There are some videogames that you can just lose yourself in, aren’t there? You sit down, you play for a while and before you know it, it’s 4am and you have no idea where the time went. It’s like it’s own fun form of time travel…but what if it were space travel as well? What if, one day, you sat down to play that favourite game of yours and found yourself a part of it? What would you do then? Would you act as yourself, frightened and conscious of consequence? Or would you act as your character and do everything you could to win?
Such is the case for Momonga, a player of YGGDRASIL, a DMMORPG in the year 2138 or so. You see, the D in the genre stands for dive, as the future is a place of fully immersive Virtual Reality that has seen gaming evolve exponentially…possibly. You see, not too much is known about Momonga’s world of origin (even his name is inconsequential), as our story begins when he is transported to another world, in the guise of his character. Having slept through the server shutdown of YGGDRASIL, Momonga finds himself not in the game itself, but in yet another world unknown to him. However, as a high level player, Momonga brings with him his base, The Great Tomb of Nazarick, and all the NPCs within. Of course, they too are now more than a game and have a sentience all their own, with their player created programming evolving into actual personalities. Luckily for Momonga however, they are all fiercely loyal to him and view him as the undisputed Supreme Being, the last of the 41 who founded the guild of Ainz Ooal Gown (otherwise known as the 41 players of YGGDRASIL who banded together to play). Oh, they also wish to help Momonga take over the world, as Ainz Ooal Gown was a guild of non-human, mostly evil aligned players. Which is kind of an important detail.
The main premise of Overlord is, unsurprisingly, videogames. however, what is interesting about this premise is the way it is used. Having come from the “real world” to that of a game, Momonga cares little for anyone around him. Treating them for the most part as standard NPCs, he views the atrocities of this new world with the aloof distance of a player. His acts of mercy and kindness are done so with the knowledge that they will provide rewards and praise. He saves those he finds useful and eliminates those who would pose a threat. Honestly, it is frightening to see how one with the mentality of a gamer would decimate a world. The pragmatism is astounding and, though understandable in this context, teeters on the line of sociopathy…a lot. Unfortunately however, this interesting protagonist viewpoint also severely mutes the rest of the cast. As moments are filtered through the monologues of Momonga, it can be difficult to care for the world around him. Characters come and go with little fanfare, those who seemed important are cast aside almost immediately and no foe can hold a candle to Momonga’s own power, removing any sense of danger. Combined with the series off kilter progression, the result is an audience who may care for the world less than Momonga himself.
Speaking of Momonga, let’s speak of Momonga, or should I say Ainz Ooal Gown. You see, having pondered the possibility of other players having shared his fate, Momonga decided to adopt the name of his guild and serve as a beacon for those who may be lost. To this end, he decided to spread his name by performing remarkable tasks, whilst simultaneously learning about this new world. After graciously saving a village, he learn of three warring factions who hold power in the land, I would name them, but it really doesn’t matter. Rather than pursue this grandiose plotline to any degree at all, Momonga immediately assumes another mantle; that of the adventurer Momon. To this end, he undertakes missions and learns of the kingdom of Re-Estize, the closest to him. Interesting to be sure, but also where the series halts completely to begin again. Convinced that we were to watch the tale of Ainz rising to power, we are instead given a tale upon a tale and follow the adventures of Momon for far too long. It feels like a complete stop to how the series started and impedes more than it progresses any tangible story. This feeling is not helped by the random appearance of a new character as Momon’s travelling partner. Having spent the series’ outset learning of Momonga’s loyal Guardians, none of them receive any due screentime once Momon joins the fray, having taken one of the Nazarick Maids as his companion. Though the Guardians are stated to be performing their own tasks, few come to fruition and even fewer matter in the long run.
This sentiment is unfortunately also shared by the larger plot, as Momonga’s initial fight against and invading country leads nowhere. Arguments can be made for this following Momonga’s cautious personality, and they are well founded, however for a series to spend its entire run in the preparatory phase of an adventure bodes rather poorly for progression of plot. In fact, it isn’t even until the end of the final episode that the aforementioned battle is even mentioned and even further after that that the plot appears to be finally pushing forward. Ultimately, in Ainz Ooal Gown’s plot to spread their name across the world, only one town is even aware of their existence. The Raven Knight Momon is more popular in this culture and that feels like an aside to where the story wishes to go. So ironically, this series ends up capturing an MMORPG pretty well, following countless side quests over the story proper, striving to push forward with only a vague goal in mind.
Moving over to the actual presentation of Overlord, it is here that I can gift the most praise. Though the animation itself is not tremendous, the designs of each of Ainz Ooal Gown’s members is interesting, varied and inherently memorable, doing wonders to mete the negative impact their lack of screentime burdens them with. Their unique designs also serve as a constant reminder that their origins lie far from the world they now find themselves in, with even those more human in appearance carrying a far different aura. That being said, the finesse demanded by their missions force them to conceal their truest appearances from the world, which, whilst completely understandable, can be a little frustrating at times. This is namely on account of the fact we are given a demonic skeleton and oddly serene demoness to lead our cast and they are forced to don armour slightly more ornate than every other useful character in the world. Makes you miss the visual variance the opening promised. Although it does make it hit a little harder whenever Ainz Ooal Gown hints at their true power beyond the boundaries of their Great Tomb.
All this said however, my most positive takeaway of this series would have to be the performances of the characters. Unabashedly a fan of English dubs, Overlord’s contained a certain sense of personality that was refreshing. Though it may sound counter-intuitive to a polished production, some lines seemed something said on the fly, rather than a completely rehearsed piece of dialogue. It just adds a little relatable normalcy to the series that is not tremendously common. The absolute disparity between Chris Guerrero’s performances as Momomnga’s internal and external voices is also genuinely interesting to listen to and does its damnedest to remind you that there is a conflict going on within this character. Mikaela Krantz is also a ton of fun to listen to as Clementine, keeping the bombastic psychopath sounding crazy, yet focused. It also never not fun to hear Ed Blaylock turn up, bumping Sebas up the list of memorable characters. Simply put, this is a fun series to listen to…even if it’s plot steers it on and off course.
Overlord is not a bad series, it is simply one that is lacking. With promises of world jumping, reality altering magic and a freakin’ skeleton king as a protagonist, the series winds up falling closer to well trodden path than I believe it wished. With constant reminders that Momonga’s emotions are dulled in his new body, he really does not behave any differently than a hero would be expected to. His reasoning varies to be sure, but the series does not progress far enough for any of that to truly culminate. Instead, we find ourselves following the tale of a people’s champion suffering a bad case of apathy. Though he mercilessly dispatches those who serve him no purpose, the overall vibe of the series holds us back from caring about them anyway. The series puts more emotional effort into the fact the YGGDRASIL servers are shutting down than it does the brutal torture of a poor young girl. Again, perhaps that is the point of Overlord, to show how jaded Momonga is in this world and how disastrous that attitude can be. However, rather than prove some intrinsic truth about the nature of man, it simply feels as if this series is lacking the heart it so desperately needs to succeed.
All may appreciate the stars that glitter like jewels in a treasure box, but only a Madman may claim them as their own