In the year 2138, a DMMO-RPG (DIVE Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called Yggdrasil is about to meet the end of its run after 12 years. Momonga, the last member of his guild, decides to see that time through to the very end without logging out. Gathering the minions of the Tomb of Nazarik in the main hall, he sits in the throne and awaits the great logout that is supposed to end everything.
And then he awakens to find himself a part of the game in a way he didn't expect. Suddenly, his underlings talk -- in fact, they seem more animated than ever. And while the game menus are taken away, the magic powers are still working somehow, so Momonga sets himself a new goal: find out what happened, how much this world has changed in light of these unexpected events, and maybe even take it over.
Power fantasies are hardly anything new, and I haven't always been the biggest fan of them. This goes doubly for "trapped in a videogame" genre, which doubles as wish-fulfillment for people who places an unhealthy level of importance in their hobbies. While I never watched Sword Art Online, supposedly the pinnacle of the genre, I did familiarize myself with this concept in Log Horizon. The reason I avoided Sword Art Online is mostly because while it started intriguing enough when I first heard about it, it eventually turned into a rather sexist harem fantasy for males. Whether that criticism is warranted remains to be seen, though I generally trust Carlos opinion on the subject enough that I'll most likely find myself agreeing with it if I were to watch it.
The first episode makes it quite clear that the player of the character Momonga has no life, almost literally. It's work, eat and sleep, with Yggdrasil being his tenuous link to anything resembling recreation and relaxation. This is most likely the reason why he poured so much of his heart and soul into it, and why his guild are among the top ranked ones near the end. For all his omnipotent powers in the game, the show is quite aware of the general social status of adults playing videogames in real life -- particularly in Japan -- and his dorkiness shines through from time to time with what is presumably his real-world identity. But now that he's caught up in the game, he's more than willing to throw himself into his online persona more often and with greater gusto. In fact, since he now finds himself the sole caretaker of the guild Ainz Ooal Gown, he feels even more obligated to play the ruler.
And having fun with something? That's definitely something I can get behind. Like High School DxD or Monster Musume to boobie shows, Overlord does take its subject seriously, but not without a twinkle in its eye. Unlike most shows of its kind, Overlord actually puts our "heroes" in the role generally relegated to the villains. Momonga -- that is, the game character -- is a lich, and when the NPCs were just that -- minor AI controlled characters who fulfilled various menial tasks -- ordering them around without sparing them a second thought isn't really an unnatural thing in itself. But once Momonga finds them all living out their carefully crafted personalities with whatever additions this mysterious happening added -- voices and facial expressions -- Momonga all of a sudden finds himself treating them with respect and maybe even admiration, even as they continue their work as his underlings.
Before the game was set to deactivate, Momonga made a last checkup on one of the NPCs, the stunningly gorgeous Albedo. As the overseer of anything involving Nazarik, he found himself surprised that her creator had given her the hidden personality of "a bitch", and just to mess around a little bit during the last hours of this world, he altered the "bitch" part to "deeply in love with Momonga". While an iffy proposition in general, Momonga was expecting the game to shut down anyway, and even when he found himself captured in this recreated world, that change backfired tremendously (and hilariously) when Albedo, while indeed deeply in love with him from that point forth, also went at it with all her Yandere powers that be. (Though she is never actually violent, at least not towards Momonga himself.) When Momonga mentioned this to Albedo later in a hopeful attempt at putting an end to that, she literally replied with "I honestly don't see what the problem is."
What salvages this situation is that despite the manufactured love Albedo has for Momonga, it does not influence the rest of her personality, and as it turns out, the remaining minions of Nazarik also holds him in the highest regard while curtailing personality traits of their own. And while I'm sure we'd all like to relish in that kind of undivided attention, Momonga clearly has problems dealing with it at times, especially since there is rarely any escape from it. Though it is arguably helpful when he needs to get things done, it nevertheless presents a problem when he doesn't know how they feel about the things he makes them do, or the tasks he expects them to perform. And it definitely puts a hamper on constructive criticism when his minions wouldn't even dream of speaking against him.
This extends to the rest of the cast too: the vampire Shelltear, the Pleiades combat Maids (most of which wear maid uniforms, because "maids"), Cocytus the giant insect man, the two dark elf twins Aura and Mare, as well as Sebas and Demiurge, two gentlemanly fellows. Most of them look mostly human-ish, save for a few additions, but there are most likely more to everyone than that. Albedo has horns poking out of her head as well as a pair of wings attached to her lower back, while we get to see Demiurge transform into some kind of winged frog demon. One of the requisites to joining the Tomb of Nazarik was that you couldn't play a human character, so while many of the guardians of Nazarik might look human -- the Pleiades Combat Maids most of all -- they are anything but. Like most of the residents of Nazarik, they hate humans for being weak and insignificant, which is certainly villainous.
One thing I really liked about this show over its comtemporaries, like Log Horizon, is that Overlord doesn't feel the need to explain everything down to the most elementary level. It assumes that you're at least somewhat familiar with the general nature of an MMORPG and don't need to be pedantically explained what an NPC is or what items are, and as such, it spends its time more wisely explaining the world and the characters instead, and lays out the story instead. Which is probably the reason why Overlord is 13 episodes instead of 26.
Also, despite his villainous look and demeanor, Momonga is basically a decent person at heart, and this will interfere with him acting out his role. It does occasionally lead to some amusing subversion of classic roles, like Momonga heading off to a village about to be slaughtered by holy-ish looking knights, crushing the heart of one of them (albeit mostly to test his abilities now that he has become a permanent part of this world) before summoning a death knight to deal with the rest of them. Sure, he keeps reminding himself that he doesn't feel anything for anyone thanks to his status as an undead, and it might be true to some extent, he's still easily flustered when Albedo and Shelltear start a fight for his affection. Then again, this is the man who asked to touch Albedo's chest just as they had seemingly gained sentience (to which she more than happily obliged) and then went into a long analythical monologue about how everything had changed when he had at least one of his hands full. (So to speak.)
Of course, he's not without ambition still. His guild was, as mentioned, one of the highest-ranking ones in Yggdrasil, and now that this world has turned disturbingly real, he sets out to figure out what's going on. To these ends, he sets out to build his renown across the lands, and that means starting from the lower end as an adventurer. I mentioned that Momonga is generally a benevolent guy, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's benevolent or selfless, so if he does anything, it's mostly because he expects or will get something beneficial in return. As it turns out, the earlier NPC characters doesn't react well to complete benevolence anyway, so that worked to his advantage either way. In addition, one of the kingdoms, the Slaine Theocracy, resembles more the historically worst aspects of Christianity -- despite the clean, sterile designs of its people and their magical aides, they are almost solely presented as power-hungry conquerors who also rely on deceit to prolong a conflict between two other nations with a history of blood feuds. And that's not even getting started on one of the story arc villains, someone so vile and nasty that said character overrode my distaste for having my feelings of vindication fed. And the show can get really nasty too. Overlord is definitely not for children, as both people and non-humans die in blood-splattery fashion, often with various body parts separated from the body. Many of the villains go out of their way to be as nasty as possible, especially the aforementioned one, who delight in torturing her victims; the more helpless the victim and the longer the time spent, the better. The violence rarely gets excessive, but the implications are still there. It's definitely rated "Mature" for a reason.
Madhouse might not quite be the animation studio they used to be, but Overlord is still a pretty sweet-looking and well-animated show. The fact that our main characters by and large look like villains from other shows give Overlord a large variety in character designs. It's safe to say that Momonga doesn't look like your average hero type, and the others adapt some pretty hilarious facial expressions, particularly Albedo and Shelltear whenever they get into a fight over Momonga, but most of the other, more expressionate character get into the fun of things too. It's a glorious sight every single time, to the point where it's disappointing when any of them are wearing face-concealing helmets. Furthermore, the action scenes all move pretty smoothly. There is some obvious CG shenanigans going on, the most notable examples being the aforementioned Death Knight, but also a very special dragon later on. (You'll see.) The Death Knight does look a little rubber-y, but the dragon is actually quite impressive both in scope and movement.
And thankfully, the dub is quite competent too. Given how crazy some of the characters can get, especially our leading ladies Albedo and Shelltear, it's great to see that their actors can ham it up accordingly. That also extends to Momonga's role playing mode, whenever he plays his part as the lord and master of Nazarik compared to his inner, dorkier self. It makes it quite a lot easier to digest once the trash-talking sessions come up, and they do come up often.
Which brings us back to the power fantasy part of what Overlord is all about. Momonga isn't just the leader of one of the most powerful guilds in old Yggdrasil, he's just about as god-tired as one can be. You'd think that would just make the show rather anticlimactic, but while that isn't necessarily incorrect, the show lampshades itself pretty hard about that aspect, which somehow just makes it more amusing. (At one point, he does a facepalm, muttering "This is so stupid!) It also helps that Momonga, while now an elder lich in this world, still sort of remains as his real-life persona whenever things get too ridiculous or stupid. Which is weird, because unlike Log Horizon, death is quite permanent here. Not that Momonga and his crew has died, but some of his aquaintances does (and in a rather death flag-ish manner, you'll most likely know who I'm talking about), and it's.... not a pretty sight. The humor is certainly dark-ish in tone... with some exceptions, like the cartoonish hamster forest God who uses the same sentence structures as Yoda, at least in the dub. Even for all the trash talking it does, you'll always know that at least one of the parties involved will live up to their boasts.
I rather enjoyed Overlord. It's kind of an inverted version of regular "caught in the MMORPG" genre where you take on a more villainous role rather than play the hero, except for the fact that a lot of the residents of this world can be far, far nastier than the main cast. As mentioned, I'm no fan of power fantasies, and I tend to find trash-talking rather tedious in general, but the show is ridiculous enough to make these two aspects work for it. That said, Overlord is only the second "caught up in the game" show I've seen, so I don't think I can guarantee that you'd like this show if you've seen everything else out there. I liked Overlord because it didn't take itself all that seriously, but that might work against you too. For what it's worth, though, you can do a lot worse.
A trashy, dark, villainous alternative to a theme that's getting a bit crowded, Overlord gives you a villain you can root for. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: People die in this show in violent ways, and even aftermaths can get rather unsettling, especially since we have a villain who just looooves inflicting torture on her victims, and taking her sweet time about it too. Even outside of that, we have a theocracy that are more than willing to sacrifice small villages of peasants just so they can keep a war between two other nations going.
Version(s) Viewed: Region A Bluray, bilingual.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Overlord © 2015 Madhouse.
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