Insert obligatory boner joke here.
I find myself terribly conflicted about this series. I think I enjoyed it … but then why did I always have to force myself to watch the next episode? It could be that I liked the idea of Overlord more than the reality of it. For all its strengths and interesting ideas, there was always one thing missing: It wasn’t compelling.
Overlord is the latest entrant in the boom of MMORPG-based anime (including .hack, Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and probably others I don’t know about), and one thing I’m happy to be able to say is that each of these series is doing something notably different. For Overlord, it’s the villain protagonist (trope! … look at that page image. It’s not from this Overlord, but same idea). And that’s a cool idea, right? We’re so used to getting Destined Heroes who swing a sword and get all the girls and generally Kirito it up, and even if you like Kirito, it’s nice to have a change once in a while. Where Log Horizon started its characters at high level and had its main protagonist act a bit like a villain, Overlord said “Screw it!” and went all the way.
And I liked the result. I liked it … but I can’t say I loved it. But I’ll get to that soon. I appreciated a great deal about the setup. When Momonga found himself stuck in the game world and all the NPCs in Nazarick came to life, he didn’t get all weepy or worry about getting out. He, too, said “Screw it!” and decided to conquer the world, because that’s what you do when you’re an undead skeleton (lich?) in charge of an evil fortress, am I right? Hell, simply the idea of having an undead protagonist is new and refreshing.
I liked a lot of the characters too. Albedo getting obsessive was funny. Nabe’s barely-contained hatred when they were playing adventurer led to some good interactions. Then there was Clementine. Ahhh, Clementine! Nothing was sadder than when she died, because it meant we wouldn’t be able to listen to Yuuki Aoi chew the scenery (trope!) any longer. I’m serious—Yuuki Aoi’s hilarious overacting was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the series. I could watch her do that forever.
But so many of the other characters were utterly forgettable. We met some random adventurer who Momonga gave a potion, and when she reappeared fighting Shalltear, I didn’t recognize her. We spent episodes with some adventuring group, who weren’t interesting in the first place, and then they died, having seemingly accomplished nothing. Pleiades maids kept popping up, and aside from Nabe (Narberal), I can’t remember the name of a single one—and I was confused for a good while when she first started playing adventurer with Momonga, because I had no idea who she was. The guardians were good, but nearly every single human (who wasn’t named Clementine) was utterly replaceable. And then there was Hamusuke, who sounded like an even bumbling Yuuki Rito, and the face palming began.
Which is not to say all these characters should have been made into paragons of personality. I think there were too many of them, and some of the side plots they were involved in cluttered the narrative, but others served a clear purpose, and shouldn’t have been especially memorable. They were minor characters for a reason. But when so many characters are so “blah,” the story begins to blur together into a forgettable morass.
Then there was the story. In a strange way, the plotof Overlord is oddly realistic. It starts with a blank slate, and the protagonist decides upon his own goal for reasons that basically amount to “just ’cause.” They’re constantly fumbling around for what to do. The direction is unclear. The purpose is unclear. Not even their adversaries are clear. They also spent a great deal of time on events that didn’t seem that important. The pacing of the entire season was oddly slow for an industry that usually burns through source material like there’s no tomorrow—which I appreciate, though then again, there were more than a few times when I was just bored.
I think the problem is that I wanted Overlord to be better than it was. It has an interesting hook, and if they could pull it off, it feels like it would be awesome. But perhaps there’s a reason why the villain protagonist is so seldom done. It reminds me of the obscure sorrow vemödalen. From the video:
It should be a comfort that we’re not so different, that our perspectives so neatly align, that these same images keep showing up, again and again.
It’s alright if we tell the same jokes we’ve all heard before, it’s alright if we keep remaking the same movies. It’s alright if we keep saying the same phrases to each other, as if they had never been said before.
The desire for something unique sometimes clouds us to the reason why this unique thing has not been done, or isn’t done more often. Sometimes it’s simply because it hasn’t been thought of until now, and that’s excellent! But sometimes, it has. Sometimes it’s been done. Sometimes it’s okay to use the same old story structure, because it works well, and this unique thing? It doesn’t so much.
While I wanted dearly to love Overlord, it had one fatal flaw: It wasn’t compelling. Now, obviously that’s subjective. I’m trying to dissect my feelings for this story. I’m not insulting you. Certainly enough people like this series for it to get an anime. Yet when I watched each episode, I got the distinct feeling that, at any point, I could have stood up and walked away. I could have stopped at any episode (with the small exception of Clemetine’s reign of terror—that was compelling), and I would have been perfectly happy. Perhaps fitting for a story starring an undead lich, I feel nothing for this story, and it’s only clinical interest in why this is that got me to the end.
The lack of a clear, compelling objective is one culprit. (“Conquer the world to maybe find my friends,” is a little wishy-washy.) The lack of a clear enemy is another. The lack of any seeming challenge is a major one—it took one of Momonga’s followers (Shalltear) getting mind controlled to give him a decent fight, and even then, there was never a doubt that he would even be significantly imperiled. Two days ago, I stayed up until 7am reading Throne of Glass (which I recommend, by the way), because I couldn’t force myself to put it down. The main character of that book is the most skilled and feared assassin in the entire world, and yet author Sarah J. Maas still made parts of the book so compelling that I stayed up for hours reading it.
With Overlord, I felt nothing. It just was.
Like I said, I’m not trying to knock Overlord. It wasn’t bad. I’m honestly preplexed. I wanted so very much to love this series, because I want more anime to explore interesting new vectors into what would otherwise me a run-of-the-mill generic fantasy MMORPG anime. But the risk of trying new things is that they sometimes don’t work. As I’ve said before, the opposite of love is not hatred. It’s indifference. I won’t quite say I’m indifferent to Overlord, because I have a definite low level of goodwill toward the series. But I can’t honestly say I’m clamoring for another season. If one happens, cool. If it doesn’t, that’s all right too. It’s an interesting idea, but nothing about it ever lit me on fire. It was as cold as Momonga’s unbeating heart, and I’m sorry—we humans are emotional creatures. Make me feel something, and I will love you forever. Or hate you! But either is better than a perplexed expression and a sight shrug.
The OP and ED were both awesome, though.
My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: The best content is in email, My morning routine, True Ends, and Rejection, the secret place, & fundamentals