The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk (Review)

Is there proof in Gonzo’s pudding?

The experiment that animation studio Gonzo underwent in realtime, worldwide distribution of quick-subbed anime along with their channels — YouTube, Bost TV, and CrunchyRoll — was innovative, timely and all around a great idea. Maybe it’s not totally about “beating” the modern fansubbers, but it certainly didn’t hurt to take advantage of their primary tools (digital formats and online distribution) to basically make history. Thing is, the experiment is doomed to fail if you’re missing one key part: the show.

So was Druaga the right choice?

Background & Story

The Tower of Druaga is an old-as-the-hills RPG video game that I’ve never played, but that had to be a strike against the anime to begin with. I can’t think of a good fantasy-RPG-turned-anime, although there probably is one out there somewhere. Anyone? In the story, every year a bunch of treasure-seekers form parties in order to climb to the top of the titular Tower and stop a horde of monsters from plaguing humanity. Nothing too revolutionary.

So the story ingredients — focus on small-fry would-be hero, develop a rag-tag party, and defeat the big bad guy while beating smaller bad guys along the way — form more of a white bread than tasty cake. Pepper it with a romantic subtext (if not really a romantic sub plot), some familial issues, and a couple twists, you’ve got the makings for a potentially fun but not exactly engrossing series. Fortunately, Gonzo and co. didn’t stop there.

Despite being based on a typical foundation, Druaga seemed to refuse to be normal. The first episode was a total joke, more about parodying its genre of games than establishing a story (although it did get that done too). The joke was a little weird and out-of-context to start a series with, and it wasn’t 100% funny either. But if you stuck with it you got the chance to see more and more game reference and other weird parodiess: 8-bit sequences, cryptic joystick movements (back back left right left right), and hint books.

While the overall story arc may not be anything special, the way the writers weave seriousness, cute charm, and all-out parody with one another is, with few exceptions, consistently entertaining. A problem with consistency is one of the calling cards of any good Gonzo-bashing, so ease off. Besides, Gonzo bashing isn’t even cool anymore. It’s been cool for quite a while now to act indignant while defending Gonzo, haven’t you heard? I can’t really feel strongly enough to get indignant though, sorry.

I’m not sure I was totally prepared for the end. I guess that’s another bump for the skillful writing. Nothing about the end came out of the blue, as we got plenty of foreshadowing and hinting, but there was a real strength in execution that put viewers in the place of the dumbfounded characters. Not to mention, a small part of the OP that I called the best of the season finally made its way into story, but turned completely on its head. I don’t want to spoil, but suffice to say: the end is not really the end. A second series is promoted as coming in 2009, and that won’t come soon enough.

Animation & Music

Like I said, the OP was one of the best of the season for its fun-turning-to-dramatic tune, mysterious alternate-reality premise, and really clever way of displaying the credits. Incidental music is a little more typical of the genre though it’s sprinkled with game sounds. It’s nothing to write home about but enhances the show well enough and never gets in the way.

Some character designs are a little samey for my tastes, but they’re appealing. The main characters all have decent personality in their designs, especially cute female lead Kaaya and disgraced aristocrat magician Melt, with his perpetual stubble and pre-morning-coffee attitude. Just like the writing, the animation was very consistent. Then again, a 12-episode series really shouldn’t have any consistency problems. The one unfortunate thing is the computer-animated big boss monster in the final few episodes. Boy is it awful. The other show in Gonzo’s experiment, Blassreiter, suffers from the same wretched CG. It’s just terrible. I don’t know if I can say enough bad stuff about it. For a company that made some decent early forays into CG, Gonzo has not progressed much since. But overall, this is highly capable work from the studio, on par with some of their better stuff like Full Metal Panic!

The verdict

I actually plan on writing a whole post about the Druaga experience, so I don’t want to get into the Crunchyroll nonsense yet, I just want to talk about the show — because like I said, the experience and thus the experiment don’t matter for shit unless the show is decent. I’d have to say I’m impressed. For a series that started with a joke, it ended with real maturity (and a whopping cliffhanger). Gonzo haters looking for stuff to pick on will find it, I’m sure. Look no further than the CG. But Druaga stands on its own very well, and capably next to the studio’s successes like FMP! and Speed Grapher. Besides, if you take the YouTube route, you really have nothing to lose by checking it out. That goes for non-fans of fantasy, as well.

Bottom line, The Tower of Druaga will never be top-shelf anime, but it’s entertaining enough to recommend with few reservations.

Fuck these (9) Comments.

  1. blissmo says:

    Haha, I dropped this series at episode 01! And the humour was okay I suppose, the OP was good, I like the main character, but it’s not a series I’d follow.

  2. coburn says:

    I think you’re spot on in the general assessment here. I wasn’t expecting the next season at all – so I was disappointed not to learn more about some of the motivations behind the betrayals. I’m not sure if suggesting closure and character revelations then taking them away was a good thing at all. Perhaps I was just becoming inclined towards criticism on account of the crappy Druaga. Kind of feels mean to nit-pick, ‘cos it was OK overall and full of lively personality.

  3. Deranged says:

    I need to catch up, I am behind in much anime because of exams but they are over now. Druaga was one of my favourite series this season.

  4. otou-san says:

    @blissmo I never drop at episode 1. Druaga proves why, seeing as how the whole episode was just a joke.

    @coburn I was a little disappointed to not learn a little more too, but I think getting totally smacked in the face like that was a great end. It took balls, and that kind of cliffhanger makes you really want to watch the next one. 2009 though? I’ll have forgotten by then.

    @Deranged well if you haven’t seen the last few, it won’t let you down.

  5. issa-sa says:

    It was okay I suppose (was tempted to say ‘in spite of GONZO’, but yea, that’s not cool anymore), though I prefered all the non-serious episodes more than the actual plot-line. I did like the last few episodes for capturing the (typical, but still) essence of the RPG final boss setting, but the “This is not the end” ‘end’ throws almost everything I wanted to say about the show out the window till next year.

  6. Rincewind says:

    I enjoyed this series a lot. But, it will be a long long wait for the second season. (At least not so long as the wait for Haruhi… I hopes :D)

  7. otou-san says:

    as we ALL hope…

  8. Anime says:

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

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