I really hate Overlord. When I was watching it weekly I might have given it like a 5-6/10, though the final battle with Shaltear (yes I only watched season 1 though I’ve a smattering of fight clips from later seasons since) was a huge disappointment. That said every time I even think about the show since then my hatred has built and built to the point when I can say it’s probably a 1 for me personally by now. And while before this point I could point out what I saw as the flaws just fine I had some trouble connecting with the appeal of a show like Overlord at all, until a I saw How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord (henceforth Demon Lord because that title is a pain in the ass to type over and over).
I would describe Demon Lord as perfectly passable. It’s like a 5-6/10, and very ok across the board. If not for the fact this is an abysmal anime season I probably would not have watched it but now that I have I think I can really pick apart how I think Overlord fails at capturing the appeal it ostensibly is going for. In case you haven’t seen it Demon Lord features a similarly OP demonic main character, who happens to be a spellcaster, stuck in a world resembling a game he played, where everyone else seems severely under-leveled. On the face of it Demon and Overlord are practically the same show but their minor differences make a world difference in how much I enjoyed one over the other.
Barring the obvious differences in art style between the shows and the appearance of the two leads, the biggest difference is that Ains from Overlord has the Dungeon of Nazareck and Diablo from Demon Lord doesn’t.
Ains arrives amongst allies and servants who he can order to do things on his behalf while he investigates the world or gets into fights. In and of itself this is not a problem and a story written from such a scenario is totally workable. The problem is that all the demons of Nazareck are themselves overpowered in the world of Overlord. In season 1 and in most of the clips I’ve seen of later seasons the demons of Nazareck are curb stomping all of their opponents, with the only notable exception being the bug maid vs Evil Eye (if memory serves). This is not to say I’m not missing a battle or two where they fight more difficult opponents but ultimately the issue is that not only is Ains op all of his allies are op too so there is never any tension in any of the battles. Moreover it seems like an incredibly hamfisted level of overkill in the writing department. What’s the point of having an OP protagonist trying to unravel the mystery of his situation if he could just command his 15-20 servants to do it all for him? It’s like making a team of 15-20 Madara Uchiha’s from Naruto and saying “yeah people will like that!” – like wtf? It’s fucking BORING because none of the main characters are ever in any danger and world itself is not challenging.
Even more annoying there is no reason given at all (in season 1 at least please correct me if they explain later) as to why the world of Overlord is so weak in comparison to Ains. Here’s a completely inconsequential example that encapsulates my issues perfectly. Early in season 1 Ains (in disguise) has to give away one of his potions. As far as I know this is not a potion he made, it’s just a basic potion from the game. However it’s considered pure and is better than the potions everyone else is using. Can you believe it? Even a basic potion in Ains’ possession, which he never even has to use, is better than the potions of the world he inhabits. That’s the unbelievable level of overkill the writer goes to in making sure Ains is the top dog, even his potions are better than everyone else’s and he doesn’t even use them. I know this is such a minor thing but it speaks to my main issue with Overlord. It doesn’t know when to stop. It doesn’t know how to set any kind of limit for itself, any restrictions which might inject ANY tension into it whatsoever. It just makes Ains and his goons the best in every way possible and shows you how they steamroll this world set on baby levels of easy mode. And somehow it works for people, I sincerely don’t get it, but then again I don’t get why anyone would like Superman and this has most of the same problems as Superman.
By comparison Diablo is brought into a world where he seems all but invincible but he doesn’t have a gang of overpowered buddies. He has a pair of girls who fit into the normal range of characters levels for the vast majority of adventurers in the world Demon Lord takes place in. His companions can and do get beaten in fights and struggle against superior foes anytime Diablo is unable to confront the threat himself. There is actual tension because Diablo really only has like 4 or 5 people he can count on in this world and all of them have a very real chance of dying in the event he isn’t there to protect them, and he can’t be with all of them 24/7. Moreover there are a few opponents who are more of a threat to Diablo than anyone in Overlord was a threat to one of Ains’ battle maids. The Force Hydra, the Governor of Faltra, Krebskulm and even the Paladin are foes of a high enough level that they can at least damage Diablo, and a few even give them a run for his money or force him to the point exhaustion.
Which brings me to another point, not only do none of the native creatures or characters of Overlords world ever damage Ains, (again not that I’ve seen do correct me if I’m wrong) but even when he has to get serious to fight Shaltear there’s no negative effects at all. Diablo meanwhile not only can be seen taking damage on rare occasions but he can exhaust himself, which leaves him practically bedridden the next day. And while by most show’s standards this is barely a limit at all it is at least a limit – Ains not only doesn’t seem to have limits he actively is granted the means to ignore any limits he might otherwise have. He can become a warrior good enough to steamroll this world despite the fact he’s a sorcerer. And he has fucking gatcha items which allow him to equip the best melee weapons and armors without penalty and he doesn’t appear to suffer from using most or all of his mana if he ever even does.
Jumping back to the world being too weak, unlike Overlord, Demon Lord has an actual explanation as to why the world is so weak. Namely that the lack of respawns has caused all the adventurers to be much more conservative so not only are their levels lower, they have far less experience with the skills they have. Whereas Diablo played aggressively because it was a game, so he is high leveled and experienced with his skills. But even with this explanation in place Demon Lord still makes room for a few major enemies who are high leveled. And unlike Overlord Diablo’s potions aren’t inherently better than the potions of this world.
Where this difference in the relative power levels becomes most important is in Diablo’s companions. Whereas Ains almost never has to worry about his servants because personality-wise they all praise him to high heaven and want to suck his dick, Diablo’s companions are total strangers to him and only bound to him by a slave collar that he won’t use on them. These fragile bonds are important because Diablo’s human self has been betrayed in the past and struggles with connecting to people. And of equal importance is that Ains’ companions are rarely in any danger, whereas Diablo’s are in danger all the time – or would be in the event he isn’t there. This goes double for Rem who is the vessel sealing Krebskulm and is targeted by some humans and monsters because of this, and Shera who is a runaway princess being pursued by her countrymen and brother. Between this combination of legitimate vulnerability, character backstories that imply significant struggles and the trials which arise in the present because of their pasts, I found the supporting cast much more likable in Demon Lord. They were people I could sympathize with and in turn it made me like Diable more as he fought past his strong mistrust of people to support the few companions he has as much as he was able. The demons of Nazareck meanwhile were all totally insufferable because of their boners for Ains coupled with their borderline invincibility. There was nothing there to invest me in them and so they all fall flat.
Put simply where I think Overlord fails is in setting limits for itself. I can understand the appeal of wanting to watch an OP hero crushing powerful enemies with ease and being an all around badass. But where I think Demon Lord manages to strike this target with ease I feel Overlord overcompensates and goes too far. When everyone and everything thing associated with Ains, even his basic potions for fuck’s sake, are better than the everything in the world around them it’s a clear case of overdoing it. Fuck, just laying it out like that makes Overlord sound like a Mel Brooks-esque parody of shows like Demon Lord, but Overlord lacks the self-awareness and humor to be such a parody. Instead it’s just a basic power fantasy taken to such an extreme degree in every detail that’s it unbearably frustrating just to think about, let alone watch.
All that said I do want to say sorry to Overlord fans if they feel like I’m attacking them. That’s not my intent, I believe anyone can like anything and it doesn’t reflect badly on them. This is just one more case where a popular show emerges and I can’t stand it. Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.