Tower of God – 09 – Forgetting the Taste of Stale Bread

Endorsi prefaces her betrayal of her fellow Team B Fisherman by telling a little story in earshot of Bam, about how she was one of at least a dozen adopted daughters forced to fight each other for the right not just to become a Princess of Jahad, but to eat.

At first, Endorsi only ate stale bread, but she ate it all the same, maintained her strength, and defeated her competitors one after another until she could enjoy a delicious rare steak at the head of the table. She was quite literally forged in a crucible of blood.

While we know little of Bam, it’s clear he hasn’t had to betray or kill anyone to get here, so it tracks that he considers Endorsi’s treacherous methods “wrong.” But would it have been more “right” if Endorsi had let her adoptive sisters kill her? Endorsi (and surely many other competitors) didn’t enjoy the luxury of morality prior to these proceedings.

As she takes down the other Fisherman, Endorsi wants Bam to understand what is required in order to climb the Tower. Bams asks her why she mocks the fishermen for trying to fight her when she’s been where they are—the weak trying to become strong. But the past is past for her: she no longer remembers the taste of that stale bread.

In order to get what you want, Endorsi asserts, sometimes you have to do things you know are wrong. It’s what Bam must do if he wants to climb with Rachel. Still, Bam puts his foot down: he’s going to climb his way: no betrayals, no tricks. And even if Rachel hates him for it, he’ll protect her.

Rachel is actually in some need of protecting, as Hoh, overcome by the need to get Bam out of the picture, takes her hostage at knifepoint. Quant, having beaten up Hatz (whose comrades betrayed him), tries to de-escalate, but matters are complicated when Bam shows up.

In the ensuing standoff, Bam learns a shinsu paralysis trick from Quant, Rachel struggles, and Hoh accidentally stabs her in the back. Bam paralyzes him and tries to slow Rachel’s bleeding as she asks him why he followed her. Serena shows up just as Hoh stabs himself in the chest, resigning himself to “have-not” status.

Finally, Endorsi appears to fight with Quant, but gets slapped in her beautiful face by Serena, who like Hoh harbors some bitterness and resignation about being a fellow “have-not”, but doesn’t see offing herself as the solution.

Like Bam with Rachel, Endorsi has decided she wants to climb the Tower with her sister/niece Anaak—whom we see in the waiting room having her hair done in what is without question the most adorable moment of the series so far. So she took steps to make sure she and Anaak wouldn’t drop out.

But as someone who tasted as much pain as she did stale bread getting to this point, Endorsi warns Bam that he’ll have to keep tasting pain too if he keeps passing tests, whether he does it his “right way” or not. No one can have it all; everyone loses something in this game.

Endorsi shows Quant the red badge inside her vest and the two duel, with Bam deciding to back her up (they are still teammates, after all). Quant dodges Bam’s paralysis attack, swoops in, and snatches Endorsi’s vest, seemingly ending the game.

But it isn’t quite the end, as the red thing in her vest wasn’t the badge, but her red boy shorts! Endorsi shows her her real badge in one hand, and produces his badge in the other. So Team B wins and scores a heap of points.

The Tag Game turned out to be an intricately thrilling tapestry of clashing motivations, twists and tricks, and while Hoh seems to be dead, he’s still carted off by medics, so perhaps they can save him. Rachel is stabilized and rests Bam stands beside her bed. Khun’s gambit worked out and their core trio moves on to the next rounds of testing.

I appreciated the exploration of the kinship of “have-nots” like Hoh and Serena and “haves” like Endorsi and Bam, as well as how they gained those statuses. Serena led her friends to their doom because she wasn’t strong enough; everyone Hoh cared about died for the same reason. Endorsi became a Princess by killing all of her sisters while Bam largely stumbled into his good fortune.

Compelling characters, impressive action sequences, balanced pacing, and a badass soundtrack—Tower of God is truly firing on all cylinders.

Tower of God – 08 – Getting “It” Twisted

Even as Quant makes quick work of the Team A members trying to slow him down, Khun maintains an air of confidence. The show also wants to make it clear that the fiery Quant has a temper and can be very impulsive, which means a Light Bearer as shrewd as Khun can very well play him like a fiddle. But since we just met Quant, we have no way of knowing if his outward behavior, so convenient to Khun’s plans, is just an act, and he’s actually a step or more ahead of Khun. He is a Ranker, after all.

Meanwhile, Bam sits with the rest of Team B, whose mood rises and falls with Team A’s setbacks and progress, respectively. Endorsi sits beside him, giving him a chance to ask about “Michelle”, but Endorsi has little to say; she, Michelle and the giant monster guy were just the last three remaining, so they teamed up. Probably more germane to Endorsi is what does Bam care about that weird little mousey girl anyway?

Khun’s choice to use Anaak and his lighthouse as bait and compel Quant to dive off the bridge with him is both inspired and inventively composed. I love the steep drops in this show. It heightens the pace and excitement of an otherwise elegant, no-frills action scene. I love when Quant passes Anaak on his way down, while Green April arrests a smug Khun’s fall. And as usual, the music rises to the occasion.

But what I like even more is that it was understood that Khun’s line last week about Bam losing was always meant to be followed by the words “if I (Khun) don’t do something about it.” Khun decided he cared more about preventing Bam (and those on Team B on the “friends list”) from being eliminated than winning the tag game.

This tracks since, he, Lauroe, Anaak, etc. were already assured of passing regardless of the game result. So he betrays Team A to keep Bam & Co. in the running, by giving Quant a ride back up to the bridge via his lighthouse. Quant snatches Anaak’s “it” badge, and Team A loses.

Last week often cut to Hoh just barely keeping it together and stewing in resentment for Bam’s relative ease in the Wave Controller tests. This week we get a vulnerable moment from Serena, about whom we know so little. It’s only a nugget about her past, and how she was once a cat burglar whose crew was killed by a Ranker.

She approached the Tower climb with renewed energy and confidence, but now is not so sure about the prospect of eliminating people she’s come to like. Hoh tells her that’s just the way things are. Those who climb the Tower must choose what’s more important: friendships, or reaching the top.

Bam, Serena, and Hoh’s Team B is being led by Endorsi, who took advantage of the fact she’s idolized by one of three other competitors for the spot. Khun may have given Bam & Co. a chance by ensuring Team A’s loss, but Team B still has to win, using what they learned from Team A’s game. That may be difficult depending on what Endorsi’s intentions, as she betrays one of her fellow Fishermen to pursue a plan all her own.

This is, of couse, in keeping with Endorsi’s character so far. She has no connection to her two original teammates, and while may not mind Bam or others on the friend sheet she signed, but she’s not going to let that document rule her actions or dilute her ambitions. Like Hoh, she’s willing to do whatever and backstab whoever it takes to climb the Tower.

You can read Crow’s write-up of episode 8 here.

Tower of God – 07 – Her Only Niece

When Endorsi’s heel breaks, Anaak takes advantage and pushes her off the edge, only for Endorsi to grab Anaak, ensuring her “niece” shares her long drop. Endorsi was taught that Princesses of King Jahad can never bear children (using the metaphor of fancy shoes that will never be worn).

But faced with the product of defying that taboo, knowing her mother treated her kindly, and knowing there’s nothing Anaak can do about her parentage softens the enmity between the two.

Funnily enough, their assured mutual defeat makes them rip targets for Shibisu and Hatz, who were stressing over finding two more friends. Khun devises a scheme whereby Bam will offer food in exchange for friendship.

Endorsi is broke and flattered by Hatz’s (canned) compliments and so can’t turn down food, while the specific dish Bam offers (chicken pie) just happens to be Anaak’s favorite. Thus the two princesses join the rest of the crew for lunch.

Rachel remains apart from the others, no doubt to remain as far out of Bam’s orbit as possible, and keeps buying bruised apples to save points. In the lavatory Endorsi admits she doesn’t really understand why Rachel is doing all this.

She won’t say anything about Rachel to Bam, but hopes what she seeks at the top of the tower is “worth more than” him. Rachel seems angered by the presumption, but her insistence on staying away from Bam is about to be tested.

The next test is an elaborate game of “tag” set in a large purpose-built venue. Rak and his counterpart passed their spear trials, so they get to sit the game out. Bam and Khun are on different teams (a first), while Bam is on Rachel’s (AKA Michelle Light’s).

Sure, she’s one of three Light Bearers on his team so who knows how much they’ll interact, but one imagines at some point they’ll come in contact and need to cooperate. How much longer can she keep up this thin charade?

While everyone gets individual points based on their performances, each team will get a windfall of 100k points if their “it” person reaches the goal and 200k if they capture Quant. As is typical of Tower of God, we get right down to business, with Khun orchestrating a multi-layered trap for Quant, one of the “it” people and a ranker.

Khun is also certain that Bam will fail in this game. Whether it’s because he and Khun aren’t on the same team, or because Bam and Rachel will inevitably sabotage each other again, or both, who can say, but Khun is rarely wrong. Then again, if anyone can prove him wrong, it’s Bam, the ultimate wild card.

Read Crow’s review of Episode 7 here.

Tower of God – 06 – Real Night, Fake Princess

Rachel visits Bam while he’s still unconscious, but doesn’t wait for him to wake up. In fact, she asks Khun to lie that Bam he mistook her for someone else. She fears that she and Bam are each other’s greatest weaknesses, and the best way to avoid becoming burdens for each other is to remain apart.

I’m not quite convinced of Rachel’s assessment of the situation, but Khun acquiesces, no doubt to protect Bam from the same misfortune-via-sister figure that befell him. Bam doesn’t buy it, and almost visits Rachel (AKA “Michelle Light”), but agrees with Khun that all he can do for now is get stronger. Then, perhaps, his “burden” status might be lifted. In any case, there’s gotta be more to this than a clear view of the starry sky.

Bam then comes to, but learns he wasn’t disqualified because his instructor is running two days late. We learn about the five positions in a Tower-climbing party (Fisherman, Spear Bearer, Light Bearer, Scout, Wave Controller) and that Bam is one of the latter, responsible for supporting his team with shinsu.

We then learn that Scouts like Shibisu must make nine friends, leading to a congenial scene in the cafeteria with former foes lunching together, a sight Bam can’t help but want to be a part of. Rachel skulks on the margins and in her dark room, only able to afford a bruised apple and eating chocolate bars stolen from Rak’s stash.

Two people its clear are never going to get along are Anaak and Endorsi, despite both being princesses of Jahad. Endorsi earlier called Anaak an “impostor”, while Anaak has no qualms about making off with Black March, even though Yuri is its rightful owner.

Anaak has also separated herself from Hatz and Shibisu, and seems to be going it alone, damn the consequences. Meanwhile the outgoing Endorsi is happy to sit with the new group of friends, but doesn’t believe men and women can be friends, and like Jedi, as a princess of Jahad isn’t allowed to love.

Endorsi and Anaak’s discord comes to a head during a Fisherman (close-range fighter) training test. It’s a neatly-designed test, with multiple sparring circles perched atop ridiculously-high towers, and the promise of very long (but non-lethal) falls for the losers. Throughout the session Anaak has eyes only for Endorsi, who is more than willing to rise to her provocations.

Endorsi proves she deserves to be a princess of Jahad by dodging all of Anaak’s attacks (except for one slick surprise shinsu-aided baseball slide). When Anaak tries to deliver a kick to Endorsi’s beloved face (which for the record is pretty lovely), Endorsi catches her foot and drives her into the ground.

That’s when her suspicions are confirmed: Anaak reveals she’s the daughter of the real Princess Anaak. When her mother was murdered (apparently by other princesses), Anaak assumed her name and title, and is on a single-minded quest of vengeance. Her target is no less than every other princess named Jahad.

This week disclosed Anaak’s backstory and motivations, accentuated Endorsi’s general badassdom, and taught noobs like me more about the different “jobs” various Tower-climbers are assigned based on their specialty. As usual everything was elevated by the bold, bright palette, lively, inventive action, and more righteous musical ownage courtesy of Kevin Penkin.

Tower of God – 05 – Cheap Instant Coffee in a Fine Ceramic Bowl

“What do you *mean* you didn’t notice me putting my hair up? HMMPH!”

This episode sputters a bit in the first half, starting with a mostly redundant explanation Khun’s Crown gambit (other characters catching up to where we are), and a third round of fighting Khun admits is a waste of time. Rather than face the new challengers directly, Khun uses three allies he secured in the first test, when he was supposed to be killing them. The allies prove more than capable of eliminating all comers.

That leads to the fourth and final round of the Crown Game, involving a party consisting of someone who has both the looks and strength to be a Princess of Jahad like Yuri, a towering beast-man in the mold of Rak, and…Rachel. She sidles up to the throne and mutters to Bam that they won’t steal his crown; they’re apparently there to protect it. Only the remaining challengers prove too much for them, and Rachel is injured and tossed into the air.

Bam leaves the throne to catch her, and the two meet eyes, leaving no doubt for Bam of who she is, and that she means more to him than the throne, the crown, or the whole damn Tower. Things look bad for them both when an enormous power suddenly awakens in Bam, blasting the challengers away. Black March seemingly stops time to warn Bam about losing control before knocking him unconscious.

With the Crown destroyed by Bam’s blast (which Lero Ro thinks might’ve been an instance of Bam becoming Shinsu itself) the game is ended without a winner. Lero meets with Yu Han Sung, who treats him to powdered caffe latte served ironically in a chawan. Han tells Lero that the purpose of the tests in the first place isn’t to gauge one’s worthiness, but to ascertain whether they pose any threat to the Tower.

It’s a nice scene between two administrators, but Han clearly knows more than Lero, and Lero knows not to trust the word of someone in Han’s position. Lero also gave his teams three days off following the Crown Game, but with only one day to go, Bam is still unconscious despite Khun’s urgings. That’s when a recovered Rachel arrives with a request for Khun. Based on her behavior thus far, I wouldn’t be shocked if she wanted Khun’s cooperation in keeping her and Bam as apart as possible.

P.S. I love the super-energizing OP, with its bopping theme performed by a Korean boy band Stray Kids, but the ED is the one of the laziest things I’ve ever seen, consisting of a static shot of an intermittently napping Rachel. At first I thought this was a temporary sequence until the “final” ED animation was complete, but apparently it isn’t, which is strange because…there’s just not much there.

Tower of God – 04 – Weak, Yet Amazing

When no one steps forward to challenge Anaak, Hatz, and Shibisu (really just Anaak and Hatz), two groups of three are released, including Serena (fiery dagger lady), Hoh (horned dude) and Lauroe (sleepy). Lauroe stays back while the other two keep the lads busy, until Lauroe can launch a shinsu attack directly at Anaak. She manages to survive and keep both the crown and the sword, thanks to her Ignition Weapon Green April.

I’m liking the wide variety of colorful characters and personalities and the playful banter, though it can feel a bit stiff or forced at times. And while the sudden interruption of Dramatic Kevin Penkin Music with a Kooky Cartoon Reaction is fun the first two or three times, it ran the risk of wearing out its welcome.

Because Bam’s borrowed sword Black March is also one of the 13 Month Series forged exclusively for princesses of Jahal, it reacts violently to the presence of Anaak’s sword. She’s so flabbergasted that Bam has it, she leaves the throne and breaks into his waiting room in an attempt to retrieve it, disqualifying (and angering) her team. She gives Bam two choices: agree to surrender the sword if his team loses the crown game, or die by her hand after the game.

Both Khun and Rak are impressed with Bam’s response: he can’t give her the sword, because it’s not his. He borrowed it from Yuri, so to surrender it would be betraying a girl, something Rachel warned him never to do, as it would be the same as “making an enemy of the entire world”. Anaak is restrained by both Lero Ro and Hatz, and the game continues, which Khun quickly takes over, using a massive wind attack and a duplicate crown to place Bam on the throne.

They’ve won this round, but the game is not over as there are still teams waiting to be released, including the one that contains not only another (apparent) Princess of Jahad (who calls Anaak an “impostor”), but Rachel, who gives the okay for the princess to kill “everyone”, even Bam. I guess Rachel’s rule about betrayal doesn’t apply to guys, huh?

Regardless, her attitude tracks with what we’ve known since episode one: she values climbing the Tower more than she values Bam. Still, I have questions: How did the two end up in the same bonus game when she left before him? Did he follow her to the Tower the day after she left? Did her rounds last longer than his? If she doesn’t care about Bam as much as the Tower, why is she bothering to hide when Bam has already noticed and called out to her?

P.S. Read Crow’s review of Tower of God Episode 4 here.

Tower of God – 03 – Any Door Will Do

As his party waits for the latest test, Aguero (who I’ll call Khun going forward since that’s what Bam calls him) recalls some sore memories about his sister Maria, who was basically his version of Bam’s Rachel. Maria betrayed Khun once she became a Princess of Jahad, and he was exiled. Rachel’s sudden abandonment of Bam could also be called a betrayal, but for the fact Bam doesn’t consider it that.

Instead, he saw it as the ultimate motivator: If you want to follow me, there’s some shit you gotta do without me. As for Khun, his mind sometimes fills with the murmurs of those who mock his failure and foolishness, and a “Plastic Bag person” is able to provoke him with that same kind of talk. However, the Bag person isn’t trying to start a fight, but deliver a hint for the next test.

That test involves ten doors, one of which must be opened within ten minutes to avoid elimination. The Bag guy tells them that no one who has opened the door within five minutes has lost. Once the clock has started, the lack of further hints by the administrator Hansung Yu serves as a hint in and of itself.

Sure enough, as Khun’s head fills with doubt and more mocking murmurs, it’s Rak who takes decisive action, opening a door just before the five-minute mark. The test isn’t a matter of choosing the right door—any door will do—but trusting in one’s instincts enough to open any door fast enough. If Khun can’t be certain about his actions, it’s good that he has Rak on his team.

This otherwise clever, elegant test is somewhat undermined by the sheer amount of explanation that takes place before, during, and after the test—a full ten minutes of this episode. I realize there’s a lot of source material to work with but this test still felt padded.

The next yest is described as a voluntary “bonus” test, but the team who wins it won’t have to take any more tests and be granted permission to climb the Tower. It’s a five-round “crown game” in which one member of a team must wear a crown and sit in a throne while the other two fight off challengers.

Again, there’s a lot of explanation of this test, which is necessary to know what’s going on, but that means there’s only time for the first round of that test, which is undertaken by Anaak, Hatz and Shibisu (who earlier befriends Bam). The ridiculously competent Anaak absolutely ruins the first team of competitors and claims the crown herself, promising her teammates she won’t let anyone have it.

Had the relatively simple door test been pared down to a more economic length, we could have gotten more of this more complicated test. While I enjoyed some of the moments of Bam’s team just chillaxing between tests, during which it’s revealed the sky above them is fake and the real one might not exist, the pacing of the episode as a whole still felt sub-optimal.

And is that a cloaked Rachel, descended from the top of the Tower to check on Bam’s progress? Will he be able to flag down and talk to his idol, or will she vanish in the shadows? We’ll have to find out next week.

Tower of God – 02 – The Irregular at God Tower High

The battle royale continues until there are only 200 fighters remaining. At that point all fighting stops, and Bam and Aguero don’t have to fight the big Croc-man Rak Wraithraiser. The second test is totally different from he first: find two allies in five minutes. Bam already has one, and with so little time, he and Aguero simply have to stall Rak until time’s up and then glom onto him. It’s in this manner Bam finds himself on his first team.

Other teams are similarly products of circumstance or proximity, such as the elite-level Anaak and Hatz being teamed up with the much weaker Shibisu. I was glad to see little bits and pieces of other characters’ personalities, from these three to Shibisu’s female counterpart to the guy who just likes sleeping. This is a quirky bunch, and a few will be sticking around longer than this week.

Interestingly, it was at this point that I started thinking of Tower of God so far as a high school affair in another skin. Most participants (the human/oid ones anyway) are fairly young, and exhibit certain qualities that remind one of the jock, class clown, loner, slacker, etc. archetypes. Aguero could be a StuCo member, while Rak a beefheaded athlete. Bam is, of course, the transfer student; the irregular.

Every one ends up on a floating structure called Evankhell’s Mothership, and are met by administrator Lero Ro. He’s a Ranker, which means he’s already made the climb to the top of the Tower. If Bam is a Red Whistle (in Abyss parlance), Lero is a White, having been all the way to the end and back. Doing so means he’s mastered shinsu, a water-based magic that gives one immortality and immense strength.

Lero creates a shinsu barrier to push the remaining contestants back, and they must pass through it to pass the test. Either due to Black March or his innate magical potential, Bam is the only one who isn’t pushed back and instantly passes. Lero chalks it up to luck, the most essential commodity in the Tower.

While they wait for the others to pass, Lero explains irregulars (Bam’s classification). They weren’t chosen by Headon, and they don’t follow the Tower’s rules. When Bam’s team, Shibisu’s team, and others pass through, Lero takes his leave of Bam, but warns him about getting too close to Aguero. With that, we move on to the venue of Test #3.

While it lacked the sense of occasion and epicness of the premiere, this second outing was marginally more interesting due to the more diverse forms of testing. It makes sense that the first test would be a simple battle to weed out half of the participants. Fighting prowess is a necessity in the Tower, but it’s clear that being able to ally oneself with strong friends, not to mention endure high levels of shinsu, is even more crucial.

Tower of God – 01 (First Impressions) – They’re Just Like You

This is 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.

I like it—Succinct and concise. Efficient and elemental. Stark, yet beautiful. Before we’re tossed into the present, we get a brief look at the past: the last time Bam saw his beloved Rachel. Rachel is bound for the greater heights (literally) of the Tower, and Bam can’t go with her, so it’s farewell.

Rachel’s intolerance of the darkness of their world, and desire to see the stars at the top of the Tower, meant more than remaining with Bam. Meanwhile Bam can’t tolerate living in a world without Rachel; she’s his Eureka to his Renton. So when the opportunity to climb the Tower presents itself, he takes it.

That means dealing with the Tower’s caretaker, Headon, who presents the first test: avoid a giant steel-clad eel and break a black sphere. Two other challengers appear in Princess Yuri (who gives off strong Tohsaka Rin vibes) and her attendant Evan. They lend him a “Pocket” that translates their speech and does other things.

Yuri isn’t impressed by the frail-looking Bam, but the point of the test isn’t to defeat the giant eel, but simply to stare death in the face and not flinch. Needing to be with Rachel more than he fears deah, Bam passes that first part of the test. And because he has a cute face, Yuri lends him an heirloom of her family, a sword called Black March.

Bam lets the eel swallow him and then wounds it from within, but the black sphere proves too hard, even for Black March. That’s because Bam is trying to use his own strength without asking Black March to lend him hers. Yuri is again skeptical it will listen, but like her Black March likes his cute face.

The sword is also moved by Bam’s story of being saved by Rachel some time ago, when he was trying to break out of a dark place rather than cutting into one. Rachel told him about the stars in the sky.

He comes to see her as one of those stars, which means to climb the Tower and reach the sky is to return to where she belongs. He, in turn, wants to return to her warm, celestial light. Black March stuns the eel and shatters the black sphere, and Bam is transported to the second level for the next test.

Yuri, initially surprised by Bam, now knows the score, and decides that she and Evan will follow. Because there’s something she loathes more than she fears death, and that’s boredom. Not a princess to live within the walls of the palace, she seeks adventure, excitement, and entertainment, which Bam looks primed to provide.

The second test takes the first—facing death and not withering—and adds a new challenge: summoning the will to take life, not just preserve one’s own. It’s a battle royale involving 400 “regulars” (Bam is non-regular) that quickly drops below 300. Bam realizes what he must do and prepares to do it, but ends up locked in a firing circle with three other combatants, including a blue-haired student and a lizardman-like hunter.

Tower of God is disciplined, refined, and concise in its themes and crystal clear, if relatively shallow, in the motivations of its characters. It balances the simplicity of those elements with solid, confident execution. I dug the Bones-style character design and the rough old-school line work, and of course, Kevin Penkin’s gripping, eclectic score; he’s a composer who instantly elevates any work he’s tied to. Hayami Saori soars as Rachel in a role perfect for her.

Tower of God, the first big-league anime from Lee Jong-hui (AKA SIU) and animated by the venerable Telecom studio, has apparently been hugely anticipated by fans of his webtoon (which has amassed 4.5 billion views worldwide). Speaking as a newbie, I can see why. Everything in this episode conspires to create a gravitas that’s hard to fake—an atmosphere of seriousness, significance, and auspiciousness that calls to mind shows like Steins;Gate and Attack on Titan, which have their own massive fan legions.

To quote the space rabbit Headon, “I’m interested in seeing what’s next.”

P.S. Read Crow’s review of Tower of God Episode 01 here.