The game is changing, even if the players haven't realized yet.
Title: Log Horizon
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Publisher: Enterbrain (JP), Yen Press (U.S)
Creator: Mamare Touno
Illustrator: Kazuhiro Hara
Translator: Taylor Engel
Original Release Date: November 17, 2015, March 22, 2016
A review copy of volume four provided by Yen Press.
Volumes three and four of the Log Horizon light novel series (corresponding to episodes eleven to twenty-one of the anime) form a two-part story subtitled Game’s End. A highly appropriate title, since this is where the meta-story kicks into high gear (and, if you read the epilogues, this is when the Touno’s family finally finds out that he’s a published author, which goes over amusingly).
To recap: Over a hundred thousand people worldwide play the online game Elder Tales. Right as the latest expansion pack goes online, bam, suddenly all the players are actually in the game! Some things are the same, like the monsters, spells, and locations, but quite a few things are different as well. For one thing, everyone now looks a bit more like themselves than their initial avatars, there are more NPCS (“non-playable characters,” now called “People of the Land”) who are also sentient, and a lot of the game mechanics work differently. One of the biggest plot points so far, quite seriously, has been the discovery that cooking food manually produces much better-tasting food than making it via the in-game menus. That idea, that items can now be created by hand with far greater variety and creativity, turns out to apply even more widely than the gamers (“Adventurers”) have speculated.
Reading these two volumes has made me realize that the anime adaptation really is a very solid one. The anime was a little lackluster visually (I liked the color pallets but it rarely did anything inventive or creative with the presentation) but it really nailed the story. In fact, there were several times as I was reading these two volumes when a short scene I expected was missing; turns out they were anime-original tidbits that were so effortlessly interwoven that I couldn’t tell at all. That’s the sign of a strong adaptation, and I don’t feel compelled to push this version of the story on people and say that they have to check this one out — although I feel like there is a lot of fun in reading or watching Log Horizon twice to see where the foreshadowing starts.
There are a few areas where the light novel has the edge, such as all of the inner monologues. Log Horizon is a little different from similar series, in that it has a large cast and it’s perfectly happy to shift the focus away from main character, Shiroe, to the side characters for entire arcs. The story starts to focus more on Log Horizon’s b-team (b-team of the guild not the story at-large, those folks won’t show up for quite some time) with a return to Minori, Touya, and Serara from previous arcs as well as semi-newcomer Isuzu (she’s mentioned but not by name in the last volume), and total newcomer Rudy, as they go through a training camp to level up and tackle their first dungeon. While I believe I remember Minori having voiced, internal thoughts in the anime I don’t think we got Isuzu’s (or nearby Marielle’s), and surprisingly enough I rather like these overly honest bits. The anime gave a really great sense of who all of the characters were without hearing their thoughts. We find out more about the character’s real world backstories and emotions much earlier here. (I also discovered that the book itself is a huge shipper of all of the major ships. I cannot believe that Touno has said that there are multiple people Shiroe can end up with, since it’s even more obvious here!)
There’s also a very slight shift in how things are described depending on whose viewpoint the story is following. The story is never told in the first person but watch how Shiroe in particular is described. We see him both as a quiet but intelligent young man when it’s the viewpoint of one of the round table leaders, but when the story follows the listless princess Reinesia Shiroe described to be more scheming. In general I think that the light novel is more favorable towards describing Shiroe than the anime. The anime is much more open about the fact that really he’s a fairly quiet, nerdy guy with lots of thoughts and prone to being a shut-in.
Altogether the two books are a solid read. Touno is showing off just how detailed he can make the world-building get if he wants, and despite the sometimes lengthy/detailed infodumps the story is still a rather breezy read. My only complaint about these two volumes is that I think a two page art spread got split up in a weird manner in the fourth volume; however, since I can’t find an example of how the images looked in the Japanese volumes I can’t say for sure that this is an error. Frankly, even if that is an error I still have no qualms recommending that fans of the anime check out the novels, as well and encouraging new folks to try the novel series without even having seen the anime.