Helen: Takuto is eager to join his friends in the new, teens-only beta for the virtual reality game “Cube Arts” where one day in the game equals only two minutes in the real world, perfect for busy high schoolers!
But it seems like the developers either weren’t forthright with the players, or that the game is getting away from them. Respawning doesn’t work; it’s going to take six, real-world hours to fix the logout function (or about half a year of in-game time); and the game is a lot more dangerous than Takuto and his friends bargained for. Their open world, crafting adventure is quickly turning into a survival game and they don’t even know all the rules!
In the author’s note, Tomomi Usui says that they were totally into a game called “M-craft” and I wondered why they even bothered to censor the title. It’s so obvious in every aspect of the story from the title of the game, the title of the manga, the mixed crafting and combat nature of the gameplay, and to the very aesthetic inside the game. While I can’t recall any trapped in a video game stories quite like this one, in general Log Horizon is more my speed than Sword Art Online’s first arc and Cube Arts is very much like SAO‘s initial Aincard Arc.
Except, SAO had a much firmer foundation to its story: all of the players are stuck in the game, death equals death, but if you clear all 100 levels of the game everyone goes free. Cube Arts doesn’t have anything like that to set the stakes so far; Takuto’s comment that the beta only being open to teens suggests that “Cube Arts” was designed to be some kind of death game but so far we don’t know anything more about why the game is so murder-y.
We also don’t know much about any of the characters so far either; Usui fits them all into very basic tropes, like “the protagonist” and “quiet but skilled, mysterious girl” but doesn’t seem interested in fleshing out any of the characters beyond that. It’s as if Usui wanted to play with the “trapped in a video game, but it’s a sandbox world” concept and is more interested in rushing characters through various scenarios instead of having the characters go through them more naturally. The manga has a nasty streak to it too — the character deaths are on the more gruesome side and some characters near the end of the story enjoy detailing how they prey on new, female players so that they can use them as decoys for monsters and such (and of course this is all illustrated for the reader to not just read but see).
If I want an open-world, adventure/crafting story right now, honestly I’d rather pick my iPad up and keep playing Genshin Impact than continuing with Cube Arts. I rarely enjoy media where I have to watch characters constantly making choices that I wouldn’t do myself, especially with characters as undeveloped as these are. With bland characters, an unfocused story, and an obviously derivative game world, I’d rather look elsewhere for my entertainment.
Helen’s rating: 2 out of 5
Justin: What happens when you combine Sword Art Online’s premise but set it in a sandbox world (so, Minecraft)? You might get something like Cube Arts, where unsuspecting players venture into a VRMMO and can’t log out! In this case, we follow Takuto, who was one of the lucky ones able to beta test Cube Arts. While things seem quaint at first after logging in, reality starts setting in that something’s wrong when one of his friends is decapitated by a monster, and Takuto, along with his friends Shige and Yu, might be involved with something they can’t understand.
There are two parts of interest in the first volume of this manga. The first is Takuto, Shige, and Yu trying to accept their situation, and the second is the appearance of Noa, who knows more about this game than possible…and got herself tangled with a pretty despicable group. As the three try to log out of the game, they learn they can’t. Then any attempts after official announcements say they can log out come up empty as more mysterious problems crop up.
This only leaves the players to fend for themselves, but for Takuto and crew, they’re not sure what to do. Almost makes me want to know what the instructions were! But for the most part, we’re supposed to be drawn into how they can overcome these unexpected challenges and then when they get back, make sure they sue the creators for such a busted game.
The other part involves Noa, a skilled girl who builds blocks quickly and makes grenades. She also happens to know more about Cube Arts than the average player — this is why she gets herself in trouble with a few people in this volume — and that culminates when a group she knows appears at Takuto and friends’ toughest time yet. Bad enough you have to face an overgrown lizard (Dragon? Takuto’s not too sure!), but then skilled Cube Arts players show up that Noa knows are trouble?
From what was shown as a brief flashback, Noa and her friends got captured by a group that turns woman into slaves. She was able to get away, but we meet someone in this volume that was not as fortunate. So all in all, Cube Arts establishes the usual “If everything is going wrong, let’s have people take full advantage of it for selfish needs,” and now it’s up to the high schoolers to set them straight…somehow.
The art by Tomomi Usui is pretty solid. We get moments where these monsters in the game are all block-like and suddenly shred players quickly; characters trying to avoid stressing out as they become entangled into something potentially sinister; and the cute virtual helper that pops in every once in a while. I do hope more creative things are built in this series, but the manga’s only three volumes! So for now it’s let’s see how in the world they escape their current predicament.
Justin’s rating: 3.5 out of 5