Isekai protagonists are a dime a dozen. And they’re pretty much all the same. An overpowered guy that every woman in his new world wants to get with. There are a few notable exceptions, but the overwhelming majority are simply copy-pasted wish fulfillment.
Then there’s the master of the Great Tomb of Nazarick: Ainz Ooal Gown. Formerly known as Momonga.
We all know the drill by now. Ainz was once a normal dude who was a member of the strongest guild in a popular VR-MMORPG. When the game shut down with him still playing, however, he was reincarnated as his character, and all of the NPCs within Nazarick developed consciousness. While exploring the new world he finds himself in, he begins to slip into the role of evil overlord (get it?), weaving a complicated scheme to conquer the world.
A complicated scheme that he himself doesn’t understand. Because he doesn’t actually have one. He’s just unreasonably lucky and everyone thinks he’s a mastermind beyond any other.
Upon first glance, Ainz is yet another isekai protagonist; the only real difference was that he’s a skeleton. All of the male characters think he’s the best and the overwhelming majority of the female characters thirst after him like they just crossed the desert. The dude is so powerful that he breaks every single rule of magic in the world he finds himself in. Typical isekai character.
However, there is more to him than appearances would convince you. Yes, he is that isekai protagonist. But a few aspects of his character make him somewhat more interesting than a simple power fantasy.
Firstly, his arc is not exactly a positive one. He isn’t going on some journey to better himself. As the story goes on, Ainz slowly falls more and more into his role as the evil overlord (get it?) out to conquer the world. He doesn’t always enjoy it, and he often has no idea what he’s actually doing, but he’s too far in to back out now.
What’s interesting about this is that Ainz isn’t doing it for himself. Rather, he’s doing it for the denizens of Nazarick, whom he considers to be his children. He uses his actions to push them to become more independent. He pretends to be the mastermind everyone thinks he is to make his minions think for themselves and push their boundaries.
Funny thing is: it works. In season two, we see Cocytus lean more into his own wants and beliefs as a warrior. Over the course of the entire show, Ainz’s intentionally vague plans (which is really just his desperate attempts to hide his utter lack of a plan) push Demiurgus to devise progressively more clever schemes of his own. Ainz is basically just a dad trying to teach his kids about themselves.
Which would be admirable, if most of them weren’t literal man-eating monsters. On a good day, at least; on a bad one, they’ll do much worse than just eating them.
Inversely, Ainz is gradually losing sight of himself. Not just because he’s a skeleton now with no way to regain his former life as a human, and not because he has no idea what the hell he’s doing. His emotions are often inhibited by the lingering systems of the game, forcing him to act more like a machine than a person.
His motivation is a key example of this. At the start of the series, Ainz’s goal was just to learn more about the world he’s in and find someone else from the game and see if he was truly alone. But his actions have escalated so far beyond that at this point. Without even realizing it, he’s gone full-in on conquering the world and being the dark overlord (get it?) of everything.
To be fair: there have been worse dark lords. Just stay out of his house and you should be fine.
Is Ainz a particularly deep or interesting character? Maybe not when compared to other anime. By isekai standards, sure. But that standard isn’t particularly high, so it wasn’t a hard bar to leap.
Still, I really enjoy Ainz as a protagonist. Whether he’s being delightfully incompetent and stupidly lucky or he’s being genuinely diabolical, he’s got charisma to him that few other isekai protagonists have. Of all the reasons behind Overlord’s staying power, I believe Ainz is one of the strongest.
Even if we’re all just watching this show ’cause we’re horny for Albedo. Don’t lie to me, you know it’s true!