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.

Overlord II – 09

While Sebas, Brain and Climb agree to take on the brothel together, they take different entrances, with Sebas going right in the front door, tearing through any hapless resistance, and delivering swift justice to the fat bastard whose name isn’t worth remembering. Epsilon might not care what pitiful humans do to other pitiful humans, but Sebas definitely has a soft spot for the weak and helpless.

Meanwhile, it isn’t long before Brain and Climb split up, and Climb happens to end up in the very room where Succulent (one of the Six Arms) and Cocco Doll (human slavery extraordinaire) happen to emerge from a secret entrance. Climb figures out Succulent’s trick, combining swordsmanship, invisibility, and illusion to show his opponent a fake arm, a fake sword, and even fake clones of himself.

Succulent’s just a half-step ahead of Climb, and delivers what should be a fatal wound, but like his encounter with Sebas’ killing strike, Climb summons the power of his love and devotion to Princess Renner to stand up and hold out just long enough until Brain arrives. Brain has the boy heal himself while he takes care of Sucky with one strike, showing just how far ahead of Climb he is in pure swordsmanship.

With that, Sebas appears and the three celebrate the apprehension of Succulent and Cocco and the taking down of a truly awful brothel. It’s all in a day’s work for Sebas, but he still has to come home to learn Solution has tattled on him; Lord Ains is waiting for him (though no doubt Ains will be proud of what Sebas did). Back at the palace, Climb gives a full report to a worried-sick Renner.

Brain celebrates by having drinks and a meal with his new best bud Gazef, telling him that despite Climb’s obvious lack of talent, he might just exceed his own pure will to live and fight, judging both from his scrapes with Sebas and Succulent.

As for Renner, after she sees Climb off, she summons a maid she suspects “made fun” of Climb with the intent to kill her and anyone else who would do such a thing, revealing a heretofore unseen sinister side. I kinda like how she’s not some pure naive princess, but has her own dark side…it makes me worry a lot less about the five remaining Six Arms we meet. If they want a knock-down, drag-0ut fight, Renner is most definitely game.

Overlord II – 08

Climb and Blue Rose prepare to go to battle with Eight Fingers, and Climb mentions his little sparring session with the great Stronoff. He wants Evileye to train him in magic, but she doesn’t think he’s ready or talented enough; Gagaran notes that Evileye is simply worried about Climb.

Evileye also mentions the fact that their colleague Lakyus may be having trouble controlling the cursed sword in her possession, and that leads to the mention of Momon and a quick overview of their great deeds. While they may be rivals, Evileye might also see them as potential allies in the fight against the Fingers.

Meanwhile, Sebas walks the city streets thinking about the position he’s in, and more specifically what needs to be done to keep Tsuare safe from her former tormentors. A haughty jackass happens to be stomping on a poor kid who happened to bump into him when Sebas arrives to put the bully in his place. Not only does climb witness Sebas’ good deed (and his fancy moves), but so does Brain Unglaus.

Climb tracks Sebas down and begs him to teach him the move he saw. Sebas does a quick character survey of Climb, learning from his hands, his sword, and his words that he’s a decent chap, then warning him that the move he shows him could kill him if he has no one he cherishes and vows to protect.

Climb has Princess Renner, so there should be no problem, but still…damn, Sebas is scary when you’re his target, even in a supposed training session. Climb manages not to die of shock, and proves he’s a loyal and true servant to his mistress. Brain witnesses all of this and introduces himself to Sebas and Climb…just as five assassins from Eight Fingers come for Sebas.

Now, I have no doubt that Sebas could have easily taken all five attackers on his own, but one doesn’t turn down an extra pair of hands, so he lets Brain and Climb take on two of the five. They handle themselves pretty well despite Climb’s greenness and Brain’s rust.

Sebas then decides to head to the brothel where he rescued Tsuare and nip things in the bud, and Climb and Brain join him. I must say, it’s an inspired party, and I look forward to seeing what they can do. I just wish this show didn’t look so dang rough.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 03

Turns out that while she was just plucked up by a dragon at last episode’s end, Chise is actually not in danger. She’s simply being brought to a dragon’s nest by its caretaker, Lindel. There, she learns more about dragons, meets both an ancient Uin and three playful hatchlings,  and ultimately experiences something few mages ever do: a dragon’s end-of-life return to the earth and transformation into a tree.

Lindel’s dragon unceremoniously spits Chise into a very cold deep lake, but she manages to get out on her own, and once Elias catches up with her (appearing out of her shadow, as badass mages do), he has a very nifty insta-dry spell that prevents hypothermia.

When she’s tasked with babysitting the lil’ dragons (who are extremely cute and childlike) curiosity draws her nearer to Nevin, the oldest extant dragon, who is old even for a dragon, and is very near death. While in contact with his brittle, flaking hide, he reads her memories; specifically her emotional downfall following the suicide of her parent.

Nevin uses this as an opportunity to enlighten Chise with dragons’ sense of death: they do not fear it, but live their lives to the fullest and pass on with gratitude and contentment, with no regrets. “It’s just nature”, Nevin says to Chise, who lost someone to unnatural means, long before their time. Chise is far from done processing that grief.

Instead, Nevin allows Chise to share in his “last dream”, a vision of freedom, flight in a gorgeous vista that stretches on forever. When the vision ends, Chise returns to the normal world, and a tree quickly sprouts from the now passed-on Nevin. It’s a gorgeous, moving sequence, epic in scope, in which Chise takes a big step towards understanding her role in the world (and that she has a role).

I imagine Lindel (and probably Elias as well) are glad Chise was able to experience this, as she may well be of the final generation of mages, just as the little hatchlings may be the last generation of dragons. They tell Chise not to grieve Nevin’s loss, at it’s all part of the circle of life and all, but still, a kind, wise stranger was there a minute ago is now gone forever.

Her solace is that, as Nevin recommended, when she has need of a wand, she take the wood from the branches of the tree he became. That way, in a way, he’ll always be with her. But it will never be the same as when he was alive.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 04

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The next chapter of Re:Zero gets off to a strong start with a fun Eva reference from Subaru, followed by his and our dashed expectations he’d wake up with Emilia sitting by his bedside.

Instead he’s greeted by no one, walks down a hall loop, solves it on the first try with his gamemaster-infuriating natural luck, coming afoul of a “drill loli” (referring to her swirling twin tails) sorceress who burns him alive, claiming it’s just a test to determine if he’s friend or foe.

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Waking up again in the same bed (the ceiling now familiar), he hears snide commentary in stereo about himself, then finds two maids, Ram (pink hair) and Rem (blue), standing in his room. Emilia appears, and all is well. He surveys the massive estate where they’re staying, shows “Emilia-tan” Japanese morning calisthenics (a great cultural crossover), and meets the lord of the mansion, Roswaal L. Mathers, whom he not unreasonably mistakes as some kind of jester.

During a sumptuous meal, Emilia informs Subaru that she is one of the candidates in the running for ruler of Lugunica (her insignia was proof of her status), and with the present king’s whereabouts unknown, things are uneasy in the kingdom. As such, one can’t fault Subaru for requesting something relatively modest as thanks for saving her: he wants a job at the mansion. And hell, who wouldn’t? The place is fantastic.

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Once he’s fitted for a butler’s uniform, the twin maids show him the considerable ropes of estate maintenance. He proves he’s not particularly skilled at anything beyond solving Betty’s door magic on the first try every time, but it’s all stuff he hasn’t done before, so a learning curve is expected.

Ram and Rem are patient and discover some surprising things about Subaru (like his sewing skills), but Ram is quick to nickname him Barusu (a blinding curse) and don’t go easy with the barbs. It’s a great sequence of Subaru once again starting to find his place, and it lulled me into that same comfortable place.

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Ram, who it would appear has some kind of special relationship to her lord, reports to him that Subaru doesn’t make the best butler (or spy, most likely) and doesn’t believe interfering in his friendship with Emilia is necessary, since they’re both “kids” and “nothing will happen.”

That line is accurate due to the personality of Subaru and Emilia, but also proves prescient. But before it does, Subie and Emi have a nice little chat in the masnion’s yard/field. Emilia offers to heal Subaru’s wounds, but he wants to keep them as proof of his efforts.

He also asks Emilia on what amounts to a date in town when both are free, and Subaru ignores her concerns that being with her would be troublesome for him. When he goes to bed, he can’t even sleep—he’s too excited about his date tomorrow—until he starts counting Pucks.

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But then morning comes, and Ram and Rem call him a guest, and his wounds are gone. Return by Death has occurred, only with a new spawning location: the bed in Roswaal Mansion. But when did death occur? Was his power triggered by something else? It’s another stunning turn for a show that’s been full of them.

This truly is a gem of a show that lulls us (along with Subaru) into a sense of comfort and security, then resets all the progress he made. Having to start over from scratch in this new timeline will be particularly demoralizing for Subaru, even though neither he no nobody ended up dead—as far as we know—this time.

But it speaks to the confidence of this show that it can sweep the slate clean with such regularity. Reset buttons are typically a way of making quick, neat endings, or making things easier for the writers. Here, the resets make things harder, since an entirely new route and new bonds must forged anew.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 03

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Subaru is surprised to find “Satella” at the loot house before dark, but not for long, as he realizes her nature never changes no matter which timeline he’s in. She always helps the lost girl, then ends up tracking Felt down. However, just when Subaru is making progress mediating between the parties (by being nice to both), Elsa comes out of the shadows.

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Again, Subie uses his knowledge of Satella to summon Puck to shield the blade, knowing he’s still corporeal this time of day. But Elsa still manages to severely wound Old Man Rom. Puck and Satella launch a pretty-yet-terrifying counterattack with their green ice-like crystalline magic, but to no avail—like a cockroach, Elsa just won’t go down.

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During Elsa’s fight with Rom, Felt, Satella, and Subaru, she’s full of quips, and so is everyone else. As the blades and crystal saggers fly, so to does the juicy dialogue, which is just as sharp and satisfying as the action.

Subaru makes mention of how cool he is when he realizes he needn’t fear death (since he can always start over at the fruit vendor) but at the same time, really doesn’t want to die and have to start over, especially now that he’s made progress with both Felt and Satella.

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Satella goes down for a moment, but gets back up and helps Subie from long range when she can. Felt is able to escape outside to call for help, which they’re going to need because Elsa is as relentless about disemboweling everyone as she is hard to kill.

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That help comes in the form of Reinhard, who is a resplendent model of ultra-cool fantasy hero timing, appearances, and dialogue. He doesn’t even draw his own sword, instead choosing one that’s lying around, so confident is he that he doesn’t need to go all out against the likes of Elsa the “Bowel Hunter.” It’s also cool how Elsa knows him too, and is excited to see what he can do before she kills him.

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In a great bit of world-building even within this one loot house interior, Satella admits Reinhard can’t go all out while she’s healing Rom. But when Rom is out of danger, she gives the go-ahead, and Reiny goes ALL OUT, launching a terrifyingly powerful attack that rends half of the bottle episode’s bottle clean away. Outstanding presentation of an “overdrive” attack.

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Everyone celebrates the victory, until Elsa pops out of the wreckage, STILL not dead but only wounded. Fortunately, she chooses the better part of valor by retreating, but the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly disquieting, as is the fact even that huge attack didn’t kill her.

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Her kiss-off attack is foiled by Subaru, who uses Rom’s giant bat to parry the blow, saving Satella’s life in the process. When the coast is clear once again, Subie goes into Self-Aware Fantasy Hero Mode, asking for something from his rescuee in return for his heroics: her name. She replies Emilia, with just about the sweetest gosh-darn smile of the Spring. A great little transaction.

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Even with all the twists and turns we’d experienced so far, Re:Zero still isn’t quite done yet. When Felt finally produces the insignia she stole from Emilia to return it to her, Reinhard suddenly hardens his previously lenient stance (he’s off duty, so he’ll overlook theft) and formally arrests Felt, hitting her with a sleep spell when she resists.

Once again, the strong reaction from another world insider creates great gravity and significance for one innocuous-looking little piece of jewelry, like the name “Satella.” But this time, Subie didn’t call her by that name, got on her good side, and when the wounds Elsa made finally open, she heals him and prevents another reset.

I was really glad about that, because my heart nearly plummeted all the way down into the Central Dogma when it seemed like he was going to die. That said, I do hope Felt is okay—she seems to be a pawn in all this—and Subie and Emilia can secure her freedom without making Reinhard mad or getting the law on their backs.

Overall though, this week was simply a tremendous piece of entertainment. Succulent kick-ass combat, quick-witted, tasty dialogue that never felt forced or in the way, and countless twists and turns that only added to the richness of the whole. This was the complete package.

It was also a brilliantly compact package at that, with 99% taking place in the confines of the loot house, the setting never feeling stale. Eschewing the OP and ED were also a gutsy choice for what is just the third episode. Re:Zero is a must-watch Spring experience, and this was its best episode to date. Hopefully it keeps this up.

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