Kugane Maruyama and so-bin's Overlord has quickly become an anime phenomenon ever since it began in 2015. The light novel series took the roots of the Isekai fantasy subgenre and has since crafted an entirely new experience fans have loved.
Overlord's anime series has stood out from other isekai offerings such as the more famous Sword Art Online because it is much more than just a straightforward narrative or parody.
But unlike its isekai counterparts, Overlord doesn't quite get as much support for the anime series since it recently came back with a vengeance with two new seasons after three years of being away. It's a shame so many fans have moved on to other projects because Overlord's only gotten better with age.
The third season of the series has been the best example of why you should watch the series, but for those unaware, read on to find out why Overlord should be on your radar. And if it's not? Catch up with one of the biggest surprises of the last few years.
What is Overlord?
Originally created by Kugame Murayama with illustrations provided by so-bin, Overlord is a series of light novels beginning in 2010 under Enterbrain. The series begins when the popular MMORPG Yggdrasil is shutting down their servers after 12 years of service.
One of the game's most powerful guilds Ains Ooal Gown is waiting out the game's final moments at their hideout, and their leader, who calls himself Momonga, remains in the game until its final seconds. When the servers shut down, he finds himself awake in the real Yggrasil and in the guise of his undead sorcerer character. Now, with 48 powerful entities under his command, he has to portray himself as a dominating overlord while also trying to figure out how he's gotten to this other world.
The anime series then follows this gamer as he tries to navigate the political and societal waters of this new territory while also trying to keep his servants from figuring out that he's really just in over his head.prevnext
The "isekai" subgenre has become pretty popular over the last few years as popular anime hits like Sword Art Online, No Game No Life, and more recent examples like Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, have really amped up the isekai ideal.
The subgenre is meant to portray a narrative in which a regular person is taken out of their ordinary life and thrust into a fantasy world. This had been a narrative seen in anime projects before, but in the last decade the subgenre has been bent more to portray an escapist narrative in which the main character becomes the chosen hero or most powerful in the new world due to the skills they've acquired from the real world.
It usually means that the central figure of each series is "rewarded" with a large group of friends (though it's usually cute women who idolize the hero, fulfilling another type of fan service) or new powers without much skill or effort. The same is applied to Overlord as well, but the difference here is that the central character is trying his hardest to stay afloat in this world.
In fact, it's his massive well of power and easily obtained victories that's making his big cover-up much harder to bear. It becomes a tougher role to play, and chooses to explore this dichotomy rather than make the main character a self-insert.prevnext
You Don't Really Know the Main Character
To match the escapist fantasy Isekai anime are trying to convey, they usually begin with a shot of the main character living out a drab or boring life in the real world. Unhappy with their choices in life, they retreat to the game until one day they become a part of it and fulfill their fantasies for real. But Overlord doesn't do this, and in fact, fans don't know the human behind the series that well at all.
Not only do fans never see the face behind "Momonga," there's no clear indication of his status in the game before the series begins. There's no allusion to a "beta" that gives him skills before others, no soliloquy dictating that he's at a certain level, and it's always emphasized that he's only one member of a 48 member strong guild. When his various powerful servants aid him, it's only because they are being respectful toward their own creators (who make up the rest of the guild) and want their empire to be strong overall.
The real world version of the main character is even harder to discern when he dives further and further into his own character. As he's trying his best to fake being an overlord, he's doing it so well that he's actually turning into the evil character he's trying to portray.
Ditching the name "Momonga" for Ains Ooal Gown (naming himself in his former Guild's honor), and even moving away from human desires (such as his desired love from his servant Albedo), it's even more impressive when he begins believing in his own power.prevnext
Perfectly Handles Overpowered Characters
Along with actually role playing in the role playing game, another aspect of the Isekai subgenre Overlord loving flips is how it handles its overpowered characters. The major difference here is that Overlord isn't about the struggle that other Isekai series cling to. It's not a hero's journey, but a conqueror's.
When Ains Ooal Gown performs fantastical feats a normal person wouldn't be able to in this new world, it makes sense for him to do it as a show of power given his place as an undead sorcerer king. So when he displays and air of confidence, that confidence is backed up by meaningful moments.
Too often, a main character can feel like an illogical utility tool that series' abuse to write themselves out of tough spots. Acting as sort of a built-in ex-machina (e.g. anytime Kirito does things in Sword Art Online) removes the tension from the action since the viewers know the main character will always be protected by layers of plot armor in order to meet the next wish fulfillment fantasy. But Overlord is always sure to remind viewers that absolute power is chilling.
Though he does start as a human lucking his way into superpower, thanks to his magic subduing his more human-like qualities, Ains slowly transforms into a great conquering antagonist. His mind even slightly warps as his power feels more and more absolute. And so does the viewer's.prevnext
Makes Sure to Take its Time
The inherent beauty of Overlord is in its execution. Because it is a story of a conqueror, Ains is given very little time in the series at all. He's a powerful figurehead with very little room to advance, so the series takes its time in developing a compelling world around him.
It starts with his servants. Although they are loyal to him, each of them has their own set of desires and wants. This is even further complicated by the fact that each one of them was created by one of Ains' real-life friends, who programmed bits of their personality into their creations. The series can often feel like it's exploring tangents as it elaborates on certain characters, but it's only to make it a more crushing blow when Ains comes to conquer.
The series can often focus arcs entirely on other kingdoms in the same world, just to flip them when it's revealed that Ains and his terrible army are the enemy. The best example of this comes during the third season when a group of explorers, who would be the main cast of any other fantasy series, haplessly stumble onto Ains Ooal Gown's dungeon.
When you're so invested in these smaller characters, it creates a much more tangible scale of power. Thus, Ains is even more powerful when compared. Since the series isn't shy about removing Ains from the action, his few appearances as a magnanimous and terrible emperor are more effective.prevnext
The strong writing for the side characters helps Overlord feel like a fully fleshed out universe, but its in the delivery which helps cement Ains' glory, so to say. The series is an excellent adaptation in terms of the bleak, but exciting atmosphere it wants to portray.
From the skeletal face of the main character, to the wide variety of terrifying character designs for the maids and guardians, the series is an aesthetically pleasing experience. Each season comes with a heavy metal opening and ending theme, outfitted with fantastic Gothic inspired art.
Everything in the series is meant to instantly catch your attention and further draw you into this story of an unwitting villain, and its presentation often makes the series stand out from other releases. On top of the fabulously layered world of social politics, the expansion of the world is as interesting as it possibly can be because the dark nature of the narrative feels well balanced. It's never overbearing because the package is so entertaining overall. Ains Ooal Gown's overpowered rise to glory remains fun throughout, and that's the most important thing an Isekai series needs to accomplish.prevnext
How Can I Watch?
With two full seasons under its belt, and a third one nearing completion as of this writing, there are many ways to seek out Overlord for yourself should this argument talk you into it. Here are the ways you can currently watch the series for yourself:0comments
- Crunchyroll - (all 3 seasons, in Japanese with English subtitles, for free streaming with ads or paid subscription)
- Funimation - (all 3 seasons, in both Japanese with English subtitles and English dubbed audio, for free streaming with ads or paid subscription)
- Hulu - (first season is available in Japanese and English, seasons 2 and 3 are in Japanese only, with paid subscription)
The worst fate for a fantasy series is that its world building becomes boring or second rate, and that's not a fear you need to have with Overlord. It's one of the most entertaining anime adaptations of the last few years, and it really just creeps up on you with how effective it is.
Sooner or later, you'll be rooting for Ains Ooal Gown's victory too.prev