Momonga in the isekai Overlord behaves like a Tengu necromancer, not a lich

1 Mild spoiler warning

This is a critique of the isekai Overlord's introductory sequence. I am vaguely familiar with the anime through season 2, and with the manga through chapter 15. I struggle to continue with either.

The manga version of Overlord is best, but I still find the incongruence of a sappy skeleton too offputting to enjoy for more than a few pages when tired and bored.

2 Canonical nature of a lich

2.1 Definitions

The general lich canon is adequately described by Wikipedia and TVTropes:

Liches are defined by the enduring art that referenced in the above descriptions, of which Overlord is not a part.

2.2 Depictions

There is a reason this is the #1 search result on YouTube for lich:

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Cinematic Trailer | YT

Blizzard erred in giving the lich king unrotted flesh, but the helm hides this, making his smirk barely-visible, wraithlike, matching his thin white hair.

Best & Favorite Lord of the Rings Quotes - "Shire! Baggins!" (Nazgûl) | YT

2.3 Relativism rebuked

> It is not your world. It is not your character. It is not your prerogative in any way whatsoever to believe their world works to your beliefs.

Your argument amounts to an assertion that no one can criticize another's worldbuilding. This is obviously false in the current context, which is reviewing LitRPG.

Enduring art eschews aesthetic relativism for reasons that escape the masses. "Shire, Baggins" hurts the ears, and always will.

2.4 Essentialism and evolution

Zombies are rabies, vampires are syphilis, werewolves are skinwalkers, and liches are negative energy mage skeletons, which is an impractical combination of three real things.

Necroliches have less empathy than insectoids. Unlike golems, they hate life. Proximity and psychic contact should drain and kill.

Heroes II | Epic Action Cinematic | YT

Being alive has benefits, such as a living brain capable of adapting to the constant change of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The dead prefer the stillness of tombs, where they can insulate themselves against the hostile higher plane with slowly-accumulated layers of negative energy. They prefer to emerge only to feed or fight. Sun and fungus threaten banishment and disintegration; cold and dark are friends.

Eyeless undead lower property values. Their lifesense is an irritation of the naked negative aura, driving them to extinguish all life. Vampires are least affected, having a circulatory system. (The biomagnetic field generated by iron-rich circulating blood anchors the soul to the heart.)

There is nothing wrong with undead having leftover emotions, even mammalian ones such as affection for family. An example of such pathos in art:

Dark Souls 3 Ashes of Ariandel: Sister Friede and Father Ariandel Boss Fight (4K 60fps) | YT

Andries Louws' Histaff is a good example of magical undead diverging from canon, but since the worldbuilding is internally consistent, this is brilliant rather than offputting. Thus the canon expands.

3 A desert called peace

3.1 Intro

Guess what actually happens when a lvl 100 lich's tomb teleports into human lands?

If you guessed, "Crisis of the Late Middle Ages," you are correct! Have a boil.

Medieval pandemics spawned fears of the undead, burials reveal

3.2 Raiders and rapers

It all starts with a bit of the old ultraviolence:

Chevauchée | Wikipedia:

> a raiding method of medieval warfare for weakening the enemy, primarily by burning and pillaging enemy territory in order to reduce the productivity of a region, as opposed to siege warfare or wars of conquest. The use of the chevauchée declined at the end of the 14th century as the focus of warfare turned to sieges. It is conceptually similar to the scorched earth strategies used in modern warfare.

The more suffering, the better, from a necrolich's point of view. More negative energy to work with.

A real necrolich would've welcomed the slaughter of surrounding villages by the Slane Theocracy, using the chaos to sacrifice additional villages by night, creating a haunted no-man's land around his tomb.

Nobody's counting exactly how many villages get butchered, so after the human raiders ride off into the sunset, nocturnal Nazarick can emerge to eliminate the survivors — and neighboring hamlets. The greater the torment, the stronger the revenant.

3.3 Let's you and him fight

Then the lich would ensure the Theocracy's false-flag ruse was discovered, to precipitate war between the two human kingdoms. This would conveniently attrit the lich's bane: holy clerics and paladins.

No reason to get greedy while the humans kill each other. Just keep stoking tempers with false-flag atrocities. The resulting chaos and death should disguise the magical signature of his tomb's arrival and explain the disappearance of any investigators.

Nazarick wants the weak Re-Estize kingdom to conquer the holy-aligned Slane Theocracy, so Nazarick should content itself with a modest exclusion zone. Nazarick's non-undead personnel can undermine the Slane Theocracy without revealing their origin. Pandora's Actor can infiltrate while Demiurge oversees.

Nazarick probably can't be relocated, so this is the best option. Nazarick wants to prevent Baharuth Empire from invading Re-Estize, since this places Nazarick in the invasion corridor, making discovery and besiegement likely.

Ideally Re-Estize and Baharuth conquer Slane Theocracy together, out of mutual outrage over Slane's alleged use of necromantic atrocities.

3.4 Sneaky skeleton

> Even using the dnd paradigm a lich isn't dumb and would understand that a all-out evil empire attack would be a bad idea.

That would be stupid, yes, which is why I advised something else. Namely, false-flag attacks disguised as human action to create the sort of depopulated desolation commonly caused by medieval warfare. With poisoned wells and ruined crops, armies would avoid the tomb's surroundings. Especially if there is an alternative route that offers drinking water and safe roads.

Obviously a wise necrolich would also cast an illusion to hide Nazarick, and would avoid sending detectable undead raiding parties directly from the exclusion zone surrounding his castle. Preferably, there would be no detectable undead raids on living human lands whatsoever, just a blight that moves in once land is ruined by human raiders.

The purpose of creating a blighted wasteland buffer zone is to blur the magical signature of Nazarick's negative energy. It should look like the kind of thing that can be cleaned up after the war: Undead fighting wild beasts for worthless territory.

4 Momonga's false lichdom

4.1 Intro

The herbivore salaryman Momonga is transformed into a necrolich, then rules like a humanitarian, introducing liberal reforms, rescuing damsels in distress and so forth. Historical Japanese warlords were far more impressive.

4.2 Necrolich

Liches generally begin as living humans, so Momonga's case is not special in that regard.

It is clear from his anatomy and description exactly what kind of lich is meant.

He is the lichiest lich who ever liched, according to the negative energy orb artifact he captured from the necromancer. He is the ultimate necromancer skeleton lich, not merely an undead wizard with dry rot.

The other liches behave according to canon.

4.3 Notalich

4.3.1 Niceguy

Losing all his internal organs should have more effect on Momonga's behavior than some emotional modulation and distancing from humanity.

He is behaving more nicely than human sociopaths, let alone undead creatures without even insectoid capacity for affection.

> You're also forgetting the guy isn't from "Earth," he's from a dystopian future where there are corpses littering the streets.

My complaint is that he acts too nicely. This point merely underlines that.

The author should have either put him in a less evil body, or showed him struggling internally more with his evil impulses and lack of mammalian emotional equipment.

Being a lich doesn't auto-regulate one's emotions when they become elevated; that's a video-game feature. Being a lich eliminates all physical emotions, like being on strong psychiatric drugs, but nightmarish homicidal ones.

Imagine a bad drug trip that lasts forever. Imagine losing all your physical senses, and never feeling pleasure or happiness again except by draining lifeforce. Would you change?

4.3.2 Lipless

Vampires blend into societies; liches end them. If it lacks lips, it won't negotiate.

Negotiation is typically conducted via speech, which requires lips to pronounce. Without lips, a lich must resort to psychic communication, which tends to be painful to the living, if not fatal. More importantly, absence of lips is an artistic symbol indicating absence of desire to communicate.

> Or he can do what Ainz sometimes does, and use a lip worm. Or do what most undead do, and use some sort of illusion magic or something to talk.

Yes, and that would be fine, if he first tried psychic communication and drove someone insane with terror. The bigger problem is that an undead would want to hurt the living with its voice, and the spiritual consequences of being made of negative energy are never addressed.

4.3.3 Wish-fulfillment

I'm not forgetting Momonga's motivations. However, those motivations are primarily emotional and nostalgic, not philosophical, and he should now feel nothing when he considers them.

I've read good fiction from an undead perspective. Overlord fails miserably.

In Overlord's case, the lich race merely serves as rationalization for herbivore self-insert wish-fulfillment, which I am unable to respect or enjoy.

4.4 Avian

If he'd been transformed into a reptile or bird, perhaps his mild level of dehumanization would've been believable.

Really, Momonga behaves like an avian, concerned with honor and glory, but not sex or sentimentality.

Birds are tough, man.

To be specific, he's acting like a Tengu necromancer.

4.5 Brainless

Instead of doing false-flag attacks, Momonga builds earthen ramps over his walls to "disguise" them and then demonstrates his immense wealth and holy vulnerability to both countries' armies, because he left his brain in Japan.

It's bad enough he's out in sunlight taking holy magic alpha strikes in front of military observers. I strongly prefer intelligent protagonists with a believable character.

> If you're referring to the big red orb that he keeps in his skeleton, that's a world item, one of the 200 most powerful items in the VRMMO he was playing. The only idea we have of its effect is that it's highly effective against dragons

Your explanation of the orb sounds even worse than my assumption. He is gratuitously displaying a dragonball in his pelvis to ensure that every high-level on the continent decides to raid his tomb, especially the dragons?

Liches don't necessarily require a phylactery, although my first priority on arriving in a new world with different magical rules would be to see whether I can build one.

5 Heroic lich?

> I mean, if I want to write a world where a lich is the best guy in the world, that would be wrong?

Depends on what world. It sounds highly implausible. There are many potential workarounds, but a regular human inhabiting a standard lich body should show severe and progressive psychological changes.

For example, the loss of a physical brain should alter him into a more dreamy, spirit-like state — the very opposite of what is required for adventuring, but ideal for brooding on a throne. If you have ever disembodied in a dream, that is a first step, although of course a necrolich is much darker. Ideally you would torture and murder enough people first to turn your soul black as death.

A necrolich dedicated to keeping all the undead contained in Antarctica, or suppressing some xeno-invasion portal, could very well be a world-savior. He should need to struggle to remember his purpose, and grow darker with time. Yet the genius loci aspect of lichdom could still bind him to his task.

6 Light novel

> I think your problem is that you're reading a Japanese light novel meant to be read for fun, and analyzing it as if it was Moby Dick.

I read lots of good litRPG fiction. Just finished some delightful Maxime Durand, then Neven Iliev. It's not my fault I have good taste.

Most heavy fiction is forgotten, while some light tales endure. Quality and density are not synonyms.

7 Feedback

7.1 "Retain" is relative

From the D&D lich desription:

“Unlike most other forms of undead creatures, the Lich retains all of the memories, personality, and abilities that it possessed in life — but it has a virtual eternity to hone its skills and inevitably becomes very powerful.”

“Depending on the method of becoming a lich, a lich can be of any alignment, retaining whatever alignment it had in life.”

> please try to explain how that doesn’t contradict your argument?

The answer is that "retaining your personality" is relative.

Relative to a glass of water, modafinil changes your personality.

Relative to a home workout, Marine boot camp changes your personality.

Relative to zombification, lichdom retains your personality.

A wizard who binds his soul to his bones doesn't necessarily become a supreme necrolich like Momonga. He loses a lot, but probably doesn't change alignment immediately.

Suddenly going from a living herbivore to an undead being composed of negative energy is a massive personality change, immediately and progressively.

> You literally just skipped the part about retaining alignment.

I did not. The wizard is an example of retaining alignment by using a D&D-canon method of becoming a lich. Had Momonga used a canon method, he would have retained his alignment, possessed no magical abilities, and not been a lvl 100 supreme embodiment of negative energy.

7.2 Negative energy

> Lich is just an archaic English word for corpse. Its use in fantasy goes back a century, and is usually used for powerful magic users who specialize in defying their own deaths one way or another. There is no hard definition in fantasy for what a lich is, other than the connection to corpses and defying death.

Paraphrasing Wikipedia for two lines and then making a questionable and irrelevant assertion does not constitute a rebuttal.

It sounds like the main imaginative failure here is ignoring the secondary effects of negative and holy energy. Overlord author Kugane Maruyama arbitrarily ignores these secondary effects when convenient so that he can indulge in the wish-fulfillment fantasy of Japan (Nazarick) defeating the hypocritical USA (Slane Theocracy) via the personal exploits of the herbivore self-insert (otaku). Thus the Slane clerics are evil mass-murderers who can summon mecha-angel nuclear bombers, and the necrolich is the white knight samurai saving damsels in distress and engaging in honorable duels.

To be clear, I don't have any problem with his Japanese nationalist grievances; I just wish it was executed better.

Having the stupid vicious undead vampire Shalltear be a holy magic caster is a far more egregious violation of aura mechanics. She is supposed to be powered by faith in blood, or something; there is no deity involved. It is nonsense, but easily ignored, since the impact on the plot is minor. Vampires are unholy and undead; holy magic is their bane.

Enjoying value inversion is a sign of severe societal sickness. This is certainly reflected in the suicide statistics and birthrate of Japan, to say nothing of the USA, which approaches civil war. One may infer that some of the anger at my critique is due to thwarted escape into fantasy rebellion by an emasculated generation.

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