By Mamare Touno and Kazuhiro Hara. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.
This second volume of Log Horizon improves on the first, doubling down on its world-building and showing us what it would be like to have to set up an entire governing body from scratch, particularly when there’s a limit to what penalties you can enact for immoral but not technically illegal behavior. Some folks, such as our heroes, regard abusing the rules of this new world for profit and ruthlessness to be no fun. Others are perfectly happy to enslave children to mass-produce what they need. And, despite the obvious black-and-white morality on display there, there’s a long argument that talks about what can actually be done given the resources and authority they have.
The young kids seen on the cover are the twins that Shiroe occasionally mentioned in the first book. He had happened across them when they were just starting out, and helped them slowly advance through some beginner quests. Now they’re trapped in slavery, sleeping on hard cement floors and going out to get ingredients for useful potions which are then sold to those who DON’T need them. That said, they did agree to join the Hamelin guild, even in trickery, so, unless Shiroe can buy the entire building and kick who he wants out (which is prohibitively expensive), there’s not a lot that he can do. Which frustrates him intensely. Shiroe’s brilliant tactics keep getting undercut by his own self-hatred, as he keeps justifying making this world a better place as his own selfishness, and framing everything in the worst way.
I hadn’t thought that one of the minor aspects of the first book – food is bland and tasteless, so unenjoyable – would wind up being the main plot point of the second book. Once Nyanta, the Obi-wan Kenobi of this series (though not dead yet), discovers how you can make tasty food, suddenly endless possibilities spiral outward. It’s up to Shiroe and the Crescent Moon Guild to corral those possibilities and make sure that they can be used as a negotiating tool. I really love the look we get at the Crescent Moon Guild here – Marielle proves to be an emotional center, and we see a lot more of her self-doubt here even as she tries to cover it up with her dazzling smile. Meanwhile, Henrietta proves to be even smarter than Shiroe when she’s not busy trying to molest Akatsuki.
I had one or two niggles – when discussing what the new government should make illegal, rape was mentioned only as ‘between those of the opposite sex’, which left a bad taste in my mouth, especially given the aforementioned molestation being used as a running gag with no actual concern about Akatsuki’s lack of consent. And again, for non-gamers there really is a lot of technical detail in this book that goes over my head sometime. The Round Table meeting also introduced a bunch of people all at once, and I hope that we’ll see more of them in future books, but I could barely match names to lines – only Soujiro Seta made an impression, and that’s because he got to be the cute bishie.
Overall, though, this novel expands on the possibilities of the first and gives us a lot more cast, along with introducing a few ‘regulars’ – I look forward to seeing how the twins do in Shiroe’s new guild. I also look forward to more of Naogetsu and Akatsuki, who had surprisingly little to do in this book. Definitely recommended.