What’s it about? Challengers flock to the Tower of God, risking their lives to climb it and obtain their greatest desire. After Rachel enters the tower’s gates, hoping to achieve her dream, her devoted companion Bam chases after her and gets swept up in his own dangerous adventure.
Tower of God sure has a cool production history: originally a South Korean webtoon (digital comic), the adaptation is animated by Japanese studio Telecom Animation Film and co-produced by U.S. company Crunchyroll. International collaborations can, in theory, inject fresh ideas and perspectives into the medium, creating a story that can say new things and appeal to diverse audiences.
I’m, uh, not so sure Tower of God is gonna do all that, though.
This first episode feels a lot like a video game tutorial. We’re introduced to the premise, the world’s rules, the tower’s overseer, and a few of the main characters. The protagonist gets an ultra-powerful sword, some advice on how to fight, and defeats a monster to reach the next level (…of the tower).
Honestly, the whole setup feels a bit like a game—a mobile one that could conceivably go on forever, given that we don’t know how many floors this tower actually has. The original webtoon has been running for a decade, making this a story that could be unwinding for a good long while. It’s going to need engaging arcs to maintain momentum, but more than that, it’s going to need engaging characters. And, unfortunately, I’m not so sure it has them.
The protagonist is by far the weakest link in this premiere. Bam almost never emotes beyond “vague surprise” and has no goals other than “loves Rachel and wants to be with her.” About the only things we know about him so far are that Rachel rescued him from a cave, he has no memory of his past before meeting her, and he has a cute face (well, he has a standard anime face, but the other characters all tell us he’s cute).
Maybe this is supposed to read like a grand love story, and maybe as we learn more about their relationship it will start to resonate—but right now it feels more like unhealthy codependence, making it difficult to get invested in Bam’s quest. The kid badly needs to develop a personality (a hobby? a favorite food? something) in the coming episodes if this series wants to have any legs.
One point I will give Tower of God: while the “boy goes on quest to find girl” structure is very traditional, it’s refreshing that the girl hasn’t been kidnapped, but is on a quest of her own. Rachel’s got her own goals and is (to our knowledge) not in need of rescue. That’s great! That said, she’s also barely in this premiere, so she still feels more like a Macguffin than a character. Hopefully that will change if/when Bam catches up to her.
Good news, though! Beyond Rachel, there are a couple other significant female characters: Yuri, the Princess of Jahar, and Black March, the spirit within a legendary sword that Bam wields. Less-good news! They also pretty much exist solely to keep Bam’s rookie ass alive. (Granted, the few male characters are treated about the same; it’s just not quite as obvious because they’re not also constantly flirting with him.)
Yuri is headstrong, defiant, a little condescending but ultimately sympathetic to Bam’s plight, and steals every scene she’s in. She claims that she’s helping Bam because she’s “bored,” but there are ample hints that she’s quietly rebelling against her father the king and thinks Bam can help her change the way their world works.
It’s a shame, then, that Yuri is so immediately sidelined. After she lends the sword Black March to Bam to help him pass his first test, the sword agrees to give Bam her supernatural strength the first time he asks despite having never done the same for Yuri.
Black March’s reasoning? She “prefers men.” It’s an unintentionally hilarious example of Trinity Syndrome, where the hard-working and highly trained female character gets shoved aside for the male “chosen one,” and I couldn’t help but chuckle through my groan.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s potential here. There are hints of political turmoil and intriguing world-building, particularly in regards to Yuri disobeying her father and how Rachel wishes to “see the stars” because she and Bam appear to have lived underground their whole lives.
Tower of God also has style coming out of its ears, using sketchy lines and silhouettes to create a world both beautiful and stark. While the action sequences could stand to be a bit more dynamic, I certainly enjoyed looking at this episode, I can say that with certainty.
It’s not a bad premiere by any stretch, so I wouldn’t actively warn folks away from it. But by the end of it, instead of being hungry for more, I was mostly just tired—of all the mechanical exposition, of the protagonist’s expressionless face, of the clumsy use of characters as plot devices, and of the prospect of committing to yet another never-ending action/fantasy shounen-style series.
There’s some hype around this one, so maybe it’s worth another episode. Maybe Bam will develop a personality, or the writing will become more graceful, or the other characters will get to do things that aren’t so obviously in service to the plot. It’s still early, after all, and lots of series have to stumble a bit before they can find their stride.
But until we get answers to those maybes, Tower of God falls pretty solidly in my “meh” pile (striking visuals aside). If you’re looking for a new long-running shounen-style fantasy to watch, right now I’d recommend holding off on this one and giving the underrated Radiant a try instead.