A bit late to the party, but I finally watched Tower of God. Yeah, I wasn’t going to have a Crunchyroll subscription so that I could watch Chainsaw Man weekly alone. I’m catching up on other stuff too.
First, why did I put off watching this series for so long? Well, I am very weary of hype culture, especially around anime, and at the time of its simulcast, there was a lot of that. And I don’t particularly appreciate getting caught up in that because I’m not too fond of hype dictating how I view a piece of media and making up my mind based on that and regretting it later.
The other reason was that there wasn’t an announcement for a second season when it finished airing, and the hype died down. That was the case until the trailer for an upcoming season dropped, renewing my interest in the series. And so I kept it in mind to watch when I would have my subscription up and running again, as Tower of God was Crunchyroll’s first original anime to drop.
Tower of God is an adaptation of the South Korean web manhwa created by S.I.U. and published on Webtoon. When the anime was coming out, the series had already been running for over ten years, and two years later, it’s still ongoing. And before that, while S.I.U. was serving military conscription, he created a ten-book prototype of Tower of God. As such, I have understandably heard some people compare his tenacity to the likes of Kentaro Miura and others.
I’ve only read the first five chapters of the webcomic before watching the anime, so I’m more or less judging the anime without prior experience of the story in its original form. And I thought it was good. However..!
First, the main character Baam is tedious, especially compared to the rest of the cast, who make the story much more engaging. But I also think it’s somewhat understandable for him to be boring. He’s an amnesiac child, so unlike the other characters, he doesn’t know his backstory; therefore, it doesn’t drive him. The closest he has to a backstory is his friendship with the character Rachel who he is desperately trying to find. But one may also argue that this season is his backstory. And that’s not unreasonable.
Many people have described “season one” of Tower of God as a “prologue” to the “story”, which kind of means, in a way, this anime didn’t adapt Tower of God’s story. Baam doesn’t even ascend the titular Tower by the time the series ends; he more or less gets left behind.
So yeah, Baam lacks a lot of definition as a character, partly because his story hasn’t started. In a way, it was secretly Rachel’s story in retrospect. But regarding Baam, his wanting to find Rachel reminded me of Gon Freecs searching for his father or Riko descending the Abyss in search of her mother. But with those series, Hunter x Hunter and Made in Abyss, the search for the missing parent is set up as the end goal. Whereas in Tower of God’s case, the search for Rachel gets cleared relatively quickly. If I could describe Baam with one word, it would be innocent. But then, I would explain his motives as naive. And so when the final episode ended, it challenged Baam’s wanting by destroying his innocence. And now, I am very invested in seeing how Baam will respond to what he now knows and how that will change him. And I have it on good authority that he becomes a much more compelling character from season two of the webcomic. If true, Baam might be in a similar category to Phos from Land of the Lustrous.
Some might say that because the series makes it clear that there is a mystery involving Baam’s amnesia and how he’s an “irregular”, it makes him an interesting character. But it doesn’t. That’s a plot thing, not a character thing. I was and still am interested in this plot thing, but to have that in place of a personality for Baam is frustrating. While Gon and Riko have their goals to find their parent, they also have passions and something they were good at before going on their adventure. And also, their adventure is something that they want to do aside from finding their parent. By contrast, Baam is vacant in these departments. He’s not passionate about anything other than being very protective of Rachel; instead of being good at something, he’s just overpowered in some aspects, making him an “irregular”, and he isn’t particularly interested in the Tower outside of Rachel’s desire to ascend it. It’s crucial when someone creates a character, especially the main character, that they don’t just define their personality by plot elements which is what happened with Baam but get them to have their internal universe with or without amnesia. Baam’s amnesia, I don’t think, was utilised enough and could have been used to drive Baam and the story in an engaging way. Have him curious about his origins, at least, a crisis of identity; he lacks a lot of self-interest, which is his most prominent character flaw.
But hey, if a second season does make up for this in this department precisely, this will all probably be worth it. But only time will tell. And also, after watching Princess Weekes’ video about First Kill, I think we need to appreciate and have room for media that doesn’t put its best foot forward straight away. But give shows time to find their footing first, which at one point was the norm and is no longer due to recent trends.
And despite Baam, by episode 6, I became invested in the other characters, such as Khun and Anaak, and I love Rak Wraithraiser even if he is a turd. Other characters, though, I was disappointed in how they were handled. In particular, the character Hoh has his mental damage built up, but no work is put into getting me to care about his character. His death is tragic because his instability was played against him, and it’s only once he commits suicide that the series rushes in to explain his backstory, which I think should have been done earlier. I like getting attached to characters while they are alive and being devastated by tragedy after; I don’t like the reasons to feel sorry for the character as they are dying to be dumped onto the audience then. And the thing is, I liked Hoh because I’m impartial to characters who look like pharaohs, and I was worried about his mental state, and I could see a glimmer of nuance in how it was being portrayed. I just wished I could have been allowed to get to know Hoh before.
From what I understand, people who read the webcomic were apparently unhappy with this adaptation. The season supposedly covers 78 chapters, and my first thought is that it sounds rushed. Though I also recall the chapters I read to be short, so maybe that’s not the case. According to some readers I’ve seen, the anime removed the “unique storytelling” in favour of something more “shounen conventional”. Now I like conventional shounen series just fine and am more or less satisfied with this season because of it. But I am interested to know what I missed out on that got left behind in the source material.
I could read the series for free on Webtoon, but I think I’m more interested in buying the physical copies that are getting published. From memory, I found Tower of God’s webcomic artwork a bit gummy. (Keep in mind I am basing this opinion on the few earlier chapters I read). In terms of art, Tower of God greatly benefitted in that department regarding the anime. And I hope that a physical copy might also touch up the artwork. The other reason is that I don’t feel comfortable reading S.I.U.’s work for free because this year, S.I.U. announced TOG would be going on an indefinite hiatus. They’ve had some pretty bad health problems and poor working conditions, and from their perspective, it has affected the quality of their work, resulting in personal and creative dissatisfaction with their work. And if you watch In Praise of Shadow’s video about Strange Haven, you may understand why I think it’s essential to go further in supporting the guy. Because he isn’t releasing chapters weekly anymore, he isn’t making any money from his comic because you only make money from the latest three chapters that are kept behind a paywall for a time. So the only way he can make any money from TOG right now is possibly some royalties from the anime and the preorders of the Webtoon unscrolled release of his series in physical book form.