Kudos to Log Horizon. Few anime could pull off an entire story arc about having a local election and somehow make that not be unbearably boring to sit through. It speaks to the quality of the show’s storytelling chops and characters. Nevertheless, I must say that the Akiba General Election arc in season 3 did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps the downside of having such great characters is that it’s much more apparent when they behave contrary to their characterization.
Spoilers for Log Horizon going forward.
Season 3 starts and things aren’t looking too great for Akihabara. The mood is dour; thousands of players find themselves stranded in the MMO world of Elder Tale with little purpose. It’s not hard to make a living, but there’s also little hope of ever being successful. All the power, wealth, and influence is held by high level players and the biggest guilds. No average Joe has any hope of competing with them, so why even bother trying.
It’s easy to draw parallels between this and the very start of the series. When players first arrived in Elder Tale—confused and directionless—and faced a chaotic world where might makes right. That’s part of why Shiroe founded the Round Table Conference. To address the inequality and injustice rampant in Akihabara. To create a stable, lawful community within the city. It was an enormous victory.
Yet now the Round Table exists and there’s still all these problems. Why aren’t they fixing anything? What is Shiroe even doing?
Well it turns out that the Round Table has other things on its mind. The individual guilds that make up this body are more occupied with their own projects and political aspirations. Meanwhile D.D.D. is crumbling and, in absence of its guild leader, Shiroe has become overly passive; too unwilling to make sweeping decisions without Crusty backing him up. The only person who wants to actually do something for Akihabara is Eins, who is the leader of Honesty. Eins is also the villain of this arc.
His proposed changes and projects are not just dismissed; they are mocked by his peers at the round table. The guild leader of Shopping Street 8 goes one step further. He openly taunts Eins by revealing how he structures his businesses, so that he wouldn’t have to pay taxes even if Eins’ proposed plans were put into motion. Not that they will, because he is vetoing those plans anyhow. Shiroe tries to rationalize how the Round Table’s hands are tied, at which point Eins declares the entire body illegitimate.
And he’s right about that. The Round Table at one point solved a crisis, but has since become the very problem it attempted to resolve. It’s an organization with no real claim to authority, made up of the strongest and richest players around. Some of them are only in power because they happen to be old friends with someone else on the inside. This was arguably fine when the Round Table tackled problems around the city. Now, however, it has become little more than a springboard for the guilds to further enrich themselves while the city declines around them.
To see Shiroe not just go along with this but also defend the other guilds was quite a shock. He isn’t blind to these problems. He sees the people suffering and the problems growing, yet makes no effort whatsoever to take charge. Even if he didn’t agree with Eins’ proposals, the least he could do is provide feedback or present ideas of his own. You’re the protagonist man. Do something.
As a consequence of this and so much more, a general election is called in the city. People can vote whether they want to keep the Round Table or form an actual government with Eins at the head. The Round Table promises more of the same, whilst Eins has great plans to improve the city and foster relationships between players and NPCs. Cue the shocked Pikachu face when the Round Table realizes that it’s losing badly.
Now, while Shiroe is nicknamed “The Villain Behind Glasses”, this was always more of an indication of his poor image. He’s certainly a schemer and secretive, yet those actions always stemmed from a good place. This is NOT the case during the Akiba General Election.
The Round Table with the consent of Shiroe pulls a lot of stunts to try and even out the field. They shut down a third party candidate with no actual justifiable cause beyond that it inconveniences them. Akatsuki invades people’s homes to psychologically manipulate them into voting for the Round Table. And only now when it’s facing opposition does the Round Table suddenly draw up plans to improve society and fund construction projects that will benefit all people.
If that sounds despicable, then wait til you hear what happens next. When election day comes and Shiroe is still losing, he flat-out cheats. Since the Round Table neglected any kind of governing in all the time it existed, there is no registry of who actually lives in the city. As such, any person who shows up can just vote. No checks or anything. Shiroe calls up some more old friends, promises them a place in his new Round Table, and they show up with thousands of people from out of town to sway the election in Shiroe’s favor.
That’s not me creatively reinterpreting the events of the story. That’s literally, unambiguously what happens. Under Shiroe’s control the round table became corrupt, the city weak, and the people disfranchised. Rather than face the consequences and have those steer the story going forward, Shiroe manipulates and cheats his way into power again. Eins, meanwhile, did everything right. He was right all along and actively labored to make people’s lives better, for which he is mocked and shamed into exile.
I can not look at these events and not see them as the fall of Shiroe. The turning point where the misunderstood hero finally flirted with open villainy. And even if the author intended it that way, I am very disappointed that his actions are not acknowledged as such by the other characters. Pretending this is all perfectly fine greatly undersells the moral implications of this arc, I feel.