Friday, November 20, 2015

Log Horizon I by Mamare Touno

Log Horizon I
By Mamare Touno

Let me start by explaining just what a light novel is. Light novels are in a way an evolution of the pulp market in Japan (it truly fascinates me how close and how different Japanese and American culture gets at times). Like in the United States, a lot of fantasy and science fiction started as stories told in series in cheap magazines (the name comes from the fact that they were printed on cheap wood pulp paper to hold down costs). In the US the most successful pulp magazines (such as Ace, Dell and Avon for example) transitioned over to printing paperback novels. In Japan around the 1970s, the pulp magazines started taking up a more anime style (adding anime illustrations in the front and end of every chapter on featured stories) over time more illustrations were added. Cue the internet and legions of writers slapping up their fiction (be it fan fiction or otherwise) for public reading and well!
Today light novels are huge business in Japan. They're short, about 40 to 50,000 words long, usually very focused on teenagers, have dense publishing schedules and are often long sprawling series. Japanese publishing companies spare no expense hunting down the newest talent, holding contests that span the country (the largest had 6,500 submissions in 2013), the winner gets a cash prize and their novel published usually. Alot of light novels are quickly adapted to other formats as well, becoming animes (Sword Art Online started as a light novel for example, so did Spice and Wolf!), manga and live actions films. It's a big business, with the light novel industry clearing over 30 billion Yen in 2009. In a lot of ways they're the Young Adult novels of Japan. Unfortunately their also compariable in quality (Wizard, Furkio, Jason please stop screaming it'll be okay) in a lot of ways.

Log Horizon is a light novel that started on the internet. Written by a young man who goes by Mamare Touno, a native of Tokyo (listing the Bokutou Shitamachi area actually), he started writing Log Horizon in April of 2010, and it was picked up for publishing in 2011. Since then the novels have been translated into English, there have been 4 manga series and 2 seasons of an anime. Which is where I come in. I first ran into Log Horizon after telling a buddy how dissatisfied I was with Sword Art Online (my little brother likes it for good reasons, I dislike it for better reasons of course) while liking the idea of it. He suggested I try Log Horizon, which had just been released on Crunchy-roll (an streaming website where you can watch animes for free!). He told me the anime was alright but the novel was better (as anyone ever said the movie/television series was better then the novel?). After watching 4 episodes... Well I thought the anime was pretty damn good, so I really wanted to find this novel. Wondering around Barnes and Nobles on Veteran's Day trying to walk off a free burger and having a pocket full of birthday money (look I have a job, but other people's money just spends soooo much nicer) I spotted Log Horizon Volume I and I dived on it like a Martyr on a grenade. So let's babble about the story here.

Log Horizon is the story about a very large group (tens of thousands) of Japanese gamers who found themselves taken from Earth to the world of Elder Tale, which on Earth happens to be the most popular, longest running, badass Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game around. One moment they were playing the game, the next moment they were standing there in the bodies of their game characters. Our main character is Shiroe, a grad student who is really good at breaking down and solving problems. He plays an enchanter, a magical support class, with good buffs and debuffs, but otherwise crap combat abilities. Despite this he's well known for his strategic abilities and while he likes people, his inability to really get them tends to led to him keeping most people at arms length. Part of the problem for Shiroe is he's never sure if anyone who approaches him in the game is doing so out of friendship or just wants to get access to his knowledge and skills. Because of this he's a bit stand offish and because he's stand offish people tend to stay away from him... Unless they've decided they can get something from him. Causing a bit of a feed back loop honestly.

The novel is told from his point of view has he grapples with his situation and it's implications and starts to ask... Just what the hell are we suppose to do here? How are we going to deal with each other? This is important as everyone has the skills and abilities of their game character... And game mechanics have transferred over to the extent that our players can't die! So you have tens of thousands of people with a huge ability for violence and they incapable of dying. What exactly do you do in this situation? There are also the more personal questions, like who can I trust? What am I going to do? What role am I going to play here? Shiroe spends the book trying to figure out just where it is he fits into in this new world and what he is suppose to do in it. Of course he's not the only one doing this.

His two closest companions are Naotsugu and Akatsuki who are two very different people. Naotsugu is one of his oldest buddies in the game. We all know someone like Naotsugu I think. A generally good guy, who fairly dependable and rock steady. As a reflection of this, he plays a tank class by the name of Guardian. Guardians are melee fighters with decent offensive attacks, but they really shine using their defensive stats and abilities. He's cheerful in the face of danger and despair and covers his discomfort with jokes. In Naotsugu's case he uses dirty humor. Often joking about woman's underwear (I honestly begin to wonder about this insistence in anime that having a panties fetish is normal) as a way to shrug off discomfort. Some might insist that Naotsugu is honestly a lech but given his behavior with real women... I don't see it. In any case, he's not a creeper or anything in my view. Just a guy who perhaps uses dirty jokes a bit to often when he's feeling off balance and let's be fair, being dropped into a completely different world in a different body will leave anyone uncomfortable. Course if you want uncomfortable, you have to look at Akatsuki. Akatsuki is a girl whose character was male. This is actually a thing called cross gaming and is actually considered fairly normal as far as I know. That said it's more typical for a guy to cross game as a female character, although I'm told a number of ladies cross-game to avoid harassment. Which I find kinda sad honestly. My position is everyone should be able to play the games they like without people bothering them or worse because of their race, gender... Or anything else really. I mean striking back against a greifer is okay, but constantly bugging a girl for topless pics is not. Sorry, let me get back to the review. Akatsuki played as a male assassin who was about a foot or so taller then her in real life. I got the sense from the book that the height was the important thing here. Akatsuki is often treated by people who don't know her very well as a child, because of her height mostly, but also because of her gender and her looks. She's a very pretty girl, but pretty in a young looking way. As a result for her life is a struggle for someone to take her seriously! Which is also a problem I'm told many women in games have (I say I am told because honestly guys, I'm not a woman and I'm not going to claim I know what it's like to be one). Now assassins aren't just a stealth class, they're also a hardcore damage class. Akatsuki is the biggest damage dealer of the 3 of our main characters, which means frankly anyone who doesn't take her seriously in a fight... Well dies. Lucky for them, this is a world where if an adventurer dies, they just wake up in a temple, but dying still hurts like a bitch.

We actually meet Akatsuki in the book as she goes hunting for and finds Shiroe. See, she woke up trapped in a man's body that was taller and heavier then the one she was born with and it was causing her no small amount of problems. She remembered that Shiroe had a potion that would allow a player to change the appearance and gender of their character, hence her urgent need to find him. While Shiroe is happy to give her the potion, she feels that she can't let this pass without repayment. So she swears to serve Shiroe as his faithful ninja. Which brings us to the final trait of her's I want to address. Akatsuki is a role player, that is someone who is playing a character in the game separate from themselves in real life. To boil it down further, she was pretending that she wasn't playing a game. The fact that she keeps at it, by declaring Shiroe her liege and herself as his ninja suggests this is a bit of coping mechanism on her part.

We also meet some close allies of Shiroe's the Crescent Moon Guild. The Crescent Moon Guild is a mid-sized and mid-leveled support guild. Not focused on anyone thing but on supporting it's members. It's leader Marielle and her XO Henrietta are two capable women who find themselves looking after about 20 people who are not only much lower level then they and Shiroe are (Mari, Henrietta, Shiroe, Noatsugo and Akatsuki had all been at the level cap of 90 before signing on to play the new expansion, most of the players aren't that high) but having to do so in a very stressful and chaotic environment. The plot begins to take off when Shiroe steps forward to help rescue a member of the guild who is trapped in another city which being taken over by a guild of people who have... Well gone bad frankly. I won't go to much into it because frankly you should read it yourself.

Log Horizon present a story that when you boil it down is over a 100 years old, what if a person or group of people were transported from our world into a new world that operated under different physical and social rules? What would they do? What kind of people would they become. Added into this is the mystery of just what kind of world have they been transported into? Are they in the game? In a world that just resembles the game? Or was the game just a window into this world? Frankly it's a more mature telling of this kind of thing then works like Sword Art Online and isn't afraid to look at diverse issues from social order, to politics, to the sheer slow effect of having nothing to eat that doesn't taste like wet rice crackers and how that tears away at your ability to get up in the morning and get to living. As you might have gathered, I like Log Horizon a lot and I like Shiroe a great deal. For all the shit he gets he's constantly willing to bend his talents and efforts to just help people in any way he can and that counts for a lot with me. Log Horizon volume I gets a B from me. The plot just isn't quiet there to get it pass that level but frankly it's got nothing to be embarrassed about. I would recommend it anyone.

Next week, we leap back into Nonfiction when I review Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz,

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