Let me make it clear from the get go that i am a SWORD ART ONLINE fan. In saying that LOG HORIZON was actually better than SAO, someone accused me of bias, following some comments i made somewhere against the hype for SAO.
But looking at everything i have said everywhere about SAO, i have only ever complained about how the quality of the show dipped after the first part. That doesn't make the show terrible, merely average.
If i was ranking anime in this genre, SAO would most likely rank as number 1; well maybe number 2 because i thought BTOOOM! was better. But BTOOOM isn't exactly within the same vain as SAO, not when you consider that the characters weren't actually inserted into a game, but where transported to an island in the real world that mirrored the game.
In that case SAO comes out on top, with ACCEL WORLD a close second (in some cases superior because it was consistent from beginning to end; which is actually its only failing. It made no attempts to improve in the second half).
Anway, Log Horizon, now the best MMORPG based anime i have watched so far.
By its eleventh expansion pack, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Elder Tale has become a global success, having a following of millions of players. During the release of its twelfth expansion pack: Novasphere Pioneers, thirty thousand Japanese gamers that were logged on at the time of the update suddenly find themselves transported into Eder Tale in the form of their in-game avatars. In the midst of the event, a socially awkward gamer called Shiroe along with his friends Naotsugu and Akatsuki decide to team up to face this new reality.
Looking at both series, it shouldn't difficult to determine why Log Horizon stands as the superior story.
STORY: LH proceeds as more of a mystery than SAO, because we never actually find out, or have yet to find out why or how the adventures came to enter Elder tale, as opposed to SAO and the straightforward reasoning behind the gamers' imprisonment.
Most people have expressed irritation over the logic of the villain's actions, his claim to have forgotten the reasoning behind SAO somehow cheapening its results. I am in the camp that cared little about this particular element, more interested in how crappy the SAO (the actual game) finale played out.
LH allows for a grander adventure to play out, one that allows an actual story to develop beyond the random action packed quests that the SAO story followed.
There is an attempt in LH to create a story that builds the elder tale world, that allows us a glimpse into life as it progresses, with new characters acclimating to new realities, interacting with NPCs and native Elder Tale elements, which are given a life of their own, the result being a lively and grounded world.
SAO felt way too virtual, and less than grounded, each episode following the protagonist traversing from one random location to another, making no attempt to follow a cohesive story. The result of this narrative best impacted SAO's world building.
WORLD BUILDING: This was sorely missing from SAO, whose sword art Online universe was as virtual as any game would be, unable to convey the logic of a real existence. This is as opposed to LH, which allows its characters to interact with the Elder tale world as they would earth, allowing us to watch characters as they build new lives, set down roots that become part and parcel of the entire story.
In other words while the SAO world felt fleeting and brief, LH is as much about Elder tale as it is the people loving in it. We know cities, places, are watching them undergo change via the guiding hand of the adventurers, enjoying the chance to watch new societies come into being. As i said LH is less about random quests and more of home creation.
The fact that Log Horizon adventurers are forced to deal with NPCs carefully, to treaty with them, lest these natives stop giving them quests which then make it impossible to acquire new items adds a deeper dynamic to LH.
CHARACTERS: Have i mentioned how much i dislike she who must now not be named? When SAO decided to exclude all other characters in favour of focusing on Kirito and his lady friend, the series began to dive.
LH cannot be faulted for misusing its characters, as the show is actually less about the primary character (who's also a professional gamer, one of the best in fact, just like Kirito) and more about the secondary characters struggling to build a life in Elder tale.
SAO is about a bunch of gamers trying to beat the game and escape. Gamers in LH have no idea how they got to Elder tale, have no idea how to escape and can't even beat the game because it is politics convincing the now life like NPCs to cooperate and offer to them new quests.
Isn't it obvious just why Log Horizon would prove to be more intriguing story telling, that Shiroe's goal isn't to achieve the highest level, acquire the strongest sword, beat the game, but to form a guild, create society, allow organization to thrive in a city running amok, to gather the strongest andbind them through law and create a semblance of government.
Basically LH is about world building; that allows plots to revolve around character development, which the series does so brilliantly, not only following the progress of the more powerful characters and the life changing decisions they are making, but allowing us a glimpse into the lives of less capable gamers, the rookies as they try to discover the new world and rise a few levels higher, not for victory's sake but because it is the only way to survive..
SAO is about Kirito the wondering warrior. LH has the sense to allow the story to progress with all of its dozen or so core characters in mind, each playing a role in the series' development. It would be accurate to suggest that Log Horizon has a support cast while Sword Art Online doesn't, not really.
ACTION: Not much to say about that, clearly SAO thrived on this element, more action packed than LH, the story largely revolving around Kirito's badassery as the dual sword wielding loner.
LH is decent enough, but its action is driven by the story behind each battle. Watching Tohya assault a cave of monsters was largely about watching this little boy, his sister, Minora and a host of other kids finally face off against their first quest, alone, learning to fend for themselves and watching their amateur abilities and personalities clash terribly. LH knows what works.
Except for one incident, SAO was content to follow Kirito and equally powerful comrades cut down one monster after another. Maybe i just like watching anime that has the will to forget its primary protagonists in favor of weaker seemingly less important individuals, if only for a few episodes.
ART: Both series come out ahead here, similar actually in artistic presentation, both in terms of worlds and magical usage.
ANIMATION: Saying that Log Horizon has decent animation wouldn't matter, not in the face of SAO's brilliant animation, crisp, clearly and fluid; admittedly one of its finer points.
MUSIC: Meh! is what i will say for both series. One might give SAO the upper hand, and indeed it had superior scores, yet nothing so mind blowing as to affect its comparison with Log Horizon.
PRIMARY PROTAGONISTS: If i said Shiroe over Kirito, most people would probably throw a fit. Yet i do prefer the strategist Shiroe, calm, controlled, far sighted, over broody, myopic loner Kirito
VERDICT: Looking at it carefully, SAO stands above Log Horizon only in the superficial elements which don't really matter. Log Horizon knows how to tell a great story, the magical and gaming elements merely a tool utilized in developing great characters.
At the end of the day Log Horizon is more of an adventure story than Sword Art Online which is little more than a series of quests punctuated by lots of soapy drama.
RATING: 7/10, this at 12 episodes, who knows how the story will change with the passing of time.