Friday, July 22, 2016

Log Horizon IV by Mamare Touno

Log Horizon IV
by Mamare Touno

So imagine you play an MMO, a very popular one. Imagine you woke one day and found yourself in the body of your character and in the world of the game. You're lost and alone in a strange world, most likely surrounded by strangers. Fighting is actually painful and scary now, not to mention now the monsters aren't pictures on a screen but in your face with real-live maiming action! How interested would you be in doing game quests which involve a lot of combat? What if there were consequences for not throwing yourself into the meat grinder; really bad ones? What if the game world acted like a real world; complete with sapient NPCs, with their own motivations, desires and plans? What if, when the monsters come out and you don't fight them. real people--men, women and children--are going to suffer and die; what do you do then?

Volume 3 ended with an army of thousands of goblins pouring out the mountains to fight, kill and plunder under the lead of a new Goblin King. This happens right when our new government of the town of Akiba (the town where most of the characters make their main base along with 15,000 other players) are in the middle of sensitive negotiations with the local powers that be in the League of Free Cities. The League is a Confederation of noble fiefdoms where the the various nobles have agreed to support each other and not fight. They're not very organized however, having to set everything up by ad hoc committee. I'll admit to being somewhat snobby about this, but I suppose this is what happens when you don't have a clearly defined leader or hierarchy. What I mean by that is that the rank-structure of the League of Free Cities seems fairly flat. Each noble is almost completely independent of the others, meaning that you kind of have to treat the Baron next door as an equal even if you're a Duke. It's not like there's anyone to appeal to if he rounds up an army to force the issue after all. Having the adventurers show up and start acting like actual people and organizing into a city state is upsetting a lot of this, as now they have to figure out how to treat them and the Goblin invasion is forcing the issue.

In the middle of this is Shiroe, who really wants to help fight off the Goblin Army but also has to keep an eye to the future. If he folds to easily then he might find himself stuck in a situation where the League views the adventurers as their own private army of super humans and acts accordingly which could cause conflict or even open warfare as the adventurers are not going to consent to that. On the flip side, take to long to help and thousands of people could die and that's going to stain and mar the relationship between the two power blocks. Meanwhile the nobles need the adventurers to bring the pain but can't let themselves be held in a position of weakness. They're already militarily weaker than the adventurers on pretty much every level and so feel that politically they need every advantage they can get. This is where I want to talk about a certain princess...

Princess Reinesia was introduced last-volume but didn't really impact the story until this book. I would like to take a moment to point out this is a great method of bringing characters into a story. Princess Reinesia was introduced as the daughter of a Duke, one of the more powerful nobles in the League. In volume 3, we saw Crusty form a relationship with her based on mutual desire to get out of socializing and work. So instead of the princess coming in out of nowhere, we already know this character and have a good idea of what she wants and who she is. Who she is, well she's what you might call a natural born NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) which is a term that came to describe a number of young folks after the recession hit and they graduated college and found no work waiting for them (there's also a population of them in Japan for separate but comparable reasons). Princess Reinesia is ,frankly, lazy, aimless and rather adrift. She dislikes associating with the young men of her class because they do nothing but shower her with compliments and empty gestures. She dislikes the young women of her class for much the same reasons. She doesn't have the drive or temperament to be a rebel so she just kinda mopes and hopes to be left alone to be lazy. I actually found myself somewhat sympathetic to her (on the flip side I am the guy who arranged his class schedule in the pursuit of having at least one day a week where I didn't have to put on pants but could just chill at home). However, when the Goblin army comes roaring down from the mountains she doesn't mope about the possible lost of her lifestyle; she worries about all the people in their path and tries to do what she can to help. She decides what she can do is cut the Gordian Knot of  relations between the adventurers and the nobles of the League, and she does it pretty decisively even if the whole time she's trembling in fear that she's going to puke in front of everyone (also something I can sympathize with).

We also got Scrub/Noobhorizon's doing front line combat with the Goblin Horde. I actually enjoyed this part of the story the most. It's a group of scrappy, willing kids who have just finished their training putting it to use to defend a town of innocent people against ye olde horde. The fight scenes are good and there's a real understanding of how to turn game mechanics into something that works for you instead of against you. I also really enjoy the kids team dynamic, it's different enough from the adults to feel fresh and new but is still a team full of good people who care and like each other. There are rough corners to their friendship, mainly because it's so new that it still squeaks if you handle it wrong. A good part of the drama here comes from Rudy, who’s a sorcerer with a secret. That secret means that bluntly Rudy doesn't belong on the battlefield and is the worse equipped person to be on the field. I can't say why because of spoilers but what I can say is that the very laws of the world are telling Rudy to stay home, sit down, and let someone else do the fighting and Rudy is telling the very physical laws of his universe to go to hell. Rudy is trying to swim uphill but he's doing so with all his heart so you can't help but cheer for the guy. The fact that he's willing to throw himself out in front to help and protect people doesn't hurt either. I'll be honest part of me likes a guy who when told “you can't do this” says “fuck you I'll do it twice as good as you thought I could.”

That said there are parts of the book that get a bit dry, mostly those told from Shiroe's view. I'm also disappointed in how Mr. Touno tells us things that are happening off screen in the blandest way possible at times, and his pulling back at the last moment from following the war all the way to the end. The end of this story has a lot of tell instead of show, which is something I hope Mr. Touno doesn't get into the habit of. Still, it's a fun story and one I enjoyed. Because of that Log Horizon 4 by Mamare Touno gets a B+. Next time, I think I should do a fantasy novel, don't you? Let's go somewhere new shall we?

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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