When I started writing these top ten posts, I realised I’d put myself into a corner. I’d already committed myself to writing about Clone Wars, The Mandalorian and Jujutsu Kaisen. So I could hardly drop those posts for a month for the sake of these top ten lists. The consequence of which is I’ve probably set myself up for the busiest blogging December I’ve ever had.
And yet, I’m here wasting time on an intro instead of writing about today’s entry.
#9: Tower of God
Aired from 1st April to 24th June | 13 Episodes | Based on the Manhwa by S.I.U. | Action, Dark Fantasy
The talk going around amongst the anime YouTubers I’ve been following earlier this year was, in part, focusing on the three big Manhwa adaptations that were getting picked up by Crunchyroll this year. A trio of shows that, in hindsight, I was far less enthusiastic about than I was before the year started. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, While I really did dislike The God of High School and just got bored of Noblesse; Tower of God was the show of the three that kept my attention and, despite its flaws, ended up leaving a real impression on me.
Tower of God is an unusual show. It introduces us to Bam and Rachel, two beings from some kind of underground world of darkness. Rachel dreams of climbing the titular tower and seeing the stars (or so she claims), while Bam is utterly devoted to her; the girl who essentially saved him from the darkness. The first episode shows Rachel abandoning Bam to start a journey to climb the tower. All without any context and leaving the audience full of questions.
Bam, utterly lost without her, forces his own way into the tower in order to pursue her. Thus begins his journey to reunite with Rachel and hopefully accompany on her quest to see the stars. That’s the premise of the show as of the end of the first episode, by the time the season was over we end up having a much, much different perspective on Rachel, her relationship with Bam and Bam’s own future going forward.
In the early days, I made a lot of jokes about this show lifting character designs, plot elements and themes from Hunter x Hunter. But there is more to this show that that. The entirety of the first season follows Bam and the other hopefuls he meets along the way as they work to actually gain the right to climb the tower, never mind the climb itself.
For me, the strongest aspect of the show is the supporting cast. The likes of Khun and Rak are highly entertaining, and seeing them work through these series of games and challenges along with Bam as the prospective tower climber’s number is whittled down does give off a powerful feeling of HxH’s Hunter Exam Arc. But I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
With that in mind though, Tower of God is still a flawed show. And I find myself wondering just how much of that is the fault of the adaptation. Based on what I’ve seen of the three Manwha adaptations on Crunchyroll this season, there is a problem of pacing and exposition that makes it difficult for the source material to translate tidily into a 12/13 episode anime season.
While the series both begins and ends strongly to me, the middle part is a muddled mess of rushed exposition, half baked character development and partially explained dramatic set pieces. On numerous occasions, I’d see Khun or Endorsi catching out examiners with perfectly laid traps, but the dramatic moment would fall flat for me because the show itself had failed to properly establish and reinforce the stakes of the situation.
Several times there were pretty dramatic events that I didn’t realise just how important they were until after the fact. Which is a major failing in storytelling in my opinion. Had I known what characters had to lose at the time I would have felt far more invested in what was happening as it happened.
From what I understand, the Manwha format that exists on Webtoons doesn’t have traditional established manga format like in Japan, where an editor oversees the Mangaka to keep them on track and on pace. So, as a result, the pacing and storytelling doesn’t lend itself to the more traditional story format that we see in Manga that is translated into a more easily digestible anime series.
Webtoons just go on and on, meaning there is no natural stopping point when it comes to adapting them like this. Time and time again while I was writing episodic reviews of this series, I was complaining that it needed more than 13 episodes to really establish the massive amounts of exposition it was throwing at the audience. It was going too fast that it was missing things out. As commenters who’d read the source material kept reminding me.
All of this paints Tower of God in a pretty damning light really, which is weird considering this is supposed to be a list of celebration right. While I was enjoying the series as I was watching it, it was the final couple of episodes that really gave a boost in my estimation. Which I’m going to talk about now, so there’s a warning if you want to watch this yourself.
At the conclusion of the 12th episode, Rachel (who has seemingly been reunited with Bam as her partner to help her achieve her dream) seemingly kills Bam by pushing him off the platform of the final challenge to climb the tower. From there, the 13th episode retells and then recontextualizes the entire series from Rachel’s perspective. Showing that she had been tasked with killing Bam the entire time.
We learn the truth behind Rachel’s character. She is far from the sweet, kind girl that Bam perceives her as. Rather, she is petty, jealous and spiteful. Rather than wanting to see the stars, she wanted to become a star; someone important and loved by everyone. She spends the entire series being resentful of Bam for having everything “handed to him” while feels she is afforded no help. All while failing to see Bam’s virtues are actually what help him succeed while she mopes and feels sorry for herself.
By the time it was over, Tower of God was a show that was unique enough that is snatched my attention, but the way it ended really grabbed me by the collar and demand I stick around for a second season. While the great Webtoon experiment might not have been a success for Crunchyroll in 2020, I believe Tower of God was the lone, flickering light in the darkness. And a series I am certainly still thinking about months later.