Jake Reviews Anime: Overlord

I am a huge fan of dark fantasy. It shows up in the games that I play, the stories I write, and in the anime I watch. Among my favorite animes as of late is Overlord. There have not been many Isekai (trapped in another world) animes that have truly gotten my dedication of sitting down and watching. Several have unique concepts that tend to fail at some point, but Overlord exceeds my expectations. I am writing this review at the time that season three has ended.

In fact it is because of season three that this article is as delayed as it has been. Some pretty major events occur in it that I believe says volumes about the direction of the show. I will be discussing these in the spoiler only section.

Elevator Pitch

The anime starts off with the max leveled character Momonga logged into the last few minutes of the MMORPG Yggdrasil. All of his guild members have logged off as the game’s servers are about to be shut down. Staying on for the final moments he finds himself still in his avatar’s body, with some slight changes. He is unable to access the game’s functions and the NPC’s their guild had designed begin showing signs of sentience. Momonga find himself trapped in a new world with certain mechanics being the same. Momonga takes on the name of the guild, Ainz Ooal Gown.

Spoiler Free Review

There are very few stories that have the protagonist being an overpowered being and still having them act in a way that keeps them relatable. Overlord manages to accomplish that. Lord Ainz is overpowered in raw strength, however throughout the show the voice of the player still comes through. To the Floor Guardians he is an unsurpassed leader, but beneath it all he was/is human who is not a tactical genius. Lord Ainz is expected to be an evil overlord which I find fascinating for a stance of the protagonist.

From the start, the character designs are quite memorable. Each of the floor guardians has a unique design that distinguishes them from one another. Ainz himself has a unique design, with several costume changes throughout the seasons, each interesting in its own way. The special effects of the various spells and atmospheres add to the sheer power and potential of the world. In particular I love how they change the mood of a setting to make something appear incredibly powerful, only for Ainz or one of the Floor Guardians to easily wipe it out.

What shocked me about Overlord was the number of voice actors that I simply did not recognize. Until looking at the list of actors, there were a bunch of actors that I have gotten familiar with other anime that were super well hidden in this one. The only voice I managed to recognize was the voice of Michael Jones from Rooster Teeth. This just proves to me how amazing all of these voice actors were and how much I still have to watch. Each actor has done an amazing job at embodying the characters they play.

The story behind Overlord is surprisingly simple and it has a lot that it builds on. Covered in the first episode Lord Ainz’s only goal is to find another player of Yggdrasil. So much is done with this simple goal, it makes for wonderful sub-plots later on. The show loves to explore the stories of some of the supporting characters, giving them their own arcs and getting us invested. The show certainly shows its dark side as some supporting characters have to deal with horrors introduced by Ainz’s goals. Making the show’s protagonists the “bad guys” really makes me appreciate the depth of character motivations and rooting for everyone. I want to see the supporting cast succeed and for the residents of the Tomb of Nazarick to succeed, but I know deep down that only one can really come out on top. As dark as the show can seem it definitely tries to lighten the mood with various jokes and reactions from the characters. Luckily, the show is very good about maintaining the current mood and not letting the jokes distract from the current scenario.

Without a doubt I think Overlord is one of the better anime when it comes to worldbuilding. They don’t attempt to frontload the mechanics of Yggdrasil as they try to use it throughout the show. Instead they use the differences that the characters recognize to teach us about the world they have landed themselves in. They gloss over other details that are realistically not important. An example of it is the spellcasting system. Because we already know that Ainz is the most powerful character to date, we don’t need to understand it. Even though he is powerful, he is also our POV character as he also explores this new world that he is trapped in.

Of all the shows amazing features, I think the one thing that I could live without is some of the supporting character’s desire for Lord Ainz. In some cases it feels like a real distraction and reminds me at times of a harem anime, especially with how passionate some of the characters can act.

As I mentioned near the beginning of this article, I love this show. As a dark fantasy author this show scratches an itch I truly desire. The show has a combination of political intrigue, adventure, and awesome world building. I enjoy Ainz as a protagonist, and it can show how one can slowly become more of a villain. I get excited every week when I get the chance to watch it and can’t wait until season four is announced.

I have several other shows that I would like to do this kind of review for, but if there are any shows you think I should watch or review (maybe I’ve already seen it) make sure to leave a comment or tweet at me @your1_nightmare. I would love to hear about your experiences of this show and what you thought about it!

SPOILERS AHEAD

While I had one complaint about this show, I can’t really go into detail about it because it was surface level. Instead I’m going to go into some of the moments I thought were the most powerful for moving the show to near the top of my favorite anime list.

The first moment that solidified my opinion of the show was when Lord Ainz was facing off against the religious order in season one when they were attacking Carne Village (the religious order, not the Tomb of Nazarick). There was a build-up of action where in most fight anime you expect the minions to go down easy, but then the big boss comes in and makes the hero fight even harder. Hell, in this scene Ainz even believes it's going to be the case just before he opens a black hole and swallows the supposedly high level angel. This broke my expectation that each fight was going to be a tense battle of wits and Ainz was actually going to be challenged. While it proves that Ainz is overpowered, it did so to break a mold. This show was not going to be about who was the most powerful, it was going to be about more than that.

The ending of season one was another defining moment in my opinion. While the opening of the season was to show how powerful Ainz was, this showed what his biggest challenges were as a character. First was that he surrounded himself by powerful NPC’s. As a GM myself I know that one of the most fun tricks to pull against your players is to take something they think is an ally and turn them on the party. This also reveals that there is still powerful pieces at play in the world that Ainz does not know about, but they know enough about him. While the fight was amazing and showed the versatility of Ainz, it wasn’t the point. To me this proves that the battles in this show have meaning behind each one. (I also think Shaltear is just a horrifyingly adorable villain.)

Speaking of Shaltear, the parts of the show that deal with the minor characters and Carne village are amazing for building up the world and later for creating some absolute gut punching moments. One of the big parts that got me invested was when Brain went up against Shaltear and was utterly useless. He panics, but later he uses that moment as a measuring point for how far he has come, and we sort of root for him as we see him cope with how insignificant he feels. Later, when he chips the nail of a vampire, he is practically jumping for joy and we feel proud for him. The show invests us in the supporting cast as much as we know it will turn against us. Again, my kind of show.

I’m going to try and wrap up all of season two into a nice bow. While season one set the scene and made us familiar with the characters, season two is really where the show makes us attached and shows the first hint of what the show is willing to do to us. With the buildup of motivations for the supporting cast and the entire Lizard man village stuff, we get invested in the characters and learn more about them. We get even more invested in the guardians of Nazarick as they take on different roles within the kingdom of E-Rantel for Ainz. The dress up game with Ainz playing as Momon the Adventurer makes us believe to some degree that Ainz hasn’t lost his humanity and actually cares for the people. And his investment sort of makes me invested in those characters, too. This season also solidifies that the guardian of the tomb I am most concerned about is Demiurge as he is far too intelligent to not be suspicious.

Which leads to the storytelling elephant in the room: Lord Ainz’s humanity. Season one started with him trying to maintain his belief that he was human, trying to avoid killing innocent people and just generally not being a murderous monster. While watching the ending of season three, a particular line that Ainz’s internal monologue revealed how far he has fallen: “A lot of people are going to die by my hand, but I feel nothing.” This declaration is immediately followed by the most powerful spell to date and causes the most amount of death that we have seen this far. Even the leaders are horrified and it leads to the conquering of the E-Rantel empire. I am inclined to believe that at this point he has lost all of his humanity, but I also have a small sliver of hope. In the last episode he plays the part of Momon once more and acts out defying Ainz (who we have yet to see who was playing him) and gets recruited by Ainz to uphold the law of this new leadership. Overall I think it’s a hilarious scene when you know that it’s really Ainz, but I believe that what little humanity Ainz might have left is personified in the character he created. Throughout the show it is clear that this is an ever changing aspect of his character and I love that a discussion can be had and the show hasn’t outright killed it.

Season three as a whole has been my favorite. Most notably because it has been the darkest. After taking entire seasons to build up our love for characters, the show outright kills many of the beloved characters and continues to build on those who have survived. They teased it in season two when killing the head lizardman, but toned it back by bringing him back to life. In season three, however, all bets are off. I think it sunk in what season three was about when several adventuring parties began their raid of the Tomb of Nazarick. Meeting with Ainz, the one party that survived the furthest was cut down painfully, spouting many lines that you expect to hear. What little hope was given was utterly crushed by the structure of the tomb and the several guardians within. It was a dark and depressing series of events and I love it all.

It would seem however that there is now a lot to be expected of season four. I have not read the light novels so I am not sure what to expect. That being said, they have an entire world to open up to with several characters and kingdoms not yet explored. On top of that they have only covered a handful of kingdoms and we don’t know the full structure of the world. With plenty of mysteries yet to be solved and character arcs not finished, I am nothing but excited to see what else this show has to offer.

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