Log Horizon's first season ends with a bang. Everything is coming to a head with a looming war that is certain to change the face of the video game world where our heroes have found themselves trapped. Then comes the second season, and all that build-up is largely forgotten.
[Note: This article contains spoilers for both seasons of Log Horizon. For a non-spoiler look at the show, check out our review of the first half of the first season.]
Log Horizon's second season contains dozens of characters -- both new and returning -- and several different major plotlines over its 25-episode run. So let's keep it simple by breaking down the series by story arc.
The first story arc of the season is centered on two themes -- real estate economics and finding purpose as a stranger in a strange land.
The plot follows Shiroe -- our protagonist and basically the dictator of Eastern Japan in all but name -- as he secretly heads north to conquer a raid dungeon. Of course, there is far more to his actions than simply doing the raid dungeon for the loot.
Trapped in a world not their own, the Adventurers have been forced to find a new purpose in life apart from their former life in the real world. Some, like Shiroe and the rest of the round table council, have taken it upon themselves to rebuild society -- and attempt to make it better than the society they all came from.
Thus, Shiroe's purpose in the dungeon is to locate the source of all gold in this game world -- you know, the money that drops whenever you kill a monster in an RPG. What he intends to do with this unlimited treasure is simple: Buy every piece of property on the Japan server and then sell it to the server itself.
This in turn will prevent the empire in the West from conquering the East by simply buying the spawn points and guild halls out from under them. It also has the added bonus of balancing the property market by putting both Adventurers (people from our world) and People of the Land (NPCs) on an equal footing.
The problem is that Shiroe keeps this plan close to the chest -- far too close -- and nearly ends up alienating those with him on the raid. To keep the mission secret, Shiroe seeks help from a group entirely different from his own: those who continue playing as if the world is still a game.
The guild Shiroe enlists to help reach the source of the land's gold are a high level raiding guild. They fight for loot and the rush that comes from overcoming the game world's challenges -- even though death in this world means sacrificing some of your real world memories. It takes Shiroe a long time to truly accept that trust is what holds a group like that together and causes him to reconsider how much he shares with those that support him.
At the same time that Shiroe attempts the raid, Akatsuki, his self-proclaimed servant and an assassin, has been left behind in Akihabara.
Upon her initial realisation that she was trapped in the game world, Akatsuki chose to cope with the situation through roleplaying -- i.e., serving her master in payment for his kind deeds. Thus, she does her best to act like a noble ninja.
However, without Shiroe around, she feels abandoned and without purpose. While the outward plot follows a character from the People of the Land who is killing Adventurers with impunity, the story's true purpose it to show Akatsuki's journey to discover her own self-worth -- and for her to build friendships outside of Shiroe's circle.
These two stories, Akatsuki's and Shiroe's, take up half the run time of the series. While they deliver character development for both lead characters, both stories seem like a holding pattern before the inevitable battle between East and West that was teased at the end of the first season.
In both Akatsuki's and Shiroe's stories, major changes occur -- PvP becomes possible in Akihabara and land can no longer be purchased (outside, one would assume, the properties currently owned by the Western empire for which they must continue to pay upkeep on). However, as there is no fallout for either case in the subsequent arcs, both actions do little more than allow for the continuation of the status quo.
It is after the first main arc that we are introduced to Kanami, the oft-mentioned former guild leader of Shiroe and numerous other characters in both the East and West.
What's interesting about Kanami is that she falls somewhere in between the roleplayers like Akatsuki, the gamers in the northern raid guild, and those concerned with goals beyond day-to-day survival like Shiroe. Kanami enjoys playing the game, but at the same time treats it as reality -- going out of her way to help the NPCs she comes across. Yet, more than any other character we meet, Kanami has a reason to return to the real world: She has a daughter.
Yet unlike the others who are dying to return to our world (which we'll get to in a moment), Kanami wants more than anything else to show her daughter the wonders of the game world -- a world she knows well from having travelled over more than half of it.
The following story arc focuses not on Shiroe or Akatsuki, but rather on the young members of Log Horizon as they embark on what should be a relatively safe and simple quest to obtain bags of holding. Like the previous arcs, this one focuses more on character development and world-building than on the overall plot. Shiroe and Akatsuki are both adults; so now we see how children, as opposed to adults, have adapted to life in the fantasy world.
Brother a sister pair Tohya and Minori has found new life and purpose. However, they have also gained the inner strength to face what returning to the real world would mean -- in Tohya's case a body paralysed from the waist down. Izuzu, on the other hand, comes to find her own self-worth by stepping out of her celebrity father's shadow and accepting her talents. In other words, this arc is largely a set of coming of age stories.
The other main point of this arc is to tell us about the people who cannot adapt to the world they find themselves in. A large group has almost created a religion about dying again and again -- believing that after a certain number of deaths they will be able to return to the real world. To these people, the fantasy world is not a game nor is it a new life to be embraced: It is a hellish existence, pure and simple.
This arc also gives major development to Nureha, the puppet leader of the Western empire. While arguably the single most powerful person in the fantasy world, she is crippled by the mental scars left over from the abuse she suffered in the real world. While intelligent and clever, her loathing of her real world persona often makes her easy to control.
This makes Nureha an incredibly sympathetic villain, while at the same time a strong and unpredictable one. When she (in disguise) joins the children's party to learn more about her rival (and obsession) Shiroe, she comes to care for them -- especially Tohya who is able to see the true Nureha beyond the façade by recognising in her a self-loathing akin to his own for his paralysed real-world body.
There is also a second narrative running through this arc -- one revolving around a Western empire train heading toward Akihabara with plans of invade and conquer. However, this operation is suddenly aborted with Nureha's return to command and the looming war itself is turned into a non-issue by the series' final arc.
The final arc of Log Horizon's second season follows the appearance of monsters known as "Geniuses" that seem to be beings from another world separate from both ours and the fantasy world. Their goals are yet to be fully explained, but their common tactic seems to be to use the world's monsters as a makeshift army to attack Adventurers and People of the Land alike.
Ultimately this arc does little more than introduce a new threat -- one that is sure to force the East and West into an alliance. It also gives hints about the true nature of the Adventurers' situation and why they were brought to this world -- though honestly, these are questions that may be better left unanswered.
Log Horizon's second season fails in one key way: It never follows through on the tension built up in the first season. This in turn leaves the season as a whole feeling flat and rather anti-climactic. Instead of a sequel to the main plot, this season feels more like a series of side stories designed to flesh out the world and characters.
Admittedly, this is something the series does rather well. Log Horizon is at its best when it is exploring how the fantasy world works and how the characters are changing as they spend more and more time in the world. However, with the looming threat constantly being put off so as to tell other stories, it becomes an anime that is all build up and no payoff.
In other words, in the end it is a rather unsatisfying experience, especially for a viewer who expected and looked forward to the promises of the season one climax.
Log Horizon aired on NHK in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.