My wife has been teaching herself Japanese for some time now, and in order to get her ear accustomed to the language being spoken, we have been watching a lot of anime. This is a series of reviews about some of the shows we have seen.
Ironically, I watched this show by myself while my wife was away on vacation, so it’s an odd choice to start a series about shows we’ve mostly watched together. But it’s the one burning a hole in my mind at the moment, so it gets to be the first.
The Tower of Druaga is a fantasy anime available for free online at Crunchyroll.com. It consists of two parts, each part 12 episodes long:
It is based on a series of Nintendo videogames from the 80s, though the events of the game are only the springboard for those of the anime. This wasn’t a game I knew of, and the reason I watched this show was because I’d seen a trailer for it while watching another anime (El Cazador de la Bruja, a show I’ll eventually review here as well) and this being fantasy in very much a D&D vein, it caught my attention.
I was expecting this to be a fairly standard fantasy action anime with lots of cool visuals of swords and sorcery. Frankly, I would have been happy just getting that and calling it a day. What I got instead was a show with a well-defined world setting borrowing elements from Babylonian and Sumerian legends, a somewhat complex story with not a few twists and turns, a nice mix of action, drama and comedy, and an idea generator that has taken residence in my brain and is making me start a new game.
The Tower of Druaga is the story of Jil, a noble-hearted, idealistic and inexperienced warrior who wants to climb the fabled Tower of Druaga, a massive vertical monster-ridden dungeon that rises into the clouds and which is guarded at the top by the demon that gives the tower its name. The Tower was once climbed, and Druaga defeated, by the hero Gilgamesh (or Gil). It is now 80 years later and Gil’s feat has not been achieved again. A new Tower has risen since, engulfing the original one, full of even more dangerous creatures. As the story starts, Jil is part of a group of Climbers, the name given to adventurers who brave the Tower of Druaga for fame and fortune. Unfortunately, Jil is off to a bad start.
Warning: the first episode is all a dream! It is a parody of a number of anime tropes, and roughly recounts the events of the Tower of Druaga videogame. I almost chucked the whole series aside but for some reason decided to stick through to the end of the episode, for which I am glad once I saw it was a dream and the show was not in the same tone. Watch it if you want, but just know that it is a dream and has no bearing on the actual story. Or skip it; I don’t think you’ll miss anything important at all.
Along the way Jil meets Kaaya (an Oracle of Ishtar), Ahmey (a warrior with a wicked lance), Melt (a storm wizard with a superiority complex) and Coopa (Melt’s retainer and freakishly strong) and together they set off to climb the Tower during the Summer of Anu, a recurring time during which the monsters of the Tower are weakened and thus easier to vanquish. Jil also has ties to another parrty of Climbers consisting of Neeba (archer extraordinaire and Jil’s older brother), Utu (a warrior in full-plate armor), Kally (a first-caliber rogue) and Fatina (a fire mage with a “shotgun”). In Part 2, the druid Hennaro joins the cast as well. Though they seem to be competing at times, these two groups are constantly crossing paths and characters from both become fairly important to everyone around.
You can find reviews of the storyline of the show online, so I won’t try to recount it here (besides, I want you watch the show). Instead I want to tell you, with as little spoilers as possible, why I liked this show.
First of all, I’m a sucker for reimagined Earth mythos, and Tower of Druaga grabs bits and pieces of Babylonian and Sumerian legends and uses them to build a new world that feels fairly complete beyond the scope of the show. Uruk, the kingdom ruled by King Gilgamesh and mentioned in the name of the show’s two parts, is the result of the fusing of former nations of Babylin and Sumer, and this comes into play during the story, as factions from the former Sumer want to see their nation reinstated (post-colonialism in an anime!). It helps lend the setting an air of consistency as it draws on legends that are fairly complex as its source material.
I liked the mix of tones: there was action, comedy, drama and they all worked well in order to move the story along. Given the fairly large cast and the limited number of episodes, the characters are fairly well-rounded, especially those that take center stage. Even some minor characters that suddenly show up and are fairly one-dimensional get a chance at dramatic depth here and there. For the main characters, this results in protagonists that are well defined, have a variety of goals and ambitions, navigate a complicated web of interpersonal relationships, and at least to me, never feel boring or old.
The story actually surprised me at times. It seems fairly simple at first glance: all groups wanna reach the top of the Tower to claim the Blue Crystal Rod which will grant them a wish. That works in a videogame because it’s one character, but here there are groups of characters and the rod only gives one wish, period. That alone is a source of conflict within a party, let alone among all the Climbers vying for that treasure. This becomes a major issue in the story and the seed for a lot of the surprises along the way as people start asking of themselves and those around them: Why am I climbing the Tower for? As soon as answers to this question start flying, so do the betrayals, and boy, do they come from the most unexpected places.
Most of all, I liked that at the end of the day, The Tower of Druaga was actually the story of two brothers hashing out some really troublesome emotional baggage and the effect this has on those around them whom they come to trust and love (if at all). It also is a story about trust, about the complexity of friendships, about family, and about life and death. It is nicely wrapped in a fantasy action package, but it is far more than just a show with magic, swords and dragons.
I liked the anime so much that it has taken residence in my head. The reason? I can see this as a great setting for a roleplaying game. Maybe not an entire game product, but certainly a game or a short campaign. Given that lately I have been smitten with the Dragon Age RPG, this is the game that I would use to bring Tower of Druaga to my table. So I am now planning a Tower of Druaga-based game powered by Dragon Age, and I cannot wait to get started.
Give the show a try (with my warning about episode 1 in mind; also know that episode 6 of Part 1 seems to have problems playing at Crunchyroll – I skipped it and don’t think I missed anything major) and let me know what you think.