Review/discussion about: Overlord
Hanging out in the front of Ironforge. Karazhan runs. The snowy hills of Northrend. World of Warcraft is not just a game, it is its own, complete world. Beasts to slay, treasure to find, and quests to complete. Dailies for gold. Instances for gear. Fishing for fun. There is so much to do that it more or less became my second life for a sizeable chunk of my teenage years. After going to school, chatting with friends, and taking care of what needed to be done in the real world, I would hop onto the computer and become someone that was not technically me but might as well have been.
That sounds bonkers, but it is the truth. The amount of time, the resources, and the effort I sunk into that game were enough to make my avatar a natural extension of myself. Of course, I did not don armor, I did not ride an undead horse, and I did not have a gray beard, but I shaped my character into the kind of person I saw myself to be.
I was always big on questing. I loved going to the different countries like Stranglethorn Vale and Tanaris, searching high and low for those distinctive yellow exclamation marks above Hemet Nesingwary or the Goblins of the desert. I will never forget, for as long as I live, how I was one of the earliest players (within the first year or so) to earn the “Insane in the Membrane” achievement before it was nerfed. The requirements were being near or at “Exalted” reputation for some of the most obscure factions. Ones like Darkmoon Faire, which needed thousands of gold and cards, and Ravenholdt, which needed me to make a brand new “Rogue” class character specifically tooled to steal over 2000 junkboxes from enemies. Getting the “Feat of Strength” took months, but it was worth it.
The tedious work earned me a sweet new title of “the Insane” next to my character’s name. But that was not what ultimately made the game worthwhile. What made World of Warcraft worthwhile were the people around me. The guild I was a part of, my brother going with me to get some levels, and the various friends I made throughout my time in the Eastern Kingdoms is something that I will always hold dear. The game is way too addictive and way too much of a time-sink. And the game was not always smiles. But the memories I have of the game and the people I played alongside are and will only ever be positive.
Overlord gets at the same notion, how the past, while no longer with us, never truly leaves. However, unlike my time in World of Warcraft, Overlord is not all positivity.
Unfortunately for Overlord, its narrative is somewhat sloppy in its execution. Plot lines are unresolved, entire areas are ignored, and its overall purpose is lacking. Often relying on the same trope – that Ainz Ooal Gown is impossibly strong – the show stops itself from doing much of anything else, severely hampering the experience.
The anime has essentially three arcs: the opening arc, the undead arc, and the Shalltear arc. The beginning arc is mostly setup. Characters are introduced, parts of the world are explained, and Ainz Ooal Gown’s absolutely overpowered self is made known. Nothing wrong exists at this point since the anime is simply gearing itself for the rest of the season.
The problems start with the second arc. First, the anime moves away from the literal home base of Nazarick. This would be fine but the show introduces and works with another new character (Nabel) rather than using the already-established and yet-to-be used rest of the cast like Albedo, Cocytus, and Demiurge. Second, the anime then continues to introduce more people, like a bunch of random adventurers and the protector of the forest, that further detract from what the anime provided earlier. Third, and worse still, these adventurers are killed and the protector of the forest is hardly referenced again, meaning their inclusion means little in the grand scheme of things. Fourth and furthermore, simple tactics like explaining more of the world – how the magic works, the various factions, and so on – and not fully showing specific moments – the assassin attacking the adventurers, what happened immediately after saving the alchemist’s grandson, and so on – create holes in the narrative that stop the narrative from staying afloat. The point of this arc is to extend Ainz Ooal Gown’s reputation further, in order to attract attention and gain fame. But because the following, final arc does not build off of what happened in the second arc, the plot comes off as directionless. Having this problem already occur between the first and the second, and then having it occur again between the second and the third, disjoints the narrative, thereby ruining the tale Overlord is telling.
This third arc, featuring Shalltear’s “betrayal,” does not stop Overlord’s downward trend. Disregarding the shift from spreading reputation to saving Shalltear, the plot introduces another new character (that is used only once), the background forces-at-work are very briefly alluded to (while still making next to no sense), and the outcome effectively returned everything to how it was before the debacle (meaning it was a diversion that minimally affected the narrative). All the while, the rest of the cast is still underutilized, the world is still unmapped, and the previous plot points – like the original general he helped and the need for more reputation – are forgotten.
The cause for these dilemmas: Ainz Ooal Gown. More specifically, it is his elite status that causes the narrative to tumble over itself. Interestingly, the point of the show is the overpowered-ness. Watching him wreck a group’s trump card with just his finger. Seeing him literally hug a woman until her insides explode. Witnessing him going through legendary weapon after legendary weapon. The anime always has to showcase him in his ridiculously unfair state but doing so takes away from the rest of the anime. He is super-strong, so the rest of the cast is unneeded and thus is not shown. He is super-smart, so going into detail about the world and the magic is pointless for him. He is super-awesome, so diverting attention to other plot lines that do not involve his esteemed abilities would ruin the magic. Paradoxically, the anime’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness.
Weakness continues in Overlord’s shoddy attempt at creating a theme. Throughout the season, there are distinct moments of reminiscing. Ainz Ooal Gown has recollections of the past, he feels longing when trekking with the random group of adventurers, and near the end he clearly wishes for his old comrades to still be with him now. The show is trying to get at the notion that nothing lasts forever. Life eventually moves forward, people come and go, no matter how much one wants it otherwise. The problem, though, is that he is still there, he is still lasting. He is performing the same role – leader of a guild – as he has always done. In essence, he wants the old days back. But when so little is given about his past escapades let alone his past comrades, this theme, of cherishing what once was yet looking forward at what is to come, loses value.
A potential argument in favor of this theme is that foregoing the past is difficult. It is not easy letting go when those days gone by were so memorable. However the anime never makes this type of thinking clear. For example, there is a what-should-be tender moment where his lackeys invite him to berate Shalltear, the purpose being to get him standing and moving forward. But the reversal of authority in that scene – where his followers, especially Albedo, “help” him – is too contrasting with the entire rest of the season’s “Ainz Ooal Gown is the greatest” motif. Another example is his reaction to the death of the random adventurers. Initially he is more annoyed than caring since they were tools to further his reputation. But his offhand comment calling himself a “hypocrite” makes it confusing since forward movement is seemingly made but then immediately taken back. Beyond these moments, and perhaps more of a problem, is that the show rarely explores this theme to begin with. Again, since the anime is determined to push the overarching, overpowered idea to the front, it never places aside adequate time to talk about or investigate this theme. Thus, what is given are these minor moments that, when compared to the rest of the anime, make up a very small and therefore inconsequential portion.
What does make up the “rest of the anime”? Overlord includes a nice amount of action sequences in the form of dragon battles, zombie knights, and vampire warriors. Other scenes focus on “ecchi” and comedy, sometimes both. For instance, Albedo straddling a body pillow that has Ainz Ooal Gowns’ face on it is both sexy and hilarious. These sequences would seem to get repetitive considering that these and the previously investigated events surrounding them have little substance. But because the outcome is already known – that Ainz Ooal Gown will decimate whosoever stands before him or will effortlessly command them – that the anime gains an alluring quality. The anime becomes less about seeing where it ends up and more about how it gets there. The awe of the passersby, the utter annihilation of foes, and the complete servitude of minions is something that is easy to revel in, and since the show achieves these effects through its regular happenings, the anime likewise engrosses the audience on a regular basis.
Granted, Overlord is not a complete tale, meaning it is unfair for the audience to expect the narrative to be wholly fulfilling. Still, the anime’s need to lean on the same, overpowered trope hurts where it should help.
Overlord’s art is similarly lacking in appeal. This is mostly due to the bland backgrounds that the show incorporates for most of its scenes. To be fair, the show is dark in tone so the artistic direction likewise follows this pattern. Gloomy woods, haunting caverns, and gothic interiors are common but quickly become repetitive. Especially so when the lighting is constantly dreary, making each location the same as the next. The anime can switch it up now and again – a sandy plain, a weathered road, a view from way up high, and so on – but these moments are few and far between.
However, the anime can pick up its artistic direction when it chooses. Camera shots, like a decapitated head seeing its own body as it floats through the air or viewing the world through Shalltear’s eyes while she is in her ravenous state demonstrate the show’s ability for flair. Other moments, like a black hole evaporating an archangel or Nabel squaring off against some skeletal dragons push the boundaries of the anime’s lighting, action, and detail. Furthermore, the CG elements – like the death knight near the beginning and the ogres near the middle – are not overly obtrusive in their presentation, meaning they do not distract the audience when they do appear on-screen, keeping attention on the aforementioned pizzazz.
Pizzazz of the fight choreography, however, is often subpar. The reason, per usual, is the overpowered nature of the characters involved. Nearly everything takes one hit. To put it differently, these are not so much skirmishes as they are one-sided romps. Little time for extensive or prolonged fights is had, and the only one that can call itself thus – the fight between Ainz Ooal Gown and Shalltear – is mostly magical, meaning the two of them stand around for roughly the majority of the duel.
Actual animation remains about average throughout the experience. Ainz Ooal Gown in particular barely moves. He is a skeleton, so his skull, jaw, and other body parts rarely jostle. When he does move, his actions are often choppy, lessening his overall impact. Once again, there are exceptions: many of the fights feature explosions, ruffling robes, and sword dances that elevate the animation considerably. Yet these, like the art, are not frequent, with the majority of the show resting rather than moving. Facial expressions sporadically increase in quality from time to time, with incredulity, scorn, and anger plastered across faces for the given situation. However hair swaying and other minute details are generally missing, a trade-off for the higher detail placed on the characters and their designs.
This is not an understatement: the character designs are quite detailed. Ainz Ooal Gown (he is always the odd-man-out) sees the most, his black, yellow, and purple robe, his myriad of rings, and his immaculate, golden wizard’s staff portray him as the king that he is. The contours on his skull, as well as his black-and-red eyes, maintain his demonic disposition. The rest of the cast, while not as detailed, are still very imaginative. Albedo’s normal attire – a pure white dress, devil horns, and black angel wings on the small of her back – contrasts with her dark brown and concealing battle armor. Cocytus’s teal carapace matches his bug-like form. And Shalltear’s gothic gown, umbrella, and ribbons, each mired in purple and red, highlight her pale skin well. Unfortunately, while the designs are elaborate, they do not have much value in terms of symbolism or representation. In other words, they are more for show rather than for expounding further on the characters.
Arguably Overlord’s weakest aspect are the characters that inhabit Nazarick and the surrounding area.
It is very difficult to talk about Overlord’s characters. They all worship Ainz Ooal Gown. They all hate humans. They all hold strength of immeasurable magnitude. Therefore, at a surface level, they are identical to one another. Digging deeper, the cast does have character traits that separate them. Albedo would literally do anything for her master, her love for him unable to be matched by anyone ever. Cocytus has dreams of being an “Uncle.” Shalltear is a vampire who pads her bra to give her a larger bust. This list of characterizations goes on. The problem, though, is that many of characters go unused. Yes, Albedo’s unfathomable love for Ainz Ooal Gown reoccurs indefinitely, as do some of the other known traits of the servants. But since the anime spends so much time away from the main group, the consequence is that nothing else is known about them. A huge issue, to say the least, because the characters turn from being people into being slots to fill. This speaks nothing of the development of the Albedo and the rest which, understandably, is nonexistent. Understandable since, if the bare minimum of characterizations were provided, then development of any kind will not occur. Devil’s advocates would argue that, as it was with the story, the incompleteness of the overall tale obviously infers that the cast would not undergo extensive development at this point. However, unlike the story, where attempts at constructing a coherent adventure are apparent, the anime never does the same for its characters.
Less important side characters exist, such as Enri (the village girl), Ninya (the girl posing as a boy in the random adventurers’ group), and Clementine (the assassin who is hugged to death). But, once again, very little is given or known about them outside of the offhand comments they or those around them make. Enri has a younger sister and is loved by Nfirea, and that is it. Ninya seems to have lost her older sister and fights to protect the land, and that is it. Clementine is demented and cocky, and that is it. Hyperboles, but so little is given outside of these facts and so little time is spent on these characters that these types of generalizations are warranted. Here, the argument is that these people are so inconsequential that they are practically pointless compared not just to the rest of the cast but to the entire series.
This is true; Enri’s romance, Ninya’s backstory, and Clementine’s psychotic behavior are utilized at most once or twice, constituting “enough” for each person relative to their importance. But because they are unimportant, the purpose of their characters has no meaning besides adding superficial feelings that barely affect the viewer. A case for Ninya and her group is possible, how they mirrored (to an extent) Ainz Ooal Gown’s own, original friends, but this quickly crumbles since, due to their inconsequential status, they are neither referenced after their arc concludes nor are they used to further him or any of the other characters.
So it stands to reason that Ainz Ooal Gown, the almighty ruler and destroyer of men, requires adequate attention since everyone else around him received none. This is the final nail in the figurative coffin: he as well is a markedly weak character. Part of the problem stems from the recurring overpowered motif; Ainz Ooal Gown is so perfect that there is nothing to fix. His character has no flaws which, from a literary standpoint, is automatically an issue since without conflict he is unable to grow or change throughout the season. Taking into account that this is the whole point of his character – simply being overpowered at everything, from fighting to strategizing – the anime does try to convey the change in his personality. Before, as a human playing a video game, killing people was not real, meaning he was not attached mentally to his actions. After, having become a skeletal warlord of another world, this disconnect is still present but has manifested as a part of his personality rather than him consciously making the decision to not care. So, in the very beginning, he changes, but at no point afterward do the events affect him. He does have a split persona, one for his internal monologues and one for his external portrayal. But the former exists purely to understand what he is truly thinking and the latter is how he had always acted, meaning neither side sees noteworthy development, thereby stagnating his character from start to finish.
Still, no matter if it is Ainz Ooal Gown’s inner or outer self, the remembrance of the past is a theme that persists. Despite having complete loyalty of everyone, despite having the capability of crushing anything in his path, he still feels alone, wanting the past to come back in one form or another. His servants are on the opposite end. They know of their personal creators and they know where they came from, but they do not dwell on the past. Instead, they devote themselves to Ainz Ooal Gown. For them, what happened before should be celebrated, but still they understand that then is not now. This is interesting because of the dichotomy: the master is worried about this trivial matter while his servants are not. But once again, Ainz Ooal Gown and the rest of the cast is not expounded on enough to support this theme between the characters. Albedo and the others are rarely shown interacting with their previous masters, Shalltear having just about the only scene where this happens. As for the ultimate ruler, he likewise is barely shown interacting with this old buddies, making it hard to empathize with his feelings. The combined result is a broken link within the dichotomy, fragmenting the theme instead of unifying it. Worst still, Albedo and the others are the result of code. Therefore, their loyalty and outlook is not by choice but by circumstance, meaning their relationships are fake which in turn reduces their thematic presence.
So while the cast of Nazarick might be unbelievably strong in a physical sense, they are unbelievably weak in a writing sense.
Overlord’s strongest area is easily the sound it uses throughout the season.
The opening theme is hard rock, but takes on a semi-spooky vibe to coincide with Ainz Ooal Gown and the tone of the anime. The rising and falling lyrics, the catchy beat, and the rapid drums work together to create an arrangement that is simply cool. The random English bits are somewhat jarring and do not mesh all too well with the song, but the piece hypes the viewer for the inevitable awesomeness that awaits.
Awesomeness such as the ending theme, which is downright wonderful. The ED, like the OP, adopts a rock or metal vibe to make the piece more aligned with the gritty and cool aura that the show gives off. However the ED, unlike the OP, has English bits whose emotion and meaning fit the Albedo-centric track well. The breathing part in the middle is weird but oddly satisfying, since it stops the song and builds it up for the final half of the piece. Alongside the strong vocalist, the background whispering, and the catchy beat, the track comes together, being filled with nothing short of “love and passion.”
While the rest of the soundtrack is not filled with as much love, it still manages to encompass the same feeling of MMORPGs and overpowered-ness that the anime thrives on. A fluty tune for the downtimes that relaxes both body and mind like a famous inn. Choirs and hard drums fill other tracks, maximizing the splendor of Ainz Ooal Gown and his battle prowess. Violins and pianos to follow the gothic feelings. Many of the tracks are steeped in gloomy sounds that heighten the dark mood while also keeping the events cloaked in a veil of mystery that improves the darkness further. Despite how atmospheric the pieces tend to be, none are particularly memorable, serving as appropriate background music and not much more.
Voice acting, however, is superb, with the majority of the cast providing stellar performances. Yumi Hara as Albedo uses a sultry voice that amplifies Albedo’s sexiness and thus her attractiveness. Satoshi Hino as Ainz Ooal Gown uses two voices, the first higher pitched and younger to match his normal self and the second lower pitched and older to match his overlord self, demonstrating his large vocal range. And a special shout-out is deserved for Aoi Yuuki as Clementine for nailing the psychotic inflection and way of speaking, making Clementine creepier in the process. Altogether, the voice actors and actresses performing so well immerses the audience, a much-needed outcome given the immersive undertones of the anime itself.
While I find the story and the characters to be severely lacking in meaningfulness, there is one reason why I like this one so much: Albedo. She is amazing. Her sacrificial servitude, her sexual spark, and her sensual self won me over immediately. Watching her get extremely mad whenever Shalltear tried to do anything with Ainz Ooal Gown, hearing her go on and on about the clothes she made (up to five years old) for their future child together, and seeing her almost completely lose it after the enemy merely scratched her beloved was hilarious, ridiculous, and endearing. Other moments, like her screaming at the top of her lungs for receiving a ring from Ainz Ooal Gown and her “so freaking cool” line followed by her goofy grin made me love her that much more. She may not be a well-written character in the slightest, but I do not care. She makes me swoon regardless.
The rest of the cast was also fun. Cocytus’s singular moment where he gets lost in his Uncle fantasy, Nabel constantly calling the humans some variation of insect, and Shalltear believing that Ainz Ooal Gown was going to have his way with her in the middle of the throne room were all scenes that made me smile and laugh. I was therefore disappointed that they – and Albedo, of course – were not around as much as they could (and should) have been. They are an interesting bunch of characters, so not including them as much as possible made the moments when they were not nearby less exciting.
The rest of the events are actually entertaining despite them not having much substance whatsoever. It was a lot of fun watching the enemy cower in fear, unable to grasp how powerful Ainz Ooal Gown was. The death knight stabbing the captain guard over and over was gruesome but funny. Albedo deflecting the pebble back at the mage and literally exploding his head made me love Albedo even more. And Shalltear going berserk in her vampire form was chilling, gross, and crazy all at once. The anime definitely understands how to create scenes filled with entertainment, proving at the minimum that the show could do well when it wanted.
Overlord has prevalent problems in both its narrative and especially its characters. The art and the animation also has issues, though they are not as glaring as the first two. Still, strong music and enjoyable scenarios stop this one from immediately being put up for auction at the Stormwind Auction House.
Story: Bad, disjointed plot, individual arcs lack purpose, overarching theme is improperly explored, with the overpowered trope simultaneously harming and helping the narrative
Animation: Fine, a mix of boring and interesting artistic decisions, subpar fight choreography, about average actual animation, and detailed yet meaningless character designs
Characters: Terrible, the side cast is barely investigated, the minor characters are inconsequential, Ainz Ooal Gown stagnates very early, and the dichotomy between him and his servants has no foundation
Sound: Good, good OP, great ED, okay OST, above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, Albedo is amazing, the rest of the cast is fun though not around enough, and the overpowered action was really entertaining
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below!