I’ve never been into anime. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not my thing. I mean, I watched Pokémon back in the 90s just like everyone else, and I enjoy anime styled games like Megaman, but the shows have just never caught my interest. Bad translations bother me, bad dubs bother me more, and I’m not interested enough to pick through bad shows to find the good. Besides, most of my TV watching is done while I’m doing something boring on my other monitor. Fortunately, I have friends who watch anime (and play MMOs) who highly recommended Log Horizon to me. They described the plot as, “A bunch of people wake up inside an MMO one day and have to learn to live in the game.” My response was, “Is this another name for Sword Art Online?” I watched exactly one episode of Sword Art Online, and couldn’t stand any more. It seems pretty clear to me that the people who made Sword Art Online have never played an MMORPG, possibly never played an RPG. All I remember is the characters talking about needing to get through all 100 levels (not in the “enough XP to level up to 100” sense, but in the Mario “beat all the levels to win the game” sense) before everyone else did because all of the monsters would be killed and then they wouldn’t be able to get any XP to get strong enough to progress to kill the evil dude who trapped them all in the VR game in the first place. In other words, nothing respawns. What kind of crappy game designer thought that up? “Oh, you bought the game a week after it came out? Sorry, should have gotten it on launch day; the XP’s all gone. Better unsubscribe now.” Also, the whole “if you die in the game and you die in real life” thing is a bit hokey. Especially in a genre where you pretty much expect to die from time to time, especially if you’re the first ones to do a brand new raid.
Log Horizon, by contrast, actually feels like it was written by a veteran MMO gamer, but it makes no assumptions that the viewer is as well. The players suddenly wake up in their favorite MMO, Elder Tale(s), and the show spends the first half of the first season slowly introducing MMO mechanics, as well as how they are different in this new world, such as classes and how they interact (the three main characters are a tank, a DPS, and a support), PKing (the game is apparently all OWPvP), crafting (can you craft stuff you know about in the real world that wasn’t previously an item in the game?), RP (one of the main characters is very serious about being a ninja, and another is very serious about being a cat-person), death and respawning (XP penalties, ew), even what happens to players who play a character who doesn’t look like them (the main character has to ajdust to walking because his character is much taller than he is, and another character turns out to be a girl playing a male character). A large chunk of season two involves players learning a new raid. It introduces these concepts gradually enough that I think a person only marginally aware of MMOs could follow it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s talking down to MMO veterans. It has all the anime trappings, from unrequited love triangles to over-the-top action sequences. The plot as a whole is very well thought out; it’s clear that the author had a plan for the story from the beginning, and has stuck to it consistently across both seasons and (hopefully) beyond. Overall, it’s incredibly well done.
Both seasons are available to watch for free (with ads) on Hulu and Crunchyroll. I’ve been watching the subtitled version (it’s good for the most part, though a lot of spellings change between seasons), and I think a dubbed version is available, but, from what little I’ve seen of it, it’s not very well done, so stick with subbed unless that just really annoys you. My wife and I were hooked after just two episodes, and we binged the whole first season in about four days on our recent vacation, and now we’re almost done with the second season. If you’re an MMO player looking for something to watch, I highly recommend this show!