Judge Steve Power was all set to take on the tower...but he got lost in the Visitor's Center.
Surviving the climb is no game!
The classic Japanese videogame makes the journey to animated form courtesy of Studio Gonzo and Funimation, but is Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk yet another disappointing entry in the long line of video game-to-anime adaptations?
Facts of the Case
It's been 80 years since the legendary hero King Gilgamesh tackled the demonic Tower of Druaga and banished the vile demon who dwelled atop the 60th floor, but the tower has returned, and the demon Druaga is back. Only the bravest and most skilled climbers will attempt make the arduous journey to the top, among them is Jil, a young Guardian with little experience.
Along the way, the climbers encounter slime, dragons, tentacled beasts, and dragons. Very few will survive the lethal traps and labyrinthine tunnels of the tower. This is no game!
While I'm not personally familiar with the source material, the original Tower of Druaga arcade game hit Japan in 1984, and in that country it's held in the same regard as arcade classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Being such an old title, there's not much to it beyond scaling 60 levels and killing a demon before you roll the game over and start at level 1 again, which really allows the creative team at Gonzo (Samurai 7) to cut loose with their adaptation. Cut loose they do, Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk opens up with one of the most completely insane episodes of animated fantasy I've seen. Just about every anime cliché is pulled out in the first half hour in very tongue-in-cheek fashion, including a dark (sorry, black) knight who looks an awful lot like a legendary giant robot from a classic series, to a downright hilarious moment that makes reference to good old fashioned tentacle porn (though it's subjective only, no nudity here!). While this first episode definitely got more than a few laughs from me, I was happy it didn't set the tone for the entire series. Once episode two hits, things settle into a fantasy groove, with the more expected sense of derring-do and swordplay. Thankfully the sense of humor never goes away completely, and one or two more episodes full of insanity do lie in wait (Episode 5 was another dose of hilarity) to break up the proceedings. It's this sense of adventure that drives the show, and the underlying tone of earnestness and fun really adds to the enjoyment factor. The mix of humor and action is near perfect, keeping the show entertaining without being too ridiculous. Things do get a little more dramatic towards the end, and some of the character turns are easily telegraphed, but that's just the nature of this sort of story.
While the writing is surprisingly good, the animation is absolutely fantastic, with some wonderful and imaginative character designs. The score is solid, and the direction by Koichi Chigira (Last Exile) is top notch for the medium. Whether you can get into the free spirited writing or not, the production values are as good as it gets.
Funimation does a great job with the DVD set as well. Two discs contain the first season's 12 episodes, and the transfer is spotless. The soft lighting and fluid animation is presented flawlessly. The English 5.1 track is good, with decent voice acting all around and some good separation. The Japanese in Stereo booms from the front speakers with a little more oomph, but the Japanese vocal cast didn't do much for me.
Extra features include a commentary on the (again) completely insane Episode 5 with three of the English voice actors. It's a rarity to get this manner of commentary, and the track is even more insane than the episode itself. There's also an alternate version of the 1st episode which presents events from an alternate, saner perspective. Lastly, and leastly, is the usual assortment of textless openings and closings.
A solid plot with a sense of fun and adventure, combined with some beautiful animation and character designs makes Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk one of the better entries in the Fantasy Anime genre.
Fun, if a little insane at times, Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk is free to go.
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