Anime series have just about covered the entire “player gets stuck in video game” spectrum of stories from A to Z, from reluctant players to those who want to pretend to be in-game gods. So much, it’s almost gotten to the point that it’s downright boring. Recent titles like Sword Art Online and Log Horizon have gotten a lot right and a few things wrong as well, but it seemed as though they might be one of the last words on the trope for some time, that is until Overlord came along. Overlord, based on a light novel series by Kugane Maruyama, is an interesting twist on a familiar format. Rather than placing viewers in the shoes of a relative nobody who has to work their way to the top all the way from a low level, they’re plunged into the world of a top player who finds himself now stuck in the world of his favorite MMORPG. But that’s not the kicker: He looks a whole lot more like a villain than a hero.
Like a (Guild) Boss
Overlord knows how to hook audiences, and it does with a pretty killer opening. From the start, you’re a little confused as you see this enormous skeletal being walking around with what looks like high-powered gear and plenty of weight in the game he’s playing, Yggdrasil. He looks an awful lot like he might decide to kill you at a moment’s notice, but that’s not the case at all. He’s the protagonist of the story, who goes by the name Momonga. He’s a dedicated player whose guild members have left him one by one, each stolen away by the call of the real world or the impending shutdown of the game itself. An enormous skeletal being draped in finery, he casts an impressive shadow over everything that passes through Yggdrasil.
Momonga has reached the maximum level you can in the game, and he rules over other players with absolute power. Still, he’s grounded and cautious, even going so far as to retain NPCs to protect him at all times when it seems like Yggdrasil is devoid of other players. He keeps his cool even as he finds, on the last day the game was scheduled to remain open, he’s suddenly unable to log out. Rather than freaking out and completely going out of his gourd, he reaches the only logical conclusion: The world he’s spent so much time of his life in has become real in some way, so he’s got to get to the bottom of it. Even when it seems as though he’s all alone without any human companions to speak of at his side, he’s keen to forge valiantly ahead and see what he can do in the world that suddenly seems to have become real. As the series wears on, Momonga realizes he’s quite unsure if he’d want to go back to the real world even if he were able to, a situation that anyone should be able to relate to if this happened to occur in real life.
Becoming the Overlord
With this in mind, Momonga settles into his new role as the leader of all around him, ruling everything he sees with an iron, yet fair fist. He’s an all-powerful being in the new realm he’s living in, but manages to stay grounded, never fully succumbing to the drunkenness of power lesser beings may have in the first place when they realized they could even go so far as to edit game code. Momonga remains overtly human even while trapped in a powerful skeletal form. That’s what makes Overlord such an entertaining watch, following Momonga from the moment he realizes what’s going on in the world up to the point where he decides he’s going to fully own it.
We never get bored of watching Momonga interacting with Yggdrasil, testing its limits and seeing just how far he can go with things. It’s clear this is a world that has given him an overwhelming amount of joy and camaraderie with the peers he played alongside who accepted him, even with his shortcomings. He’s fiercely loyal to anyone on his side, even though he may be playing on the side of evil, and anyone who might threaten his well-being will undoubtedly feel his wrath. That, or his minions’ wrath: They’re a series of all-powerful beings as well, plus they were all created by Momonga and his cabinet of guild members of Ainz Ooal Gown, which Momonga later changes his name to in honor of the guild he presided over.
And yet, Momonga certainly isn’t the only character who’s a joy to watch interacting with Yggdrasil. When Momonga became trapped in the world, he gained an entire cabinet of devoted minions, such as Albedo, his second in command. Every one of Momonga’s minions were actually created and programmed by Yggdrasil, and thus they fawn over and dote on the skeletal being as if he were god, as he has not abandoned them. It can be hilarious to watch, especially when they fight with each other over Momonga’s attention and who is, in fact, doing more for him in the grand scheme of things. Albedo may be one of the funniest, as Momonga edited her from being a little ice-hearted prior to being trapped in the game to being completely in love with him, which makes for some legitimately hilarious scenarios.
It’s a good thing the characters are so enjoyable and fun to watch interact with each other, as the story is on the shorter side and there aren’t that many episodes that offer a chance to really flesh out the world and explore it further. That’s the mark of a great series and world when you know you’re just going to flat out need more time with it and it’s just not there.
Flipping the Script
Despite decidedly less dire circumstances than other series where players find themselves trapped in an MMORPG (it’s never a fighting game or racing game or anything like that, is it?) Overlord still remains incredibly engaging and invites you to come along for the ride with each new episode. There’s so much more to learn about Momonga and the colorful cast of characters that you’ll always want to know more, even when you think you know everything.
It’s all so very relatable even though the situation is so out there and our protagonist looks more like a lich king than a humanoid character. In the end, that’s what works and makes you yearn for a sequel, which is hopefully already being worked. The first season simply isn’t enough time spent with Momonga and company, so once you fly through these first few episodes don’t be surprised if you’re left hungry for something more. Other similar adventures may not scratch the itch left behind just as well as Overlord does.
available from FUNimation.