Face off: Sword Art Online vs Log Horizon


I do like trying new things here, in fact we all do. It’s why I try writing new types of articles and why you might, after watching Sword Art Online, decide to watch Log Horizon. In this new article format I’m going to be picking two shows that are similar or are often compared. And yep, you guessed it, for my first comparison I’ve chosen one of the biggest clashes in the recent anime world: MMO vs MMO – Sword Art Online vs Log Horizon.

Kirito and Asuna get on really well... eventually.
Kirito and Asuna get on really well… eventually.

At a very basic level, the link between the two shows is their grounding in an immersive RPG world that they players cannot escape from. In SAO, we have the world of Alfheim, where ten thousand players have been trapped by evil mastermind and game creator Akihiko Kayaba and if they die in the game, they will also die in real life. In comparison, in Log Horizon we have Elder Tale a desktop MMO that after an update became the reality for all of the players around the world who were logged in.

Shiroe is probably the best OP character in anime.
Shiroe is probably the best OP character in anime.

Now it would seem to me that there are some general views of these two shows: SAO is the show everyone that knows anything about anime loves to hate. Apart from the extremely high production values, people tend to like very little about the show apart from the over-arching concept which, it largely fails to deliver on. In contrast those new to anime or who don’t watch a lot of the medium often view SAO as a fairly good show, which is reflected in the shows overall popularity.

Kirito is a bit of a loner, I think it must add to his charm.
Kirito is a bit of a loner, I think it must add to his charm.

Log Horizon on the other hand is a show with far less mass popularity, probably partly down to the limited appeal, or at least sales, of the light novel series. That said, Log Horizon seems to be the MMO ‘stuck in a world ‘ anime for serious fans.

It's not all serious in Log Horizon, just a lot of the time...
It’s not all serious in Log Horizon, just a lot of the time…

So, if this is true (which, you know, it might not be – don’t take my word as gospel kids), the question is, why? I’d say SAO probably has the edge with casual viewers because of it’s beautiful aesthetics, powerful main character alongside the premise of death IRL after death in game. It’s such an accessible show with characters that, on the whole, you want to do well – not to mention no one wants an even half decent person to die because they got caught up in a game like Sword Art Online.

A few different girls pop up in various episodes throughout the Aincrad arc of SAO.
A few different girls pop up in various episodes throughout the Aincrad arc of SAO.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike the show though: the second half of the show takes a different turn from the first half which is clearly not to everyone’s taste. The show also has a go at being a harem for a few episodes, which takes away from the life and death scenario which everyone finds themselves in. What annoyed me most about the show though was the abandoning of Asuna as a strong, independent female protagonist. For a long time she is portrayed as a character that is possibly even stronger from Kirito and absolutely not reliant on him – that is until towards the end of the first arc when she decides to become his housewife and then subsequently get captured (admittedly not her fault, but someone needs to be blamed).

Log Horizon has a whole host of different pros and cons. On the one hand the show has good characters and an interesting premise, even if the story isn’t as well defined as SAO.  Shiro is probably, on balance, a better lead character than Kirito, though that one really is up for debate. Though I have to say I probably enjoyed Log Horizon more than SAO, there is one glaring problem with it. Simply put: it’s too technical. For people who play lots of MMO’s and/or RPG’s the way in which the show tackles explaining the mechanics of the game is far superior than in SAO. In truth though, that isn’t something everyone wants and it can come across as a bit too much.

How then do you go about choosing which show to watch? The answer, as with most things in anime is to, at some stage at least, watch both. In this instance I would recommend you watch SAO first because it really is so accessible. This isn’t to say you’ll love it, in fact you might hate it, but it’s a good way in to anime as a whole. Log Horizon should come later on because it is that little bit more technical, even if it might be slightly better.

(Featured Image Credit: Nick-Ian, Deviant Art)

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