Overlord: The Bloody Valkyrie

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

There is a glut of light novels at the moment based on the game stats premise, be it “trapped in a game” or that the world simply works like a game. This includes Overlord, which manages to be a combination of both. At its best, Overlord shows us the cognitive dissonance between what Ainz is thinking in his head and what is actually happening, or what his minions are actually doing without his knowledge. At its worst, it gets bogged down in long grinding fights that are simply collections of spell moves. Overlord seems to be very much in the Dungeons and Dragons mode, which is fine for worldbuilding, but to keep the mechanics of it as well means that for non-gamers, the climactic fight can get amazingly tedious at times. Which is not what you want to hear about what you’ve spent the entire book building to.

This book also spends a large amount of time away from ainz – he doesn’t show up till a third of the way in – and thus also shows that the book is best when it focuses on him. I can see why we had the extended prologue – the plot is that his minion Shalltear has been mind-controlled, so we need to spend a fair amount of time with her at the start so that we actually get a sense about what the mind control really means and can try to care about her. Unfortunately, this is Overlord, a series made up of evil villains. And so Shalltear is a monster, who only seems sympathetic because the humans that she lays to waste here are a bunch of thugs who like to rape and rob young women. Her best moment was when she ran into one of the humans Ainz met in Book 2, who has one of his potions. This accidentally saves the girl’s life, as Shalltear has no idea why Ainz gave it to her, and so doesn’t dare kill her.

We are at the “this is successful, go ahead and expand your subplots” point in the series as well, so we get a few characters who show up and I suspect will be plot-relevant later on. This includes the somewhat ineffectual king, whose only ally seems to be his noble soldier (who we met in Vol. 1 thanking Ainz for defending the village). There’s also the king’s young daughter, who is gorgeous and beloved and I suspect has a lot more to her, and the daughter’s somewhat overly serious and twitchy bodyguard. And there is the unfortunately named Brain (it’s OK, the bodyguard’s name is Climb), who has spent much time training to be the strongest only to run into someone who completely breaks him to bits with no effort at all. The humans in this book tend to be cannon fodder, but he actually gets away, so we’ll see if he shows up again.

As I indicated, this is best when focused on Ainz and his inner monologues, meaning it’s the middle third that held my interest most. Overlord is still a series well worth reading. But it could stand a good editing, and eventually I will have to get used to the fact that it’s a bunch of bad guys power-tripping.

Overlord: The Dark Warrior

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

When we left Ainz at the end of the first novel, he was resolving to find out more about his world he’d been transported into, which was sort of kind of like his old game but not quite, and his evil minions had decided that his wishes amounted to total world conquest. Conquest is put on hold for the moment, though, as Ainz takes one of his minions and disguises himself as a common adventurer. “Common” is perhaps the wrong term, though, as Ainz mostly wants to show off how awesome he is so that his adventurer persona can acquire a reputation. Of course, this would be easier if he could read or write the language. And the minion he takes with him has no social skills whatsoever and regards humanity as worms. Oh yes, and there’s also the evil cult trying to turn an entire city into zombies…


As with the first book, Overlord works best when it’s making fun of either Ainz or the world he’s in. Not only is he from modern Japan as a player, but even as Ainz, he sees the world completely differently from someone who actually lives in it. This comes to a head when he has to battle The Wise King of the Forest. He defeats it easily, and the party he’s with, as well as the residents of the city, are shocked and amazed at his badassery. Which is fine, except the Wise King is a giant hamster. Ainz is forced to ride around the city on to prove that he has “tamed” it. He feels a bit foolish, because from our perspective, it’s totally ridiculous. Likewise, his constant frustration with Narberal, who isn’t even attempting to pretend that Ainz is anything other than her lord and master, is equally hysterical.

Sadly, we’re also seeing a bit of what I worried about while reading the first book. As Momon, his adventurer persona he takes on, Ainz is able to cut an ogre in two with his sword just by strength alone. He hands out amazing unseen-before healing potions whose creation flummoxes even the best humans. He chews his way through endless undead with ease, and takes out the smug villain who desperately needs taking out by simply crushing her to his skeletal chest until she breaks. Ainz is not remotely challenged throughout the book. Even as Momon, when he thinks to himself that he was actually slightly damaged or somesuch, we’re quick to recall this is because he’s not using any of his skills as the Undead King, but attempting not to go outside the skill set of an average human. Basically, Ainz is too powerful, and in a book when the rest of the cast is human, it becomes more apparent.

That said, if you get past it, the book is still well written, with evocative descriptions. I liked the way that it tied into the village from the first book (and hey, the one guy in Momon’s party who survived turns out to be the childhood friend (and presumed future love interest, although for once it’s the girl who’s clueless) of the girl Ainz saved in Book 1, who’s still got her goblins. And when it is mocking Ainz and the D&D world he lives in, it can be very funny. There’s a cliffhanger leading into Book 3, which promises less pretending to be an adventurer. I look forward to it.

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.