Overlord: The Undead King

By Kugane Maruyama and so-bin. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

Given the extreme popularity of Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and similar titles in Japan (and now in North America, where you can’t seen to walk ten feet before hearing about a similar series being licensed), it makes sense that we’d start to see series that play around with the format, or use it as a springboard for something else. Such a series is Overlord, which spends much of its first quarter or so making you think that the main character is going to find himself trapped in the game he loves so much only to end up being somewhere a bit different – he, and all his NPCs, are transported to a different fantasy world. Oh yes, and he played the game as an evil undead skeleton, and his minions are equally evil.


With SAO, we saw a brand new game just opening. In Log Horizon, it was a popular game receiving a brand new update. And Overlord has Yggdrasil, which is a popular game whose time has now passed, and it’s getting its servers shut down. Our hero (who has three names throughout the book, but who I’ll call Ainz for convenience) was one of about forty players who had their own guild, which was composed of “monsters”, i.e. non-humanoid characters. Of course, that was a while back. Now he wants to have a party to celebrate the end of the game, and only three other players bother to show, and they all bail early. Right away you get the sense that he is more intensely devoted to the game than the others, but also that he is far more unfulfilled in real life than they are – he admits all he does is work, eat and sleep.

And now he, his group of somewhat cliched NPCs (all of whom have detailed backstories written by the other players, which is how we find out about them), and his giant hellish fortress are bounced into the middle of this fantasy world fighting a battle among three various empires. Luckily, there’s one tiny village that seems to be a focal point for all three, either as “killing everyone in the village will set an example” or “we are heroes, so must save this village no matter the cost”. Into this wanders Ainz, who tries to remain aloof and dispassionate but is still not about to let a cute teenage girl and her sister get run through.

I’ve summarized a lot of plot here, usually a sign that I don’t know what else to write about, but that’s not really true here. There’s a lot to work with after this first book has finished. Ainz is dispassionate because his undead form suppresses emotions – is he even human anymore? He still seems to regard this as a game he’s trapped in – will this change? And then there’s his NPCs, suppliers of most of the humor in the title – Albedo, his main subordinate, has a massive crush on him do to his being stupid before the “server shutdown”, and this leads to typical anime yandere humor. His NPCs also have motivations that go beyond obeying his command, something I don’t think he grasps yet.

So there’s a good many ways this title can go, and I am quite pleased I read it. That said, I do hope that it continues to play with its cliches rather than embracing them – there’s always a danger that this becomes a straight=up male power fantasy sort of title, and I think it could be much more than that.

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