These are two series with some interesting parallels, but one of them is working considerably better for me than the other.
Outbreak Company – 03
Outbreak Company is definitely a better show than I figured it would be going in, though I'm at the three-episode cutoff and it's still right on the edge as far as blogging is concerned. It was certainly a lot of fun going through all the seemingly endless meta-references this week (the shout-out to Minaki-ke certainly being my favorite, though hardly a surprise given the studio) and the series has shown an inclination to take on serious social issues. But it still strikes me as largely constrained by the very cliches it aspires to satirize.
That alone is a very interesting problem as anime problems go, and might just be enough on its own to keep me plugged in for a while. Also interesting is the social commentary aspect of Outbreak Company - I haven't quite decided if it's trying to simplistically hold Japan up as a model of enlightened egalitarianism for the world to envy, or use the device of Eldant as cover to condemn Japan's history of isolationism and xenophobia in a way anime normally can't get away with through more direct means. Again, I'm curious enough to find out that I might stick around for a while on that basis alone.
I've talked a lot more about the ideas behind Outbreak Company than I have the execution of the show itself, which I suppose is a compliment to the premise in a way. But the execution is by no means irrelevant, and on-balance I'd say it's been pretty good so far. The latest wrinkle is a right-wing terrorist group called Baydona that's taken offense at Shinichi's insistence on building a school to teach the ways of Japan to the Eldantinians - even (gasp) the commoners. Their leader gives a defense of their worldview that's pretty much a grade-school history reader version of fascist thinking - the superiority of the master race, manifest destiny, protecting against the poison of foreign culture and ideas. Of course the truth is that there are people in the real world who think this way - not just the monsters who throw acid in schoolgirls' faces and blow up embassies but politicians in places far too close to home (both in countries where anime is made and where it's watched). So, simplistic though its presentation may be, Baydona's way of thinking isn't completely irrelevant to reality, and certainly not in a country with Japan's history.
There's some drama involving Myuseru at the close of the crisis at the school, but I don't think there's a whole lot of suspense over how it'll turn out. It was certainly interesting to see her break out some Elven magic, and I suppose her actions will spark a predictable change-of-heart in Petrarca, who up to this point has been pretty much an annoying cliche that's failed to rise to the level of satire. This Zero no Tsukaima-esque side of Outbreak Company hasn't been its strongest feature so far, and it's where the show feels most like the type of series it's trying to parody. Even there we have two sides of the story, though, because it seems as if O.C. is offering a kind of defense of anime as pure escapism - which makes trying to figure out where the meta-line of the show is all that much harder to do. As anime problems go, that's at least more interesting than most.
Log Horizon – 03
The three-episode rule claims a victim here, as I'm just not seeing enough in Log Horizon to keep me hanging around. There's a certain sanctimonious quality to the "This is not Sword Art Online!" claims defenders of LH make around-the-clock, but to be honest while I acknowledge that there are differences and it's not anyone's responsibility to defend a comparison made by someone else, I don't see these two shows as being as dissimilar as those claims would indicate.
In the first place, a good deal of the praise I see heaped on Log Horizon could just as easily have come from discussions about SAO if you just changed the word "Akatsuki" to "Asuna". Are they the same character? No - but the "waifu effect" is still the core of the appeal. A cute assassin who calls the hero "My Lord" despite the fact that they're the same age in real-life? No wish-fulfillment there, no siree... And the first quest of LH? Let's go rescue a moeblob imouto type. And that doesn't sound like it fell of the pages of SAO? I see the same problem here as I did with Maoyuu - the author may in fact want to do something more meaningful and thought-provoking, but he can't resist using an endless string of clichés in the process.
I certainly don't think Log Horizon is as self-serious or ponderous as SAO (nor is it as visually appealing or possessed of as interesting a virtual setting), and there are interesting elements in the premise here. It has an undeniable geeky cred in getting the details right that justifiably appeals to hardcore RPG experts. Plus, the idea of Nakata Jyouji playing a cat-man called Nyanta has a definite appeal. But I'm just not finding enough that's compelling about LH to make it a really engaging series - I don't find any of the characters we've met original or particularly charismatic, and the art and animation (Moria has certainly looked better) is decidedly average. It can certainly be argued that Log Horizon and Outbreak Company are treading similar ground in terms of using tropes to try and transcend them. I guess the reason I'm still engaged enough with the latter to probationally continue it and not the former is that I think Outbreak Company is taking a more interesting approach, and executing it in a more interesting way.