EDITOR’S NOTE: What Are You Watching? is a feature series that dives deep into why we love the anime we love. You told us what you were watching, and now we’ll dig into why.
By Kathleen Townsend
You know what’s even better than watching an anime about a hero? Watching an anime about a villain!
Look, I know what you’re thinking. Who wants to see a whole show about a bad guy? That’s too dark for me. I want some good, ole fashioned adventuring in my isekai, some humor, and maybe some intrigue as our heroes try to get home.
But hear me out. Overlord is the absolute best, it’s SO much more than just a villainous tale and you should watch it too. Its characters are powerful and they matter. That’s it. That’s my whole spiel. Look, I just really love Overlord. Let me explain.
What is Overlord?
Overlord’s premise is basically exactly what it looks like. The story is about undead overlord Ains Ooal Gown and his dungeon of no-longer-NPC followers stuck in a world that isn’t our own or the one in Yggdrasil, the video game they all came from.
Ains wasn’t always a literal undead king, you see. Once, he was a normal human salaryman named Satoru Suzuki who just ran a guild in an MMO. But the day the servers were shut down for good, he wasn’t able to log out.
All of the once-silent NPCs in their dungeon of a guild hall were now able to think for themselves, communicate and “own” their programmed personalities. And it wasn’t long before the denizens of this new, unknown world come into contact with the Great Tomb of Nazarik.
Not only trapped but doubly displaced, Ains has to make do in this other, other world, and he has a guild hall full of people—well, undead and monstrous beings—that he needs to lead and watch out for.
But focusing on both our main character and his former-NPC followers isn’t all Overlord has to offer. We also see the everyday lives of this world’s inhabitants, the ongoing politics of competing nations, and how the sudden inclusion of Ains’s legion of demons, dark creatures and undead changes the scene entirely.
Momonga AKA Ains Ooal Gown
Our main character is Momonga, the name of the player avatar used in the game Yggdrasil. However, this isn’t a video game anymore. Better yet, it isn’t even the world of the game! Now, Momonga uses the name of the guild he founded—Ains Ooal Gown.
If there are other players around, that’d surely get their attention, right?
At first glance, Ains might be a pretty familiar-looking protagonist. He’s overpowered, has a bunch of followers who think he’s the best and looks supercool. (I mean, what’s more awesome than an undead overlord?)
But Ains’s form affects him. He doesn’t eat, drink or sleep; he’s got tons of passive skills that affect him and those around him; and his emotions are repressed, effectively turning him into an actual undead overlord.
But honestly, he’s just a dude trapped in an undead body thrown into the role of supreme leader. Sure, he was a great guild leader, but Ains feels just a little in over his head. After all, there’s a huge difference between guild leader and literal leader of a political faction of humanoids and other creatures normally dubbed as bad guys.
Loss and moving on
Past its surface, this story is about more than getting stuck in another world. Change, loss and moving forward (whether forced or not) are all important themes, creating a melancholic vibe: The guild hall remains largely empty, filled with flags of guildmates no longer present. Ains might be proud of what they accomplished together, but he’s still alone, desperately trying to uphold what he built in an unfamiliar land.
Everyone has come across a time in their lives when they’ve found themselves alone. Sometimes friends don’t have time to join your usual shared hobbies due to studying, work or raising a family. We’ve all been Ains, sitting alone in his guild hall, on the night the servers were being turned off.
The Floor Guardians and Pleiades also acutely feel this loss. In their eyes, they’ve been abandoned by their “creators.” Only Ains remains, partially leading to the almost-unhealthy loyalty most of them share. They are now alone in the universe, still embodying the ideals of their player-creators, but now forced to find their own way, a far cry from their not-so-autonomous pasts.
Ains might have been ripped out of his salaryman job and unexpectedly thrown into another world, but so have his followers. For example, even Aura and Mare struggle with hiding the tomb from outside eyes as Sebas scouts the area. This is something new for all of them, and they all struggle in different ways.
When in doubt…role-play!
Suddenly realizing that the NPCs who blindly followed you around are now real people can be a little jarring, right? Keeping the Floor Guardians and Pleiades who protect Nazarick happy, content and willing to follow him is one of Ains’s foremost priorities upon finding himself in this other world.
So what do you do when you’re stuck in a situation where you feel over your head with scores of undead followers hanging on your every word? You role-play, of course!
There’s certainly a disconnect from the totally OP Ains Ooal Gown and the internal Ains. Followers such as Demiurge seem to think Ains always has a grand plan, when Ains is only trying to get Demiurge to explain what he believes this mysterious plan is—so Ains can actually implement that.
That isn’t the only time Ains role-plays, either. Looking for more information about the world, Ains pretends to be the adventurer Momon. And sure, while it might seem like an all-powerful overlord pretending to be a human adventurer won’t work, it actually does. After all, Ains has plenty of experience role-playing.
As time goes on, Ains improves, and becomes more comfortable in his role. And sometimes there is a plan! Other times, Ains doesn’t have the matryoshka doll of plots within plots that others seem to expect. But no matter what, he uses the skills he’s learned in raids to provide for his followers.
The Floor Guardians
Ains learns the hard way that his NPCs aren’t just NPCs anymore. They’re people with very distinct personalities, likes, dislikes and morals. Sure, they all worship Ains, but they’re very much their own people.
But the Floor Guardians aren’t all best friends. Some are quite close, but distrust and rivalry run deep. Shalltear and Albedo don’t get along at all, while Demiurge and Sebas have diametrically opposing views on humans, duty and justice.
When one of the Floor Guardians becomes integral to the story, Overlord tends to focus solely on them, giving them all the treatment and more given to the main character. Whether it’s Shalltear rebelling against Nazarick and then working through the aftermath of what happened, or Sebas acting on his own to save a dying human woman, each one becomes a deeper, more nuanced character.
The supporting cast
But the Floor Guardians and Pleiades aren’t the only ones who get this treatment, either. The supporting cast is huge. Not only does Nazarick have tons of NPCs, but there are several countries, villages and other places with important roles to play. While it might seem easy to lose track of so many places with so many opposing factions, this is never quite the case.
Each and every one of the characters in Overlord is memorable. None of them are simply two-dimensional or forgettable, and the ripples of internal strife within certain kingdoms not only affects them, but those around them. Even the largely unnamed citizens of Carne Village, which lies not far from the walls of Nazarick, grow and change throughout the story, turning from helpless villagers into a strong community filled with spirit.
Everyone is important. Everyone matters. They all change the world a little bit at a time. Even if they aren’t a cool undead overlord with immeasurable power, their lives, their hopes and dreams, their struggles—it all matters. That’s Overlord.
UP NEXT: The 5 Most Rewatchable Isekai Anime