that you are right, so I’ll make this easy for you.

              You are right. From your point of view. From mine, you aren’t. That’s never going to change. That’s what it is to be an individual, with a subjective point of view.

              That’s all there is to it, and frankly, that’s all there ever will be to it.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. *quietly puts away tacos*

    So I slogged through this incredibly long post (which was really fun to read, so slog isn’t the right word) to meet with a long comment section afterward. Fun times 😛

    Looks like I don’t need to engage you in a super long discussion as someone beat me to the punch. No offense to either of you but that back and forth was hilarious.

    Also I have yet to see Log Horizon. I watched 2 episodes of season 1 before I put it on hold for the current simulcast season like I did with all the anime we bought during the holiday sales. I primarily chose to buy it because the concept sounded neat and it looked really cool from what I saw. A smaller motivation came from the belief that other critics gave me that it’s a better “trapped in a MMO” take than SAO was. After reading this, it looks like I might be disappointed on that front.

    Pretty extensive analysis you did here though, and it seems like it was something that was needed. It’s unfortunate if people were judging Log Horizon not on its own merit but rather as a comparison to SAO (and then, not a fair one at that), but I wouldn’t put it past anyone if that was the case.

    I’ll have to keep some of these things in mind when I do get around to picking Log Horizon back up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As always, I highly recommend watching it, and deciding for yourself what you think of it. I don’t do objective reviews, and have never hidden that, or pretended otherwise.

      And yes, that whole conversation is both hilarious, and somewhat exhausting.

      Now gimme a taco.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That window passed hours ago. I owe you one.

        I don’t have the energy to throw myself into that debate, but I’ll simply say that no one really does objective reviews. People can only review based on what they see or feel instead of cold facts, which removes the basis of objectivity.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You see nations culture change perspective a lot, I born in India which has very deep and long history of art and culture and is a place of extremely tolerant religion Hinduism, well, of course, I am an atheist. But religion does have a huge effect on cultural mindset. Here I am free to think and no one bash on me, Even as an atheist I am Hindu, as atheism has been part of Hindu culture for I don’t know how long. The point is in Indian culture everyone agrees that everything is art and everyone is an artist, living is an art and dying is an art, nature is the greatest artist and everyone thoughts should be respected. There is saying “There in only one goal, but there are many paths to that goal” also “There is only one divine known by many names.” You see my culture doesn’t allow me to say to a person that what they did is not an art, I can say that it is not a good art but rejecting the idea of art is not in my DNA. So I think this debate will not go anywhere because of cultural difference. When my post is done I will let you know. Thanks.


  7. I feel like Serara’s fear of Demiglaze was genuine and justified, given that they, at least to my memory, established that while you don’t die, you do feel pain. And that his intention was to kill her several times until it “broke her”.

    Although the fact that I’m defending that point is weird to me since I only found this post after searching to see if other people found Serara as painfully annoying as I did. Seriously. Urgh. With a brick. (I think only Roundhouse annoyed me more. Because that trope of undue, undeserved confidence/arrogance.. Seriously nothing annoys me more. Awful.)

    Also the point about everyone else being stupid for not thinking to buy the guild building.. I just saw more as everyone else, up until that point, went ahead and assumed all the same buildings you could purchase before were the only ones for sale now. Although given that, it really didn’t make Shiroe seem intelligent, just highlighted the fact that he had the type of personality that would make someone go through and check all the small differences most people just assumed would be the same. Plus Crusty and Isaac had guilds to run, lots of people looking to them for leadership, and all the organizational tasks that entails. Whereas Shiroe kind of had fuck-all else to do.

    So I guess I agree that it didn’t really make Shiroe seem smart for doing it, just for different reasons.

    All in all, I’d agree with a lot of this. SoA’s flaws didn’t stop me from enjoying it, whereas the aspects of LH I enjoyed weren’t enough to make me care all that much for the whole. I found myself -trying- to like it, and not succeeding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The thing with feeling pain is something I could agree on, had they been consistent with it. Kinda like in Re: Zero, where Subaru eventually goes a little nutbar from having to remember dying so many horrible ways.

      But, they weren’t. It came and went as the plot needed it to, like a lot of other things in Log Horizon, so Serara’s simpering just ended up kind of making me want to send her to the Cathedral myself.

      I guess I can see your point about why Crusty and Issac wouldn’t have noticed the guild building being for sale, though. That does make sense. Still, the merchant guilds still have no real excuse, what with that being an incredibly important place, and them being merchants and all.

      Really, the thing that bugged me about it was that nobody seemed to be checking anything. I mean, they just went on acting like it was still the same old game, even though it obviously wasn’t. That kind of thing makes me scratch my head and wonder what the hell is wrong with them, ya know?

      Admittedly, that’s a personal perspective issue. Which is kind of the thing. Log Horizon gets stamped as objectively good all the time, but I, and you, didn’t really enjoy it, so obviously, objectively, it isn’t good.

      It just is, and that’s fine.


  8. I like SAO, yeah, they got all the cool kids stuffs ( no offense ) tons of swords fight? Cute girls? Handsome protag/also op in the first ep protag ? Yes i like it, it is not even a sarcasm that just how it is . Well, i like the series for the animation mostly and not the story, i couldnt even remember any quote he made to be my fav character and also, the story is compelling when im in a state of brainded and just trying to see actions scene .
    That SAO is to my perspective, it is enjoyable, but to some degree it get really frustrating .
    When i watch Log Horizon, i like to see this characters actually looks like theyre in a game LOL, tons of classes it look familliar and the dialogs are heavy . When you say why shirou is made to look bad, well, hes basically got a lots of information and how ruthless his negotiation skills is . Now, i love Log Horizon, but they too, have flaws, it is actually great in the LN but a bit low in anime style whereas, SAO excel in the television but not so much for the LN ( i knows a lots of reader that read LH more than SAO). Well, i would like to write more but its depends on personal fav, when im bored and not into a story mode or rather family movie time i would watch Sao , but when im lonely and in the point watch 2 seasons straight, i would go LH .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s kind of the thing. Which one is “better” is entirely subjective, according to the taste of the viewer. Which is totally fine.

      Mostly, when I wrote this, I was just tired of the comparison, as there really isn’t any. The two shows are too different to really compare them in any meaningful way, that isn’t purely subjective.

      Why people insist on doing so escapes me.


  9. I’m on episode 7 of season 2 and seriously considering dropping Log Horizon. I enjoyed the first half of season one but it started going downhill when the kids’ dungeon stuff came up and only kept getting worse. Season 2 so far seems to be a mix of slice of life and actual game stuff and honestly, I’m so bored.

    I remembered you’d written a post like this so I sought it out to check out what you had to say. And you’ve mentioned a lot of my own issues with Log Horizon here, especially the rather pitiful female presence and unappealing harem.

    I did like the worldbuilding aspect and Shiroe as well. At first at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The world building started off well, but ended up going downhill as soon as the moon aliens showed up. While I wasn’t impressed overly much from the start, the show slowly made me want to kill every single character as it drug on through nonsense plots.

      Even if you drop it, don’t worry. You won’t miss anything important. Or memorable. Or worth wasting time on.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “Seriously, I had to rewatch five of the fifty episodes again because I fell asleep while they were on.”

    TFW you realize that half of the Log Horizon viewership is just trying to make it through the series so they can respond to the other half, which is comprised almost entirely of PR bots operated by a shady Russian social media firm.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I just can’t find a better explanation. Despite frequent missteps, and the glaring issues with Fairy Dance’s female cast, I felt that SAO brought a collection of genuinely good pieces to the table, even if it hadn’t fully figured out how to string them all together and fill in the gaps. That’s more than I can say for many things out there.

        Like you, I found Log Horizon via the comparisons to SAO, and tuned in hoping for a more polished version. The result was total existential shock. I just can’t figure out how so many people see so much in Log Horizon. This post may be my thin tether to sanity.

        Their multi-episode solution to the general malaise that attends being trapped in a virtual world without purpose is to invent conspicuous consumption? I guess on some technical level that counts as socio-political development, but I can’t help but feel that it’s missing something. In fairness, it’s hard to explore the psychological consequences of being trapped in an MMO when people can’t decide whether they fear death or not.

        SAO, by contrast, had a genuinely interesting psychological foundation that shined in its best moments. Somehow, none of the reviews that have written SAO off as hack and slash wish fulfilment even seemed to acknowledge the persistent theme of how moving between various real and virtual worlds changes one’s own reality.

        But beyond that, the mystery that I’ve been trying to unravel for myself is just what made Kirito and Asuna so relatable, as you say. I tend to have very little patience for what seems to count in many shows as character development, but which in practice ends up being watching otherwise competent characters act out generic high school anxieties their authors purchased in bulk from central casting and bolted on to give them “depth.” Somehow, I didn’t even have any issue just watching Kirito and Asuna go fishing. I am curious if you have any further thoughts on SAO’s development of those two and their relationship. For all its faults, SAO is one of the rare shows that I’m actually inclined to watch again, and I’m struggling to put my finger on why, but I think it has to do with the connection between the viewer and those two.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I completely agree. The whole attitude that many of the characters had, not just towards being trapped in this other world, but to their own state of being now that they were there, just left me struggling to understand how any of this could offer any sort of fulfillment to viewers.

          Do they not have loved ones they want to see again? Responsibilities? Any ties to their old life, like for example, children to care for?

          At the very least, the inability to die should pose a few moral quandaries, I would think. Is it morally wrong to stab a guy in an alley, if you know he won’t actually die? How their entire community didn’t collapse within a few days leaves me staggered.

          At the very least, a few orgies should be expected, what with the sudden lack of disease.

          But, no. Burgers. That’s what solves everything. Freaking burgers. The lack of any kind of a grasp on human behavior, mortality, morality, and general consequences made the whole thing feel so pointless.

          It was the perfect set up for that, too. A deep, complex exploration of humans suddenly freed of any sort of moral restraint would have been compelling.

          But, hey, tasty burgers.

          As you said, the contrast with SAO, especially the Aincrad arc, really is night and day. While SAO at times struggles to tie everything together, it at least takes the concepts it puts forward seriously, such as the PK guilds, and the moral questions that arise from their situation. While convoluted, Griselda’s murder by her own husband, and the reasons why, provided a deeper look at the psychological ramifications, in a more honest, complex way, that Log Horizon manages to do anything.

          To my mind, as a writer myself, there is no comparison between these shows. Log Horizon is terrible, while SAO, despite the flaws it does have, is genuinely better.

          Which brings me to Kirito and Asuna, and the reason I think people feel a connection to them. Why we can watch them dick about, going fishing, having lunch, and be invested.

          Because they are well crafted characters, who step beyond just being archetypes, or fulfilling roles in the plot, and become genuine people, we can relate to, and empathize with.

          I’ve said, in a lot of posts on this subject, that the difference really does come down to how well the writer can take the characters beyond just being plot devices, or concepts, and infuse them with a sense of being real. This is a good example of it. Kawahara loves these characters, and it comes across. He believed in them, so it’s easy for us to.

          SAO hits a magic spot. It’s flawed, and has plenty of other logical issues, but the characters and plot are strong enough, we can forgive the weak points, because the author invests enough emotion in the writing, to make it real enough, that those things matter less.

          It’s a great example of how a story can be good, even if it isn’t technically strong. As long as the heart is there. As long as the author loves it, and has enough raw talent to make it come across, the technical aspects become less of an issue.

          That sounded shockingly shonen. Weird.


          1. I definitely think it comes through that Kawahara loves these characters. I’ve been trying to think some more about where that comes through in particular.

            First, there was really very little sign of the sort of anxious internal monologues about ‘does he likes me’ that characterized Akatsuki’s entire arc. The problem, I think, when your central dramatic device is just watching someone build up the courage to stammer out an invitation to the high school prom, is that it kind of trivializes the character. In all other respects a hero, in this one, a high school girl in a show not specifically about high school girls.

            Kirito and Asuna, by contrast, first come to trust each other in these life or death situations, and as soon as is appropriate, make it official. The story then becomes about the things keeping star crossed lovers apart, which is as deep a literary well as could be hoped for. There is the death game they are trapped in, the obligations of their respective guilds, etc, and they struggle against it together. Because, and only because, the Aincrad arc set them up that way, I /almost/ could see the logic of Asuna’s imprisonment in Fairy Dance. The father and daughter setting out to save the mother from the lecherous wizard had a classic fairy tale feel to it, and if executed a little better, and maybe balanced out later with Asuna saving Kirito in a major plot arc way, might have been able to avoid the trap of woman-as-prize that it didn’t, ultimately, manage to avoid. And then there was the constant pining and the tentacle scene which, I really have to believe, came from a network exec with a poorly conceived spreadsheet. I don’t know, I haven’t read the novels, but I’m given to understand, from friends who work in television, that sometimes the network needs a hooker on a cross, and you’ve just gotta smile and find a place in your script to slot it in.

            I don’t think I’ve really gotten to the essence of it, but I’m curious if you know of any examples of Akatsuki’s classic anime style internal anxiety+oblivious lead that really work. It feels like that entire trope carries a severe risk of just introducing a high school crush sub plot that kind of can’t be anything but trivializing, unless perhaps high school relationships /are/ the central drama of the work, in which case I’m probably not watching it. However, I’m not sure if that’s the problem per se, or if it’s just that the rest of the world around her didn’t make enough sense to give her and Shiroe anything to struggle against, or anything else to do if they did admit their feelings. Characterization is something I really struggle with myself, which is why I’m trying to really dissect this.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Honestly, in pretty much every way, you have nailed exactly what makes Kirito and Asuna work. Their relationship was built on mutual trust and respect, between not just two badasses, but between two people who had to grow up and become mature very quickly. That is the cornerstone of their arc, and what makes them one of the best anime couples ever.

              Everything in the Aincrad arc revolves around that, too, so it comes across the way it’s meant to.

              In fairy Dance, from what I’m told by folks who have read the novels, that whole tentacle thing didn’t happen. It was just two dudes who caught her out of her cell, and put her back. There was no weirdness to it. So, yeah, higher ups made that call, and it was, as usual, the wrong one. Mostly because it severely undercut the fact that Asuna, true to her nature, set about rescuing her own damn self.

              Of course, I agree that the implications of the Fairy Dance arc poorly thought out. Granted, kawahara had never intended SAO to continue on past Aincrad, but when people back up to your house with a dumptruck full of money, you make it happen somehow.

              Hell, I would in his shoes.

              Still, the story does end up lacking a moment when Asuna gets to play the hero to Kirito’s damsel, but there’s always more SAO coming, so we may yet get to see that happen. God knows, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Asuna being amazing after Mother’s Rosario.

              Now, here’s the thing with it, though. Asuna did try to save herself, and without her efforts, Kirito would not have been able to reach her. This does still matter, because it avoids the underpinning of the problem with Akatsuki’s entire character.

              Her primary character trait is ‘girl’.

              I’m sure you already know this, but let’s have it said for anyone who comes along and reads this conversation in the future. Asuna’s main traits as a character are intelligence, critical thinking, tactical skill, and combat ability. The same traits Kirito has, which allows them to function as equals.

              Akatsuki’s main trait is the she’s a girl, and wants senpai to notice her. She can be a badass, but that’s never her main role, and she can, in no way, function as Shroe’s equal.

              This is important, because this is the underlying problem with the entire character concept you mentioned. The internal thoughts focusing on ‘does he like me’. She can’t function as a character separate from him, because her only character trait is to be about him.

              Big difference between the two.

              Again, I’m sure you already know that, but I wanted it stated clearly before I say what I’m going to next. Mostly for the ones who come along later and whine that I missed something or the other.

              I have never seen a character used in this manner be successful. Not once. I spent all day thinking about it, too, before I answered this, just in case something came to me, but nope. I got nothin.

              Because it absolutely does trivialize the female character. It renders her a plot device, and nothing more, by making her primary character trait, ‘girl’, and nothing more.

              Characterization is tricky. I admit that, and I even have come to expect shortcuts be taken in most forms of fiction. It’s hard to build a solid character, that is neither OP, or empty, in some way or the other.

              For my own nvoel, War Witch, I spent fifteen years trying to figure out who one of the two leads kept annoying me so much I wanted to kill them off as soon as possible. It wasn’t just me, either. Nobody who read my early drafts liked that character, and everyone agreed on one reason why.

              She was a selfish little entitled ass.

              Took me a long time to figure out how to address that, without completely changing the character, her arc, and how she affects the overarching plot.

              Cause characters are hard. There’s no trick to it, either. It’s just trial and error, figuring out how to make them seem like normal humans (or Elves, or aliens, or whatever) while still having them function in tandem with the plot, and other characters, the way intended.

              So, yeah, I kind of expect anime writers to lean into the established stereotypes and cliches a lot. I don’t like it, but I get why they do it. It’s easier to meet the deadlines.

              Still, the type of cliche that is used in regards to Akatsuki has become a little too common, and well worn. She should have been a great character, and would have been, if not for her pointless fascination with Shiroe. Loyalty doesn’t mean slavish devotion, and love doesn’t mean idolatry.

              Frankly, I blame the author in this. He obviously wasn’t as skilled as he thought, as he took an interesting concept, and characters with a lot of potential, and wasted all of it, by falling back on cliches and stereotypes.

              Which, as I said, I’ve never seen work.

              I kinda ended up rambling on there, and now I don’t know if I actually addressed your thoughts properly.

              It has been a really long week. Sorry about that.


  11. Not at all. Thank you. That was the response I was hoping for. Between your confirmation and a couple other conversations I’ve since had on the topic, it seems to me that the whole structure of the inner crush anxiety and self doubt monologue is simply not an adequate foundation for a romance arc. For my part, I can perhaps think of otherwise good stories that suffer from a bad romance plot, but I cannot think of a single instance where I felt that particular device improved the story it was in. Conversely, the best examples of satisfying romance arcs seemed more or less devoid of its use. That is an important thing for me to realize, I think, because while I never found such arcs satisfying, I had misattributed it to a blanket dislike of romance arcs /in general/, with the occasional one that slipped by and struck me as well done for reasons that I could never explain. Although I would hesitate to say a that literary device should /never/ be used, at the very least it should come with a ‘keep out of reach of children’ warning label.

    As for Fairy Dance and Asuna’s future, I have infinite forgiveness for art produced on a deadline after having been on a weekly schedule at one point. That said, I’m almost glad FD failed in the way it did, because the fact that, for all the faults of the damsel trope, I was /almost/ able to let it slide showed me something else. When I saw Asuna getting Princess Leia’d in the golden cage, I, with most of the SAO hater crowd out there, assumed that the logic of Asuna’s character had been thrown out and replaced with a generic damsel. However, because it was Asuna, and because of Asuna and Kirito’s previous history, if they had just dropped the sexual assault and the ‘save me kiritobi wan kenobi’s,’ I feel like they might have been able to redeem the damsel plot itself, which I wasn’t even aware was a thing you could do. If Asuna was in a shitty situation, of course Kirito would save her, and there’s no reason Asuna can’t get into a shitty situation. You would just want to know that you could trust Kawahara to keep the real Asuna alive in there, and let her have her day in the sun, even if it was in a later arc, which, as you point out, may yet happen (in which case I think I could overlook the out of character damseling in FD and blame it on the network). If Kirito were to get trapped somewhere, I have 0 problem visualizing how Asuna and Yui going to save him would look, and I hope they get their chance. My fear, essentially, was/is that the Aincrad Asuna had just disappeared and in her place we had received a succubus that does nothing but pine and cast healing spells. I agree that those moments in Mother’s Rosario were a cause for hope, and I feel like a little careful thought about why she decided to be a healer that connect it back to the character we know her to be from Aincrad, along with some chances to be that character again, could yet make it all turn out ok, or even more interesting if they can create convincing character evolution.

    I think you put it well in saying that the difference between Asuna and Akatsuki is that Akatsuki is simply not her own complete character. Shiroe is the implicit presence in every scene with her, even when they are not in the same place, because all she does is think about what Shiroe is doing right now. In some important sense, I think that when you invoke that inner monologue, you are sacrificing the independence of the character. I think part of that may be the position of power it puts the male lead in. Akatsuki wants Shiroe, and Shiroe holds the power to reject her. Shiroe himself doesn’t have to do anything to earn that. That just can’t be a relationship of equals.

    I’m looking forward to the next SAO. I do hope you write something about it. I expect I’ll be thinking about this series for a long time, and somehow, bizarrely, the rest of the internet seems not to be able to do it justice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get it. I feel the same way about the harem cliche. I’ve seen one or two that were okay, but in general, that is a thing that almost never ends up working. For a long time, I just hated harem comedy, but as I said, there were one or two that were well done enough, it made me re-evaluate, and see that it was just crappy writing.

      Which is the real problem. Any cliche can be used well, if the writer is capable. In the hands of someone who is either just in it for the money, or isn’t very good, it always goes south quick. A lot of the time, it just comes down to how well the writer frames and executes things.

      Also, I do agree on Asuna. I’d like to see her save Kirito at some point, though, in a lot of ways, she saves him every day. I think that was a lot of what Gun Gale was trying to say, though it didn’t really pull it off well. Kirito is haunted by the things he had to do in Aincrad, and Asuna’s love is about the only thing he has to hang on to to keep him from collapsing completely.

      It’s not the same, but there is still deep meaning in that. Regardless, I’d like to see her kick a little ass and for Kirito to be the damsel for a change. Just cause.

      I think you nailed it with Akatsuki, as well. That’s exactly what it is. Beautifully put. She has lost an important element of being a character, by simply existing as an extension of Shiroe.

      I do plan to review any and all new SAO that arrives. I was stoked for the movie, and did review that some time after it came out, cause I had to wait for it to get subbed. I think that was why. I forget now. The last two years have been kind of hellish, so I may have just forgotten about it for a while.

      There is one last thing I do want to say about all this, though. In regards to why SAO gets treated the way it does. It has nothing to do with SAO itself. It has to do with the mentality of reviewers.

      Basically, it goes like this. Anime reviewers aren’t actually critics. Being a critic requires a lot of understanding of writing, film, and a ton of other things. Anime reviewers are, generally, just people, like you and me, who love anime, and love talking about it.

      So, they do, and they end up becoming popular on their website, or video channel, or whatever. They get a lot of followers, and then promptly fail at two very specific things.

      The first is sometimes called the Nielsen Effect. It comes from when the Neilsen ratings were gathered by way of an actual piece of hardware, that was attached to select families televisions. Once they had the responsibility of saying what America got to watch, they suddenly felt they had an obligation to watch more intelligent and sophisticated programming.

      I mention this because I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. If you have, please excuse me giving you knowledge you already own.

      Anyway, point being, when an anime reviewer suddenly finds themselves becoming popular, they suddenly feel the need to do the same. SAO is an unfortunate casualty in this, as it has been deemed ‘dumb’ by these reviewers, so they can hold up more intelligent and sophisticated shows as good. Since there is nothing really exactly like SAO out there, Log Horizon gets held up as better, simply by default. It had nothing to do with the quality of either show.

      Basically, liking SAO was deemed to be in poor taste by the reviewer community, because SAO wasn’t ‘brainy’ enough. Thus, Log Horizon must be more intellectual, to justify the view of SAO.

      Because the second thing they have failed at is to understand what a critic actually does. Critics don’t criticize. They critique. There’s a huge difference there. One is just focusing on the negatives. The other focuses on both the good and the bad, to give a balanced view.

      Since they are not actually critics, they can only offer opinions, and often, uninformed ones, which leads their many followers to sharing it, and never bothering to actually look at something objectively themselves.

      So, the dislike for SAO isn’t even the shows fault, or even the review communities. It’s just a perfect storm of weird events coming together the right way.

      Kind of sucks, but what are you gonna do?


      1. Have productive conversations about literary merit inspired by dissatisfaction with said critics, apparently.

        I think I went through all your SAO posts, albeit speedily, after my encounter with the Log Horizon blogosphere just to reassure myself that I had watched the right show. That said, part of the reason I’ve been watching these shows in the first place has been to practice my Japanese, for which I am currently going much more slowly through SAO, transcript in hand. I expect, therefore, I’ll be spending a lot more time with the show in the future, and I’ll have to check back in on second viewing to see if any of those posts provoke further topics for thought & discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

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