By Mamare Touno and Kazuhiro Hara. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.
Unlike Sword Art Online, which in many ways was less about the game itself and more about the romance between Kirito and Asuna, Log Horizon tries not to focus too hard on romantic pairings. This is not to say they aren’t there, of course, but they’re never going to take over the plot. The closest we get may be this book, in which Akatsuki and Minori both independently realize that they’re in love with Shiroe. This initially starts off being fairly mediocre – the cake eating scene is not as funny as it thinks it is, and reads as quite cliched – but it begins to get good when each of the two girls spies on the other bonding with Shiroe and is forced to deal with ugly feelings of jealousy and self-hatred. Minori, being a middle schooler, has never felt like this before. Akatsuki’s older, but she has a different issue – Minori sees the bigger picture better than she does. In fact, Akatsuki has trouble with the big picture in general.
As you might imagine from the romantic sideplot, this is a bit of a ‘break’ volume for Log Horizon, with the crisis being less epic and more annoying. We get to see more of what we’ve enjoyed from prior volumes – Marielle being genki, Raynesia and Krusty snarking at each other, etc. The adventurers are holding a festival in their town, and people are coming from all over the area to join – both other adventurers and People of the Earth, many of whom have ulterior motives. The idea that these are just NPCs has long left town, and indeed the loathsome Lord Malves could hold his own with some of the other Adventurer villains we’ve seen before. But we save the true villain for the epilogue – we’d seen Shiroe worrying about another large town’s issues at the start o the book, and now we see why: it’s a dark mirror imagine of Akiba.
Nureha is clearly being set up as a major villain, though I’m not sure if she’s really the one manipulating everything here. She’s quite content to turn on her seductive wiles to lure Shiroe to their side, and they really, really want him – rewriting reality last volume to make Rundelhaus an adventurer was something that got noticed, and suddenly Shiroe, who was always the introverted social nerd – is dealing with unwanted attention. This is likely why he’s so comfortable making himself the ‘scary villain’ in Akiba, despite Minori’s protests. Being the center of attention, being wanted, is something that he desires, but makes him too uncomfortable. Not even Nureha’s manipulative sob story about her background (I do think it’s true, but it was still manipulative) or revelation that they may have a way back to the real world can sway him.
For a volume that seemed to be marking time, there was a lot going on here, and some good setup for future volumes. Log Horizon continues to be one of the best of the ‘people trapped in a game world’ books, and deserves attention.