Overlord, Episode 1

Our time here on earth is limited. It’s bound by the inevitability of time, by the temporality and transient nature of human life. Our entire existences are marked by this unavoidable inconsistency—we change, the people around us change, our relationships with them change, and the world itself changes. At the beginning of Madhouse’s adaptation of Kugane Maruyama’s light novel series, Overlord, the main character Momonga finds himself dealing with the reality inside the virtual world of Yggdrasil, a MMORPG in which he’s spent hours with friends, building up a grand castle…a structure which now only stands as a wistful reminder of what once was.

Overlord

Episode 1: “As One Community Fades Away, Another Arises”

As Overlord opens, we hear Momonga’s thoughtful reflections on his time inside Yggdrasil, as he repeats the refrain to which he returns several times throughout the course of the episodes—”It was fun. It was really fun.” At the table with him sits just one other player represented by a slime avatar, Herohero-san. During the course of their conversation, we discover that it’s been nearly two years since they both played together, and that Herohero has been working tons of overtime in his real life job (presumably the main factor in his long absence from the game). The two old comrades, the final members of a 41-person guild Ains Ooal Gown, chat briefly before Herohero, pleading physical exhaustion, logs out. And Momonga, Level 100, is left alone.

This is a trapped-in-an-MMO anime, but the thing that sets Overlord apart from its high-profile counterparts (SAOLog Horizon) so far is that Overlord combines a sense of familiarity and a feeling of fond nostalgia to generate an intensely melancholic tone through the first part of the episode. The Great Tomb of Nazarick is a symbol of the memories of the guild’s golden days, but for Momonga in the final moments of the Yggdrasil servers, it is also a prison of the past—a symbol of the community he once had, a community that has now moved on to other things.

Overlord

What we see, through Momonga’s alternately angry, alternately thoughtful perspective, is a profoundly nostalgic depiction of the final moments of an online community. Having been a part of a number of MMORPG guilds that slowly faded away into nothingness as players left the guild or grew bored with the game in ones and twos, the quiet wistfulness of Momonga’s final moments in Yggdrasil was instantly recognizable to me. As his repeated apologies to his absent guild members show—”I’m sure the guild members will forgive me for doing whatever I want just today” and his anguish over changing Albedo’s settings—the physical space of Nazarick is representative of community ownership, something a group of people built together. Left alone, Momonga is almost loathe to change anything, to sully the memory of what he once had.

It was, if you will, a family of sorts. Despite the opaque layers of online handles and the inhuman avatars required by the guild, the staff, the castle, and even the NPCs were an accomplishment completed together. Amidst all this, Momonga is isolated within the ideal of his memory, the physical tokens of the past, and the visual emptiness that surrounds him as he makes his final tour around the fortress.

And then, as the clock ticks down and Momonga prepares to relinquish the trophies of his emotional, temporal, and (likely) financial investments to the claim of time…the clock starts over and the world Momonga knew is truly erased, wiped over with an entirely new paradigm of existence.

But out of this loss comes something new. Something special and important. The oppressive sense of loneliness that pervades the first half of the episode is replaced by the urgency of familiar unfamiliarity, as Overlord robs Momonga of his reminiscence by 1) forcing him to acknowledge that this is no longer the world he used to know, 2) providing him with something to do, and 3) giving him brand new community on which to rely, on that arises out of the ashes of what his old community created—the NPCs. This is wish-fulfillment, make no mistake. In the very moment in which Momonga has been totally abandoned—by his one-time teammates and by the world itself—the creations of that old way of being come to life in complete loyalty to him. No longer will Momonga be forgotten along with the relics of his now-meaningless conquests. Those very relics have been given new meaning by becoming the support on which he will lean for the rest of the show.

The final dynamic, then, is that of real life versus the online world. Although Momonga states that it couldn’t be helped that his guildmates eventually chose real life over Yggdrasil, his own musings on the value of his old life betray a desire to escape the monotony of his 9-5 job and fully embrace the new world in front of him. But he can’t do it alone. Before him stretches the abyss of isolation, of the episode’s first half. And that’s why, without the other members of Ains Oowal Gown there, we see Momonga treat his NPC servants as more than just foot soldiers. This is best shown in his interactions with the twin dark elf guardians—Aura and Mare. Following their fight with the fire elemental, he offers both of them a drink of water and jokes with him about his exterior persona (which is delightfully at odds with his far more uncertain interior thoughts and made real by Satoshi Hino’s voice acting).

Although Momonga considers the necessity to maintain the image of a commander in front of his loyal subjects, his desire to connect is evident in these actions (and even, I think, in the fanservice-ridden encounter he has with Albedo). And that is where Overlord leaves us at the end of its premiere. While the show certainly could slip into light novel nonsense from here on out, I also see a great deal of potential for Overlord to begin to nuance the characters of the NPCs, building up not only an army, but a new family around Momonga.

For now, that’s more than enough to make me excited for the rest of what Overlord may have to offer.

Overlord

17 thoughts on “Overlord, Episode 1

  1. Overlord certainly has a great deal of potential… but also many pitfalls ahead. Personally, this one is on the knife edge already because the start was so weak. It really took too much time to impart too little information, and angsty monologues are a poor way to fill time.

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    • Well, obviously we felt a bit different about the monologues at the beginning. I didn’t find them so much angsty as compellingly relatable. But yeah…there are a lot of ways this one could go wrong, unfortunately.

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  2. After all the Hype about this one I did not have this as my most important anime ! Maybe that’s a good thing II like Momo and the cast / the animation is great. But just falls short

    But a lot of people said this isnt SAO or Log Horizon but I feel like it is !

    BTW this point wth real fanservice anime running at top speed it’s getting reduntant now! Even though it wasnt much we have To-Love Ru which I like / Monster Museme / Bikini Warriors and the others . Why bother ??

    Again a lot of people said this was the ticket sadly it’s OK but not earth shattering . I have the same result wuth Blood Battle Blockade . Again it was good but didnt nail for me !

    I am more impressed with Non -Non Biyori / Working / Gangsta / Renpro / Gate / and Ongping like Baby Steps / Arslan /. Food Wars etc

    And I was of the #3. Good Depth view on Ani words . I have to have at least 12 very good shows with another 12 good ! So far summer surpasses spring which ended up much better than all the doom and gloom . Sometimes we try to be too critical / me I watch as much anime as possible . It paints a better picture to judge anime

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  3. Thanks for writing this and provided a fresh perspective other than “[insert stuck in MMORPG show] knock-off”, wouldn’t check this out otherwise.

    I’d seriously read/watch a story about a bunch of adult friends forced to grow out of their MMORPG-ing (or other communal hobby, really) and drift away as a result. Less overused fantastical elements and more “can’t do fun and games anymore b/c work/babies/adult responsibilities” stuff. This show…is likely to ditch that theme and progress into generic fantasy stuff with unhealthy wish fulfillment subtext though; the whole thing about Albedo is problematic beyond your usual garbage fanservice (*kind of telling and interesting that she doesn’t exist in the original source material).

    I do get an impression that he’s less trapped in the game and more that his sorrow and refusal to let go created this world that he desires, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance-style. If true, that might lead to an interesting direction.

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    • Well, thanks for reading! I’m glad it was a helpful read for you!

      Yeah, if they latch on to that stuff you’re talking about in the third paragraph, I sort of feel like that context could redeem the show from its potentially generic path. Momonga does seems like a fairly strong lead, though—they could do some interesting things with him beyond the norm for a protagonist in this type of show.

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  4. Well, I admittedly have a soft spot for any anime involving some kind of virtual reality MMO (anything where you feel like you’re inside the game) since I’ve been playing MMOs for years and I would kill for that kind of experience. (Seriously, I would LOVE to live inside Aincrad.) I’ve also been a guild leader and experienced the slow turn over of players that makes a once vibrant community fall into stagnation. I felt the MC’s anger and pain and resignation and nostalgia. So naturally I loved this episode.

    I also don’t really see the problem with “wish-fulfillment” in my fiction. And I don’t really understand why people apply often that term as if it makes the show low and coarse and juvenile. I think that really all fiction is a form of wish-fulfillment. We like fiction because it gives us experiences we can’t have in real life, fulfilling our desire for experiences from other places and times and other perspectives. That’s wish-fulfillment, the good kind. And I think a lot of the time when people condescendingly call an anime “wish-fulfillment” it’s actually the good kind too. (I believe SAO is the good kind, and the haters are stupid.) I think this first episode is leaning toward the good kind, the kind that leads to expanded horizons and growth. Hopefully it doesn’t back down from that.

    This may have been my favorite first episode yet. Though I still haven’t watched a few on my list, I doubt anything else this season will manage to appeal to me on such a personal level.

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    • For those of us who have experienced with Momonga did…yeah, this is a really personally resonant episode. Even if the rest of the show dissolves into incoherent garble, it can’t take away this being a really stellar depiction of the end of an online community.

      And I agree re: wish-fulfillment! I don’t think there’s an inherent element of ‘badness’ to wish-fulfillment in media. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I thought that was true of Overlord. Depending on how they humanize Momonga and make his world conquering exploits a function of his character thus established, it could be a really fantastic demonstration of how you pick yourself back up after a painful event like this.

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  5. Reading about it, it looks like a series about someone that wasted a lot of time and suddenly gained something from that. (A production to make some neets and similar feel better?) There are better ways to invest time in online communities.

    That part you mentioned about fanservice sounds worrying. It was very bad? on tvtropes I’ve read about another npc, a vampire girl that molests other girls. That says a lot of the one that programmed that character.

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  6. I dunno. An anime calling itself Overlord – especially one with a video game setting – that isn’t starring Laharl from Disgaea just doesn’t seem right to me somehow.

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  7. Actually, the online part doesn’t resonate with me very much since I’m not much of a community person. Also, since I early on decided never to do online gaming (because I know how much I would obsess over it).

    There are two things that struck me: guild members have to have job, and they have to have non-human avatars. There’s something interesting going here: it’s as if they were deliberately creating a subtext: in our (probably salaryman) jobs we feel dehumanised, so let’s make a virtue of that in a virtual world. The result is a skewed view: this feels like Dungeon Keeper online; we don’t need another hero. (There’s a delightful incongruence in the image of a slime and the name of Herohero.)

    I also can’t help comparing this to the line from Gate: “I work to finance my hobby.” I find that seasons often offer alternate spins on similar themes, like this.

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    • Yeah, the rules they set up for being in the guild were quite fascinating (I actually really liked the way Funimation translated it as “You had to be a functioning member of society”). I wonder if we’ll get a chance to explore that more, as it sounded like the show was almost drawing a comparison between virtual accomplishments and accomplishments in the real world.

      Both of those things are, ultimately, transient and passing—it’s just that the lifespan of the online achievement is much shorter than that of the real life one.

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  8. On reflection, I guess I’ve been “lucky”… none of the guilds I’ve been in have ‘just’ faded away. There’s always been a proximate cause of their demise, be it swift or slow.

    Which isn’t a happier fate, there’s always a level of emotional involvement and it hurts to lose that either way.

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