Every once in a while a show surprises you. You go in expecting one thing, but walk away with something completely different. Such is the case with Tower of Druaga. Before watching it I thought the show was going to be a humdrum fantasy genre piece based on a video game, but what I got was a series that absolutely popped in just about every way!
Before we get into what's so darn cool about this show, let's go over some of the basics. Tower of Druaga came out as a game way back in 1984 and was something of a sleeper hit. It launched a series of RPGs in Japan, but never quite took off here in the States. With that being said it has recently been made available through the online medium on the current generation of consoles. The game featured a story about a warrior named Gilgamesh battling his way through a tower to defeat the evil monster Druaga and rescue a maiden named Ki. The show, however, takes place about 80 years after the fact.
This version of Druaga is something of a sequel. Gilgamesh is still alive, and the Tower has appeared once again. Treasure hungry adventurers have made their way to the Tower in an effort to make a name for themselves, much like Gilgamesh did. Parties of warriors form to make their way as high as they can get, though nobody has made it to the top since Gilgamesh did when he was younger. That's where Jil comes in.
Jil is a plucky protagonist with a dream to use a magical rod at the top of the tower to rid the world of evil. The only problem is that he's not exactly hero material at the beginning of the show. He's kind of an oaf and on his first day inside the Tower he's fired from his job in a party. Soon enough though, Jil finds another group of friends and makes a second attempt at climbing the Tower and confronting Druaga. That's really what's at the core of the story here, and it's pretty straightforward. The show never deviates from that focus and it pursues it with single-minded intent. That's both a blessing and a curse, but thankfully there's enough other content in the show to really flesh out the overall plot.
One of the best things Tower of Druaga has going for it is the cast. Each and every character is interesting, charming, and stands out in many ways. Jil, for instance, is unabashedly optimistic most of the time. He's a good guy and has his heart in the right place, but he's also not afraid to tell it like it is. Jil has a bad habit of blurting things out that are in his head and he's really just a goofy guy with mostly good intentions (except when a magical curse turns him into a busty girl and he has a hard time resisting the urge to play with his breasts). Joining Jil is Kaaya, who is equally as perky and confident in their ability to make their way to the top. Kaaya is portrayed as a cutie that seems to like Jil, and she also seems to be related to Gilgamesh in some fashion.
Other characters such as Ahmey the lancer, Melt the lightning mage, Coopa (Melt's retainer), Neeba (Jil's half-brother), Fatina, Kally, and Utu all fill in the ranks appropriately and have some role to play. In addition to all of them there is also a nice selection of villains and sub-characters that fill out the ranks as well. On top of all that there are also some plot twists and seeming betrayals as well, so the dynamic of the series shifts continuously.
Aside from the quality characters, the fantasy motif, and the story itself, the thing that stands out the most about Tower of Druaga is the personality. There's a great amount of quirk to the series and it's clear that the folks who made the show had a fantastic sense of humor. The first episode alone made me laugh more, and harder, than I have at any comedy series for quite some time (the scene with Fatina getting attacked by a Roper pushed me over the top - if you seen it you understand). The Japanese cast does an exceptional job, but I think my hat tips further to the English crew. They really outdid themselves putting the track for this show together and it was one of the best dubs I've experienced in a long time!
Tower of Druaga's first boxed set is a massive success. These twelve episodes really set the show up for success and left me craving the second batch. The personality of this show outweighs all other characteristics, but it's nice to know that the rest comes together quite nicely. If you love fantasy anime and want something that's going to make you laugh, then this is the show for you. Highly, highly recommended!
Tower of Druaga hits DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The show looks quite sharp and features some strong resolution throughout with very little to complain about. Sure there are some light elements of grain and a little aliasing from time to time, but all in all the transfer here is pretty damned good. Kudos to FUNimation for the job done for this show, though I think a lot of that credit should also go to Gonzo for the production quality.
As previously mentioned, the English dub is easily the winner here. Both exude a great amount of style and personality, but I felt the English really hit the nail on the head in most every case. As far as the technical aspect is concerned, the English dub comes with 5.1 surround sound and features a more robust presence on the soundstage than the Japanese 2.0. Both are solid in their own right, but the 5.1 track definitely boasts more directionality and oomph.
Some trailers and textless animations are available. There is also an audio commentary for the fifth episode, which is every bit as entertaining as the show itself. Sure there's nod much information about the production of the show, but you should still definitely check it out. Another feature, "A Tale Told Twice", is also available. This one is basically a Director's Cut of the first episode and shows the events as they really happened. It's pretty interesting and basically is an extra episode tacked onto the show.
Tower of Druaga truly stands out as one of the most entertaining shows I've seen in a very, very long time. I came expecting a generic fantasy show and what I got was an upbeat, hilarious, fantasy adventure with interesting characters and some amazing production values. The quest of Jil to get to the top of the Tower is a lot of fun and FUNimation's presentation of the show is quite solid as well. Consider this first part of the series highly recommended!