“‘Be sure to drink your Ovaltine’. Ovaltine?! A crummy commercial?! Son of a bitch!”—Ralphie, A Christmas Story
I thought of that quote from a movie I watched a ton growing up when I watched this finale, because over and over I’d heard that this adaptation was nothing but a pale shadow of/introduction to the sprawling webtoon, something I’d never seen, and was more of a commercial than a product in its own right.
Don’t get me wrong: both Ralphie and I should have known that at the end of the day anime—like radio—is a business. Unless it’s original content, part of its raison d’etre is to sell its source material, be it a manga/manhwa, novel, or game. Much like Bam, I can’t say Tower of God “tricked” me into watching it only for it to be a glorified prologue. Like Rachel’s attitude towards Bam, its true nature was always apparent.
But I only watch anime for anime’s sake. Any product that tries to steer me towards something that isn’t anime is never going to succeed. I watched Tower of God simply for the characters it introduced, the story that was told, and the setting in the title…which, it turns out, we never really got to see. There was never any actual climbing…that doesn’t begin until the very end.
Up top you see Rachel’s look of relief as she says “Finally,” her long ordeal with Bam is over (at least for now). One mark against this finale is how little new content it contains; much of it is a recap of past events with Rachel’s narration providing fresh context, right up to when she shoves Bam out of the bubble and to his apparent death.
We start with Rachel arriving at the base of the Tower, meeting Headon, and being told she’s too weak to climb it. But she’s eventually able to convince both him and Hansung Yu to let her make the attempt anyway, but only if she completes a special test: She must kill Bam. They even provide her with a Rak-sized bodyguard, as well as guidance from the redhead Hwaryun.
In Rachel’s mind, what she must do is never in dispute, so much of her ordeal throughout the training sessions is convincing her body to respond to her mind’s intentions. Climbing the Tower and becoming a star, not just seeing them, is her primary objective, and Bam is an obstacle.
She watches and stews with envy and resetment as he gains everything she wants with hardly any effort: an amazing weapon, a tight-knit circle of loyal friends who believe in him, the ability to summon and manipulate shinsu at an elite level.
But finally, the incident with Hoh puts her in a position to get rid of Bam, but tying him to her more closely than ever. Bam was never going to abandon her not matter how badly she treated him, so when she loses the ability to walk, he offers to stay by her side and be her legs.
Throughout all of this, Rachel has no illusions about who and what she is. She’s no savior, she’s nothing special; only something “extra”. She’s not a star, but at best a shadow cast by one. But that doesn’t mean the shadow won’t try to take the star’s place. If she climbs the Tower and becomes a star, perhaps the self-loathing within her will go away.
Yu and Hwaryun arrange things so Rachel is found by the others in a puddle of worm slime, and when she comes to she has no idea what happened to Bam. Anything could have happened, but the theory they’re left with is that he was probably eaten by a fish. In any case, he’s gone, Rachel is free of him. Climbing out of bed with very functional legs, she stands by the window and laughs a villainous laugh.
That’s because despite no longer having Bam to lean on, all of his friends (except maybe Parscale, who goes along with the group anyway) believe that helping Rachel in Bam’s place is what he would have wanted. They’re not wrong, either—even though Rachel played them all.
She continues to pretend she’s disabled, and while Khun most definitely has his suspicions about Rachel and what went down in that bubble, what he doesn’t have is proof, so he holds his tongue as Yu transports the surviving examinees up to the Tower to begin their clumb.
As for Bam, he’s not really dead, but was held in a bubble of shinsu until everyone else was gone. Then Hwaryun releases him and offers to continue training him to climb the Tower, if he still seeks answers at the top. Bam responds that he doesn’t think there are any answers up there, but he’ll search for them as he climbs anyway, because…well, what else does he have going on?
That’s honestly a lot of vague cliched “what will you do” platitudes at the end there, which aren’t very enticing considering how relatively little happened in these past thirteen episodes, and how no Tower climbing at all took place. There’s a certain feeling of arrogance that an audience will simply keep letting itself get strung along a la Attack on Titan, season after season, year after year…and as a newcomer to the series ToG just didn’t develop the clout to do that.
That said, I don’t see what will possibly stop me from tuning back in if and when the anime adaptation of ToG continues. Perhaps this really does mark the end of the beginning, and that an end—teased at the very end with what I assume to be an older, longer-haired Bam standing triumphantly near the corpse of a monster with a color palette similar to Rachel’s—may someday come.
I just won’t hold my bread that we’ll see that end in that next season. But perhaps we’ll finally see the Tower, a bit of climbing, and learn more about why those things are so important. Also Rak eating more chocolate bars. Till then, I’ll be sure to drink my Ovaltine.