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 that the guild members made together and wants to do all he can to reunite with his old friend. Wherever they may be.
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.
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 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.
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. It showed us that Momonga 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. 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. Meanwhile, 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.
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 cheer Kira 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.
- 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 Ooal 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?
3 thoughts on “The moral inconsistency of Overlord”
I stopped reading the novel when the workers (i.e. Team Foresight) got butchered by Ainz & company. So yeah, I hated the direction the story was going.
In my opinion, Ainz wasn’t just evil. He was also seriously dumb, petty and hypocritical. First, let’s take a look at his “clever” scheme to justify a war. Was it even necessary to lure in innocent adventurers and then butcher them just so he could have a “reason” to start a war? Considering how powerful Nazarick was, they could just invade if that was their goal. There wasn’t anyone around to condemn their actions anyway. I mean, if you went to a restaurant, would you have to think up fiendishly “clever” ploys to trick the waiter into coming to your table?
What was the point behind the invasion of the tomb? To me, it felt like the author introduced this completely unnecessary arc just so he could show off how “smart” Team Nazarick was.
To me, Ainz was just a fantasy world “Karen” with super powers. Come on, he was the one who planned the invasion in the first place. He was the one who came up with the plan to lure adventurers into his base. Without his input and cooperation, it didn’t seem likely that the New Worlders would be able to find his place in the first place, let alone “invade” it. And yet, he got angry when the adventurers entered the Tomb. Karen much?
Before the invasion sting operation, he had been working as an adventurer himself. He had taken on jobs to earn money, and yet he had the gall to get mad at the workers for having the same motive? In a rare moment of “magnanimity,” he asked the workers on route to Nazarick for their motive for taking on the job (the job he had created in the first place), and when they told him it was for the sake of earning gold, he kinda kept quiet as if the answer had sealed their fates.
Oh, come on! Hypocrite much? He himself was an adventurer. If he weren’t getting paid, would he have taken on the jobs from the guild?
In conclusion, sure, Ainz Ooal Gown was evil, but definitely not worthy of any sort of admiration. Because he was also petty, stupid, weak-willed and hypocritical. If you gave Dwight Schrute (from The Office) super powers, he would make a better Ainz Ooal Gown.
I agree with your points here. It feels like the story has long since derailed thematically; leaving the franchise at the mercy of a clueless author who will always prioritize shielding his precious protagonist from consequences. Overlord is a series of wasted potential in my eyes.
I believe Overlord would have worked well as a pure satire of the oversaturated “isekai” genre (or high fantasy in general), had it gone that route. I enjoyed the few moments when the series (seemed) to be self-aware of its own overblown “edginess”. However, in my opinion, nothing about the narrative (aside from swapping the monsters for the heroes) is particularly novel or interesting (and even that premise comes off as contrived and campy given how “mustache-twirly evil” most of them are.) It wouldn’t matter if Ainz completely lost his humanity…if another intriguing player were introduced at some point. However, that is highly unlikely to ever happen, because the author just isn’t going to allow anyone to upstage, or replace the de facto “main character”, (or any of his minions, for that matter.) I’m bored with this series as well, with all its “torture porn” and “power fantasy” elements. As in the words of Pinhead from Hellraiser “We have no more surprises”.