Tower of God represents a shift in the anime landscape – it’s the first big-budget, heavily-promoted anime to adapt a Korean manhua, in this case, a webcomic from the popular site WEBTOON. We’ve had foreign co-productions before (such as Radiant from France) and China has its own small animation scene, but Tower of God wants to prove to the world that anime isn’t just “Japanese cartoons” anymore. So, did this show achieve the lofty goals it set out for itself? Let’s find out!
-- Spoilers Ahead! --
Intriguing First Act
The original webcomic is intimidatingly long and still far from the finish line, so this first season spends its 13 episodes establishing the world and characters on a surface level. The tower of god itself is a massive building ruled by the mysterious King Jahad that promises untold rewards to anyone who can reach the top, but forces candidates to undergo an increasingly difficult series of tests just to make it from one floor to the next.
Our main character Bam is a naïve but earnest boy who spent his whole life underground until his only friend Rachel left to climb the tower. He follows after her, fighting his way through the tests just so he can see her again. Along the way, he meets other hopefuls like the disgraced noble Khun, the refreshingly straightforward alligator man Rak Wraithraiser, the Princesses of Jahad who constantly fight each other for political power, and many more.
So far, it’s clear that we’ve only seen bits and pieces of the story to come, but what we have now is certainly an intriguing first act. The tests remind us more than a little bit of the hunter exams from Hunter x Hunter, but the action scenes are well choreographed and there are tons of great little character moments like Anaak and Endorsi’s rivalry or Hoh’s desperate attempt to save his people from poachers.
The Story of Rachel
And then there’s Rachel, who would be either a rival or damsel in distress in any other story, but actually gets a much more complex role here. The anime oddly introduces itself as “the story of Rachel, the girl who climbed the tower so she could see the stars, and Bam, the boy who needed nothing but her,” even though she’s not the protagonist by a long shot. And when Bam finally finds her, she denies that she’s the person he’s looking for and acts incredibly distant towards him. She must be hiding something that’s tearing her up inside, but what is it...?
We finally find out that Bam was the one chosen to climb the tower, not Rachel. All she wants in life is to be a hero, so she strikes a deal with the guardian of the tower that she can take the tests too if she eventually manages to kill Bam. Rachel is initially horrified by this thought, but as her jealousy grows stronger (he has so many friends and she doesn’t), she becomes determined to use Bam’s love for her against him so she can get the spotlight she thinks she deserves. It’s a clever meta-commentary on character roles that brings to mind Monika from Doki Doki Literature Club and Salieri from Amadeus, and it proves that Tower of God is more than just a Hunter x Hunter knockoff. There’s a big story yet to be told here – we just need to stick around to see where it will go.
We also loved Kevin Penkin’s haunting score, Telecom’s odd but effective art style, and the spirited voice acting in both Japanese and English. Even though this first season can only hint at what’s to come, we enjoyed just about every moment of this introductory arc. And it seems like the rest of the anime community did as well, since Crunchyroll is already heavily pushing the next WEBTOON show, The God of High School, for Summer 2020. All hail Korean anime!
What did you think of our review? Have you seen Tower of God? What’s your opinion on Rachel? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!