I have spoken about what I think are Isekai’s Big Four. While there are dozens of isekai series, all of varying degrees of good or bad. There are, in my mind, only four series that have really pushed the genre forward. Who have actually having done something with the basic premise of “guy gets sent to a new world.” These four are: Konosuba, ReZero, Tanya the Evil and Overlord.
Out of those four, I’ve always struggled the most to get into, and stick with Overlord. I’ve tried three times with the anime, and each time I find myself just putting it down out of boredom, or disinterest. Not because the premise is bad, or the characters, but just how to the story pulls away from its central lead. However last year I decided to pick up the light novels (which were on sale) and try one more final time to get into it. How did it end up? Well after the cut let’s dive into the first light novel volumes of the isekai series: Overlord.
When going from an anime to it’s light novel source. You are in many ways handing sole responsibility of your enjoyment to the author. Any series that has been adapted as an anime can credit much (but not all) its success to not just the author, but the voice actors, animators, screen-writers and adapters. They are very much a joint collaborative effort, but when you read a light novel, the whole thing is on the shoulders of the author. If they can’t write, then everything falls apart.
Thankfully, author Kugane Maruyama can indeed write, and write well. Out of all the light novels that I have read so far, Overlord is the only one that actually feels like a real novel, not an anime light novel. That is not meant to throw shade at the other series I’ve read. It just that many of those books feel like you are watching something that was meant to be an anime. Overlord however feels like something that was meant to be a book, and then was chosen to become an anime. The prose is much more thought out, and the typical anime moments are few and far between. As I read through this first volume, it felt like I was reading something from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson or any other fantasy novelist.
The story of course, is very much focused about setting up the world. Anyone who has watched the anime will know this. We meet Ainz, we see how he spends his final moments in his favorite MMORPG when he is suddenly transported into the game itself, where everything is real. He is not alone though as all of his NPC servants have come with him, and they have all come alive. This of course includes the sultry and seductive Albedo who, as a last minute joke before the servers closed, Ainz changed her programming to make her in love with him. Now armed with his devotely loyal followers, Ainz sets out to see if he can find his old guild-mates, and make his mark in his new world.
Overlord’s great strength has always been its ability to shake up the Isekai formula. Out of the big four, Overlord is the one that always felt the most standard out of all of them. It isn’t the deconstructionist comedown of ReZero, the parody pie in the face of Konosuba, or the fresh setting of Tanya the Evil. It does however, have some of the most unique characters out all of them though. Instead of normal anime high school students, Overlord’s cast is all monsters and characters who don’t normally fit into the archetypal anime roles you’d expect. Ainz himself, a skeletal lich is a fresh and fun character, especially since his older human age and battle against his undead’s forced logical personality make a great back and forth. And while the floor guardians don’t have much going for them right now, they are all uniquely designed and are ripe for further exploration and depth, something I do know Overlord ends up doing.
Finally, I can’t finish my talk about this series without mentioning the art, and holy shit is this art beautiful. Like almost everything Overlord, the pictures in the light novel, illustrated by so-bin, they are wholly and completely unique. Again, this is not something you expect from a light novel, not the traditional anime pictures, but instead they are designed like a tapestry, with a sense of epicness and grandeur that again, isn’t something you expect from a light novel. I would say it is almost worth buying these books just to get see these pictures. They are honestly breathing taking, and it really helps set this series apart.
Overlord Volume 1, like the first half of the first season, is something I couldn’t put down. It’s a fresh, gripping story that feels like something not seen in anime before. However, I felt that way for the anime, and it eventually got to the point where I couldn’t be bothered anymore. We aren’t at the point in the story yet, and that remains the deal-breaker. Regardless this is as really good book, with fantastic art and a story that will hook you in. If you are a lapsed Overlord fan and need something to kill a few hours, then pick this light novel up. It’s something I don’t think you’ll regret.