Arts anime review

A first look at ‘Kami no Tou’

Ten years since its first chapter, SIU’s webtoon ‘Tower of God’ is finally adapted into an anime series

Kami no Tou
Directed by Takashi Sano
Based on Tower of God (Webtoon) by SIU
Telecom Animation Film
13 episodes
April 1

I’ve been a huge fan of SIU’s longrunning manhwa Tower of God for many years now, remembering the days of fan translations before Line Webtoon took charge of official English translations for their Korean webtoons. So when Crunchyroll and Webtoon teamed up to produce a Japanese anime of Tower of God, many fans, including myself, were stoked at our small bubble of webtoons finally gaining wider recognition. While Japanese culture has grown popular in the Western world for a number of decades, it seems like the popularity of Korea’s entertainment industry is finally on the rise as well; with K-Pop and K-drama gaining Western fans and Parasite’s success in the film industry, Tower of God is also taking its place in the anime world.

Looking back, there was something charming about SIU’s imprecise early artwork, the different choices in how to translate names from Korean, and the typos and grammatical errors in the “official” translations. Crunchyroll has decided to have the English subtitles follow the Webtoon English translation, so while the Japanese-produced anime has translated the protagonist’s name, Bam (“night” in Korean), into Yoru (“night” in Japanese), the subtitles refer to him as Bam. Likewise, the title has also been translated to Kami no Tou for the anime. I will follow this convention.

Bam grows up in a dark underground cave, where he meets a girl named Rachel. While Bam is content to stay there and have Rachel as his friend, Rachel wishes to see the real stars. She leaves Bam to climb up the Tower, where anything one desires — power, wealth, revenge, and more — can be found. Bam chases her into the Tower, and while he has no interest in any of the above, he climbs it to search for Rachel while finding his own destiny. If this sounds like a standard adventure plot, it is. But from this simple premise, Bam enters a world that SIU has meticulously constructed, with a large, diverse cast of characters that grows endearing and stakes that grow higher and higher. 

Mild spoilers for the first three episodes ahead, but I will keep my comments general to avoid major spoilers.

Like the audience, Bam is entering a Tower that he does not know much about, learning more about its residents — and non-residents — along the way. He must pass through tests in order to ascend the Tower. These tests vary from psychological tests of intelligence or bravery to more physical challenges such as in episode one, where Bam must reach a sphere in a tank that houses a dangerous eel. 

As a longtime fan of the original source, I arrived at this series with preconceptions and slight trepidation. The last time a Korean webtoon was adapted was when the OVA of Noblesse was released in 2016. It was clearly created to promote the original material, so the episode rushed a number of events, rendered comedic beats horribly, and ultimately felt incomplete. This anime, Kami no Tou, also struggles with pacing, especially in the first episode. Characters were simplified, such as Princess Yuri, who arrives out of nowhere and helps Bam fight the eel because of his “cute face,” whereas in the webtoon, Yuri heads down to the test floor expecting the arrival of someone who entered the Tower without permission. But this simplification is quite useful as it tightly packs a number of events efficiently. Some of the dialogue is cut or swapped between characters so that the history of Irregulars, or people who enter the Tower without permission, is explained in episode two instead of episode one.

But these are all minor quibbles; the anime is surprisingly faithful to the source material, with some scenes lifted directly from SIU’s panels. There were changes that I thought heightened the emotional impact of scenes — such as Bam’s flashbacks to Rachel while stabbing the sphere — and achieved exposition in a shorter amount of time. It is not flawless, but it is a solid adaptation so far, and I am excited to see the rest.

What first struck me was the animation and art; it is clear that the artists love SIU’s work, balancing SIU’s later, improved drawing style with the less refined coloring and line art of his earlier chapters. This blend comes across as tacky in some scenes — the sketchy line art sometimes looks like they drew scenes with a thin Sharpie marker and colored them in digitally — but the character designs are serviceable and memorable. Keeping with SIU’s original work, the characters, even the background ones, are widely varied in color, shape, species, and voice. We have Bam, the golden eyed brunette human with curly hair. Joining him is Khun, another human with straight pale blue hair, wearing a blue bandanna tucked behind his ear. The third in their trio is Rak, a large, brown crocodilian beast carrying a red spear and dressed in armor. Beyond our main group, even the side characters are given unique designs: a green lizard girl named Anak, a purple tracksuit-wearing man named Shibisu, a swordsman named Hatsu, the blond Ranker Lero Ro with black dots on his cheeks, and many more. Even the non-speaking background characters are rendered in varying designs, even if they never influence the plot or are killed immediately.

The art style is certainly unique in this decade of hyper-digitized animation, and I found the character designs growing on me. Spaces are rendered with a mix of CGI and painted backgrounds, filled with bright, saturated colors. Most of the animation is fairly bland, but the few standout scenes are worth mentioning. The tank with the swimming Steel Eel in episode one was appropriately beautiful and terrifying. In episode two, the golden grass and the bright blue sky of the test floor and the fluid animation of the shinsu wall — essentially a wall of water — looked marvelous, even better than they did in the webtoon. The fight scene with Anak in episode three was solidly animated and has heightened my expectations for the fights to come. 

From Made in Abyss fame, composer Kevin Penkin brings us another fantastic soundtrack that gives the world a sense of mysticism. The enchanting strings that swell up in the background when Bam enters the Tower and the magical number that begins when the shinsu wall pushes the characters away are nothing but spectacular. Even in moments such as Anak hurling the other characters into the wall, the soundtrack amps up the fight with its electro beat and tension. The music never feels intrusive, being barely noticeable during quieter scenes, and does much of the work in worldbuilding this mysterious Tower.

So, the long wait is over; Tower of God finally has an anime and even if it is not all what I hoped, I am still finding it enjoyable. We are thrown into a world with little explanation, and the sheer novelty and expanse of the Tower compels me to keep climbing and see where it leads.