Tower of God (Season 1)
Bam is a young man with no memory of his past before he met a young woman named Rachel. Now beholden to her, he is crushed when she resolves to "climb the tower" without him, so HE resolves to follow her, having to pass a series of tests in order to advance upward. (The Tower, supposedly, will grant ANY wish to anyone who makes it to the top.)
The first thing to bear in mind is that what we have here is just the opening acts to a very long saga. Its 13 episodes cover things to about Chapter 79 of the webtoon, while there are 485 chapters of that online as of the time I'm writing this (and it's STILL not finished.) I guess Crunchyroll chose this partly because it can get several seasons' worth of material out of it.
So how good IS Crunchyroll's bid to join anime production (which other streaming services, such as Netflix, have already been doing)?
To start with, I do prefer stories that are self-contained rather than open-ended, but I have been known to rave about shows that were just intros to much longer tales, if (as with The Promised Neverland) I found those introductory chapters gripping in their own right. I wasn't entirely "gripped" (gript?) here, partly because I couldn't get particularly invested in any of the characters. Certainly not the lead; Bam's one of those ingenue characters who's nevertheless imbued with hidden abilities even HE'S unaware of. If this goes the way of similar shows (and THIS IS HONESTLY ONLY A GUESS, NOT A SPOILER; I really haven't examined the later episodes in any detail), Bam might have some unsuspected deep connection to Jahad Upper Management. Jahad is the royalty here; the King of Jahad is said to have been the first person to "climb the tower", though I wasn't sure if his jurisdiction covered just the tower, or if it also covered any surrounding lands, IF they exist (this isn't clear.) I DO wonder if the Tower's creature comforts, such as vending machines, were already there when the King went up; snack breaks definitely would have made the ascent easier.
I also had some unanswered questions about the Tower's architecture. Despite all the action supposedly taking place "in the tower", at least some of it seems to happen outdoors, in the midst of vast landscapes; sometimes we see the "bottom" of the tower (the next level, perhaps?) hovering overhead. Possibilities that sprang to mind included: different levels are actually in different dimensions/parallel worlds; OR the different levels are simulations, like Star Trek's Holodeck; OR, perhaps, as the animated John Lennon said in Yellow Submarine, maybe it's just "all in the mind".
The "tests" occupy a large part of the storyline here. I couldn't really spot any consistent theme in the tests, except a general weeding out of poorer-performers, and, later, an attempt to shoehorn everyone into certain specifically defined roles in teams. But the compositions of the teams change with every test; you might find yourself in any given test working with your adversary from the previous one. Some of the tests are just not fair. (For example, in the one with the doors, early attempters are at a TREMENDOUS disadvantage with respect to later players.) Some end inconclusively, with no clear victor(s) at all. And the contest that closes this season is pure Rube Goldberg, involving a scenario that's so complex and contrived that it's just embarrassing.
I really preferred the webtoon's simple-but-clean character art to the anime's renditions. As for the characters THEMSELVES, I tended to prefer the more loyal (or at least more honest) ones. Mind, Bam (why does his name keep reminding me of The Flintstones?) is honest and loyal enough (maybe too much for his own good, in the end), but he's our babe-in-the-woods type, though this is compensated for by his getting plenty of assistance from others because they think he's "cute"- a Princess Yuri loans him her prized sword because she's overwhelmed by his cuteness, and even the sword ITSELF thinks he's cute. (Yes, REALLY.) If you've got (1) cuteness, (2) hidden power, and (3) someone who lobs a sword at you (apologies to Monty Python), your chances of doing well are dramatically enhanced, even if you're naïve as all get-out. (There's really a bit more to Yuri's thinking than this in the webtoon, but that mostly didn't make it into the anime.)
I had much more affection for Khun Aguero Agnes, an extremely clever outcast-from-royalty who's quietly running his own game that keeps the test Administrators guessing. I really felt HE should have been the hero of the piece. I also had quite a bit of sympathy for Anaak, a lizard-girl with a chip on her shoulder and a thirst for revenge; at least she's honest about her feelings. I also liked a sword-wielding guy named Hatz, who's surly but dependable.
Unfortunately, dependable doesn't work well when your fellow players are treacherous backstabbers, as so MANY folks in THIS cast are. The only one of these I'll mention here is named Paracule; he's a green, fez-wearing guy whose cowardice (and whining) makes him a major liability on ANY team. But there are several OTHER eager turncoats in our cast- including one I must NOT mention, the Betrayer-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
We've got some mixed-bag characters as well. There's Shibisu, who's smarmy and a braggart (his actual abilities aren't that impressive, relative to most of the others), but who CAN be thoughtful, and even sometimes kind, to Serena Linen, a rowdy, crude girl with whom he shares one of those overtly-hostile-but-with-hidden-affection relationships. ("I was only going to stab you a LITTLE", she pleads at one point.) We've Endorsi, another Princess of Jahad (Princesses in Jahad become such by appointment, not birth), who's prideful and manipulative- and likes to kick people in the face- but who may, in the end, look at things a little differently. (In the webtoon, she eventually changes from high heels to sensible flats, after breaking one heel too many during a fight. I don't remember if she made the switch in the anime. I'll have to go back and look.)
Just a couple more notable characters. There's a red-haired woman who doesn't say much, yet by the end of this season it's very clear that she's going to be a major player- but her NAME never seems to come up in the show's dialogue at all, and I had to search a bit to find it. (No wonder it's not on everyone's tongue; it looks unpronounceable- "Hwaryun".) There's also an almost indestructible bad guy who's STILL wheezing his malice even with the stuffing literally knocked out of him. (He doesn't seem to have bones or internal organs at all, just blood. This ends up one of the show's more memorable visuals.)
Well, there ARE the battles, which are done with a yeoman level of competence. But I never got that emotionally attached to ANYONE here- though I certainly wish Khun and Anaak well- and while I expect I WILL continue watching this, if Crunchyroll makes more, at THIS point I'm still withholding extravagant praise (or damnation) until there's a bit more of it to evaluate. If a certain party finally gets their well-earned comeuppance, I might be willing to go at least another star. Would help if the tests improve too. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Violence including, as I said, functional evisceration (though without actual viscera being seen.) There's also one suicide shown. Mature Themes, though there's no mention of fanservice in my notes. Crunchyroll rates it TV-14
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Tower of God (Season 1) © 2020 Telecom Animation Film
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