The Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Well, it looks like we're still living in the database (database). Three years after Sword Art Online and two after Log Horizon, we get one more trapped-in-an-MMO show, complete with its own gimmick and trappings. And this one…
...actually strikes at a fair number of game-specific emotions the others hadn't covered!
I wasn't expecting to be impressed by Overlord. And there are certainly parts of it that aren't impressive, with the biggest being one hugely unimpressive boob joke right in the middle. But this premier actually evoked a number of ideas that haven't been covered in anime form, and though I don't think this episode's trick can be repeated, it made this premier a weirdly poignant ride.
Overlord opens on the last day of Yggdrasil, a famous MMO that, twelve years into its run, is finally being shut down. To mark the occasion, the player Momonga invites his old guildmates to stick around for the end of the world, riding it out in the Great Tomb of Nazarick, the imposing guild headquarters they built together. But only one friend can come, and he has to leave early because he has work the next day. The episode moves from this conversation to a slow sequence of Momonga reminiscing over his time in the game, an unusually meditative choice that really nails the strange melancholy of watching a videogame world you've loved come to an end. There's a poignancy to this first half that I like even in the abstract, regardless of where the show goes from here.
Where the show does go from here is “wuh oh, looks like this world's not ending after all!” Momonga gets stuck in the world, the NPCs come to life, and Momonga's player controls get disabled. The rest of the episode plays out with Momonga slowly getting his bearings in the new reality, gathering his head minions and attempting to figure out what's going on. Even this sequence has ideas that separate it from its MMO-anime predecessors, with the main two being the unique community-focused approach here (all of Momonga's memories focus not just on the game, but on his communal work within it), and the well-observed sense of Momonga not being a new player, but an endgame hero beloved by all. This genre is getting a little oversaturated, but Overlord finds its hooks.
Overlord's aesthetics aren't great, but get the job done. There's no exciting direction or visual tricks, but the show has a nicely consistent gothic aesthetic, and a couple sequences near the end feature some solid animation. Overall, I'd say Overlord succeeds in finding purchase in a very crowded genre space. I don't think any of the ideas that made this first episode compelling will necessarily carry through to the show proper (it seems more likely the show will focus on Momonga establishing power in this world, a much more common idea), but as a single episode, this one definitely kept my interest.
Overlord is available streaming at Funimation.com
If only this were my first time to the VRMMO rodeo. (Or D-MMO as it's called in Overlord.) Sadly, it is not, and as an entry in the rapidly expanding "trapped in a video game" anime genre, Overlord is mostly a snooze.
You've all heard the story before. Our misbegotten gamer hero has become trapped in a whole new massively multiplayer online world. In Sword Art Online, this was a brand new launch title, and in Log Horizon, it was an active worldwide hit game, but in Overlord, our protagonist finds himself living in a game world that only flickers to life after its host servers have all shut down. Yup, "Lord Momonga" was the last avatar logged into passé MMO Yggdrasil when the game finally went dark from inactivity. Instead of just getting booted from the game, however, "Lord Momonga" finds himself in the literal body of the giant skeleton-man guild master he once controlled through VR. The NPCs he had guarding the floors of his guild are now flesh-and-blood servants at his beck and call. The only question now is what kind of "Overlord" this once-timid nerd will become.
There's just one problem. Someone forgot to give this skeleton story a heart and soul.
I say this because it's just way too easy to compare this show to Log Horizon, which infused a similar premise with a far stronger human element right from the get-go. Now yes, Log Horizon had multiple players "trapped in the game" to bounce off one another and Overlord only has one, but Log Horizon also turned its former NPCs into fully realized human characters very quickly, so that still doesn't seem like an excuse to me. The emotion in Log Horizon was palpable. "How did this happen? Are we immortal now? What about our families? How do we govern ourselves? I miss food." Overlord starts and ends with its confused Accidental Skeletor musing to himself about the logistics of his new situation in noncommital confusion. It's just his uninteresting skull-head soliloquizing in a void, with minimal animation and completely uninteresting production design, and while I'm sure his NPC servants will be humanized over time, his interactions with them largely consist of figuring out their new "specs" from their ability to use skills to whether or not he can touch the female floor boss' boobs. (Sigh.)
Overlord might deal in brainier or more playful concepts down the line, but this first episode was mostly boring and emotionless, too similar to the conceits of other hit anime without improving on anything from them or indulging in the excitement or fear that comes so easily to the premise and makes it interesting in the first place. I'm not impressed, Lord Momonga.
Review: “Trapped in a VR game” scenarios have virtually become their own sci fi/fantasy subgenre over the past few years, and this anime, which is based on a light novel series whose ninth volume was recently published in Japan, is this season's installment. It takes an entirely different – and potentially very interesting – new angle on the base concept: what if the trapped protagonist is set up to become the setting's main villain?
In this near-future setting, the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil was the dominant game of its type for more than a decade but it is now set to be shut down. One player, who goes by the online name Momonga (we never hear his real name), has taken advantage of liberal player freedom possibilities to design his character with a lich-like appearance, and formed a guild called Ain Ooal Gown with fellow players who took similarly inhuman appearances. Most of them are long gone now, though, and only he remains in their never-breached stronghold of the Great Tomb of Nazarick as the server clock counts down. Once the time limit expires, though, the game doesn't seem to end, only now he cannot log out or access his in-game console or the administrators. Other funny things are going on now, too; he can actually converse with the NPCs and a setting change he did on one female NPC at the last minute, on a whim, has taken full effect. The NPCs obey his orders without hesitation, and his magic still seems to work, so he decides the play out the role of the boss monster until he can find out what's going on. Inwardly, though, he wonders if he really has any desire to actually return to the real world, since nothing and no one really awaits him there.
The production effort by Mad House is far from stellar, which could be a big detracting factor for this series; it stands somewhere between Chaos Dragon on the low end and Rokka and Snow White with the Red Hair on the high end, with a lean more towards the former. (On the plus side, Momonga's design is pretty sharp and convincing as villain designs go.) Its story and characterization are far more cohesive than Chaos Dragon, however, and it has a fresher twist on a standard concept than any of them. It also raises the philosophical point about whether or not there's any value to trying to exit a virtual world if one's real world sucks, a point that was somewhat sidestepped in Sword Art Online’s discussions about the real vs. virtual world but which has definitely been played with much more in more traditional “transported to an alternate world” settings. I am not convinced that contemplating this at length is going to be a goal of the series, though.
The excellent opener and closer do not offer any conclusive hints about the direction that this is going, and how this is going to all play out is far from obvious. That leaves me fully intrigued enough by what the first episode shows that I will definitely keep watching despite the unimpressive visuals.
Rating: YOU'RE IN THE GAME!!
Here's the premise of Overlord: there's a guy in the soon-to-be-shuttered Sword Art Online-style MMORPG Yggdrasil who's hanging out in his enormous, impressive guild hall as his character, Lord Momonga. He's counting down the seconds until they shut the servers off, recollecting all the fun they had building the place, reminiscing over his conquests. Once the countdown reaches zero, the timer starts over, and suddenly it isn't a game anymore – Momonga is LITERALLY IN THE GAME and HIS POWERS ARE REAL and IT LOOKS LIKE HIS LOYAL NPCS ARE ALSO AUTONOMOUS NOW. He can't call up the game menu or speak to the GM – he just uses magic and commands his subjects. First order of business: start feeling up the NPCs, I guess.
It's really tough to imagine that there's a single person left out there who isn't sick to death of “they're stuck inside a virtual game” narratives in anime, but here comes Overlord to try it again. I thought the premise felt a little fresh – an eensy-weensy little tiny amount of fresh – and was hoping that they'd do something to alleviate the near-instantaneous boredom the words “trapped in an MMO” inspire, but nope. The entire episode just sets up the premise, which is really thin to begin with, but here we are: 22 minutes of Warhammer Skeletor realizing HE'S IN THE GAME!! I kinda liked that he was insecure about being this big commanding monster guy bossing around the NPC characters, but that's about it. This show isn't doing anything that hasn't been done before, and it isn't doing any of it in a particularly interesting way.
If you're gonna go back to the YOU'RE IN THE GAME!! premise for the 8 billionth time this decade, maybe don't spend so much time introducing your threadbare concept right away. We get it: your twist is that this is a dead game and a super-powerful guild leader is trapped inside it after the servers shut down. That could be explained in the first 5-7 minutes and then they could move on to maybe something else that would help set this show apart, but it's clear that “twist” on the genre (it's more like a mild bend) is their trump card, otherwise they wouldn't have spent so much time on it.
Releasing another show like this is like putting out an indie Minecraft clone in 2015. They've been done to death, so if you're going to pull people in you really need a strong hook and great writing right up front. You need to show the audience right away what's different, and it can't just be one or two little things. I'm so bored with this concept that Overlord lost me immediately by not doing enough to set itself apart. Next.
After a good long run, the DMMORPG (“d” stands for “dive;” basically it's a virtual reality role playing game) Yggdrasil has come to its end, and at midnight the servers will be shut off for good. A devoted gamer who goes by the handle Momonga has decided to stay on until the very last minute, a tribute to the game that gave him so much joy as he and his friends created a guild and built themselves a dungeon. He watches the timer run down, closes his eyes...and opens them still in the game, only to find that his console has disappeared and he has no way to logout or contact a GM.
Yes, it's another one of those series.
Overlord's first episode really feels like it's set up for the actual story, so once the plot gets moving, this may be a deviation from an otherwise exciting show. Sadly there's not much going on here that we haven't seen before, except possibly for Momonga's avatar, which is a big skeleton in a heavy robe. Compared to the much more humanoid designs of Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and .hack//SIGN, this is a pretty big change, and I wonder if this is simply his armor. The game world itself also shows some differences from its predecessors, with Yggdrasil being a much more open world where players are apparently allowed to contribute to the content of the game, as we can see from Momonga's trip through his castle and his commentary on things like the programming of the NPCs; in fact, one of the final things he does before the midnight hour is to change an NPC's description from “bitch” to “in love with Momonga,” which turns out to have been a good move on his part. Most of the episode, however, is taken up by our protagonist wandering around and testing out what he can and can't do, along with interacting with the NPCs of the place. It's not all that thrilling.
Fortunately there are some good touches, such as the way Satoshi Hino (Haikyu!!'s Sawamura Daichi)changes his voice as Momonga depending upon whether he's thinking to himself or talking to the others. (It's particularly funny to hear him be confused in his Dark Lord voice.)This may simply be the difference between Momonga's real voice and the one he chose for the game, but I prefer to think of it as him putting on an appropriate skeleton voice in order to maintain his image in the game world. The backgrounds are appropriately dark and dungeonesque for the sort of lair Momonga would have built, but besides that they don't show a lot of creativity; the same can be said for the NPC designs.
On the whole, Overlord had a very underwhelming first episode, but given that it was all set up, that may be more indicative of poor planning rather than a lame show. If you aren't thoroughly sick of the trapped-in-a-game genre, it may be worth giving another episode to see if it can pull together, but if the genre has already worn out its welcome...let's just say this episode isn't going to endear it to you again.
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