This review covers Overlord seasons 1-3.
Not really being your typical Isekai, this show is a strange black comedy that relies on fantasy stereotypes for a lot of meta-humor involving the genre's familiar trappings. Taking a lot of inspiration from D&D and popular MMOs for its worldbuilding and mechanics.
A Regular joe is transported to another world. But this time he's the evil overlord and not the hero. Known as 'Momonga', his in-game name and then later 'Ainz Ooal Gown' which he adopts to better represent his guild mates. He and his entire guild hall's assets (Including the building and NPCs) are transported over from the VR MMO game YGGDRASIL into a real fantasy world. The catch is that he alone out of all the other players were transported (The only one we know of that is), so he's the only one that knows he came from a game.
The NPCs were granted sentience, their stats and creators influencing their personalities and every skill and item was translated over to have real-world properties. The denizens of 'The Great Tomb of Nazarick' follow their new overlord unwaveringly as he kind of sorta plans to take over this new world. But doesn't because he just wants to find his friends.
The character designs are instantly recognizable from silhouette alone. It's pleasantly surprising to have a skeleton with a strong and brutal physique be a main character for once. However, not everything is dandy. The studio tends to use heavy CGI for mass background characters, which means the battles involving armies look crude at best.
The soundtrack is mostly serviceable with only one or two standout songs. The OP is a banger every season. Sound design wise, I encountered no problems that an unprofessional ear couldn't hear. Except for one character who's plate armor didn't clank like it should've when he walked, but I suppose he did mention it was made of magic metal made to be silent... doesn't stop it from bothering me though.
The characters are the largest problem with this show that I have. Sure the author focused all his time on worldbuilding and yeah they're supposed to be all fantasy stereotypes but even if he's lampooning them he's not doing a great job. I found them neither interesting nor entertaining. Let me explain.
So firstly we have Ainz, the main character that starts off as a relatable everyman in a skeleton's body, but we quickly find out that his new undead physiology is giving him problems feeling empathy with humans anymore. Or in general, leaving him to commit pretty terrible acts without batting an eye.
I feel as if the author is unsure of the direction he wants to take with the MC, as he hasn't double downed on any facet of his personality. He ends up operating in a strange twilight zone where the author is too afraid to make him too evil in fear of him being unrelatable but then making do some pretty terrible things anyway, only to mask them with 'pragmatic' excuses. Look mate. I don't care how pragmatic human experimentation, or committing mass genocide is (on a whim might I add). It's still evil. Stop beating around the bush. And don't give me a "It's because I'm not human anymore" excuse. That's not an excuse, that's a reason. "Valid" (If there even is such thing as a 'valid') excuses to be evil, like a tragic past or a change in physiology don't excuse evil acts. They just explain them. When you're the type of guy who is committing warcrimes on a whim you're either sympathetic and tragic because you've got a good heart and a relatable cause OR you're a total bastard that finds excuses to do terrible things. And Ainz is trying to get the best of both worlds by tip-toeing around the reasons he does anything. So he's supposed to be relatable AND sociopathic? That makes no sense. Pick one. I either like him because he's being so evil it's charming (Ala Freeza) or I like him because I give a damn about his suffering (Ala Darth Vader). He has the appearance and the panache but none of the substance.
So his motivation for the first 2 seasons are a rather flimsy collection of goals, involving NOT taking over the world but simply: gathering intel, spreading his name around the world so other players may find him and staying covert enough that...other player's don't find him. What I don't understand is that his bumbling everyman persona clashes with his cautious but elite guild player mentality. He's smart enough to know all the mechanics of his favorite MMO inside and out, and how to wage a proper battle with another player but not smart enough to think out the consequences of his frequent overlord 'plans'. Creating many comedic scenarios where the consequences of his actions are mistaken as 'divine schemes' by his followers.
He doesn't even want to take over the world until the 3rd season when his subordinate suggests it from a comment he made by accident on the first episode. So he's actually experimented on humans, murdered people and ordered genocide all BEFORE he decided on world domination. And we're supposed to like and admire this guy or something? Well at least his subordinates do. They worship him like a god unquestionably which definitely doesn't undermine any decision or freewill they might have, we'll get to that later.
So this not so relatable office worker in a sociopathic skeleton god's body, grinded an MMO for countless hours and is now the indisputable lord and master of the new world he's transported in. All his power, all his assets, everything he's acquired he's got from playing a video game with his friends. Which kind of robs him of any overlord-like admiration that I would naturally have for a character that had the cunning to achieve their position. Everytime he does his signature anime power level flex, all I see is a nerd showing off his trophies to a bunch of hapless bystanders.
And in the end he doesn't come off very sympathetic or admirable because of his situation and actions. Then what is he? He's charismatic enough to at least trick people that he's a good leader, since we receive a lot of his internal monologues that reveal he's more a goof than anything. A goof with too much power for his own good. And I'd know that, because a goof that knows he's lost sympathy for the human race but is rational enough not to commit murder so that he may have a clear conscious upon returning to his own world wouldn't of killed this many people this far in. His sociopathy undermines any endearing traits he has and the author's constant reaching for viewer sympathy with him undermines any verbose villainy he may achieve if he just doubled down on his hypocrisy and went full crazy.
As an evil overlord, he's in the far less entertaining boat than his other, better contemporaries. He's not as tragic enough as Darth Vader or verbose and magnificently evil as Freeza. He's the worst of both worlds and it makes me not care for him. He doesn't OWN his villainy he doesn't get shit DONE like other villains. Frankly I don't think the author knows what makes a villain fun. Admittedly, him frequently bumbling about is a great source of humor for the show, that it does exploit frequently. But it's not funny enough to hold the whole thing together. He doesn't even struggle enough for me to want to see him try. Unless you like powerful character for the sheer sake that they're powerful than you're not going to find much here to like. The main character has ended up as just another wet noodle Isekai protagonist who flexes in much the same manner, except with the tables switched on the side he's on.
Y'know what? There's no time to explain why the side characters are just as poor. Ainz was the best character they had and he still sucked. But I'll just sum it up here: you have two types of side characters, the ones that have no power and can't effect the plot in any meaningful way but we spend tons of time following them around anyway and the ones that DO have power but have no free will to act upon it because they're enslaved to Ainz. One character in particular: Sebas demonstrates this to its most egregious extreme when his loyalty and morality is called into question. During a farely standard arc where we discover that he has conlicting values with the rest of the NPCs because of his moral code we hit a climax where he must decide what is more valuable: His loyalty or his love? Is he a man? or is he a slave? Well he's a slave. Because we find out that he'd rather throw away any moral code he had just because skeletor told him so. Making him substantially less interesting. No Sebas goes 'John Wick' on Nazarick arc for us. Just boring old status quo.
Any point the author is trying to achieve with his characters is just not making the cut. I don't care what happens to these characters. When Ainz kills another set of adventurers because they looked at Nazarick funny, I just don't care as much as I should. Neither for the adventurers or for Ainz. I know the outcome already, and it's not that funny, not that epic, and not that tragic. All I see is potential for something greater and plenty of missed opportunities.
As a conventional story, Overlord doesn't hold up very well. Even as a sort of meta black comedy about fantasy cliches, in a world where One Punch Man exists, a super hero parody that lampoons many of the tropes its genre in much the same way; it's neither as funny, as epic or as surprisingly touching as its superhero counterpart can be. As a conventional story, it lacks the character conflict, substance, stakes or impact that any good story would actually have. The potential for amazing conflict is so juicy here it's frustrating to not see it utilized. So whatever it's doing, it's completely missed the mark for me.
The worldbuilding was just interesting enough to keep me going to the end of season 3 (I'm a sucker for fantasy) and it was *just* funny enough to make me snicker when Demiurge mistook Ainz' intentions for the 3rd time in a row. But I'm not holding my breath for a 4th installment. Especially if I'll be getting much the same. Maybe it will hold your attention for longer if you learn to like the chuuni-power-fantasy element that takes itself too seriously. If you're really starved for some typical high fantasy world dressing with a twist on its perspective than I guess this is a decent pick.