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Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Tower of Druaga

Facts:

Dragon Quest-inspired Adventure. 24 episodes in two seasons; first season is called the Aegis of Uruk, second season is the Sword of Uruk. 

First, a note:

Regardless of the rest of this review, the first episode of ToD is worth watching for any fan of anime or video game adventures. It isn't really intelligent enough to be called a satire, but it is at the very least an amusing send-up of common adventure tropes and is good for a laugh. It stands well enough on its own, not really introducing us to any of the characters, who are all pretty stock tropes in any case, and takes us up through the most cliched possible D&D adventure. Because the first episode is so disconnected from the main plot, this review covers basically the rest of it.

Bottom Line:

This show is pretty much crap. It is never offensive and rarely goes all the way to full on boring, but can probably serve as a fine standard bearer for low quality dialogue, storytelling, and animation  that stands firm atop the cliff of unwatchability and boasts proudly that it will take not one more step forward. I will say this, the producer of this show has some serious testicular fortitude to make the entire first episode a send up of cliched adventure tropes, and then to make all twenty three of the next episodes an unironic parade of those tropes in action. This is not a show that has any redeeming qualities to bring to your attention, except for the fact that it never got so dull that I tabbed away from it (a pretty high barrier for me) and doesn't have anything at all that I will likely remember a week from now. Bottom line is, don't watch this show. If you want to have fun you won't have much here and if you hate yourself it doesn't hurt enough.

Reasons after the jump.

Confused, without being Confusing:

When I was young people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and, being young, I gave them all sorts of mutually exclusive answers like astronaut, psychologist, president, pirate or dinosaur. Sometimes I would get creative and mix and match, and sometimes I would change my mind hours after deciding, and that was ok, because I was a small child. Tower of Druaga, especially in the Aegis of Uruk season, goes from episode to episode, and sometimes not even waiting a full episode, trying to decide if it wants to be an earnest adventure, a subversion of the adventure genre, or a comedy in an adventure setting. In one sense, this confusion doesn't really matter because this show is about equally bad at all three of these, but switching between the modes robs even those few good moments of what power they might have.

Numerous times the earnest adventure ToD comes directly off the heels of, or is followed way too quickly by humorous incidents clearly meant to break the tension, except that they come before any tension could be established even if the earnest adventure portions were interesting enough to make me care. And switching between a post-modern deconstruction of the genre and an honest attempt at it fails super hard when you spend half your time mocking the "kill a secondary character to motivate the hero" trope and then killing a secondary character in both the mid-season and final climaxes in order to motivate the hero. 

Consistently Inconsistent:

The characters are all explicitly cast as flat tropes with the obvious intent of mocking the fighter/rouge/mage class system of so many games, but then forgets that it was going to mock that and instead saddles itself with dull archetypes that the show never gives room to grow. Each character has a motivation, and that motivation is really important, except that sometimes they forget what that motivation is over multiple episodes, and indeed, sometimes before an episode is out. Jil vacillates between reluctant hero and steadfast guardian of the ages so much it causes whiplash and the final villain, whose motivations are never explained, nor even hinted at, until the final episode, gives a lengthy exposition twice in the final episode as to what his evil plan is (though not why he is doing it), and the two explanations are completely different. This isn't Ledger's Joker shrouding his origin in mystery, this is the writers forgetting what their climactic final sequence is about, in the middle of said sequence

Further, I am not someone who complains about animation quality, because I know that animating a show is a lot of work and often the most expensive part of the endeavor. But ToD takes it to a whole new level of shitty. The animators have no sense of spacial awareness, with cutaway scenes that make you ask, "how the hell did he get up there in the first place?" It is an often remarked trope that the villains will just stand there while the heroes talk, but in ToD, the villains will just stand there without any visible resistance as the heroes attack them, and even someone raised on DBZ will shout "what the hell are they doing while the heroes faff about?" And special mention goes to episode 11 of Sword of Uruk, the first half of the climactic final battle, where the fighting gets worse than one would expect from a shitty hentai, only to raise episode 12 upon the same scene in the same room but in almost unrecognizably better animation quality.

Errata:

Tower of Druaga blatantly appropriates whole scenes from other, better shows, like Star Wars, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Lord of the Rings, not with comedic intent, but passing it off as if you wouldn't notice the shot by shot reinterpretation of the cloud city betrayal.

ToD contains some of the most terrible foreshadowing ever. At no point is anything that happens in the least bit a surprise to anyone but Jil. An exception must be noted for the final episode of the second season, which comes literally out of buttfuck nowhere and makes not even one lick of sense.

I give them some little credit for setting this in a pseudo-babylonian setting. There are so many "not quite England"s and "Not quite feudal Japan"s and "Not quite 20's America"s running around that it is nice to see a "Not quite Babylon" for a change of pace. They lose that point for forgetting that the whole point of the Epic of Gilgamesh is that Gilgamesh doesn't attain immortality and gives up and dies.

Recommendations:

I am not actually sure if ToD originally comes from a video game or not, but regardless, Sword Art Online covers a lot of the serious thematic ground this show wants to cover but fails at. For subversion of these tropes, Gintama has a number of good arcs, and is pretty good if you were hoping ToD was going in a more self-referential and comedic direction. And if you had hoped the intro theme animations would hold some bearing over this show, and wanted something funny, try Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou.

Finally:

Yea, this show is crap. It isn't offensive like Vividred, and it isn't unwatchably boring, and it isn't even bad to the point of self-parody. It is just confused, forgetable, and badly executed.

Based solely on how much I enjoyed it, I give Tower of Druaga a 3/10.

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