Not Your Father’s Skeletor
Before the boom of Isekai shows, especially of the MMORPG variety, new kid on the block Overlord joined the ranks of shows like Sword Art Online and Log Horizon. However, what set Overlord apart from those anime was the fact that the protagonist took up the roll of bad guy. What started off innocently enough gave way to the making of a true villain in the form of Ainz Ooal Gown (formally Momonga) across Overlord’s three seasons. With a fairly varied run, I’ll be explaining what made each season unique and providing an easy way to discover if this series is for you.
A quick refresher for those who may have forgotten, or those totally unfamiliar, the setup for Overlord isn’t too far off from other MMORPG Isekai anime. The protagonist Momonga is logged into his favorite game, Yggdrasil, for one last trip down memory lane. Servers for Yggdrasil are set to be shutdown permanently at midnight. Saying goodbye to his friends in the game (who did show up), goofing around a bit with some of the NPC code, and generally reminiscing, Momonga stays logged in up to the last minute. However, when the game goes offline, he finds himself to now be inhabiting the game for real.
The NPC treat him as a God with an unyielding devotion. There is just one problem, he is a skeletal lich in the game, but in real life just your average Japanese business man. Forced to take on airs in order to keep his newfound subjects in line, Momonga embraces the roll of Overlord in order to learn more about this new world he now inhabits.
Consisting of 12 episodes, Overlord’s first season aired back in 2015 and primarily explores a lot of what I mentioned above. It is a fun romp that has Momonga, who takes on the name, Ainz Ooal Gown exploring the world and exactly how powerful he actually is. In this season Ainz is a kind person who puts on the villain act strictly for the sake of his subordinates. Even when he is doing a, “bad” thing he always works out an angel to minimize damage and protect innocent parties. It strikes at something unique because he can’t afford to be found out but also genuinely needs to embrace his roll in order to survive this new world.
As an added bonus, Ainz takes on a good guy persona in the form of an adventurer. This allows him to participate in the narrative as a traditional good guy protagonist while gathering intel to advance the goals of his counterpart persona. While a lot of the plots in season one are borderline goofy and not all too dire, it strikes a healthy balance of comedy and fun power fantasy action.
What makes season one of Overlord so effective is the focus is squarely set on Ainz as a character and how he influences the world around him. Even when you get to follow a side character for a little while, it always ties back to Ainz and ultimately leads to a fun moment with him at the helm. This is especially true with the finally where Ainz must fight one of his followers, a vampire named Shalltear, who falls victim to something akin to mind control.
Even if you know that Ainz will never lose in the long-run, this is still a moment with real stakes. Can he actually defeat her? If he can, will he be able to revive her like in the game? Is this magic permanent? Are there other players who were transported here as well? All of these questions are the ultimate culmination of the season and an excellent hook.
If this were all there were to Overlord it would be a worthwhile watch but somewhat dissatisfying only in that the world really begins to open up and the show finds itself over quite quickly. Thankfully, there are another two seasons and they do a lot to expand on the world while exploring some of the previous questions.
While not the strongest, if you liked the idea of Log Horizon but wanted the show from a villain’s perspective with some power fantasy elements found in Sword Art Online but with a more varied (and likable) cast, then this is a show you should at least check out given its relatively short length with more if you do like it.
At the tail end of season 1 Ainz decides to take over the lizardmen. To this season’s credit, it does that immediately. Unfortunately, this is also one of the largest problems with this second season of Overlord. At the time of this season’s airing, Winter 2018, I had recently rewatched season 1 since there had been quite a gap. Even with that I still didn’t remember that Ainz was going to do this. To further worsen the matter, Ainz and company aren’t the focus of a vast majority of this arc at all.
Instead Overlord ops to have you learn an entirely new cast of characters. This is so you can feel bad for them when Ainz enslaves them but even when he does that he does so in a way that never paints him as an actual bad guy. Of course, we do get a scene of typical flair but it comes too little too late ultimately, being cut far too short when it does come.
To the credit of the lizardmen arc, there was one moment that completely resold me on sticking with this season which was dangerously close to being dropped altogether. I genuinely don’ t want to spoil it though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Following this arc there is some focus on Ainz’s butler, Sebas. Much better arc but the core problem with season 2 is how little we spend with our skeletal Overlord. A lot of this season is setup where Ainz is largely an afterthought. Even when he does participate in the plot for a big finale, it feels kind of anticlimactic since it is done as his hero persona.
The final plot point brought into this season is that Demiurge, a cunning demon general who is implied to be a potential traitor later on, sets in motion Ainz’s desire to take over the world. This is all based on an off-handed comment made in season 1 and is the driving focus of the narrative moving forward.
Quite literally a terrible season with a down grade in writing, characters, animation (the CG only gets worse…), and just wasn’t much fun. Here’s the thing though, it is kind of required viewing to get the most out of season 3, which is by far the best one yet. If you still need convincing on how much I didn’t like season 2, here’s a picture of the worst new character introduced, and yes, it is a dead fetus monster.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the most recent season (at the time of writing at least) aired immediately following season 2 of Overlord. This is kind of unheard of in anything that isn’t a big money maker, but it happened. After the sour taste of last season though… was pretty skeptical. Still, I am so glad I watched season 3 because it was easily the best to come, even with its garbage CG (note, normally not even a big deal for me, but it is really that bad).
It starts off in a similar fashion to season 2, with focus being put on some side characters. The core difference is that you already know these characters way back from season 1 and have some investment in them. Plus, it is a little romance story with some action tossed in for good measure. Goofy but a good time with great payoff by season’s end, which is to say things come full circle with this arc.
The remainder of the season is squarely focused on Ainz. Even when you follow a group of adventurers or group of nobles, everything plot wise involves Ainz in some way. This means you feel his presence even in scenes where he is absent. This is what season 2 severely lacked.
Of course, the real selling point is the moment where Ainz goes full evil. Up until now he hasn’t really killed anybody who didn’t deserve it, minimized damage to places, and was generally helpful to people. No longer. This really hits home when a group of adventurers invade his home and he brutally murders all of them in fairly sadistic ways.
Cleverly, the show knows you won’t expect this because they setup the arc to have some sappy background for one of the would-be raiders. When they try to explain the situation and flee, Ainz has them hunted and killed all the same. In a word, it is shocking.
If you want to see Ainz embrace the roll fully and see a transformation in character from season 1, then this will deliver. Even with the bump of season 2, the series as a whole stands quite well if this is your sort of thing. Strongly recommend the series for this alone.
Overall, I’ve had a great deal of fun with Overlord and look forward to more. Again, not really left with much resolution in this season but things were satisfactory. That said, the ending implies we’ll get more eventually so here’s to hoping.
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