If there was a series that was the definition of average, this would be it. Not too good, not too bad, it’s just…there. Nothing outstanding, but nothing that made me want to stop the DVD. Too much happening and not enough explanation filled out with some good action scenes and animation makes it one for the forgotten pile.
What They Say:
Defeat the demon, save the kingdom, and don’t forget those extra lives! In a summer once every five years, demons within the mysterious Tower of Druaga lose their powers due to a magic spell cast by a god named ‘Anu’. During this time, King Gilgamesh, ruler of the kingdom Uruk, and his army have invaded the tower and built a fortress city on the very first floor of Druaga. Thus begins the story of a warrior named Jil who embarks on a quest for the legendary Blue Crystal Rod, a powerful artefact said to be held on the highest floor of Druaga. However, others want the treasure for themselves!
With the series in two lumps, alternate between English and Japanese (Season 1 in English and Season 2 in Japanese) – the English audio track is in 5.1 Dolby whilst the Japanese is in 2.0 Stereo. The Stereo track is very good as it comes close to match the Dolby track, was wondering if this was because the Dolby was a little weaker or the stereo was stronger, but after trying it on both my PC and other DVD player it did seem like the 5.1 was a bit weaker so was surprised by that. However, found that a few times the subtitles didn’t match with the audio, so a few minor issues there, but aside from that there wasn’t any problems regarding transition from video to audio.
At first, I was quite impressed with the video quality, as it was quite clear in both full and wide screen format, even in dark backgrounds. As mentioned above, the audio is good with the transition of the video, with a few subtitling problems when the timing with the audio was a bit off so you have to read the subtitles pretty quickly. However, there was major issues on the 5th and 6th disc where at various points on the DVD (basically whenever it was about to change scene), the DVD froze for up to 10 seconds. This happened on all my systems I tried (PS3, DVD player and PC) so it wasn’t just an issue on the player I was using. This is a real annoyance as I’ve never experienced this on any other review I’ve done and I really hope this is just an issue on these test discs otherwise this is a major problem.
There was no packaging for this test disc.
The menu is quite eye catching, set on a hieroglyphic background with a diamond shape on the right switching between characters and location, selections are on a scroll, with most of the discs being play episodes, episode select (on the 2nd season, they also have play interrupted where you skipped the openings and endings), set up and extras (or on the first disc the alternative view of episode one) – Episode select is standard (no scene selection or pictures in general), and interesting on the audio selection, the default was Japanese and not English with subtitles so if like me you expect it to be in English at first (as I usually review in English first) and press play, you need to switch it – may catch you off guard if you’re like me.
There are two main extras on the release – one discs 1 and discs 2 of the series, and sadly nothing else after it, which is a shame considering there are 6 discs to get through.
The extras we do get however are quite fun. First of all, there is an alternative telling of episode 1 – the original episode is basically a dream sequence with Gil dreaming about being a hero with his group, which is quite comic until he wakes up. What actually happens is that he’s knocked out and the rest of the troupe he’s with have to drag him along. The alternative retelling is basically what happened when Neeba, Fatina et al were doing when dragging him along, encompassed by shots of Jil’s dream – we get to see the other characters that Jil later goes on his journey and what they were doing before, like Ahmey wrecking a town and Melt/Coopa’s first attempt to conquer the tower, whilst Jil gets dumped occasionally to lighten the load which is both comic and also like the bad penny still returns to the group despite being unconscious. It’s almost like a movie telling and is quite unique so was very impressed.
The second extra is a dub commentary on Episode 5, featuring– Todd Haberkorn (Jil), (Show vs game) Chuck Heber (Melt) and Monica Rial (Coopa). It’s definitely more of the amusing nature of commentaries as they discuss that the anime was from a game over 20 years ago, combined with Todd being quite intelligent and Monica ‘acting’ drunk. (Her reaction that in the show her character turns male is worth the price of admission) Basically it was Todd being the knowledgeable one of the series, whilst Chuck and Monica were there to add the comedy. They do discuss their characters (particularly Coopa/Melt’s relationship) so it’s one part information, one part silliness. Overall, quite a fun commentary.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Tower of Druaga is based on a video game series originally released in 1984, and 27 years later the anime appears. Whilst I question the timeline, the anime whilst it has its references to the video game, is set much later on, so it can easily be seen as its own design. I wondered however if it was necessary as after so long, I can’t really say the series really qualifies as something that is worth the wait.
The first episode is mildly amusing with the dream sequence (as well as the retelling as mentioned above) but quickly changes as the lead of the group Neeba, immediately fires the one who was dreaming Jil, from the group for being a load. The group are wishes to climb the Tower of Druaga, to defeat the evils within and to claim a mystical rod, which can make any wish come true. Jil however, seems to be only interested in conquering the evil of the Tower in typical hero fashion. After his firing, he does the traditional trying to find a new group to conquer the tower. He does find two people quickly, a young mage named Kaaya who has some interest in Jil and seemed very mysterious, and Ahmey, a strong female warrior who have travelled as a climber before. During this initial meet, they learn of an assassination attempt of the King, the great Gilgamesh who had once defeated Druaga. This starts a combination of a long winded plot about Gilgamesh and after his ‘death’ whether he really is who he seems, or if there is some other plot – as well as Jil’s group meeting with Neeba’s group, with Neeba revealed to be Jil’s older brother, and seems to gradually get more and more annoyed with him as the first season goes on.
They meet with two more members who join them, Melt – a snobby prince like man who is able to fight using magic rods with the aid of his assistant, a super strong child named Coopa. This makes the core group as we get a few episodes of them trying to climb the tower, fight monsters, and occasionally switch to 8 bit graphics (one episode even is basically a whole homage to the video game, with Jil being controlled by the group to advance through the tower and have to put coins in to recharge him!) A lot does happen and you have to keep track of the characters that appear and their links, like General Kleb of Gilgamesh’ army, the other members of Neeba’s army, specifically Fatina, the beautiful blonde mage warrior, and Utu, the guy who is always in his armour, and the mysterious Succubus who seems to hover over Neeba and has some hold over him. This hits hard during the last couple of episodes of the first season when everyone gets involved to find and defeat Druaga. Because so much happens, when big things happen (like one the main characters does get killed, and the romance angle between Kaaya/Jil and Neeba/Fatina) they seem to be rushed. You do remember them, and you do enjoy it, but because they seem to be afterthoughts, you don’t feel as much as you would for example, in a series like Clannad: After Story where the relationships are developed really well, so when a big shock happens, you start to wobble, here, it’s just ‘it happens, carry on.’
With two seasons in one set, you get sucked into the next part of the story immediately after Neeba and Kaaya betray their respective groups after their victory over Druaga and Neeba gets the rod. The second season introduces other characters which again, are pretty forgettable due to their sporadic appearances so when they seem to be a main part of the story by the end (like Henaro, who seems to just be following the group and ends up being a spy, Ki – the priestess of Ishtar or Uragon – the annoying general). It’s basically almost a retelling of Season 1, but this time the group is Fatina, Uta and Jil at first, heading to the tower to get an explanation from Kaaya in Jil’s case, and to kill Neeba in Fatna’s case.
The other characters are separated now from the main team (Melt for example now lives in a large resort and is insanely rich with Coopa as his assistant, but later is forced to join with Uragon) – with the main plot being that Gilgamesh has been corrupted by his ‘shadow’, a mysterious younger version of himself who has the control of the powers of Druaga. This does tie in neatly with the arc from the beginning of Season 1, so whilst the series is over the place in characterisation, it does tie in neatly with the main plot throughout, even though it does feel like a retelling. There are new problems (like some robotic like assassins, one of them Pazuz, gets surprisingly attached to Uragon) and the tower giving dream world visions for the cast (like where their deceased friends and family are), where it finishes with a confrontation between Jil and the group up against Gilgamesh and Neeba, with Kaaya’s role under the microscope as she has to decide whether to stick with the Tower, or go with Jil…
There are so many sub-plots with the main plots that whilst you remember them, you simply know they are there, and don’t feel any real strong connection with anything going on. For example, the Kaaya/Jil romance plot in Season 1 does end with a kiss before the betrayal, but Season 2 then teases Fatina/Jil up until the end, when Kaaya returns and a rather on the spot marriage proposal from Utu to Fatina (when very little has been teased between those two throughout the series) just confuses you. The role of Succubus with Neeba’s mind doesn’t give you sympathy towards him especially in his ways for Jil, but then again Jil himself is a very bland lead – he’s unselfish and even called out on that he doesn’t have a wish in mind, and simply wants to climb the tower to be a hero. It doesn’t help that his inexperience means a lot of reliance on Kaaya, Ahmey and later Fatina in battle, and whilst he’s amusing, just doesn’t really register on the viewer’s mind as a character you want to get behind. And because of the rushing nature of the series, the deaths of a couple of characters don’t really effect you that much – at the end of Season 2, there are a number of deaths but it doesn’t really shock you too much as you expect it, and the characterisation was so basic, the viewer doesn’t feel too much.
As I said, the series isn’t bad though – it just doesn’t register anything as memorable. Melt and Coopa are probably the best things about the show in the comedy factor, their bickering when the aristocratic-like Melt against the child but much more mature Melt did make me laugh a fair bit and the action scenes were quite good, it’s use of CGI was surprisingly good as it flowed into the animation well, and the call-backs to the game were a nice touch. I also did like the alternative episode for episode 1, as never seen that done before and that was quite impressive. In the end though, it’s not a series I’ll return to, not because I hated it, but more because it just didn’t hold my interest for any long point – so much happens, so many characters are introduced, and not enough time to give them good enough character development combined with a near retelling of the same story meant that it’s just a series that was there for me.
The Tower of Druaga is 24 episodes of potential that were wasted away just to give a very basic story and later retelling. With the exception of maybe Melt and Coopa, none of the characters were very memorable, the twists that occur don’t seem like twists at all, and the story is plodding and unmemorable. Whilst the animation is good, the action scenes very original at times and some decent moments of comedy, it doesn’t register as anything memorable other than an average adventure series where even some throwbacks to the game won’t really interest the viewer.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Alternative Angle Telling of Episode 1, Episode 5 Commentary with Todd Haberkorn, Chuck Heber and Monica Rial
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: MVM Entertainment
Release Date: May 9th, 2011
Running Time: 604 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:! Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.