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.

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 13 (Fin)

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Food Wars 2’s final episode wraps up the brief but wonderful Staigaire mini-arc with, what else, a food war, inviting some familiar faces to help judge the best staff dish, immediately following the end SHINO’S TOKYO’s pre-open.

Inui seems more hyper than usual, but otherwise she and the others mainly here to make curtain calls, and also to provide a distinguished audience and extra pressure for Souma. Whether he passes this Staigaire depends entirely on the dish he’s been developing.

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Everything, from the camp to the elections to the staigaire, has been building up to this. Souma has always been good at replicating dishes, following recipes, and finding creative, resourceful, even unorthodox ways to succeed. He’s even made quite a few “signature”-style dishes to win.

But this is different. Here, he has to craft something he can only make, but that is also worthy of being placed on a Two-Michelin Star restaurant hoping to win a third. The shounen transition/evolution Souma must undergo is perfectly boiled down to getting pincushioned by a rain of fancy french cutlery (i.e. aborbing French culinary techniquies), which crack his old self and reveal a new, refined chef.

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He successfully makes that transition by serving a playful oyakodon dish that looks like a classic french whole quail. Shino sees room for improvement before it goes on the menu, but it’s a sucessful dish, so Souma passes.

While Shino has always been driven by the desire to make his mom happy, Souma’s drive is largely sourced by his desire to surpass his dad. He sees that being at Totsuki, a melting pot of culinary knowledge from faculty and peer alike, is the best path to that goal.

That means picking up the box full of shokugeki challenges and getting to work knocking them off, each time learning something new from the process. He wants no less than the first seat; the top rung. As the pot lid falls on this solid second helping of that quest, I’d neither rule out nor oppose a third sometime down the road.

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