The only thing more common these days than manga licenses being spurred by animated adaptations are manga based on light novels. Today's review allows me to cover both, along with a couple of all-too-common subgenres: the "otaku is transported to fantasy world" and "otaku trapped within a video game."
OVERLORD (Obarodo), adapted from the light novel by Kugane Maruyama & character designs by so-bin, with scenario by Satoshi Oshio and art by Hugin Miyama. First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.
In the world of virtual reality MMOs, none are more renowned than Yggdrasil. Sadly, the game's servers are being shut down after 12 years, and only dedicated players like Momonga are still around. He stays until the very end as tribute to the dungeon he built and the friends he made, but when the timer end, he finds himself transported into the world of the game inside the hulking skeletal avatar he created for himself. Now Momonga has a new goal: to rebuild his army and find anyone else who might be trapped in the game.
At the beginning, I had some hope for this one. At the very least, it seemed like it was written by someone who has actually fired up a MMO at some point. In quick order, though, it resigns itself to the sort of half-baked fantasy that too many of these stories offer along with a hero who is simultaneously too overpowered to be threatened and too anonymous to be interesting.
It's telling that Overlord doesn't even bother establishing who Momonga is outside of Yggdrasil. We don't know what kind of player he was, how well he did as GM, and barely any insight into how others player within the guild viewed him. Hell, we don't even see so much as his face outside of his VR gear. Momonga the person is a total cipher, so there's no comparison point for how he was before he became some great hulking lich-like thing. At least he's not quite as obnoxious as a lot of otaku characters thrown into similar situations. Aside from a rather gratuitous boob grab, he takes a rather methodical and logical approach to his situation. He doesn't freak out, but instead takes effort to assess his allies, reinforce his defenses, and hash out the beginnings of a short- and long-term plan.
Once Momonga gets his bearings, though, the story turns into pure indulgence. He still has a clique of former NPC minions that obey his every word. He has a couple of girls fighting for his favors, one of whom is doing so entirely because he rewrote her code on a whim. He's ludicrously overpowered thanks to over a decade of grinding, so no amount of soldiers or divine creatures are a match for the spells or high-powered artifacts he can pull out on a whim. He certainly feels no compulsion to return to his normal life, but neither does he have any loyalties to anyone in this universe outside of himself and his minions. So where's the drama? Where's the conflict? What's going to keep Momonga from just smoothly conquering his way through the land? I don't think the writers had any notion, which is part of the reason the story takes so long to get Momonga out of his lair.
It's not like he's got a compelling new world to explore to motivate him. His HQ is located in what appears to be a completely peaceful grassland and while there are some generic faux-medieval villages, armies, and a sorcerer or two, none of them are terribly compelling in their own right or give any sort of information about this world, such as it is. But why waste time on that when you can have a yandere angel and a loli vampire fight over who gets to be the official wife? Why bother with things like 'interesting protagonists' or 'dramatic conflict' when you can just combine a few threadbare fantasy tropes with a popular premise and simply stop there?
With all due credit to this so-bin person, the characters of Overlord do at least look like actual video game characters. They look like horrendously overdesigned video game characters, complete with goofy looking armor and no visual style or motif to tie them all together, but I could see designs like these popping up in some C-list MMO. Momonga's in particular looks like it was borrowed from some dungeon boss. It's kind of badass when it's lovingly detailed. but it's not hard to see why the artist quickly started looking for ways to hide him in armor or masks instead. In comparison, the rest of the book is exceedingly generic. The paneling, the backgrounds, the other human characters, all of them are perfectly competent in execution but otherwise unremarkable. What's really sad is that compared to most of the other light novel-to-manga adaptations I've seen, this mediocre thing is actually one of the better-looking ones.
There's a short story afterwards, one that's not so much a preview of the actual light novel as it is a deleted scene from it. Don't worry about it, though, as it's nothing more than another scene where the angel and vampire fight over our protagonist AGAIN.
God help me if this is actually a running gag in the story.
Overlord doesn't so much transport the reader to a new realm of adventure as it does rehash a lot of half-assed clichés and hopes that the reader will fill in what details the creators couldn't bother with. Throw this one on the ever-growing pile of failed light novel adaptations.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan with 4 volumes available. 2 volumes have been released and are currently in print.
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