Unpopular Opinion: Overlord vs Log Horizon – The Final Reckoning

overlord-season-2-release-date-spoilers-why-madhouses-anime-may-follow-the-light-novels-success

vs

log-horizon-episode-9-image-0012

After many, many complaints from Overlord fans I have decided to write a more balanced and formalized version of what began as an off the cuff, first ever blog post before evolving into a second much more antagonistic blog post.  There will be spoilers for both shows but at this point they’ve been out for plenty of time so I don’t care.

I will specifically be comparing just the anime versions of both Log Horizon and Overlord, which was my default premise but needs to be spelled out for some people.  As a result my knowledge of Overlord will be limited to the following: Anime season 1, a smattering of later clips, some plot descriptions of the events of season 2 which I believe to be fair and accurate if broad and general.  If I get something wrong about Overlord please consider whether or not my mistake is based information I should have, given the parameters I just laid out.  I’m happy to admit honest mistakes and welcome fair criticism, but I can only speak about what I know and any faults that come from things I don’t know are – for the purposes of this post anyway – essentially invalid.  For Log Horizon my knowledge is limited to both seasons of anime but I’ll mostly stick to season 1 both in the interests of fairness and because of the real heart of my positions on these two shows are based in their foundational building blocks.

Both Overlord and Log Horizon take place in fantasy worlds which are not-exact copies of a video game the main character plays, and both protagonists now inhabit their in-game avatars.  One notable difference is that Elder Tale, the game Log Horizon’s world is based on, is a modern MMORPG played on a computer – not a super immersive VR game like SAO, and Yggdrasil – which is the game Overlord’s world is based on.  Overlord’s game and tech is also 100+ years in the future.  Also noteworthy is that at the start of each story, Elder Tale is releasing a new expansion 20 years after the open beta was made available.  Yggdrasil meanwhile is shutting down after 12 years of popularity.  However these are relatively minor differences.

The main differences are as follows, in Log Horizon everyone currently playing the game appears to have be trapped in the fantasy world based on Elder Tale, in Overlord’s case Ainz is the only such character we see though there are some vague hints that he may not be here alone or is not the first player to be trapped here.  The other main difference is the difficulty of the fantasy world counterparts.  Log Horizon’s world is very difficult at first, because the old input style for commands and skills is hard to do while you have fight enemies with some limitations you would have if you were fighting irl, such as first person view.  Because of the new expansion and new level cap that comes with it there are also new ultra difficult encounters and enemies – but the main source of difficulty is in the beginning when players have to adapt and relearn how to fight now that they inhabit their avatars.  After that the world is mostly business as usual with difficulty more reflective of the game it’s based on.  Overlord’s world on the other hand seems like a remarkable downgrade from the game Yggdrasil.  Ainz is extremely powerful, so much so he stops an elite invasion unit which can summon angelic monsters, considered dangerous by the people of the fantasy world, by himself and without taking damage.  There are other marked downgrades, because all the other characters that we meet are NPCs huge amounts of knowledge has been lost and skills and spells, basic abilities in Yggdrasil, are now rare and usually restricted to lower tier levels.  For example, late in Season 1 of Overlord a necromancer summons a pair of Bone Dragons and declares them to be immune to magic.  He’s wrong though, they are only immune to magic below a certain level – and no humans of this world can use magic of that level – and then Ainz’s companion Narberal Gamma one-shots them with higher level lightning magic.  Likewise potions have downgraded somehow, with the NPCs using blue potions vastly inferior to the “original” red potions Ainz possesses.

The differences between these worlds give the two stories vastly different tones right from the get go.  Overlord is a power fantasy with some mystery elements, where the protagonist interacts with the setting and NPCs mostly in search of answers to his questions.  Log Horizon is about building a society and this is by necessity, now that thousands of gamers have been trapped in this world they not only have to interact with the NPCs, who are given much more depth with regards to their social and political organization than their Overlord counterparts (by season 1’s end anyway), they have to interact with each other and make something of themselves or be lost in a downward spiral that begins almost as soon as it is discovered that players respawn instead of dying in the game.  In Overlord it is unknown if players die and respawn or just stay dead but this is hardly a concern as Ainz steamrolls almost everything he fights.  In Log Horizon, the lack of death immediately causes a chain reaction of problems in multiple cities and thus the creation of functional, civil societies becomes a priority.

The tonal differences are also made apparent by the differences in shows’ respective protagonists.  Ainz is a total powerhouse on his own and he has a number of powerful servants he can command.  His main obstacle is in hiding his identity, since he’s a lich, as he gathers information.  He also generally hides his power level by using his warrior form, but again this hardly seems to matter to since he is one-shotting most monsters he fights that way and still takes no damage.  Shiroe meanwhile is not a powerhouse, despite the fact he’s a max level player (not accounting for the new level cap anyway) he’s a support mage whose abilities shine through because of Shiroe’s prodigious skill as a tactician, not because of his raw spellpower.  Though both are spellcasters, they are very different kinds of spellcasters, and Ainz has a great deal of flexibility because of the relative weakness of the setting while Shiroe is more tightly constrained by support role and comparatively higher setting difficulty.

Moreover, the two have very different personalities and resultant personal issues.  Ainz’s human self seems like a bit of weak bitch based on his internal thoughts and dialogue at the very start of Overlord before the game shut down.  Also because of the fact he said he would “run away” from one of his early battles if he couldn’t use his favorite heart crushing spell.  He also seems to get over that mindset very quickly because he’s in charge of cadre of loyal followers and seemingly the strongest guy in town.  Shiroe meanwhile is a deeply introspective character who only seems to lack confidence when making decisions of enormous magnitude, like building a thriving and free society out of a might makes right society.  His main issue is his reluctance to trust people and reluctance to take action as he endlessly analyzes the situation.  When he’s with people he can trust and in combat scenarios he displays no lack of confidence whatsoever and he only needs a push when making world-altering decisions.

However because Shiroe is in fact making such big sweeping decisions, we see a lot more of a character struggle from his side and a clear arc where he is forced to overcome his personal flaws.  Ainz has no such arc, at least not in season 1, at most he has to put up a tough front for his subordinates while he struggles a bit more with what to do internally.  Shiroe’s growth as a person is also much more important to the story as he not only starts out with fewer, and less blindly loyal, followers than Ainz, he has persuade other powerful figures that not only does he have the best plan, but that he can be trusted to carry it out.  Ainz has no such difficulties, the Demons of Nazareck are almost fanatically loyal to him and some outright lust for him.  He can command them to do just about anything and they’ll gladly do it.  Based on some clips it looks like Ainz may eventually have some problems with his demons, and theoretically because he can’t be with them all the time or has to spend more time with certain members this could cause problems later down the road, but none of this appears in season 1.  In season 1 the only problem he has on this front is that Shalltear is turned into a hostile creature by some legendary item that we know very little about by season 1’s end.

Speaking of the protagonists’ companions, they also have a strong effect on the overall tone of the two shows.  Ainz has a bunch of followers, Shalltear, Demiurge, Cocytus, Albedo, the twin elves with hetero-chromea, Pandora’s Actor, Sebas, all of the Pleiades battle maids and anyone else I can’t remember off the top of my head.  He also recruits some villagers later in the season 1.  Setting aside the villagers who mostly don’t factor into the story in season 1, all of the Demons of Nazareck are unflinchingly loyal to Ainz and stronger than any monster or NPC we encounter in season 1 to boot.  Shiroe has a much more complicated role in the world of Log Horizon.  He is famous if not infamous, with many powerful guild leaders waiting to see what he’ll do, and he has a number of powerful friends he calls to his banner over the course of the story – but in the beginning he only has 2 companions, Naotsugu and Akatsuki.  While both are happy to follow Shiroe they have different depths of relationship with him as Naotsugu and Shiroe both belonged to a legendary group (not a guild) called the Debauchery Tea Party which conquered the game’s greatest challenges but has since disbanded.

Akatsuki meanwhile is a trusted friend but was not a member of the Debauchery Tea Party, and as she evolves as a character this degree of separation plays an important role in her character arc.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, Akatsuki’s arc, though it begins to form in season 1, is mainly addressed in season 2 – but the fact that she not only develops romantic feelings for Shiroe over the course of their interactions but undergoes her own lengthy, messy character arc is a massive step up from anything the Demons of Nazareck undergo at least in season 1.  I mean Ainz even edits Albedo’s flavor text so she is unbelievably thirsty for his D right from the start.  Based on some plot developments I’ve heard, I believe some of the Demons may eventually develop as characters and may even have interesting arcs – but nothing in season 1 of Overlord suggests such a thing.  The only interesting character concept in Overlord season 1 is that Shalltear retains her memories even while she is hostile and this gives her a persona something akin to a cocky fighter where she respects Ainz’s power but isn’t afraid to trash-talk him during their fight either.  This is instantly erased after Ainz defeats and resurrects her, and she returns to being servile and loyal to Ainz.

The last major contributor to the tones of each show is their humor and seriousness.  Log Horizon has a bunch of terrible, unfunny repetitive jokes which is mostly uses to break up long chunks of exposition or periods of tension.  This doesn’t make the jokes any better but it does give them an important purpose in breaking up the dense flows of information common in Log Horizon.  One of the hallmarks of Log Horizon is that it does lots and lots of buildup and this is mostly accomplished through careful exploration and investigation of the world, and in serious negotiations.  Log Horizon doesn’t have that much action nor much edginess – and it gets through most of both of these in the first arc where the characters go and fight Demikas.  Overlord on the other hand has a fair amount of action and a lot of edginess.  The main villains of season 1, the Necromancer and the assassin chick are comically evil edgelords who revel in their own wickedness and the pain they inflict on others.  Even the invasive force guy was fairly bombastic and arrogant in his power since he could summon Angels.  And I’ve seen clips of the edgy princess from season 2.  Ainz himself isn’t that edgy though, best clear that up in case anyone wants to complain.  The comedy in Overlord isn’t especially good and primarily revolves around light perversion, like Albedo’s displays of affection for Ainz, the trap-looking elf sorcerer and his weak persona and I’ve seen the clip where Ainz accidentally spies on the lizardman champion having sex with the lizardman princess.  Or it’s total cringe in the case of Pandora’s Actor, enough so that Ainz is embarrassed for creating him.

Visually both shows favor detail-heavy designs over especially fluid and dynamic animation.  Both also use CG for some monsters though this is more prevalent in Overlord than in Log Horizon.  General consensus is that, Overlord generally looks better and I would agree that Ainz looks better than anyone in Log Horizon – overall though I don’t really like designs of most of the Demons of Nazareck so I lean towards Log Horizon as looking better overall.  And I vastly prefer the environments in Log Horizon, Overlord’s backgrounds look fine but generic outside of the Tomb of Nazareck, whereas Log Horizon has many distinct environs and towns which blend fantasy wilderness with post apocalyptic ruins of modern cities.

I have thus far tried to be fair and balanced, describing the various elements of Log Horizon and Overlord (season 1) with as few personal value judgements as possible.  In doing so I hope I have presented my case as to what the two shows’ differences are in a mostly objective sense and prepared anyone reading this for what remains – how I personally feel about each show based on the various elements of their construction as well as discussing some elements which are so strongly colored by my personal feelings that I couldn’t really discuss them above while maintaining even a pretense of fairness.

I fucking hate Overlord.  Like “1/10 – Jesus Fucking Christ, how in the hell does anyone think this show is even remotely good?” hate Overlord.  The nicest way I can express my feelings toward this show is that is a prime example of heavy-handed writing, so hamfisted and unsubtle that it feels like it was written with 12 year olds in mind.  It is embarrassingly bad, I actually skimmed through some of season 1 to confirm a few details and remember how the show looked and felt and holy shit was this way blatantly worse than I remember.  The edgy villains are a fucking joke, and not a funny one either.  At best they are bemusing but in a critical sense they are pure garbage, caricatures of stereotypical bad guys with no nuance or redeeming qualities whatsoever.  The Demons of Nazareck are equally bland and boring, their personalities are almost nonexistent beyond their devotion to Ainz and their declarations of loyalty are obnoxious at best.  Having sat down to re-examine the writing of Overlord as portrayed in the anime has made me facepalm harder than I even thought possible.  I genuinely did not expect it to be so unbearably bad on a re-watch.  The dialogue was utter garbage, the CG was uglier than I remeber it being and holy shit did Overlord take it’s fucking time doing anything.  Like the fact Ainz didn’t even leave the Tomb of Nazareck until episode 3, Christ on a bike how did I sit through those first two episodes the first time?

Ironically episode 3 of Log Horizon one of it’s worst episodes because it functions mostly as a transition as the characters begin their first quest, after 2 episodes full of information about the world and the forming society of players.  It’s the episode you have to sit through to get back to more interesting stuff, in Overlord nothing interesting happens until episode 3 – and even that’s just a big smack down against a bunch of helpless knights and an edgy feudal lord screaming about how he’ll pay for someone, anyone to shield him from the undead monster Ainz summoned before he gets stabbed over and over.  I sincerely can’t believe that even just five years ago I was willing to sit through the early parts of Overlord, if it had come out in the last year or two I’d probably have dropped it right away.

Getting away from episode specific details though, what I hoped to present with the earlier analysis is that Overlord is really just a basic bitch story and there is literally nothing in season 1 that suggests it will ever get better.  The only noteworthy thing about season 1 of Overlord is that we still have a lot of mystery to solve.  Overlord has nothing to latch onto, unless you like the basics of what it already gives you.  Do you like having a lich for a protagonist?  I think that’s cool, and I’m sure many others love it.  Do you like lots of loyal demon followers, some of whom definitely want to ride your dick?  Not my cup of tea but I can see the appeal.  Like a power fantasy where the protagonist crushes everyone with no effort until he’s forced to fight his own servant?  No.  Like I’m all for the occasional beat down or steamroll but every fight but one?  Maybe if we were talking about a show like One Punch Man or Mob Psycho 100 where the protagonist’s sheer power is causing them problems then maybe, but otherwise nah that sounds boring as shit.

There’s literally nothing else.  There is no character development at fucking all in season 1 of Overlord.  Save for the final battle there is no suggestion that Ainz or any of his Demons are ever in any danger.  Does Ainz ever seem likely to fail?  No, not only does he never fail, he makes everything look easy and he’s given bullshit gatcha items to make his final battle easier.  Put simply, I’m bored.  The mystery of how Ainz got taken to this fantasy world that is nothing more than a downgraded version of his favorite VR game is not appealing enough for me to want to sit through a season of hamfisted writing, terrible dialogue and characters, simple plots and a total lack of challenge.  There is nothing at all appealing beyond the mere idea of a guy getting stuck in a fantasy world as a lich.  The previous sentence is, to me, the entirety of Overlord’s potential appeal.  And that does not make up for it’s appalling execution in every conceivable facet of storytelling.  Overlord is all premise and no execution, and I know that works for some people but I’m not one of them.  Premise means a lot less to me than execution, I’d rather watch a fucking idol show with good execution than watch Overlord – and I fucking hate idol shows and idol culture.

And don’t even get me started on the combat.  Ainz almost never takes any damage because of a passive skill that nullifies damage from low level weapons and spells – and since Overlord’s setting is set on even-babies-could-beat-this easy mode almost everything he fights is too weak to even hurt him.  Ainz’s only noteworthy opponent is Shalltear and once again, not only is she his servant under normal circumstances, he is given gatcha items which allow him to use the best gear from warrior classes regardless of the fact he’s a fucking magician.  It was bad enough that his basic warrior form could kill all of his enemies without any skills, but getting to use the best gear for warrior classes makes me wonder why anyone bothers to play warriors.  If anything Ainz reminds me of a high level multi-class Fighter/Mage from Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – which can solo the the entire fucking game if you build it right.  The versatility is less of an issue than the sheer power though, I wouldn’t mind if Ainz was versatile if he was also weaker or more vulnerable, it would justify the versatility.  Instead Ainz has it all and that just gives me one less aspect of the story to get invested in.  Ainz never struggles, he faces no adversity and is a weaker character for it.  And when I don’t give a shit about the protagonist, the show is probably fucked.

By comparison not only is Shiroe himself weak in combat due to his support role, his strength comes from his game knowledge and tactical skills – which benefit him most when he’s working with other skilled players.  Shiroe is not a one man army, but he can make a party of 4 or 5 able to take on a small army because he can direct their power and skill to make them that good.  Action is not one of Log Horizon’s particular strong points but it’s a million times better than anything in Overlord, where Ainz kills everything besides Shalltear in one hit.

Because Shiroe has to work with other people, both in combat and in building a society that benefits everyone after their world has been turned upside down, Log Horizon goes to great lengths to feature a ton of characters and to make many of them interesting, with significant arcs in their own right.  Shiroe is obviously no exception and Log Horizon frontloads much of his development into the early arcs so you’re already invested in him as a person before he makes his big powerplays.  Overlord has nothing like this in season 1 and since I actively hate all of Overlord’s characters I don’t care about how they develop.

Then there’s world-building, one of my favorite elements of fantasy, and I’m going to have to laugh in every Overlord fan’s face for a second here.  There is almost no world building in all of season 1, or at least no world building I found engaging.  Sure the Tomb of Nazareck is in a different location and yes we are made aware at least 2 political entities.  Does any of that matter?  Fuck no.  In season 1 the main thing to take away by the end was that we still knew fuck all about the world, beyond the general idea that it was downgraded form of Yggdrasil.  Is that enough to make me stick around for a second season?  No it is not.  Log Horizon went way more in-depth, with dungeons that actively degenerated due to monster effects, several distinct adventurer cities, detailed NPC nations with multiple cities and political intrigue directed toward the adventurers and the goblin invasion, and fantasy elements with fantasy explanations which logically correlate with video game mechanics’ to explain how resurrection functions or like the Goblin King.  And of course it had Shiroe go ahead and build a goddamn society from the ground up and shows us what progress that brings over the course of the story.  That alone is 10x more interesting and 100x more complex than anything Ainz does in season 1 of Overlord.

To put it mildly, the biggest difference between Log Horizon and Overlord, is that the latter bet everything on premise and used action, shock value and edginess to keep the viewer from noticing just how bad the writing was – while the former focused on ideas and kept the viewer’s attention by revealing carefully considered details and developing characters to make the most of said ideas.  Overlord is a show for teens first making their forays into fiction, like Elfen Lied or Mirai Nikki.  Log Horizon is a show made to challenge teens and adults who want something with more depth and nuance out of their fiction.  And while everyone has their phase of liking the edgy, simple stories – God knows I used to like Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki once upon a time – Log Horizon is the kind of story you really learn to appreciate once you’ve moved beyond comparatively simple and trashy works like Overlord.

I’m basically done here.  Thanks everyone for reading.  I could go into more depth and bring up more specific examples from both shows, but honestly I think I’ve made my case.  The difference in quality and character between the foundations of Overlord and Log Horizon practically makes my case for me.  Even if Overlord eventually develops a more detailed and interesting world, more intricate plots or makes its central mystery interesting – it will inevitably be chained to the flaws of Overlord season 1.  That’s why I would guess, though I could be wrong, that Ainz never really comes across an opponent who’s a match for him, because part of the core of Overlord’s appeal is the overwhelming power fantasy Ainz presents.  I have no interest in that not as a feature which spans an entire story, and no amount of new plot twists and lore will address this problem.  By the same token, Log Horizon will only get more nuanced and more complex because so much attention was given to the themes the show is going for and carefully planning out the details to make sure those themes hit home.  You can learn a lot about the general quality of a story if you carefully study the early parts.  Log Horizon had my interest by episode 1.  Overlord didn’t get my interest after 12 episodes and after re-watching most of episode 1 of Overlord I’m frankly embarrassed I didn’t see how bad it was on my first viewing.  See you in the next one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s