by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
I have played tabletop RPGs for more than 30 years now, and in that time I have occasionally wondered what happens to the worlds which I have designed or played in when they go defunct, whether because a game has permanently ended or the creator has just lost interest. This new series, which is based on a modestly popular light novel franchise, seems determined to address that speculation. Based on what has been revealed in the first two episodes, it is positing the notion that such worlds do continue on their own, with the NPCs operating on the parameters that were set for them by their creators when the game ended. Perhaps what's left of the setting even becomes part of another world. In the case of the popular DMMO-RPG (the “D” stands for “dive,” the setting's way of describing full-immersion virtual reality) Yggdrasil, something unusual happened: when the game ended and transitioned into automated mode, one of the players who was seeing the game out to the very end went along with it.
The first two episodes entirely focus on the circumstances which led up to this curious event, its immediate aftermath, and how both the former player and the former NPCs are reacting to the situation. As a result, the plot so far is very thin and the story development is slow, methodical, and thorough; any given episode of either season of Sword Art Online, to which this one will inevitably be compared, has more going on during it than both of these episodes combined do. On the plus side, that does mean that the player of Momonga, a level 100 wizard who uses an imposing lich-like avatar and led the guild which created the Lost Tomb of Nazarick and its denizens, is carefully analyzing the situation in which he has been stuck and making decisions accordingly. He soon discovers that although the menus no longer work, he can still use magic and some of the game rules – such as not being able to equip items that aren't on your class's list – still seem to apply. Hence for the time being he had decided to cautiously play along the role that he essentially created for himself: that of the one remaining supreme being in Nazarick and hence the leader of slavishly loyal underlings.
This could have gone down a boringly self-centered path had the series remained solely focused on Momonga, but the second episode does something interesting: once Momonga leaves an assemblage of his “floor bosses,” it shows how the NPCs act and think in his absence. In an amusing sequence, we see that they aren't just kowtowing to Momonga out of fear or obligation; they really do think he's awesome. The loli vampire Shelltear insists that a girl would be crazy not to get sexually excited from being exposed to Momonga's energy; she and floor boss leader Albedo struggle not over who's going to be Momonga's woman, but who's going to be his official wife (since the absolute ruler of Nazarick would naturally be expected to have more than one); and male bosses discuss how great it would be if Momonga could sire a successor so that they would have someone to pledge loyalty to once Momonga eventually leaves them, too. In fact, the funniest scene involves the serious bug-like warrior Cocytus imagining himself being called “Uncle,” which is just so absurdly incongruous to the setting and the character saying it. Momonga is overwhelmed enough as it is by the devotion of his underlings, so it's probably for the best that he did not witness all of this. (He should definitely be wary of Albedo, though, as the just-for-kicks tweak that he did to her programming right before the game ended has caused her to put up all sorts of yandere flags.)
The other things keeping the series afloat so far are the production values. The artistry favors dark, rich coloring, detailed backgrounds, and strongly distinctive character designs, with only minor CG enhancements aside from one somewhat awkward-looking scene where rolling earth is depicted. (But do watch out for subtle touches, such as Albedo's barely-visible breath in certain scenes in episode 2.) And some of the facial expressions used by the NPCs when riled up (two examples of which are shown in the screencap below) are classics. The second episode is almost worth watching for them alone. Backing it all is a playfully over-dramatic musical score, and the voice acting is stellar; in particular, seiyuu Satoshi Hino does a great job of alternating between two entirely different vocal styles when voicing the thoughts of Momonga's player and what he actually says in character, and Yumi Hara is no slouch with the obsessiveness of Albedo. Closer “L.L.L.” also kicks major butt.
The last minute or so of episode 2 gives the first indication outside of the opener that Momonga is going to eventually encounter other forces at work in the world that he has come to, so the story should be picking up soon. That the former NPCs are aware that Momonga is the only “supreme being” who chose to stay also provides some interesting considerations to chew on. As slow as this series has been in getting underway, though, it is starting to show potential.
Overlord is currently streaming on Funimation.
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