OP: 「TOP」 by (Stray Kids)
Tower of God is a tough one, from an analysis standpoint. I wouldn’t even know how to start trying to explain it to someone who hasn’t read the manhwa, or how to discuss it with those who have without spoiling the first group. It’s a long, convoluted and messy source material that somehow – especially in its early chapters – has a strongly compelling narrative. It’s also by far the most popular Korean comic (web comic in this instance) ever to be adapted to anime. As such, it’s one of the most interesting and probably important entries in an otherwise bland and safe season.
This story was first sold to me many years ago as being reminiscent of Hunter X Hunter, which was enough to get me to give it a try. I realized almost immediately that the resemblance was as skin-deep as its possible to be, but got hooked on the series just as quickly. I’ve had the curious experience of wading through Kami no Tou for years (I finally did drop the manhwa a couple of years ago for reasons better suited to discussion at a later time) without feeling like I ever fully understood what was happening.
On the basic level it’s easy – a tower, a girl, a boy chasing the girl. But there’s so much more here – way too much more, in my opinion. It always struck me that Tower of God was a RPG disguised as a comic, and I generally lose patience with RPGs pretty quickly. But it took a long time with this series, because you could dive as deep as you wished to, or you could stand on the beach and appreciate it from the surface – which was exactly what I did to good effect for much of its run. A one-cour anime adaptation is likely to just skim that surface, and while normally that would be cause for complaint, I’m not convinced that with ToG it won’t end up being for the best.
We’ll see. I won’t go into detail on the difference between the intro of the manhwa and the anime, because that’s not what I do – you can read it if you want, and any anime has to stand on its own power. Suffice to say there was a fair amount of skipped material here, and some of it probably would have been useful from a character exposition standpoint. What we see is a boy named Bam (Ichikawa Taichi) trying to climb a mysterious tower. He’s following a girl named Rachel (Hayami Saori) who seems to have rescued him when he was trapped in some sort of pit. She wants to see the stars, so she climbs the tower. He wants to see her (because for Bam, the stars are Rachel) and he follows.
As complex (and believe me, it gets way too complex) as Tower of God gets, that simple premise really is at the heart of everything. Climbing the tower is not a straightforward business. Normally it’s the privilege of “regulars” apparently, and Bam is a non-regular. The entrance is guarded by someone called Headon (Ohtsuka Houchu), who tells Bam that to get started he has to get past a “white steel eel” and break a black ball. A couple of regulars show up – Yuri Zahard (Honda Mariko) and Evan Edroch (Okitsu Kazuyuki). She’s a princess and quite incensed that Headon seems to be giving Bam an impossible challenge on the first level of the tower. He suggest she loan Bam her weapon called Black March (Itou Shizuka), and – to Evan’s horror – she agrees.
This is where the experienced/newbie problem really presents itself for me, but I think it’s best to just play it as it lies and pretend we’re all experiencing this for the first time. Once Bam manages to clear the level by getting the Black March to power him up (like Yuri it seems to like young boys) he wakes up in a field and a bunch of other characters show up, instructed by a cube with a child’s voice to start killing each other and whittle their numbers from 400 to 200 (this is obviously a moment where the early chapters of HxH spring to mind). We’ll talk about a couple of them in more detail next week, but to be sure, there are important figures among that group (follow the famous seiyuu to figure out which ones).
So how does all this work, as anime? The art and animation are going to be divisive. As is often the case it’s hard to tell how much is cost-cutting and how much artistic choice, but the style is pencil-sketch spartan at times, and there’s no sakuga to be seen yet (though we haven’t had any big fights). Kevin Penkin does the music and that, as you’d expect, is a strong point. The ToG phenomenon being what it is I suspect fans of the manhwa are going to complain over every change, but given that massive changes are inevitable I think it’s best to drown that out as much as possible. This wasn’t a stellar premiere, but it was workmanlike and competent – and frankly, the first couple chapters aren’t as good as the next batch anyway. Color me cautiously optimistic, but next week will tell us a lot.
ED: 「SLUMP」 by (Stray Kids)