For roughly as long as anime has existed, it has been a vessel through which people can create worlds all their own and escape from the drudgery that is a reality devoid of lasers, aliens and mystical creatures, who may or may not take the form of attractive women with, like, cat ears or something. Similarly, video games also offer this respite, escapism via suspension of disbelief. Building upon this unbeknownst history I have poorly bestowed upon you, these two forces have blended together more than once in an anime genre that I shall dub;
Now, though it is far from a strikingly original concept, Overlord drew my attention based on one simple difference, that being that the protagonist is the only human drawn into the MMO world which he frequents. This provides an interesting little plotline caveat in that, unlike the patrons of Sword Art Online or Log Horizon, Momonga (protagonist) has no one to turn to that shares his burden. Sans like-problemed individuals, how would one react to being sucked into a fictional world? Well, that question remains largely unanswered, as the first episode takes a decidedly slow pace in introducing us to the world in the world of Overlord (the MMO named Yggdrasil).
Joining Momonga at the very end of the MMO he so desperately loved, we are treated to a slow walk down his memory lane, saying farewell to the NPCs that populate his painstakingly constructed guild hall, built by 42 like-minded members of society who strived hard (to the detriment of their social standing and, in some cases, marriages) to build a home within Yggdrasil (the MMO itself). Of course, of these 42, 37 quit for various reasons and the guild of Ainz Ooal Gown receded. Now, you may wonder “This is a First Thoughts article, why are you writing about the plot in detail?” Well that’s a very good question. See, for the sake of a similar experience, I’m providing you with the backstory of the episode. Ultimately, the majority of this episode is setting up the actual plot, which happens about halfway, three-quarters of the way into the episode.
Sure it sounds harsh, but these ceremonious farewells generally have a greater impact when the audience actually knows the setting, the world, the characters. Whilst this was in no way a bad way to begin the series, the ratio of “farewell pre-established world” to “hello weird new world” felt way off. Speaking of the emotional, another weakness of this first episode can, strangely enough, be found within one of its strengths. Given his love and innate knowledge of the game, Momonga is rather swift in adapting to his new situation, figuring out how to cast magic, command his followers and assess this bizarre turn of events at surprising speed. Now, whilst this is something near every anime fan is screaming at their screen when characters take forever to come to terms with the main plotpoint of a series, when combined with the flow of this episode, Momonga’s struggle is greatly reduced in impact. Leaping into Yggdrasil as an all powerful skeleton wizard with a cadre of loyal monsters and a demon beauty who is positively enamoured with him, I can’t really discern a conflict to propel this series. Momonga himself even notes how he has zero reasons to return to Earth…so, yeah. Dude’s got it made.
As far as animation goes, Overlord looks pretty good. The character designs are considerably interesting, with Momonga rockin’ a skeletal form that could go toe-to-toe with Ghost Rider (or some other pop culture skeleton) and his servants bearing the traditional anime style of appearing human, but with tails and stuff. The action sequences also held up well, despite their brief nature, showcasing the CGI that has come to be expected in anime series of nowadays. So, whilst far from mind-blowing, it is far from a negative element.
Ultimately, my impressions of Overlord are…hesitant. Through a deluge of set-up and a smattering of internal monologue, Overlord really didn’t burst out of the gate with force. When you consider things rationally, it literally begins with the petering out of a franchise, with only one discernible patron who cares. There could be other guilds out there with members who were drawn into Yggdrasil, but at this point it’s all speculation. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t exactly the impression that a first episode is meant to leave. There are certainly some interesting elements within the series, but a lack of development severely meted my anticipation of content. I mean, I’ll most likely end up watching episode two, but with much lower expectations than I entered episode one.