WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for Tower of God, Season 1.
Much like the concept of god itself, Tower of God will leave you feeling confused. You'll find yourself questioning everything, and looking for details along the way that will help you demystify the truth. You suddenly find yourself, much like the characters, seeking the top of the Tower, because at its peak you'll learn everything.
Even if we were to find out the truth, would we be able to understand it in the end? And is it the search for this truth that blinds us? As we embark on our quest for knowledge, it is our need for answers that stops us from seeing the real truth: We already have everything we need right in front of us. Rachel is searching for the stars, but Bam already has everything he needs right in front of him.
We are all searching for something in this life, but when you actually get what you were after, was it all worth it in the end? This is where all the struggles of the Tower come in; The true test that pushes everyone within it to ask themselves how badly they want what they came for.
When Tower of God opens, we are asked why we are climbing the Tower. Is it for "money and wealth? Honor and pride? Authority and power? Revenge? Or something that transcends them all?" And what transcends them all? Love.
It is this difference that sets the Tower's candidates apart; Those who are climbing the tower for vain reasons vs. those who are seeking something much more pure of heart. This is something that plagues us everyday in life. What do we live for and how does that drive us, both for the better and worse?
It is these questions and more that make Tower of God stand out as one of the best anime showings in 2020 so far, even though its not perfect as I'll explain.
The one thing Tower of God's anime does particularly well is telling the story of Bam and Rachel. Whether you like Rachel or not, she is still the driving force that is pushing Bam to climb the Tower. Without her, there's literally no where for him to go. Since Bam sees her as his light, she is his ticket out of the darkness. He doesn't need anything else but that which is directly in front of him.
Rachel, however, wants to see the stars, but the ironic thing is that she's been staring at one this whole time. Bam is a star surrounded by other stars (his comrades); He’s not alone, but Rachel is, and she starts to realize this. She alone stands in the darkness, and it is for that reason, she begins to resent him; She is always in his shadow and this is where her betrayal takes root.
I personally think the anime has a ton of substance thanks to its story alone. The characters are complex, but more backstories could have been given. Regardless, there are extremely likable characters, like Bam, Khun, and Rak to name a few. They captured their personalities well, especially when they interact with one another. The humor and camaraderie that's added amongst the struggles and tragedies of the Tower is also done well; The anime really does a good job at showcasing these two dualities that exist in this world.
I also have to say that I've never hated a character so much as I do Rachel as of now. In the past, I've had other anime completely surprise me by giving the most despicable character a reason that made their deeds justifiable, but Headon's words about her being ugly let me know there's nothing about this girl and her actions that are redeemable.
As it currently stands, she's rotten and selfish to the core. But, this could very well change given that we don't fully know her motivations as of yet or whether they will be influenced by Bam later down the road.
Rachel's there pushing Bam to climb the Tower, but after the first season, I can't help but wonder if the only reason she exists is to destroy him. Or is it the other way around? Does Bam exist to save her? The way this anime keeps you guessing like this is unparalleled, and that alone makes it successful in its delivery. It overall captures the mysticism of the Tower and those who climb it.
However, the overall mystery within the anime is also somewhat of its downfall, because it left some of you who hadn't read the manhwa yet quite confused. It failed to build and explain the Tower's world, but you do get some answers about the structure of the Tower in the manhwa's first season. With that said, I want to talk further about how Tower of God's anime compares to the manhwa.
Tower of God Anime vs. Manhwa
The pacing of the anime is somewhat off and the way they piece things together is sometimes less effective. The dialogue, on occasion, is more profound in the original and the way things are revealed is more impactful.
They left out some pretty big reveals, and I feel like there were some glaring missed opportunities. It's just handled with much more care in the manhwa, and in some ways, the anime didn't capture how impeccably the events in this story are both pictured and told.
Is it still entertaining and worth the watch? Yes. What they showed from the manhwa, they did really well, but did it blow me away as much as the manhwa? No, and I think that's my biggest issue with the anime.
If you went into watching the anime without knowing anything about its source material, I can see why the first season might have perplexed you. It was going to confuse you to begin with (I'm still confused), but I wasn't as confused reading the manhwa as I was watching the anime.
I want to go into some detail about the topics mentioned and explain some things about the Tower if they are still unclear. I'll only talk about the elements discussed in the anime, so I will not spoil any new information.
Most of my understanding of these topics were explained thoroughly in season 1 of the manhwa, so if this is something you'd rather discover about on your own or are already familiar with, please skip through these points.
What is shinsu?
In the anime, they kept nonchalantly mentioning important elements of the Tower along the way, such as shinsu without really fully explaining them. If you are still unclear, I like to think of shinsu like nen in Hunter × Hunter, but more encompassing.
To summarize it briefly, shinsu flows throughout the Tower and it can be controlled by the rare few who are strong enough to do so. It is the core of all energy and life and it can take on various forms, such as water, fire, or light as seen in the anime with the wave controllers.
Shinsu is seen as a gift from god, because of how powerful it is; Therefore, it is also dangerous to use. Because of this, the candidates have to form a "contract with the administrator" that allows them to use shinsu on their floor, as seen in the anime. When Bam formed the contract in the first season, he got the cryptic message that what he is being given is not strength, but rather shackles, and to always remember that.
As mentioned prior, if I had once criticism of the anime, it's that the manhwa does a better job at preparing you for what's to come. For instance, shinsu is mentioned in the first episode of the manhwa, so you are prepared to learn more about it, whereas the anime doesn't discuss it until later on.
Also, you are given a very in-depth lesson in the manhwa on what shinsu is during the wave controllers class when they break off to train in their assigned positions, whereas in the anime you are only given the following: "Shinsu is a mysterious substance with the power to control all things, like a god."
I'm confused as to why this kind of information wasn't delved into further, but I suppose they were attempting to summarize these points so they were more condensed and understandable; However, it actually had the opposite effect. Regardless, I still really enjoyed the first season, but topics like these could have been explained better, in particular, for those who weren't already familiar with Tower of God.
Who are the irregulars and regulars?
The other topic delved into early on is the difference between irregulars and regulars of the Tower. The irregulars are people who enter the Tower on their own, whereas the regulars were chosen to enter it. Irregulars, like Bam and Urek, are feared since they not only tend to bring chaos and change to the tower, but also because they display a great amount of power.
Irregulars like Urek were mentioned within the manhwa's first chapter. More in-depth talks happen about the irregulars in particular in the manhwa, so it really grabs your attention even more so than the anime.
I suppose the anime was looking to increase the mystery of the Tower and those who are in it, but the Tower is convoluted enough as it is; It doesn't need that added confusion and mystery. Plus, they gave you insight into what you have to look forward to more so than the anime. The manhwa had me excited for what was to come particularly with the scenes regarding the irregulars, so I felt this was missing.
Point is, there's a lot of important things/scenes left out, so you'll have to read the manhwa's first season if you want to check those out. I guess they may have wanted to reveal more for a possible season 2, but all of this information seemed to miss its perfect timing.
What the adaptation did really well
The one way the adaptation really shines is the art style. The art style in the manhwa gets way better as it goes on, and while I thought the characters in particular were realized better in the anime, I still personally find the art style of the manhwa to be endearing regardless.
It's almost like Tokyo Ghoul's anime and manga; You can appreciate the nuances in both, particularly when it comes to the appearance of the characters. One does it differently, but it's by no means discounting the other's charm. Some have complained about the animation of the anime, but I personally enjoy it as it does stay true to the overall feel of the work it is inspired by.
The atmosphere of the Tower is stunningly captured, so I have to sing the anime's praises there. I also want to say that, with the scenes they included, the anime stayed faithful to the original content, which I appreciated.
I really wanted to make these comparisons between the two to give you guys an idea as to how they may differ; In addition, to further clarify some concepts mentioned in the anime that weren't fully hashed out in the first season.
Final Thoughts: Is Tower of God Worth Watching?
I feel it's important to note that I didn't dislike Tower of God's anime by any means; I actually was quite pleased with how well they captured the scenes they showed, and while it's a given that stuff is going to get cut out, I just feel they cut the wrong things. If I didn't know what I know, maybe I wouldn't be as hard as I am on this adaptation.
If I could recommend anything for first time watchers who didn't enjoy the anime, it would be to go back and read the manhwa. You'll see a lot you've already seen before in the anime, but you'll also learn and witness so much more.
With all that said, I want to end on a positive note, because I do believe Tower of God is one of the best anime to come out in 2020. And while it might not seem that way from my review, it allowed me to experience Tower of God in a whole new way that I truly appreciate.
In particular, it was exciting to see some of my favorite characters and moments come to life. As far as the ending goes, it does have me really excited to see how they further evolve the story if they do a 2nd season! Yeah, they missed a lot of details in their first go, but the overall feel and magnetism of the Tower drew me in nonetheless.
You can check out Tower of God's manhwa on Webtoon's site here!