When a genre of anime and manga such as Isekai—being transferred to a fantasy world—has proliferated to an extreme degree, it can be difficult to find meaning in individual stories. Though larger properties like Sword Art Online are sometimes held as standard-bearers for Isekai as a whole, the genre has more to offer than simple wish fulfillment stories about fantasy worlds. Whether it’s Re: Zero’s meditation on the nature and effect of game-like magic powers, or KonoSuba satirizing every aspect of JRPGs, Isekai has room for exploration and experimentation.
The light novel and anime series Log Horizon approaches its story of gamers being transported into the world of an MMORPG with an eye towards sociology. When the players of Elder Tale—a long running global phenomenon similar to World of Warcraft—are transported to a world that looks a lot like their favorite video game after the release of its latest expansion, they begin to refer to the incident as the Apocalypse. With a name like that, it’s no surprise when feelings of despair at this situation—and the flavorless food they have no choice but to eat—lead the majority of players to revert to tribalism, joining guilds for their own security, while others turn to violence and thievery, similar to many narratives of post-apocalyptic human survival.
Shiroe, the support class player at the center of Log Horizon, is as frustrated by these events and his inability to fix them as any other player, yet he feels a force somewhere inside him desperate for change. As the series asks questions about purpose, community, criminality, economics, and leadership, it ultimately leads Shiroe to ideas on how to build—or rebuild—a functioning society.
The Introverted Strategist
It isn’t easy for Shiroe to get to that point, however, as he is initially disinterested in playing a role in any sort of common goal. As a veteran Adventurer—the in-game moniker for players—he’s been burned before. In the time before the show picks up, his high level and intimate knowledge of the gameplay systems and tactics of Elder Tale had put him in a position of esteem among the game’s community, becoming a source of reliable information and strategy.
Shiroe was proud of his standing at first, but repeated requests for assistance gradually led him to feel his reputation had been taken advantage of more than he’d been sincerely appreciated or understood, and he cut himself off socially, becoming distrusting of guilds that tried to recruit him. Despite Shiroe’s inclination to inhibit himself, he managed to find a group of people who he felt comfortable around, and with whom he enjoyed adventuring. It’s among these peers that Shiroe gets his first taste of the strength and allyship that can be found in a community.
The Debauchery Tea Party was not an official guild—there was no strategic planning behind its formation, and it didn’t last very long. What it was, to Shiroe at least, was a low pressure environment where people gathered for one simple purpose—to explore the world of Elder Tale together. While Shiroe’s mind for strategy was important to the group, it was secondary to his friendship.
The sense of community and belonging Debauchery Tea Party fostered in Shiroe would later help him to understand the necessity of broader social structures and systems of support, but he isn’t ready to accept a part for himself in creating them at the start of Log Horizon. It isn’t until he reunites with friends who’ve believed in his capacity for leadership all along that Shiroe realizes he—as the phrase goes—has to be the change he wants to see in the world.
Over the course of the first five episodes of the anime, Shiroe struggles not only with adjusting to this world, but his feelings of powerlessness as the people of Akiba—one of five main cities that serve as homes for Adventurers—fail to cope with the Apocalypse. Watching the majority of citizens let lawlessness rule, feelings of discomfort fester inside him.
When Shiroe and his two companions—Naotsugu, a tank class player and fellow former DTP member, and Akatsuki, an acquaintance who role-plays as a ninja—travel to another city to rescue a member of the guild Crescent Moon Alliance, he discovers an even worse situation.
The city of Susukino has been completely taken over by a guild aptly named Brigandia, comprised of violent players who are all too happy to take everything this “virtual” world has to offer for themselves. Death is no threat to them, or any other player, as they continue to revive as they did when Elder Tale was a game. They have no regard for other Adventurers or the native people of this world, the People of the Land. This latter group were originally non-player characters with no minds of their own, yet in this new world, they have become just as human as players—except unlike players, they can die.
This level of societal decay disturbs Shiroe, and is a stark reminder of the rot that can grow when we don’t hold ourselves and society accountable. But it isn’t until he completes his mission and returns to find Akiba in worse condition than he left it that Shiroe finally decides to act. In the sixth episode, Shiroe learns the guild Hamelin has resorted to kidnapping and extortion, and because there are no laws prohibiting these acts in this world, other guilds have overlooked them.
Shiroe’s disgust at both the state of Akiba and his own inaction thus far reach a boiling point, but things become clear when he receives wisdom from Nyanta, another old friend from his days in DTP. Nyanta advises him of the power and necessity of community, likening it to life itself. Even though life, and society, can sometimes be painful, Shiroe—and all of us—must still take part in it.
With this knowledge bolstering him, Shiroe becomes determined to change Akiba into a home in which everyone can take pride. He finally realizes the effort that’s necessary for havens like Debauchery Tea Party and Crescent Moon Alliance to exist and serve the needs of their members, and resolves to form his own guild. A home where he and his friends can adventure together and work to make the world a better place—Log Horizon.
They begin by opening a fast food stand.
Representatives of the Round Table
Making money is just the first step of Shiroe’s plan, along with spurring the economy and spreading hope to people who’ve spent months eating food that tastes like soggy crackers. Nyanta imparts the secret to making flavorful food in this world to Crescent Moon Alliance, and they start selling burgers to the public.
However, Shiroe’s goal is not the meager profits of a snack shop, but the attention of the merchant and crafting guilds of Akiba. He needs their cooperation to bring the leaders of the largest and most influential guilds in Akiba—representing all of its 30,000 citizens—to a round table conference, where he intends to convey the need for self-governance.
Along with the air of anxiety surrounding Akiba, human rights are at the forefront of the plan to form a governing body. To counter the actions of guilds like Hamelin and Brigandia, Shiroe insists on a set of laws protecting not only Adventurers, but People of the Land as well. While it takes some arguing to convince the gathered leaders that such a government would even be worth the effort, the issue of colonization is what pushes them to accept Shiroe’s proposal.
The People of the Land are the native residents of this world, and Shiroe demands that Adventurers must respect this fact. Essentially, if Adventurers don’t get their act together and stop treating this world as a virtual prison, Shiroe sees a risk of angering the People of the Land, going as far as to suggest the potential for war.
With sufficient amounts of hope and fear instilled in them, the guild leaders agree and officially form the Round Table Council. In the short term, this new government transforms the city of Akiba by creating basic laws to protect citizens, managing efforts to train lower level players, and applying the “secret” method of crafting in this world to stimulate the economy. And in the long term, the council oversees diplomatic efforts to form trade relations with the People of the Land, and even organize military campaigns against hordes of monsters.
Shiroe began his journey with the belief that he was powerless to effect change. But when he accepts the lessons of community that he’d been too self-conscious to acknowledge, he becomes the catalyst for a revolution, addressing greater societal concerns over the course of Log Horizon. There are still problems for him to face, and his work as a role model and valued member of society is only beginning, but Shiroe is an object lesson to all—the power to change the world starts with you.