Log Horizon 3
By Mamare Touno
A bit of a recap for anyone who hasn't read the last couple of reviews: Log Horizon is the story of what happens when a group of thousands of gamers wake up in the world of their MMO game, in the bodies of their characters. But Mr. Touno doesn't stop there; see, the gamers aren't trapped in a video, they're trapped in a no-shit real world that shares many characteristics and physical laws with the MMO game. What does that mean, you ask? It means the NPCs are real sapient people with their own thoughts, desires, and wills. It means the monsters in the wilderness can act and make their own plans. It means there are consequences for how you treat people even if they aren't players and you cannot take things for granted. Mr. Touno presents these as the themes of this light novel and just like the last two, I enjoyed it.
Shiroe and company got a bit of a shock when the local government of the People of the Land (the self given name for the NPC natives of the world) invite representatives of The Round Table Council to attend a yearly conference. Shiroe attends with a number of representatives of a number of powerful guilds including Crusty the leader of the combat guild DDD (don't look at me like that, I didn't come up with the name). While Crusty was introduced in book 2, it's in book 3 that he becomes a major character in his own right. Mostly because he's able to deal with NPC aristocrats on their own ground without any real problems. While nothing is said about who he was in Japan, I do kinda feel his behavior and ease around the powerful hints he was a child of the upper class. This book also introduces new characters who are NPCs such as the Princess (I'll get to her in the next book) and the Magician Li Gan. Li Gan also goes by the name of the Sage of Miral Lake, as you might guess Shiroe and him hit it off. It's in their conversation that we learn a bit about the sad history of the world and why it is the way it is. Additionally we learn there might be some consequences to death even if you are a player. Every time you die, you lose memories. Not a lot, little things, but it could add up.
Meanwhile the characters whom fans have been known to dub Scrub or Noob Horizon takes center stage in their first real story line. First we have the twins Minori and Tohya, who were both introduced last novel. They had been being held basically captive by a guild who was using kids as sweatshop labor. Shiroe liberated them and the other kids while founding the Round Table Council because he's just that awesome. Minori is the quiet thinker who looks up to Shiroe, while Tohya is more outgoing and carefree and looks up to Naotsugu. I honestly like how Tohya and Naotsugu have this sort of star player/coach relationship going on in the background. It's low key but it's there in how Tohya thinks about things that Naotsugu has said to him as guidelines on how to live. Along with them is Isuzu, a young high schooler turned bard who was also held captive; Raundelhaus, a young man who is an incredibly outrageous sorcerer (this guy could have easily gotten annoying on many levels but Mr. Touno balances the characters mannerisms with his teammates to keep everything under control); and Serara who we met back in book 1. These characters have been tossed together in a training team. This is part of a larger effort to train up the new players who have found themselves trapped in the game-made-reality and brings to home just how organized the government that Shiroe founded is becoming.
How do you train noob adventurers you ask? The same way you do in the game of course, you send them into dungeons to kill things. The Round Table has set up a “summer camp” for the low level kids, to teach them the basics of combat so they can defend themselves and level out of the lower brackets. Which makes sense as a realistic response to the environment they've found themselves in. By leveling the kids (even if it means throwing them into the combat) they're ensuring that the kids can defend themselves in a world literally overrun by monsters. That seems a bit cold but remember, they can't actually die and frankly it's better they learn this sooner rather than later. It's in this story line that Mr. Touno shows that he understands how RPGs and MMOs work, because he graphically shows that without teamwork and communication you won't get very far in a combat zone. Unlike some similar stories, there aren’t going to be lone wolves tearing everything up while all the other characters just gaze admiringly. The kids have to learn to communicate the play styles and strengths of their character classes with each other while working together to cover each other's’ weakness. If they don't they have to run for their lives from very real monsters. If they do, they become greater than the mere sum of their parts. It's a good illustration of how planning and organization are needed to get you anywhere when you operate as a group and it does this without any tiresome sermons or beating the point into the ground.
That leads me to my next point, other characters are given important things to do and lessons to learn. This prevents character fatigue, I don't get tired of Shiroe and company because I'm being switched over to other characters. I don't get annoyed by spending time with Noob Horizon, because I get to see the cool plotting and sneakiness that the adults are up to. Crusty remains interesting without stealing the spotlight from other characters. It's still Shiroe's show to be blunt, but other people get their own acts. Other characters get to do cool and interesting things. If you want to avoid people thinking you're a Mary sue, this is a good tactic to adopt. Another one is that Shiroe doesn't always have the right answer or the best idea. Sometimes he has to listen to other people to get his shit done. That's another good tactic for a writer to use. Additionally, by expanding the cast and splitting them up, Mr. Touno shows that there's more going on in this world than just the little bubble inhabited by the main characters and expands the possible stories he can tell. It's a good move.
That said a lot of this book is simply set up for part 4 and the book ends on a cliffhanger. Remember how I said the NPCs had their own wills, motivations, ideals and desires? That doesn't just apply to the good guys; while the adventurers were holed up in their town freaking out and trying to figure out how they were going to live they weren't out there in the world killing monsters. This gave the monsters time to plan, organize, and prepare. That has consequences that unfortunately won't be explored until book 4. Because of this I'm giving Log Horizon Part 3 a B+, it's a good book but at times feels like only half a full story.
Next week, we leave the eastern shores of Asia and fiction behind and go to hotter, drier places and to history. See you then!