Anime adaptation revolving around RPG and MMORPG themed worlds can usually be a hit or miss. As a fan of MMORPG games in real life, there should be expectations with the world fiction such as the monsters, mechanics, story, setting, and overall execution. Where does that put Overlord? A bit overboard? Underwhelming? It’s not really like that but Overlord is the type of show that can be hard to judge.
The series is based on a light novel that originated from a Japanese web novel. The original source has about 9 volumes although the adaptation by Madhouse studio consists of only a single cour. (13 episodes) That usually sets off a red flag with the story pacing. And it isn’t wrong either as the first two or so episodes carries a weak weight on itself.
Taking place in the online world of Yggdrasil, we meet Momonga, a salary-man who apparently tried to log out at the very last minute. Things go a bit wary and he gets stuck in-game as an online avatar in the form of a ‘skeletal lich’. It also just happens so that the avatar is also a very powerful wizard. What’s more is that the NPC around him also exhibit their own personalities as if they are alive and have minds of their own. Essentially, the story marks its territory at the Tomb of Nazarick. The first two episodes establishes Momonga (or going by his in-game name Ainz Ooal Gown) as someone with immense powers. Now, I have a problem with overrated characters and Ainz is no exception to this. The show demonstrates his invulnerability to poison along with elite fighting skills, weapon set, and even an intellectual mind as the story progresses. However, the series also takes a few different turns. Monomga still display his human traits as he interacts with the NPCs he encounters. Apparently, they serve him like he is their God so it takes time for him to adapt. Momonga’s personality also becomes suppressed and he displays cunning behavior throughout the show. However, I would not say that he is an arrogant character as he is quite loyal, honest, and respects his servants. As the story progresses, there is a lack of feeling he develops towards death. (Given the irony that he himself is a skeleton, a personification of death)
The show can be taken to light from different perspectives. From the perspective of a light novel reader and adaptation, it’s easy to say that the series focuses quite a bit on Momonga. Almost every episode highlights his role, personality, or overall character. The relationship building and associations he establishes with other characters are also played out in a variety of ways. This can be seen with the seductive Albedo who is utterly in love with him. Even among the Floor Guardians of Momonga’s guild, she is one of the most loyal and obsessive towards Momonga. It doesn’t help that the show also introduces rivals such as Shalltear who shows sexual tendencies. The show’s initial impressions sets off this red flag as it almost makes fun of itself. It also introduces other characters that each get a little bit of his or her screen time such as the Mare and Aura twins, butler Sebas, Cocytus, and intelligent demon Demiurge. In relation to Momonga, they all seemingly show an undying love and respect for him; just expressed definitely from one way or another. As a bit of character driven story, this is really a miss as the characters are unappealing from first impressions. Only Momonga can be legitimately interesting as we want to find out his potential as a guild master and person in real life. It makes us wonder what he is capable of with his new role and how these new changes can apply to his character.
The remainder course of the show opens up realms of possibilities. Like most MMORPG worlds, Yggdrasil seems to be resourceful with landscapes, guilds, and monsters. The story mechanics of the series is explained such as weaponry, skills, and monsters that exhibit its world. It’s nothing original when compared to some other MMORPG style shows. In the past, series such as Sword Art Online and Log Horizon also has fantasy game mechanics; albeit in different fashion. For Overlord, it slowly does this while unraveling the main course of the story. There’s also some common monsters you’ll usually find in fantasy worlds such as goblins, undead beings, and even angels. What makes Overlord stands out a little bit more is that the show is more than just about conquering and survival. I think the key word is the title itself, “Overlord”. This is because Momonga/Ainz is actually trying to take over the world as the new ruler. So in a way, he wants to be an overlord despite his lack of inexperience. This is clearly shown throughout the show with his intentions.
As both a character and story driven series, it will definitely takes patience and adapting to get used to the show. I actually recommend re-watching some scenes to get a better understanding of the series’ intentions at few cases. Examples such as Momonga’s lack of remorse towards death, Albedo’s distasteful view on humans, and other ideals makes the show appealing. It makes the NPCs feel real. In addition, the game mechanics such as spells, weaponry, magical items, and potion making really brings out its fantasy realm to life. There’s some good amount of action as well although fairly predictable with Momonga’s newfound skills. In addition, the story also makes it clear that he isn’t the only character that matters. Others he encounters and associates with such as the Sword of Darkness and his own battle maids get their additional spotlight too. The story also introduces antagonists with their own independent malevolent intentions. It shouldn’t take too long for viewers to realize that Overlord isn’t just Momonga’s personal show.
But for all its creativity, the series suffers much from the over emphasis of Momonga. It focuses far too much on his character while adding the ridiculousness of his servants’ love for him. The first two episodes will likely be a make or break for most viewers as the feeling of an MMORPG game feels isolated. There’s also die-hard comedy with character rivalries, expressions, and overall tone of their generalization. I will say the show has a diverse cast of the characters though. And given the set up for the world, it introduces plenty of important ones to bring the best of Momonga. However, be very aware of the pacing of this story. The first half really tests the patience of the viewers despite foreshadowing some future events and making small promises of improvement. While it’s doing all of this, the comedy is also a hit or miss with its controversially timed scenarios. And lastly, it seems like the adaptation itself is more of a tease for viewers to “read the novels”.
Madhouse puts their work into this show’s animation style. Taking place in such a fantasy world, the colors are focused on the characters rather than the background. Characters are diverse and decorated distinctively that makes them look unique. Momonga/Ainz is obviously the one that stands out the most with his skeletal avatar. When on the road, he takes the form of a dark warrior encased in an armor that makes him look like a badass hero. And that’s really an underrated word. Among Momonga’s followers, the term ‘badass’ can be applied to several characters with their designs such as Albedo, Shelltear, and the battle maid Nabe. There’s also the monsters introduced that is classic to most MMORPG worlds. Human characters are created to look human and most of them gives the impressions of themselves as adventurers. As a fantasy adventure, the show is also no stranger to action and violence. In essence, the action is decent in terms of fantasy standards. It’s the type of stuff you’ll see often in MMORPG related games. On the other hand, the violence creates a grimmer tone. There’s no censorship with the blood and even gore-like scenes during battle sequences. Fan service also exists with Albedo’s role in the story. But what really brings out their characters is the expressions. It has the experimental feel when you see how they react as NPCs while displaying human traits.
If you want stereo music, then you got stereo music. Namely, the OP theme song is an intense beat to the ears while the ED theme always decorates itself with unorthodox imagery. The OST displays a familiar fantasy feel in terms of content. And for all that’s worth, character voice mannerism plays some key roles to make their characters into life. Momonga is actually one of the less noticeable characters for his voice because he sounds similarly like a human. On the other hand, the NPCs has a distinctive voice with their character roles. These voice diversity ranges from Albedo’s seductiveness, Sheltear’s aggressiveness, Sebas’ sophisticated personality, or Nabes’ loyalty. Clementine also gives off a presence of violence thanks to her sinister voice tone that persuades viewers to see how far she will go with her plans. Despite the large cast of characters, a strength of the show does come from the voices.
In the end, Overlord is more or less a refreshingly adventurous tale about a dude stuck in a skeletal avatar. It has functioning creative imagination with a colorful cast of characters. But when it comes to story, Overlord smells like a show with money in mind. In other words, it seems like an advertisement to the main novel. Director Naoyuki Itou puts his experience with other fantasy series at work and is a bit of a mixed bag. The adaptation isn’t unique in either pacing or leaves strong first impressions. The fantasy world itself does generate a decent amount of interest when it comes to its core mechanics. But for a show like Overlord, it needed to hold together and makes sense. Sometimes it accomplishes that, other times it doesn’t. Overlord is a show that needs improvement so pick your poison.