The Summer of Anu is upon the world and the monsters and demons are about to spill out of the Tower.
What They Say
Scaling the sixty treacherous floors of the Tower of Druaga is no game. Infested with slimes, dragons, and tentacled beasts, very few survive its twisting corridors and lethal traps. Those who reach the top must face Druaga, the demon protecting the mysterious, treasured Blue Crystal Rod.
It is a grueling campaign undertaken by only the bravest swordsmen and wisest sorcerers - and Jil. A young guardian with little experience, Jil raises his shield to play the role of hero, battling his way up to the level where Druaga waits.
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty nicely done as we get the original Japanese stereo track encoded at 192kbps and the English language adaptation done in 5.1 at 448kbps. The Japanese track is what was originally with the broadcast and it comes across well here with a fair bit of directionality to it and some decent placement. It's not an exceptional work but it serves the material well. The English 5.1 mix adds a bit more clarity to the placement but also a noticeable volume difference which can be misinterpreted as being better. There isn't anything really noticeable in terms of using the rear speakers but it does make for a sharper presentation overall. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The release is split with seven episodes on the first disc and five on the second. The second disc also has a full length bonus episode in the extras section which gives it a seven/six layout in truth. Visually the show has a lot to offer with lots of earth tones but also a lot of vibrant moments, especially with the magic. It's a very active show at times which does introduce some minor noise here and there, notably in the opening sequence, but by and large it's a very appealing show. Colors are strong, cross coloration is non-existent and there's hardly any real line jitter during the panning sequences. The bit rate is fairly variable but there are a lot of high bit rate moments throughout because of the quality of the animation itself and the amount of detail it has.
The Tower of Druaga gets the standard half season set packaging release with a decent thin slipcover that holds two clear thinpak cases. The front of the slipcover pushes a strong fantasy feel to it with none of the comedy showing through as it has most of the main characters – mouths open – in headshot form. The framing is really detailed and appealing while the white background draws attention to the character artwork itself. The back cover is minimal overall but it's very good looking with the upper half showing Jil with his sword out as the Tower rises up behind him. There are a few shots from the show in a strip through the middle which again doesn't show the humor at all. The summary plays it straight as well as it describes the standard setup while below it is a very lean and clean listing of the discs extras and the episode/disc count of the set. The remainder has the production credits while the bottom of the slipcover features the minimal technical information grid.
The two thinpaks inside are really nicely done here as when you put them side by side, it makes for one large two panel piece that features the entire main cast in an action pose. Each panel features a different party, one for Neeba's team and one for Jil's team, There's a lot of really good colors here and the greens in the background is really very appealing. The back side of the covers are the same with a lot of black space along the top that has the episode numbers and titles along with a brief summary of what's covered in each episode. Each cover has artwork on the reverse side as well, with the first volume showing off Jil's team set against the Tower while the second cover gives props to Druaga himself in a dark and murky green piece. No show related inserts are included in this release.
The menus for the Tower of Druaga are pretty standard and fit in with the style used for the release in general in that it plays it all very straight. The character shots from the thinpak covers are used with a bright background of sky to them is the standard here where the top two thirds are given over to this and the bottom third is white with the navigation strip, which is pretty minimal overall even with the extras submenu. The menus may be simple but they're bright in a way that doesn't reflect badly on the show. Submenus load quickly and access times in general are fast with the responsiveness. As is standard for FUNimation, it did not read the player presets and defaulted to English language with no sign/song subtitles.
The extras are pretty good overall when it includes an entire bonus episode. The first disc has a commentary for one of the episodes while the second disc has everything else. The basics are the clean opening and closing but the really good extra is the bonus special DVD episode. It essentially tells the story of episode one from the outside of Jil's dream which is positively hilarious as you see him calling out things from that first episode dream while everyone else is running around trying to stay alive. I wasn't sure what to expect from this episode but it was spot on perfect to complement the broadcast first episode.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Loosely based on some of the concepts from the 1980's game from Bandai, the Tower of Druaga was one of the first simulcast shows from Gonzo and one that I took in on a weekly basis. Coming into the series after knowing the basics of the setup and where it's going, it's interesting to see how it flows as a whole. If you want an episode by episode breakdown, I'd definitely suggest checking out those reviews as this one will look at it from a bit of a larger perspective.
The Tower of Druaga is a huge sixty plus level tower that reaches into the sky outside the city of Meskia. The tower was conquered several decades ago by now king Gilgamesh but the evil of Druaga has returned and the monsters and demons roam it again. Time marches on and the Summer of Anu is about to arrive and that means the monsters are about to literally fall from the tower at different levels and cause all sorts or problems within Meskia itself. Many different parties have set out to the tower in order to deal with Druaga, but none have succeeded. Most tend to go up a few levels, score some treasure and deal with some of the monsters and then return if they're lucky. Some stay in the small villages and towns that have cropped up in the tower as well, where each level is very distinct even down to its weather as there are multiple “gardens” within each level. It is, obviously, a perfect game setup.
Like any good fantasy series, part building is the main focus for a lot of this and the series revolves around a young would be warrior named Jil. Jil has been in the tower briefly before with his older brother Neeba and his party, but he failed so horribly that he was fired. He intends to go back in, especially after he discovers some sort of conspiracy that revolves around an assassination attempt on the king who has come to watch over the Summer of Anu. With the tiem approaching, a lot of parties are heading to the tower for fame, fortune and glory as well as the army itself which is going to try and take down Druaga in order to exert its power and protect the general population.
Jil can't just stand by idly and watch it happen so he's intent on storming the tower again as well and sets about finding his own party to do it. The group that assembles around him is amusing and well defined that helps to flesh it all out. He initially meets up with the beautiful and quiet Kaaya, a healing mage who has some secrets about this entire mission. He also meets a spear warrior woman named Ahmey who is a very serious amazonian type. The trio finds a common mission with each other but they need a little bit more and that leads them to meeting the unusual pairing of Coopa and Melt. Coopa is a young female attendant for a lesser known noble named Melt. Coopa plays the suffering role pretty well with a light touch of Goth-loli to her while Melt is uninterested in anything not involving women. When Jil approaches him, he wants nothing to do with it. When he sees Kaaya and Ahmey however, he's all smiles and offering drinks across the board. Melt's amusing even more than usual as he uses rods for his magic and treats them like golf clubs, which is exactly how Coopa carries them around.
The Tower of Druaga in its fantasy series sense is really straightforward and certainly playing to the strengths of a video game. The tower itself has all its levels with a wide variety of critters and there are other parties and the military to take into account as well. Jil's brother Neeba has his party running through the Tower at the same time and there are conflicts to be had there as well as Jil's part itself going through the motions of learning about each other and what they want from the mysterious Blue Crystal Rod that will grant them a single wish. There aren't too many surprises when it comes to how the fantasy elements work.
So what makes this show rank so high and perform as enjoyably as it does? It's a rare fantasy series that nails the comedy perfectly, for me at least. The opening episode alone sold me on this series as it is all a dream sequence where Jil views himself as the hero who gets the princess and slays the evil god Druaga. Seeing how it plays out in the bonus episode in the real world only makes it work even better. Another episode when the group is going through the tower, they run into a level where small magic capsules are all strewn about and they change reality for a bit, such as turning them into human-animal hybrids or changing their genders. Another episode puts Jil inside a video game level itself where everyone else gets to control him. The video game elements are treated perfectly in how they're brought about into the show. There's a lot of little comedy along the way in how people interact with each other and some of the very silly monsters that come into play as well.
But it's not all comedy and it really manages to find a good balance. After the first episode I wondered how they would hold up that level of humor for the whole series, but they then showed they wanted to do both and they found a way. The serious side of the show is really well done, which is given more weight by the great character designs and the wonderfully diverse settings in which the series takes place. While a lot of it is standard underground rock corridors, there's a lot of variety past that which makes it feel like a very well thought out world. Taking the magic into account, it allows for a lot to go on here. The character designs are really good too, with the women of course making out better, but when you add in some very fluid animation and what appears to be a strong budget, it's a show that sells itself visually very well and quite memorable at that.
The Tower of Druaga is one of the few shows that really wowed me while watching it in weekly form. I was really uncertain as to whether it would hold up when taken all at once but it actually flows quite well. It doesn't feel like too much, it has a lot to offer and a great amount of variety overall. Even knowing what was coming didn't minimize it and if anything made it more fun because I could pick out the details a little more that I couldn't the first time. It's obviously a much stronger show visually in this form than the streaming as well and the bonus episode alone makes this worth a purchase for fans who saw it in that form. I really do find this to be the best fantasy series I've seen since Record of Lodoss War and the best fantasy-comedy series I think I've seen as well. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Tale Told Twice: An Alternate Look at Episode 01 - The Quest of Jil, Episode 5 Commentary, Textless Opening and Closing Songs
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.