The moral inconsistency of Overlord

Spoilers for all of Overlord.

Season 1 of Overlord is an emotional quest first and foremost. It’s a story about a man who is stuck in the past; a man who is obsessed with an old, failing MMORPG and the achievements of his now-abandoned guild. When the game then becomes real, Momonga is thrilled to live alongside the NPCs the guild members made together and wants to do all he can to reunite with his old friends, wherever they may be.

maids

In season 3, the idea that this used to be a video game isn’t even relevant anymore and this quest to find his old comrades, the emotional backbone of the story, is reduced to a few passing mentions. Instead, Overlord is a generic “evil” story about an all-powerful monster taking over the world. A story about torture, massacres, kidnapping, conspiracy, and even a bit of rape. But how did Overlord become Edgelord?

When I did some searches online, I frequently ended up on discussions on the Overlord subreddit, such as an argument about the fate of the adventurers in Foresight or that of the many innocent citizens kidnapped by Nazarick. Such events naturally spark a bit of moral outrage, which in turn feeds discussion. Defenders of the show frequently argue that the protagonist was always evil and there exist compelling arguments for why these events play out the way they do. My point is thus not to argue if any of these individual moments push Momonga over the line and make him true evil; my argument is that this is a fundamentally poor direction for the show to go in.

Shub

In episode 3, “The Battle of Carne Village”, Momonga uses a magical mirror to survey the lands around him and notices that soldiers are massacring the population of a small town. He watches for a bit and concludes that his undead nature is suppressing his emotional capacity; watching these people die doesn’t affect him in any way. He thinks on the matter for a bit and concludes that, lacking an emotional reason and seeing no gain in it for him, there is no cause for him to intervene.

Then something funny happens. He turns towards the butler Sebas to relay his orders, but suddenly sees an image of Sebas’ creator standing beside the loyal servant. It’s the comically named adventurer Touch Me, a man who played an insect character, but who looked perfectly human in his suit of armor. He was a proper knightly character, who went around helping people, fighting injustices, and creating a community for bullied players. This community was pivotal in forming Momonga’s guild. As he thinks back to being saved by Touch Me himself, Momonga decides to honor that memory and stop the senseless massacre of Carne Village. It’s the right thing to do.

Touchme

It’s a touching scene and you wouldn’t guess that this is the same character that will later torch down a city, kidnap thousands of innocent civilians, then later decide to execute them all. This scene in episode 3 is what I kept coming back to as the series continued, because it showed us that the protagonist may struggle to feel emotions himself, but he knows what his friends would want him to do and he does understand what is morally just.

Now 2 years pass over the course of Overlord‘s story, so it could be argued that maybe he changes over time and the memories of his friends are replaced by his love for the guardians, most of which are evil in nature. And that is my problem. After 3 seasons, we can probably conclude that there are no other players out there, and everybody in Nazarick is a yes man that will always approve of their master no matter how much his actions clash with their own morals or those of their creators. Momonga can do whatever he wants, no matter how heinous, and Kugane Maruyama has tactically shielded his protagonist from facing any repercussions for doing so.

Guu

Morally dubious actions are not de facto bad, but without anyone Momonga cares about questioning his actions, Overlord just feels pandering and uneventful. Imagine watching an alternate version of Death Note where L doesn’t exist, all the government and law enforcement institutions unquestionably support Kira, and everybody but the criminals lovingly cheers him on as he becomes ever more extremist. But, speaking of alternate versions, let’s go back to that scene from episode 3 and think about the different directions the story could have taken and what might still be possible:

  • Maximum wish-fulfillment path: Momonga is not alone in the new world and his guild members are out there. Several storylines can be kept the same, i.e. Sebas meeting Tuare, Cocytus going to war with the Lizardmen, Shalltear being mind controlled, but now it can serve both interesting short-term goals as well as a greater one. The main difference would be that Momonga is more concerned with dealing with other players and preventing the world from falling into chaos (see also Log Horizon) while his servants do most of the searching, which would make individual stories more exciting, allow every character to get moments in the spotlight, and it would be easy to expand the series with side-stories.
  • Good Momonga path: Momonga is a protagonist tempted towards evil by the expectations of his servants and the mind-altering effects of his undead nature, who nevertheless attempts to stay on the right path as his friends would want him to do. He stumbles a lot as he tries to secure a place for Nazarick in the new world, which could put him at odds with the other kingdoms and his most evil servants. He struggles to appease the opposing ideals of the characters he cares about and may eventually be forced into conflict with the likes of Albedo and Demiurge as they realize their master is not as great as they hoped.

Demiurge

  • Bad Momonga path: Other players are out there, but Momonga soon loses hope and the story continues as it has thus far. Momonga is inconsistent in his behavior and allows Demiurge to easily manipulate him into a plot for world domination. However, the other players finally arrive on the continent and hear word of the Sorceror King Ainz Oaal Gown. They travel to Nazarick to confront Momonga, where he is unable to justify his actions. The assembled guild members invoke their democratic tradition and vote to expel Momonga from Ainz Ooal Gown, imprisoning him deep within the tomb and seizing control.
  • True evil Momonga path: The above, but Momonga slaughters the other guild members, who left their best equipment in his care. He fully abandons their ideals and any pretensions towards noble goals, becoming a true Overlord and resuming his path of conquest. Some of Nazarick’s residents die trying to defend their creators, but Momonga vows to one day revive all of them when the time is right.

These are just my ideas, however. If you have been following Overlord thus far, or perhaps its light novel/manga, then how do you feel about this and do you have ideas of your own? Do you perhaps enjoy the increasingly evil direction of the story?

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