Tower of God – 12 – Sunk Cost

When ordered to kill Anaak, Endorsi refuses, instead inviting her to lunch “when this is all wrapped up.” It’s a pretty badass and heartwarming moment, but unfortunately neither of the two princesses can put a meaningful dent in Ren’s defense, and he’s ready to stomp Anaak to death when their big sister Yuri shows up. Her appearance is very welcome, considering how little she’s had to do since giving Bam the Black March.

Yuri is also able to demonstrate her awesome Ranker Princess power, exhibiting a gap between her power and Ren’s that’s as wide as the gap between his and Shibisu. Yu is very hands-off with Ren’s intrusion, but warns Yuri that helping Bam means his immediate failure of the final test. Her hulking underling ends up crushing Ren, while Yuri claims both the black and green swords until Anaak and Bam are ready for them.

Khun manages to call a pretty good game, using Lauroe to funnel the pigs to the ogres so they spend all their time and energy fighting each other while Rak and the others mop up. But Khun takes an “unprecedented break” when another member of the Khun family appears, offering to bring him to Princess Maria, the sister who betrayed him. Khun declines, as he’s kinda in the middle of something. Hatz interrupts the exchange, and the other Khun withdraws…but I’m sure we haven’t seen the last him him.

The two who had the least to do last week were Bam and Rachel, though their moments of bonding as their bubble rose were rewarding. But since Ren also wants the Irregular dead, he sends the Bull to attack Bam and Rachel. Yuri can’t help, so Bam has to deal with it himself, in this case by letting himself get swallowed up so he can explode the Bull from the inside.

When Bam emerges from the cloud of exploded Bull parts, Rachel is able to catch him. As the Dolphin Queen opens its maw in preparation to receive the bubble and the test-winning pair, Bam holds his hand out for Rachel to take in solidarity and friendship, and to celebrate a job about-to-be-well done.

Instead, Rachel shoves him out of the bubble.

As all his friends prepare to celebrate their victory, Bam sinks deeper and deeper into the water. He doesn’t use shinsu to create a breathing bubble around himself. He doesn’t even breathe. He just keeps sinking as the credits roll. It’s a devastating betrayal, but by no means unexpected—Bam put all his trust in someone he shouldn’t have, and got burned.

Now I understand better why Rachel is largely loathed by the webtoon fans. I have no idea what’s in store for Bam and the others in the final episode of this first arc. I would hope that after such a dark ending to this outing, Bam has nowhere to go but up…but who knows?

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 12 here.

Tower of God – 11 – I’M NOT DELICIOUS!

After a quick and easy meeting with the Admin, who accepts Bam’s request to let Rachel participate, Yu explains the rules of the final test, called the “Underwater Hunt”. They’re a bit…odd, but this time they’re easy as 1-2-3 to follow:

    1. Bam and Rachel go underwater in a shinsu bubble, with the aim of getting caught in the fishing net of the Net Dolphins.
    2. If they are swallowed up by the Dolphin Queen and get spat out on dry land, they pass. If they don’t, they fail.
    3. The other examinees must defeat or otherwise divert all of the Barnacle Goblins, Giant Wetworms, Striped Earthpigs, and the vicious “Bull”, all of whom are looking for a piece of the Dolphins’ catch.

Bam and Rachel have the easiest job: hang out in the bubble until steps one and two unfold. The tranquil, austere underwater surroundings make the perfect setting for the continuation of their reconciliation. If Bam is afraid, he never lets it show.

Bam tells Rachel that when the Admin asked him what he wants at the top of the Tower, he says two things: Rachel’s smiling face, and a cafeteria full of friends sharing a meal. Rachel can’t help but smile now, and muss his hair just like old times.

Things seem well in hand for the other examinees too…at least at first. Hatz keeps an eye on the goblins and wetworms, while Shibisu recognizes his duty to distract the Bull when he encounters it. When it proves too difficult an opponent, Shibisu is seemingly “saved” by Princesses Endorsi and Anaak. Alas, they’re there to compete, and make a bet: If Endorsi can beat the Bull in five minutes, she’ll win the two 13 Month series blades from Anaak. If she doesn’t, she’ll become Anaak’s servant for life.

What had been a lighthearted underground adventure turns sinister when the Bull rushes off, Endorsi gives chase, and in Round 2 it is suddenly much stronger; so strong Endorsi can’t escape its tentacle-like binds. Anaak’s pursuit is interrupted by Lo Po Bia Ren, who tells her this whole test was set up in order to retrieve the Green April and capture and kill her. Since Ren’s a ranker, Anaak is no match for him and gets stabbed through the chest.

The Bull then delivers Endorsi to Ren, who buffed it up and made it obey his commands. Rather than simply kill Anaak himself, he wants Endorsi to use the Green April to do it, thus proving her loyalty to her father King Jahad. This is nothing Endorsi hasn’t done before, and she and Anaak have no lost love, but you can see in her shocked look that she’s not at all looking forward to the task.

That said, how the hell will she be able to refuse, when Ren has both of them in his clutches, and the only one anywhere near them is Shibisu? Then again, Yuri and her crew are attempting to reach the testing area unnoticed. Maybe the only one who can save two princesses is a third…

You can read Crow’s review of Episode 11 here.

Tower of God – 10 – The Light That Pierced a Dark and Lonely World

This was a transitional episode filled with several goodbyes, a check in on numerous storylines that have stayed on the margins, and the introduction of the nature of the final test, marked by a shocking revelation on Bam’s part.

Hoh is dead, and while Rachel is alive, she’s lost her ability to walk. Nevertheless, Bam vows to be her legs and climb the tower together with her. Rak says goodbye to his imposing stature thanks to a spell from Hansung Yu, making him an even more comedic presence.

As Serena prepares a quiet evening of remembering Hoh, she’s invited to join Bam, Rachel, Khun, Rak, and the others on the “friends list” for a memorial service where Hoh is interred. Afterwards when Bam is alone with Rachel, she confesses that she thought of him as a “clueless and weak” nuisance who was in her way, so she abandoned him.

That means, she says with a face soaked with tears, that he can abandon her if he likes; it’s what she feels she deserves. Obviously, Bam rejects that offer out of hand; he would still be in the dark lonely world where she found him  if he hadn’t met and come to love her. He’s not about to leave her side now.

Following this rather gratifying reconciliation between Bam and Rachel, everyone else gets the party started early with copious amounts of sake. I for one wished they’d spent a little more time on this, since it’s just as much fun (if not moreso) watching these colorful characters hanging out as it is watching them do battle.

After the party, Serena quickly sobers up and tries the old Irish goodbye, but Shibisu isn’t too shitfaced either and tracks her down to say “see ya later” properly. Serena he had a great intensity and simple but compelling backstory; if she’s truly gone, I’ll miss her.

Those marginal storylines I spoke of? They include Yuri, Evan & Co. slowly continuing their ascent, hoping to arrive before the examinees’ tests are complete. I imagine Yuri won’t be pleased that Bam lost Black March…or did he? Does Anaak still have both it and Green April? Somewhere along the line I lost track of that thing…

Speaking of the 13 Month Series, both March and April are being sought by Lo Po Bia Ren, Royal Enforcement Division Unit #67, who has been disguised as the woolly Wave Controller instructor Yuga. Honestly Yuga didn’t have enough screen time to make this revelation all that surprising, but the fact that part of his mission includes eliminating Anaak makes any potential alliance with Hansung Yu just plain bad news.

The next day, everyone gathers to hear who made the final cut prior to the final test. When one of those who washed out complains, Yu gives him a thoroughly torturous shinsu bath, leaving him a spent pile on the ground. But this doesn’t discourage Khun from also voicing a complaint.

While he, Bam, and Rak may have all passed, his quarrel (or rather his friend Bam’s, which makes it his) is with the fact Rachel is eliminated due to her injury. When Hansung Yu tells him Them’s the Rules, Khun offers to take the famously grueling Administrator’s Test, since the Administrator makes the rules, and they can be changed to accommodate Rachel.

Again Yu can’t help Khun; only an Irregular can negotiate to take the test. That’s when Bam volunteers to do it in Khun’s place, since he is, after all, an Irregular. This comes as a shock to everyone, including Khun, though frankly I always assumed everyone knew because, being a tourist to Tower of God newbie, I wasn’t aware how taboo such a status truly is, or that it’s said to bring “calamity” to the Tower.

Nevertheless, everyone in the newly advanced group of examinees agree to back Bam’s play, stopping Khun and Rak in the middle of their little manufactured spat designed to convince them of what they’re already on board with. Even someone like Anaak who doesn’t particularly care about Bam (or claims not to) wants to take the shortest, fastest route to the Tower, and that’s this.

Bam is escorted by Yu and Rachel to the door to the Administrator’s office, and upon entering he encounters a gigantic eye telling him they “meet again”. With everyone else pulling for him and Rachel’s fate in his hands, Bam’s got some serious negotiating to do.

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 – 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.