Friday, April 15, 2016

Log Horizon II: Knights of Camelot by Mamare Touno

Log Horizon II: Knights of Camelot
by Mamare Touno

Once again I venture into the lands of Japanese light novels! Some of you may remember me being a bit... Singed from No Game No Life (read the review, not the book) so I kinda decided to stick to safe ground and return to Log Horizon. I'm really glad I did though. Because here is where I found a great example of how to write an actually intelligent character. Something which is frankly hard to do I'll admit but I have through mostly accident found the first rule, if you want to write a convincing intelligent character your first best step? Don't write everyone else as an idiot. Mr. Touno has managed to do this quite well.

Let me recap, Log Horizon is the story about a group of people several thousand strong who were playing a massively popular MMO game called Elder Tales when a new expansion was released. The players find themselves trapped in a fantasy world inhabiting bodies that appear to be much like their characters in the game. However the world doesn't map exactly to the game, for example the NPCs behave like real people not video game characters. On the other hand the menu creation system (making items via menus) continues to function, as does the in-game voice chat and so on. Another depressing fact is that food (all of it made via menus) has no taste. Shiroe our main character accepted a job to save a low level player from a Guild in another city that turned into bandits and thugs. He was able to rescue her with the help of an old friend Nyanta. Nyanta is an older gentleman who plays a damage orientated class called Swashbuckler. Nyanta in this book kinda comes across as the guy I would like to be someday. He's patient, kindly, wise unfailing in his support to his friends and able to open up an entire barrel factory worth of kick ass when needed. Nyanta has also discovered something very, very important. How to make food with actual, factual taste and flavor. After months of eating food that tastes of soggy crackers... Well let's say he's a popular fellow and he's earned it.

Shiroe and his crew return to Akiba, the main player city and find that it is swiftly sliding to seed. The big guilds are seizing territory for monster hunting so they can gain resources and power. The small guilds are squabbling among themselves with an attempt to unite having fallen apart under the weight of that disunity. Additionally because there are no laws, while the players are physically safe within the city due to the no combat rule... People just don't work together. Worse some of the shadier guilds have turned predator and recruit the newbies (many of them children or younger teens) to use as slave labor, forcing them to work in sweat shop condition to produce items for sale, or to hunt monsters barely in their level to farm resources. While everyone agrees it's a shit thing to do.... Well there are no laws and no cops so what can you do? The atmosphere has become a grey cloak of despair and apathy as most of the players have let themselves drift into a tired old dream of minimum effort just to get by. I'm going to be honest this part hit me, because I've been there. When you're tired and worn out and nothing you do seems to matter. Those days when it seems all you can do is throw all your effort into treading water and you're just to exhausted to even be angry or upset about it... I'm honestly lucky that I am to stubborn, pig headed and maybe just to damn stupid to give up. It also helps that I have good friends. Speaking of friends Shiroe decides that entire city of Akiba needs him to be that friend and shake it out of it's depression.

The plight of the newbies is brought home to us by the introduction of two other characters. The twins Minori and Tohya, both of them in middle school, who randomly met Shiroe in the game before the change. Shiroe had acted like a mentor to the kids showing them the ropes of playing the game but when the change happened and everything became real... He got distracted and didn't contact him. Neither could the twins bring themselves to contact him and instead fell prey to one of those shady guilds and became slaves in all but name. Mr. Touno does a good job of conveying the despair and bleakness of people who feel trapped with no escape and you might be thinking that this book is a dark, sad experience but you would be mistaken. Because this is the book where Shiroe embraces the idea of civil responsibility and decides he's going to stop fucking around. He's going to pitch in and help build an actual society. Not just any society, but the kind of society he can be proud of. Not just because he can't stand how things are shaking out, not just because people need help, but because he deserves an awesome society and so do his friends. How is he going to do this? By selling food with actual taste.

I'm sure you're scratching your head at that but I'm not going to give away the plan. I'm going to say that Mr. Touno surrounds Shiroe with smart capable people who pitch in with him to carry out an audacious plan that combines out of the box thinking, political and business shenanigans and buckets of balls to free the newbies of Akiba. Ensure that it can never happen again. Reinvigorate the economy and society of the city and get everyone to buy into the idea of government and law. This book becomes a love letter to civil society and Keynesian economics without becoming boring or dry and I LOVE IT for being so. I also love it because Shiroe could easily become a Mary Sue (that is a character who is perfect in every way and every other character exists to show and more often tell us how the Mary Sue is perfect in every way) but instead he's allowed to have faults. To make mistakes and admit them, which allows him to grow. Additionally and this helps a lot if you want to avoid having a Mary Sue... People are allowed to be just as awesome in their own ways as Shiroe. While his plan was amazing, it simply wouldn't have worked without the help of other characters and their own skills and talents that Shiroe lacked. In the end his greatest strength in this book was his ability to get other people to buy in and help him by making his plan a winning one for everyone involved. Well... Everyone involved who wasn't a child enslaving fuckhead but to hell with those guys anyways.

I highly recommend the Log Horizon series to anyone who has interest in Japanese light novels or likes planetary romances. I really enjoyed reading this book and it also gave a bit of a 101 down low on how Keynesian economics works (if no one is buying anything, then the economy goes splat!). That said, there's not a lot of action in this book til the end and that's over pretty quickly. Which means in some ways the book is kinda a prelude to the action to come. I am giving Log Horizon II: Knight of Camelot by Mamare Touno a B+.

Next week, we return to the American Revolution but we take a look at things from the English side! Stay frosty friends.

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