Tower of God: A Retrospective

Disclaimer: This blog post serves as a text version of my latest YouTube video focusing on Tower of God. You can find the video above if you’d rather watch that than read over 5000 words of text.

This post contains spoilers for the Tower of God Anime. But if you clicked on a post with the word “Retrospective” in the title you probably already knew that. Or you didn’t and are thankful for this spoiler warning. Which I put in here because people will complain if it isn’t in here and I spoil something.

Anyway. Blog post time. LET’S GO TR00PZ.

If you were to ask me what my favourite thing about Anime as a medium is, I’d likely respond with the simple answer of “it’s a medium that continues to surprise me with unique and diverse stories every year, even two decades after I first discovered it.” And 2020 has been no exception.

It’s been a year of delays and disappointments for some, but I’ve personally found 2020, so far, to be a great year for Anime in spite of the smaller lineup of shows we’ve gotten due to pandemic related delays.

Darwin’s Game, Bofuri, Gleipnir, new seasons of Sword Art Online (Anime of the Summer) and Re:Zero… There’s been a lot of good stuff this year. At least for me. Plenty of top tier shows and plenty of unexpected surprises.

But nothing surprised me more, than a little show called Tower of God.

Tower of God is a series that, after the adaptation was announced, I’d seen a lot of praise for in my friend circle. Mostly because one of my friends is a huge fan of the original webcomic and kept telling everyone in our group that it was one of the most ambitious and grandiose stories in eastern media. And she was really excited for the adaptation, boldly declaring that if it adapted the source material faithfully, that it’d easily be a contender for Anime of the Year, which I was initially sceptical about. Not because I don’t trust my friends opinions, our tastes align pretty often, but because 2020 is a year where there’s a lot of competition for that spot.

Then I watched the show. And… Well. Yeah. You see it. You see the MAL score.

Tower of God is one of the first ever Korean Manhwa to be adapted into a Japanese TV Anime, and as such is a bit of a game changer for the medium. While other Manwha adaptations existed prior, such as the Noblesse OVA, none of them ever had the kind of reach and attention that Tower of God had leading up to, and during, its release. It’s essentially the start of what appears to be a new trend of Korean Manhwa getting adapted into a full length TV Anime series, with The God of High School having just wrapped up and a TV Anime of Noblesse currently airing at the time of this post. And I’m sure there’ll be many more to come in the future. I hope. Cause there’s some really fucking awesome Manhwa out there that needs to get adapted some day.

The series focuses on a kid named Bam, who’s spent most of his life in a cave outside of a gigantic structure, the eponymous Tower. Bam has no recollection of who he really is or where he came from, with the only connection he has to anything being a girl named Rachel his best, and only, friend. One day Rachel makes the decision to leave Bam behind, and enter the Tower to achieve her lifelong dream of reaching the top, and Bam, not wishing to be left alone, decides to follow her, managing to gain entry into the Tower himself. The series then follows Bam as he journey’s through the Tower, completing various tests and trials along the way, in hopes of catching up to Rachel and seeing her again.

It’s a pretty standard story on paper, but what really sets Tower of God apart is the attention to detail with its setting, and its rich and diverse cast of characters.

Given the premise of the series, I expected the Tower to be nothing more than a gigantic plot device comprising of a bunch of floors with different tests for the characters to overcome. A big tournament arc sort of deal. But it’s so much more than that. The Tower is an incredibly fascinating setting. It’s not just a place where a bunch of tests happen, it’s essentially the world that the series takes place in. And what a world it is.

It’s a setting that is very well fleshed out and is thoroughly explored over the course of the Anime, and it’s one of the main draws of the show and what sucks the viewer in. You want to learn more about the Tower and how society within it functions. And the more you watch, the more you learn about it. And what’s even more enticing about it all, is that despite how much attention to detail is given to the setting, the Anime is very clearly just scratching the surface of what the Tower truly has in store for both the audience and the characters. I haven’t read the webcomic myself so I can’t make any definitive claims, but based on what the Anime has shown us so far and comments about the setting made by the creator of the series SIU that I’ve read online, there’s clearly so much more to see of this setting. We’re barely getting started, and this is just the prologue to a much bigger and grander story.

…Which is what a lot of fans of webcomic and detractors of the series alike have been saying when discussing the show online. Webcomic fans who love the series insist that this is only the beginning to a much bigger story and that Anime only’s should keep this in mind when watching it. Detractors of the series similarly echo this sentiment, only they see it as a negative, because it’s a 13 episode Anime adaptation that “doesn’t go anywhere interesting” in their eyes. “Even if it’s the start of a bigger and better story, that’s no excuse!”

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Jesus Fucking Christ…

It’s probably obvious at this point, but I’m more on the side of the webcomic folks. Like I said, I haven’t read the webcomic, but the fact that this incredible Anime adaptation is merely the beginning of something much bigger has me all the more intrigued to see what comes next. This is just the opening chapter? It gets better and more grandiose from here? Well… Hell yeah, sign me up for whatever the fuck comes next. I’m in!

Going back to the setting, Tower of God is a pretty exposition heavy series that takes its time explaining the concepts of its world and how it all works. In most other shows this would feel unnatural, because stuff is being explained to the audience that everyone in the story should already know all about. They live in this world, so why would they need basic concepts of said world explained to them? However, the series manages to get away with doing this by funnelling all of the expository dialogue to the viewer through the protagonist of the series, Bam.

Unlike pretty much every other character in the series, Bam isn’t from the Tower. He’s from the uncharted world outside of it and thus he doesn’t know anything about the world inside. This makes him the perfect vehicle for the series to explain how the Tower works to the audience, without it all coming across as intrusive or illogical.

But if that were all to Bam’s character, it wouldn’t make for a very interesting protagonist. And thankfully Bam is a great main character, despite what you’ve likely heard from a lot of people in the Anime community.

So yeah, I guess it’s time I address the really unfunny joke surrounding Tower of God. Tower of Simp am I right guys?!

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Yeah, there’s this really unfunny meme criticism that Bam is nothing more than a blank slate of a character who “simps” Rachel harder than the beats of a Blood on the Dance Floor album. People have even gone on to jokingly refer to the series as Tower of Simp which is… Not only not funny at all, in any capacity, but it also undersells and undermines the entire point of Bam’s character.

So I guess I’ll be the one to say it: Bam is not a simp. Sure, his motives more or less boil down to wanting to see Rachel again and reunite with her, but when you consider what we know about Bam as a character, his obsession to reunite with her makes a lot of sense and is completely justified. Bam doesn’t really have an identity. He’s an outsider in this world, with no memories, no knowledge of the larger world and no real connection to anything. The only thing with meaning in Bam’s life is Rachel. She’s the only friend he’s ever had. She’s the only person he has any recollection of interacting with in his entire life. She’s the only connection he has prior to entering the Tower. She literally gave the kid his name. She’s the physical embodiment of everything Bam cares about in his life. His everything. And he doesn’t want to be without her. He doesn’t want to be left alone.

So naturally, after she makes the decision to enter the Tower and leave him behind, it’s only natural that he immediately decides to go after her. Rachel is the only thing that brings meaning to his life, because she’s all he really knows or understands. She’s his reason for living. Bam is akin to a lost and clueless child without her by his side. He loves her and he’s willing to go to the ends of the earth to see her again. And that’s ultimately the core of this entire season of the adaptation.

I mean come on, it’s even reflected in the lyrics of the opening and ending themes of the series. From the Opening theme, TOP, we have lyrics like:

But it’s a risk I gotta take
I’ll keep on running all day and night
‘Cause even if it kills me
Never let you go, never let you go
I won’t give it up until I see the light, I go

And from the Ending theme, Slump we have:

Where you going? It’s hard to keep up
You’re moving so fast leaving me behind

And

Maybe I can stay and be comfortable living in the past
But I don’t wanna be alone so can you take me to you now?

And the kicker:

Too fast, I try to follow, but I’m losing hope
We used to walk together down this winding road
But you’re so far ahead it seems impossible to catch up
And now I’m walking on my way, all alone
Feeling so cold

Like do I even need to explain any of that? Bam’s attachment to Rachel is present throughout almost every part of the entire series to the point that it’s even echoed in the lyrics of the shows bloody theme songs.

It’s an arc that I find myself sympathising with a hell of a lot. Being so confused, scared and alone in the world that you’ll cling to any connection you have, no matter how small. A connection that you cherish so much that you’d be willing to do anything to keep it alive. That you’d be willing to go to the ends of the earth for it. To die for it. I’m sure we can all relate to that, even a little, right?

Yet I’ve regularly seen Bam being written off as nothing more than a simp who just whines and cries for no reason. I think a lot of people might have missed something? Maybe? Sure, it can be a little depressing seeing the kid mope around and moan about how much he misses Rachel. But it’s completely justified.

As for Bam being a blank slate of a protagonist, yeah. He is. But that’s kind of the point? He has no memory of who he is or even what he is. That and he doesn’t really understand how the world of the Tower works because he’s not from there, so he needs everything explained to him. And while yeah, that can be a little frustrating at times, it’s intentionally so. He’s intentionally written to be a bland an unassuming character in the beginning. Bam is a character who starts with nothing and who ultimately is nothing, and over the course of the series, he starts to become a more defined character through interacting with others, making new friends and learning more about the world around him. There’s a clear progression from the Bam in episode 1 to the Bam in the final episode of the adaptation, and anyone who claims otherwise is either lying to themselves or simply didn’t pay attention.

He’s a fantastic protagonist. I like the kid a lot. And while his obsession with Rachel and his naivety can be a little tiresome at times, both of them are ultimately what lead up to the emotional climax of the Anime in its penultimate episode. Which we’ll get to later on, don’t you worry. I have a whole lot to say about that particular scene because it’s fucking brilliant.

Oh yeah, and there’s also this scene in episode 5 where he gets knocked out during a fight and this fucking explosion of Shinsu happens and you’re just kinda left wondering what the fuck that was all about. It adds a layer of mystery to his character. What the fuck was that? Is Bam actually someone really important and powerful? He doesn’t have any memories of who he is so maybe there’s a reason for that? Huh. I kind of want to learn more about this guy. Maybe?

But nah. There’s actually nothing there at all. Blank slate. Whiny crybaby. SIMP.

Fucking hell I hate that word so much. “Simp”. Jesus Christ. This is worse than “boomer”. Or “cringe”. Or… Radiohead’s mus-

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Anyway… Joking aside, let’s get back to the fucking retrospective…

So yeah… Bam is great, but he’s also just one member of a much larger and more diverse cast of characters. And thankfully the rest of the cast are just as interesting and entertaining.

There’s Khun, who is not only the husband of my friend who recommended the series to me, but who also serves as both a close friend and parental guardian figure to Bam. He’s kind of the straight man to Bam’s naivety, always looking out for him and doing what he can to protect him from the harsh nature of the world and being taken advantage of by the other candidates who are more knowledgable and “tower smart” than he is. He also has what appears to be a pretty dark and depressing past, something that the series hints at several times, but never fully explores, which only has me more intrigued to read on in the webcomic because god dammit I want to know.

Khun is kind of the mastermind of the main group, often coming up with elaborate plans to give them an advantage, even in the toughest of situations. Like during the Crown Game test where he fucks everyone over by making multiple copies of the crown that is required to win the test and has secret allies he teamed up with behind the scenes of a previous test jump in to help them out.

Oh yeah, and he also has this fucking bag that lets him copy shit and is seemingly limitless in storage. That’s kinda cool. I fucking want one. I could fucking create an endless supply of smackeroonies and buy all the things I want with it. And then put them in the bag because I have nowhere to put them. And then never find it again because there’s like a million things in the bag… How does he get a specific thing from the bag…? I’m focusing too much on this. I apologise.

And last but not least, in our main trio, we have Rak, who’s a big, angry, grr grr, fighty fighty, musclehead who initially teams up with Bam and Khun because he thinks they’ll make for strong opponents and is promised a fight if he helps them out. But over the course of the series, he becomes good friends with them, and grows to care for them, although he’ll never admit to it and keeps claiming that he’s only sticking around with them because they’re his “prey” and no one else’s.

Rak is pretty fucking hilarious honestly. It’s always entertaining and bad ass seeing him stomp the shit out of people, but his best moments are when he unwittingly does funny shit like referring to everyone else as “turtles” of different colours and features, referring to Bam as “black turtle” for example. Or when he continuously assures Bam and Khun that they are definitely not friends and that they’re just his “prey” and that he intends to eventually “hunt them”.

The three of them make for a really entertaining trio. Their personalities are all very different, but seeing them bounce off of on another and become close friends in spite of their differences just makes it all the more entertaining to watch them interact and it’s one of the highlights of the series. It never gets old seeing the naive and timid Bam get screamed at and called a turtle by the overly aggressive and confident Rak.

The supporting cast are also all pretty fantastic, each with their own unique personalities, quirks and motivations. And unlike a lot of series with large casts, pretty much all of them are explored to some degree. Each character has their own reason for wanting to climb the Tower along with their own history and well defined personality. They feel like defined characters, as opposed to just being there to fill the background while the main trio gets all the focus. It’s rather refreshing and something I wish other similar series would do. If you’re going to create a large cast of diverse characters then… Fucking use them! Like this series does!

On the subject of things the series does well, how about that art direction? I’ve seen a lot of people criticise the art direction of the Anime, citing a lack of detail and poor animation quality, but I fail to see either of these in all honesty. The art style and general presentation is certainly different from your typical modern Anime, but I wouldn’t say it’s bad at all.

It kind of looks like they went for a style more reminiscent of older, hand drawn Anime, and I kind of wish more series took that approach today, because I really like how Tower of God looks. Yeah, it’s a little weird and takes some getting used to, but once you get over the hurdle of “this doesn’t look like 90% of today’s Anime” it’s actually a really aesthetically pleasing show.

The character designs especially are just phenomenal and have a lot of attention to detail that I really appreciate. Every character is super memorable, not just in their personalities, but also in their appearance. I especially love the outfits. There’s plenty of stylish getups in this world and they’re all extremely varied and unique. I especially love Laure and his fucking sleeping bag. He’s my kind of guy for obvious reasons. Like, he walks around and fights in a sleeping bag. That’s fucking mental. I wish I could do that.

The only real criticism I have of the art is in its use of colour. It kind of looks like someone just used the paint bucket tool to fill in each section of a shot, which can sometimes make things look overly simple but… I dunno if it’s just me. Maybe this is what people meant when they said that the art lacked detail? Look… I’m not a fucking art and animation guy. I don’t know shit about how this stuff really gets made and I’ve remained blissfully ignorant about it for over a decade. I just think stuff looks good or doesn’t. And I think Tower of God looks pretty great. For the most part.

Animation wise it’s also super fluid and I really don’t understand why I kept seeing people saying that the show was badly animated while it was airing. Granted, there are a lot of scenes where animation isn’t the focus, because as I mentioned before Tower of God is a fairly exposition heavy series where the characters talk a lot and there’s a lot of shit to explain. But when it comes to action heavy scenes or moments where the animation is supposed to be front and centre, like where characters aren’t just standing around and talking, it looks phenomenal. Like, look at this shit. It’s god damn beautiful.

But what really bumped this show up to a 10 for me, was its final few moments. I was loving the hell out of the series since the first episode, but I also felt like I was still waiting for that one moment to convince me to give the show the little push it needed to reach the top of 2020’s figurative tower.

And then that moment came. In the form of episode 12’s final scene.

That’s not to say Tower of God didn’t already have some incredible scenes before this point. I loved Lero-Ro’s test and The Crown Game was also one of my favourite Anime moments of this year, especially when Bam just fucking explodes in that scene I mentioned earlier.

But god damn. The final scene in episode 12 was fucking incredible and was easily one of the most emotionally shattering moments I’ve ever seen in Anime.

So, after going through various different tests and challenges, putting his life at risk multiple times and growing as an individual, Bam finally achieves his goal and reunites with Rachel. But unfortunately, due to the events of the most recent test, Rachel is now paralysed, her dream shattered. But Bam, being the kind hearted soul that he is, and viewing Rachel as his closest friend, his reason for living, boldly declares that they’ll climb the Tower together. That he’ll “be her legs”. He’ll help her achieve her dream, because her dream is also his dream. He just wants to see his friend happy and he wants to share her success with her. They’re friends after all. They’ll do it together.

That’s what we’d all love to pretend happened. But instead, right after Bam literally says to her “I promised I’d take you to the Tower. We’ll look at the stars together.” Rachel gets up from her wheelchair, grabs our boy and pushes him off the edge of the rising platform, causing him to fail the test, and fall to what she believes to be his death. She betrays Bam. Despite everything she meant to him and everything he risked and gave just to see her again, she threw his kindness and devotion away, in favour of achieving her own goal. Alone.

This scene is just… Perfect. In so many ways. It’s the emotional climax of Bam’s initial arc and the Anime as a whole. It finally looks like things are looking up for Bam. He’s made some new friends, he’s overcome some really challenging tests, he’s learned so much about the world already and his place in it and he’s finally reunited with the one person he came to the Tower to see again. All that was left now was for the two of them to climb the Tower together.

But then Rachel does the unthinkable and, not only feigns being crippled for life, but pushes Bam into the lake in an attempt to kill him. Because when her journey to climb the Tower began, she was given a test of her own: She’ll only be allowed to climb the Tower if she kills Bam. And to achieve her dream, she’s willing to do it. Just like Bam was willing to do anything to see her again, Rachel was willing to kill her best friend in order to reach the top of the Tower and see the stars.

It’s easily the most powerful moment of the entire Anime, not just because of what it represents for Bam and Rachel’s characters, but also because of how the scene in general is presented. The rising, soaring music as the two are about to reach the top and complete the test. The silence that follows as Rachel stands up and pushes Bam into the lake. Seeing Bam’s expression change from a warm smile to that of utter confusion and disbelief. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and it’s incredibly heartbreaking. And it’s made even more so when we see him fall and catch one final glimpse of Rachel through his own eyes. And as he falls, the ending theme for the series, Slump by Stray Kids, plays in the background, hitting us with those incredibly hard hitting lyrics and that sad instrumental that perfectly convey exactly what Bam is no doubt feeling at that very moment, as he sinks into the lake, to a fate that’s left unknown until the end of the final episode.

I mean, just look at this live reaction from me when I just finished the episode and spoke to my friend about it. This shit hit me hard. And it’s rare for an Anime to hit me that hard.

Rachel gets a lot of shit for her actions here from just about everyone who watched the show. It’s become a contender for “Top 10 Anime Betrayals” if that’s a meme that people still find hip and cool (I don’t and never really did, sorry). And while I think that hatred is more than justified, the final episode that comes afterwards does give us an excellent insight into her character and humanises her quite a bit. I can understand why she did it, even if I still despise her for it.

She’s an incredibly complex character, and is far from this evil irredeemable person that people keep making her out to be. Yeah, she fucking backstabbed our boy and almost fucking killed him, but she’s very clearly conflicted over what she’s done. And if you go back and look over previous scenes in the show, there’s plenty of moments where it looks like she’s struggling with some kind of inner conflict. This wasn’t an easy decision for her to make and was something she was clearly wrestling with for the entire series.

Do I hate her? Sure I do. But I also understand her and empathise with her to an extent. There’s been plenty of moments in my own life where I’ve had to make a difficult, sometimes hurtful, decision in order to achieve my own dreams and goals. We’ve all been there. Just like we’ve all been Bam at one point or another, willing to go to the ends of the earth to keep something we love, we’ve also all been Rachel at other points, making a selfish decision to fulfil our own desires and become happy. Even if it costs us something important.

And on the subject of Bam, this betrayal marks a turning point for this character. Up until now, his only reason for doing anything was to meet Rachel again in hopes of climbing the Tower with her. But now that she’s betrayed him, and left him for dead, what now? What comes next? Will he continue to pursue her in spite of what she’s done? Or will he find his own purpose and become his own person?

Regardless, Bam resolves to continue to climb the Tower and find his own answers, as we move into the next chapter of this incredible story, and honestly the Anime couldn’t have left things at a more exciting place.

I need a Season 2. Now. Or I need to read on in the webcomic. Regardless of the format, this is a story I want to continue because I’m too sucked in now to just stop.

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Tower of God certainly isn’t everyone’s glass of Faygo. It’s a bit of a slow burn, there’s a lot of exposition, the art direction can take some getting used to and Bam’s initially blank character most certainly isn’t going to sit well with a lot of people.

But honestly, I just love it. It surprised me. It broke every expectation I had for it. And it reminded me why I love this amazing, beautiful and sometimes incredibly dumb medium so much.

This is why I watch Anime. Because it continues to take me by surprise, even 20 years later when I think I’ve seen it all. All the while still managing to provide an entertaining and engaging story with character arcs that I can relate to on a personal level.

Tower of God is the best Anime I’ve seen this year. And I hope this post was able to convey why I loved it so much, if even a little.

If you enjoyed Tower of God or, for some reason, enjoyed this post, maybe leave a comment or something. I don’t really mind, I just wanna talk to people about the things I love. Let’s get a discussion going!

I was also trying out a new format here, and I think it went pretty well so… Let me know if you’d like to see more Retrospective styled content. I guess?

I dunno. I’m not very good at these things so…

I have been Leth, and I do hope we can climb the Tower together sometime.

Until then.

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3 thoughts on “Tower of God: A Retrospective

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