Uncertainty reigns when a catastrophic event drags all the logged-in players of the MMORPG Elder Tales into the world of the game. A world, which just before, was only pixels on a screen. Now that it is no longer just a game, but a very real place, Swordmaster Soujirou, and his loyal guild members must learn to cope with this new world.

The fun loving and good natured Soujirou is a veteran Elder Tales player who was once part of a legendary group (long since disbanded) called the Debauchery Tea Party. Nowadays, however, he is the master of the prestigious fighting guild The West Wind Brigade which has a reputation as a Soujirou’s personal harem. Even so, it’s not all fun and games, as everything from the food they eat, to the way people fight is entirely different in the world they now find themselves in. Can the West Wind Brigade manage to keep their spirits high in this game world gone mad?

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The West Wind Brigade is a side story/ alternate angle on the main Log Horizon series’ plot. It focuses on some of the more interesting side characters, as well as fleshing out the world and the problems from outside of Shiroe’s direct influence.

The Log Horizon franchise is MMORPG manga series, with a good deal of action, as well as a focus on world building. Fans of similar works like more action heavy Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? and Sword Art Online will find something to like here.

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As an introduction to the Log Horizon world, The West Wind Brigade’s first volume does a commendable job in making itself accessible to newcomers. By starting off in a similar fashion to the original work, WWB manages to introduce the world of Elder Tales to new readers, while introducing the principle cast. The exposition is nicely dispersed throughout the volume, allowing the world to grow naturally in the reader’s mind, without pages and pages of awkward info-dumping. No real prior knowledge of the Log Horizon series is needed for this volume, which is nice allowing most anyone to enjoy this volume. There are a couple of small cameos from major characters of the main series, but overall most of them are at least introduced, with only Shiroe (the main protagonist of the main series) getting a possibly confusing introduction.

However, because of the re-treading nature of the volume, there is one small shortcoming of the volume for pre-existing fans, in that all of the major plot developments ( the taste of food, and the confrontation of death) are all aspects to which the “answers” are already known. The specific details of the WWB’s experience of these issues are at least interesting though, and different enough from Log Horizon’s reactions that it is barely a complaint.

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The real substance to this retelling, however, is the characters, as the dynamic between Soujirou and his guild is a very different one from that of Shiroe with LH. Where Shiroe in the main series is the eternal strategist in need of a home, Soujirou is a defender of his pre-established family. He’s a fun goofball, just clueless enough to allow the few romantic harem-comedy moments to go by more or less innocently, without making him incompetent. He’s just that naturally optimistic and good natured that all the ladies of his guild are drawn to him. However his character does show a good deal of depth, especially as he is faced with having to become not only a friend and leader, but also a protector in his role as guild-master.

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As for the other characters (of which there are many) not too many of them stick out as particularly interesting. Each of the “harem” members each have a distinguished role, and are noticeably different in temperament from one another, so they at least don’t feel superfluous or come off like blank slates. Only a couple of the girls get any real fleshing out in this volume, namely Isami, Nasuna and Sara and all three of them come away with a good deal of nuance in their own characters. If the future volumes showcase the rest of the guild as well as this volume handled these three, it will end up being a very well rounded cast. However of the cast it is actually Dolce who kind of steals the show, not only as the most interesting designed character in the guild, but also because as a straight-man figure in the WWB guild, he is a wonderful tempering and focusing agent for the exuberance of the other members. He is a lot of fun, and I hope we see more of him.

The character’s antics however are somewhat trite. The West Wind Brigade is introduced to us as a “harem” guild which might be a turn off to some for fear of this side story devolving into meaningless rom-com antics. Thankfully WWB sidesteps this trap. The characters all have a good deal of agency, and the “romantic” elements are mostly there as a kind of lighthearted joke. There are only a couple“fanservice” elements in the volume, but at least the only “clothing mishap” is actually part of the character’s growth and self realization. I never found the harem-comedy truly intrusive, and overall the harem actually helped this book to both differentiate this from the group dynamics of the original Log Horizon, and keep the tone of the book more jovial, and light.

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Art-wise this volume does well. The character designs may be a little unremarkable at times, but the artist Koyuki does manage to keep enough of a distinction between characters that it’s almost impossible to not figure out who is in the frame, even if it’s only a gauntlet. Every panel, no matter how distant, makes sure that the characters are expressive and fun, and the contrast between the comedy and action is well balanced, not being too crazy either way, but allowing the dramatic scenes to ramp up the visual punch when necessary. The only truly exceptional pieces of the art though are the interesting shading style coupled with a good mix of shading throughout (a touch I did enjoy), and the 6th chapter, which honestly is a very beautifully composed chapter, in a significant, but warranted, departure from the rest of the book’s page composition.

Overall I found this volume to be an enjoyable read, a decent introduction to the world of Log Horizon for newcomers, and an interesting companion piece for those already familiar. It’s a sometimes goofy, fun side story that knows how to do drama when it needs to. It may not be the most mindblowing manga ever, and a few of its situations may be slightly ‘tropy” at this point, but in execution The West Wind Brigade Vol. 1 comes away as a light but poignant beginning to this standalone story.

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What do our scores mean?

Log Horizon: The West Wind Brigade Vol. 1 was published by Yen Press on January 26, 2016 and translated by Taylor Engel. The original work was created by Mamare Touno with art by Koyuki, and published in Age Premium. Volume 2 releases in English on April 26, 2016 .

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