By Long Shot Contributor Brett Bennett:
I recently had the pleasure to watch the anime series called Sword Art Online. I had recalled seeing it pop up on the suggestions from my Netflix and Hulu accounts for some time and it has been on my “possibly cool, maybe I will watch that” list until one rather less-than-productive Saturday came along on which I decided I would give it a whirl…in its entirety.
Now, I have a standard buffer zone offered to shows I choose to watch of three episodes before I decide if it is worth the investment of my time. Sword Art Online, or SAO as it is also called, passed with flying colors and immediately hooked me with a storyline reminiscent of another favorite anime of mine, Log Horizon. My enjoyment of the series combined with recent discussions with @longshotist about possible article ideas to write about prompted me to decide on a comparison/review of SAO and Log Horizon. I don’t like spoilers, as you may know if you read the binge watching article that I had the pleasure of being interviewed for, so I will try to keep this as noninformative outside of the general plotline as possible.
But first, some quick background info on me so you can see where I and my interest of anime comes from. I was first introduced to Japanese animation probably much the same way most guys from my era were: Robotech, Voltron, & Captain Harlock. I loved my American Saturday morning cartoons too but the Japanese just had a way about doing them and I scrambled to get my hands on anything I could.
The early 90s and my high school years exploded with opportunity as the anime & manga market really started to take hold in America. I was lucky enough to have some amazing parents that allowed me to take part in a foreign exchange language program in Japan when I was 14. After that experience, I was hooked and, to this day, if someone told me that I could pick any place in the world to live my only dilemma would be whether to choose Osaka or Tokyo.
I have had some additional experience bouncing around the rest of the world after that too but my heart always longs for my inevitable return to The Land of the Rising Sun. I love the classics like Macross, Gundam, Akira, and everything by Miyazaki but have a fond appreciation of the Shounen, or “little boy,” genre. What can I say? I have Peter Pan issues going on and I am confident that my children will grow up before I do…here’s hoping at least!
GETTING ON WITH THINGS
The plots of both stories revolve around something that my triangle of friends often discuss – living in a game environment. In these cases, being trapped in one and fending for survival all whilst trying to find a way back home. Remind anyone of the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon? Well no one said that the concept was original but the depth at which both authors take the characters and environments to far exceed the point-of-view of the American children’s version that I grew up on.
SAO was originally written as a light novel by Reki Kawahara under the pseudonym Fumio Kunori. He intended on submitting the first volume for a writing competition but withheld from doing so because he exceeded the page limitations. Instead he published it on the web and it has since grown into a manga series, anime, and eventually video game spinoff.
SAO’s 25 episodes of plot follow alongside Kirito, a teenaged avid gamer who finds more comfort and purpose in his online life than that of his real one. On the release day of the titular game, 6000 players who are connected via a virtual reality device called NerveGear suddenly find themselves unable to log out of the game. They are then gathered together and greeted by the developer/creator of the virtual world only to be told that they are stuck until someone beats all one hundred levels of the game. Sounds pretty intense already but there is an additional catch – if you die in the game your brain will also cease to function in the real world! This may be where the adventure begins but it certainly doesn’t end there. All the way from an amazing introduction of a beautifully imaged world to a definitive ending that you never will see coming, SAO is definitely one to make you crave for more as those credits roll for the final time. Luckily for us, Sword Art Online II just began airing in Japan this month and I am looking forward to seeing how this story can further progress.
Log Horizon also started its legacy as a novel, written by Mamare Touno. Although much younger than the SAO series it has already been adapted into four different manga as well as the ongoing anime.
The story of Log Horizon starts pretty much along the same lines of SAO with one main exception being that the online VR game, Elder Tale, has been in existence for quite some time with millions of subscribers playing the game regularly. A problem occurs when the new expansion pack is uploaded and those who were fortunate enough to be online, although I suppose someone may find this as an inconvenience, realize that they are trapped in the game. No rhyme or reason to the madness other than it must have been a glitch. With a wide variety of characters for you to love and hate, it all revolves around Shiroe, a gamer strategist who thrives amidst the chaos, as he and his friends struggle with the everyday problems of their new “reality.” After watching the first season of this series, I definitely can find myself relating to many of the characters and would highly recommend this to anyone who has never played an MMO but is considering it, as there are many helpful hints and tips thrown into the dialogue. Season two of the series is set to come out in October…to which I say “is it October yet?!”
So as you can tell, I am a fan of both stories but which one is the best you say? That is difficult to say because I find that each has their strengths over the other.
SAO has a story that throws some pretty nice curve balls at you so it keeps you on edge, whereas, LH is somewhat predictable, at least if you have ever watched other anime. Don’t get me wrong though, one of the things that I love about LH is the cliché Shounen nuances that SAO generally lacks.
SAO 9 out of 10. LH 8 out of 10.
The characters of LH are much more lovable and happy-go-lucky than those of SAO. While those in the latter are facing actual death should they mess up, it is understandable that they take a more serious approach to their predicament but I found myself at times in the show thinking that they were sometimes all of sudden a little too dark in comparison to the previous scene.
SAO 7 out of 10. LH 9 out of 10.
Sadly this is something that Log Horizon’s team could have done a little better on at some points in the story. While it still is on the above par level of animation in a direct side by side to SAO it loses.
SAO 9 out of 10. LH 7 out of 10.
VERY much a part of my anime experience is the opening and closing songs for the shows. There have been many times that I found myself ready to sing along with the show only to find that they changed up the opening sequence on me. So sad! But in these days of awesome technology and laziness, if I don’t like the song I skip right to the main course. Such was the case for SAO. Not to say the songs were bad but just unremarkable. Literally, because I can’t bring myself to even recall something about them, meaning I just skipped them or forever erased them from my memory. LH though, man I have all my kids jumping around the living room with their opening sequence – a grungy, Rage Against The Machine-esque, Japanese punk/hip-hop song called Database gets you ready to rock!
While the end song, Your Song , is much more subdued. It reminds me of a Japanese version “Let it Go” that is especially enjoyable when my five year old daughter tries to pretend that she can sing along. A little secret between you, me, and the rest of the world reading this, I sang along too if no one else was around. Shhh!
SAO +0 points. LH +1 point.
The final verdict:
Log Horizon wins based on my slightly biased yet fair viewpoint but it was definitely a close battle.
Let me know if you disagree, agree, or have some other suggestions for some anime for me to watch. Sayonara!