I'm going to have to review The Tower of Druaga - The Aegis of Uruk in two parts: Part 1 will cover episode one, and part 2 will cover episodes two through twelve. Why, you ask? Because those two parts are completely different shows. Part 1 has almost absolutely NOTHING to do with part 2. Keep that in mind, learn from my initial confusion (and mistake), and read the rest of this review below.
PART 1: Episode 1
My immediate reaction after witnessing the absolute trainwreck that is the first episode of Druaga was "what the fuck was that crap?" It felt like it was trying to emulate the movie that the kids in Koko Wa Greenwood made for their school festival — a sword and sorcery yarn about a group of adventurers out to kill "the supreme bad guy" that was thoroughly off kilter and verily tongue-in-cheek... Except that Druaga tried way too goddamn hard to be tongue-in-cheek to the point of its tongue bursting THROUGH its cheek in one bloody and pulpy mess all over its shoulder and in the ear of the guy standing next to it. The production seems to be made up of all the characters typical to a dungeon-scavenging role playing game (that Druaga seems intent on copying [and I didn't know until after I was done that it's indeed based off of a series of games that date back to 1984... Who the fuck knew? Lord knows I've never heard of them]): the seasoned leader; the quick thief; the hulking fighter; the low-powered newbie (who you usually start out as in games); and the cute female spell caster (though she's more of a magic-gun shooting tramp here)... But the characters aren't funny, and the creators THINK that they're hilarious. Have you ever had a friend try and tell you a joke, but he had to keep interrupting the story to say "This is hilarious!" or to simply laugh at himself? Has the final joke EVER been really funny in the HISTORY of a story being told in such a manner? The answer is no, and it is proved once again here, in the first episode of Druaga.
Like I said, it simply tries too hard. It rubs your face in each attempt at a joke like it thinks that you're a mongoloid 5 year-old to whom the show has to speak very sloooowly and repeat itself many times in order for you to grasp the beyond simple humor behind it all. It's a horrible mix of Slayers and Epic Movie for the retarded demographic (sorry, but I never really thought too highly of Slayers myself). It's hard to explain how the comedy fails, because in all honesty it shouldn't. There are jokes to be mined here to be sure, and when trying to explain the lameness of the humor to friends they actually laughed at my explanations. Then I showed them the parts of the show I just described to them, and they grimaced. It's like the writers had some good ideas for gags, but the director had no sense of humor or timing, or simply no idea that he was making jokes at all. It's just awful really.
Here's an example: Every time somebody is about to die, they always talk about how "once this battle is over, I plan to return to my hometown and marry my old sweetheart..." Then they (guffaw!) get offed. This happens about 12 times. And it's not funny even once as they ham it up much too much and EMPHASIZE the fact that this means this specific character is toast. Honestly, did this anime crew ever take a class in "how to do comedy," or "how to tell a joke properly"? And they keep switching the characters appearances between super serious expressions and hyperly goofy ones. What's wrong with THIS is that the funnier route to go would never be the chosen path by the director (meaning if it would be much more comedic if the characters' expressions were serious, then they were made goofy, or if they would have been funnier goofy then they were animated serious). Honestly, this staff was making Nabeshin look like Mel Brooks in his prime.
Oh, then there's the completely uninspired (and dragged on and on) Gurren Lagann reference, which is just the tip of the iceberg of the "reference comedy" used here, seeing as they seem to think that just by throwing references to other [better] anime series into this one that they're "making a funny"... This is the same failed logic of such wonders of humor like Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie: Don't make a joke about something, just make a reference to it. Hell, just copy a scene word for word without adding in a single joke. THAT'S comedy! *SNORTLE!*
I do have one example of a good joke in this mess that spoiled quickly and started to smell before they decided to finally kill it and put it out of its stinky misery. The cute female party member is attacked by a giant tentacle monster. She's hoisted up in front of the men and the newbie Hero tries to rush in to save her, but one of his friends tells him to wait! The Hero asks why, but the friend shakes his question off and they wait. The monster starts feeling the girl up (rubbing between her legs, fondling her breasts), and the Hero states again, "We have to save her!" The friend yells, "NOT YET.... It's just getting good." At this point I was actually chuckling (even past the Hero asking [one time too many] "How 'bout now?" and the friend putting on a way too goofy face and drooling waaaaaay too much). And even when the female character screams out "Hey! How long are you going to watch, you perverts?!", that got a slight *giggle* out of me... Then the director just had to keep pushing the joke by having the friend mug for the camera for a few seconds and get all pouty and say "Okay..... I GUESS we can all attack now." Sucked the humor right out of the scene. Honestly, learn how to tell a fucking joke. Even looking back on what I just wrote, it SOUNDS kinda funny in text, but somehow the animated product just loses it and ruins the comedy.
The best jokes (well, the few that actually work here) are the ones that the director doesn't shove down your throat. Like, when the Hero is knocked out of the giant tower and finds himself falling to his doom he starts to remember all his friends and the people on his side who love him and helped him on his quest, and he fondly starts naming them as their images appear on screen... Only to include the tentacle monster, the inn keeper who's place he stayed at one night, etc. As Jerry Zucker once said, comedy is funniest when the characters take their roles seriously. Never TELL the audience, "PSSSSSST! This part here, THIS IS A JOKE! LAUGH, DAMMIT!"
After Episode 1 was over my mouth was open in painful horror. I went to the ANN and looked up who was responsible for this piece of crap and learned that somehow it was attributed to the geniuses that had previously given us Last Exile and the Full Metal Panic series. I was in shock. Oh how the mighty had fallen. That they would actually put their names on this crap, let alone make it in the first place... What the hell?! How does somebody who directed the almost perfect Exile and somebody who wrote the funniest anime storylines ever (Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu?) combine their talents into this garbage?.
It was really only out of boredom (and lots of shame) that I continued with this series... And I'm really fucking glad that I did.
PART 2: Episodes 2 - 12
Well, it turns out that the first episode was a dream by the wimpy Hero character (aka Jil). That was a step in the right direction (i.e. pretend that shit never really happened), but in my mind they had a lot of awful stuff to make up for and overcome, though this was a good start. Jil is one of an ass-ton of monster hunters (known as climbers) who have gathered in the town of Meskia — which sits on the first floor of the gigantic Tower of Druaga — just in time for the Summer of Anu to begin. The Summer of Anu is a period of time that comes along every few years in which all the monsters that live in the (fucking huge) Tower lose a lot of their powers and strength, thusly making it easier for heroes to climb their way up to the top of the Tower where the evil demon god Druaga himself lives. Kill Druaga, the story goes, and get his blue crystal staff, and with it you can have any wish you want granted by its power.
Our main hero Jil isn't in it for the wishes though, he's got something to prove, but after just being dumped by his last party of climbers (like a lump of blue-ice out of the back of a 747) for being a useless choad of a man (even less beneficial than a used adult diaper), Jil soon finds another bunch of
suckers allies to con into climbing with him to the top. Add to the back story a very old king, Gilgemesh, who had defeated Druaga decades ago himself (before the demon god rebuilt his Tower bigger and scarier upon his resurrection), disappointed lives and choices made by our team of adventurers, and secrets that several main characters hold on to that will cause doom (DOOOOOM!) to those around them when revealed, and you have an interesting tale here.
The tone of the story becomes much more interesting and tense (in a good, well-told way) after Episode 1 too. It balances a humor that's inline with Fumoffu at times with a seriousness and a world view that very much reminded me of Scrapped Princess. Yes, the universe that this show takes place in makes no sense seeing as it's got lots of RPG logic pulsing through its animated veins (the biggest example being cities that are built every so often UP the behemoth Tower that's filled with powerful and terrifying monsters, in which any outsider must pass through several days worth of nightmarish beasts and demons just to get to), and I was prepared (while watching more than half the series) to find out that everything we've seen in the medieval world was just a part of an online mega multiplayer World of Warcraft-type scenario... But that was just the writers pulling in the story elements from the actual games that the series was translated from. Thankfully (and despite what I thought was compelling evidence provided in the opening animation) everything in this show takes place in one world and isn't imagined by a bunch of lifeless computer gamer lamers.
Once into the show proper, Druaga proves that it does indeed have a healthy sense of humor. Episode 5 (the one with all the "traps") is fucking hysterical. It's right up there with some of the best Fumoffu episodes. Honestly, what were they thinking making that first episode like that? How many people turned away and never returned after that? And who the fuck REALLY directed that rancid pile of vomit? I refuse to believe that the same people were responsible for both Episode 1 and the rest of the series. Fuck YOU, Episode 1!
Anyway, Druaga's full of themes we've all seen before (the lowly rising from the ranks to become true heroes through sheer willpower, the ultra-powerful hiding their ground-shaking abilities in plain sight, the brash and full of themselves seeing that they're not all that and two snaps up, and learning to appreciate "hard work and guts!")... It doesn't do anything new with them, but it holds its own, and you like (or at least you don't hate) all those involved. Honestly, one of my favorite characters was the ex-aristocrat golfer-mage who did nothing but complain. I usually want to beat the animated shit out of "the whiners" in these shows. Though maybe I just liked him for his 10 year-old, freakishly strong servant girl, Kuupa.
Luckily, you pretty much forget about that really shitty opening episode by the time the tenth chapter comes around (despite it being a plot about a ton of warriors climbing the same tower, floor after floor, fighting monster after monster, Druaga has a ton of shit going on in the background and with the histories of each character and party to occupy your mind). The ONLY real problem that I had with this show (well, other than *cough*... you know) is the giant Berserk "FUCK YOU!" styled ending... Jesus, if the planned sequel (which I only found out about because of the quick announcement after the credits following the giant cliffhanger finale), The Sword of Uruk, doesn't get made I'm going to have to start hunting down Asian directors for sport again... The Sword of Uruk better fucking happen... With just half an episode left I remember looking at my watch and thinking, "Hmmmm, 10 minutes left... They better hurry if they want to wrap this baby up. They still have to explain a shitload of characters' backgrounds and motivations yet..." And then whammo!... The series flips itself on its side, a prophesy that a specter made to Jil earlier in the show comes to pass (in aces and spades), and then we're made to wait an undetermined amount of time for the second half of this tale. It's kind of like the first season of Code Geass or Vandread, and my main complaint regarding both of those series holds even more true now: If you PLAN to make a 26 (or 52) episode story, don't break it up and only show one half before making your viewers wait a few years for the second half. Common courtesy that.
Okay, three parts actually...
PART 3: The Alternative Take of Episode 1
This ticked me off something fierce... Like finding out that that woman you've been banging for a few months really has a penis (and it's not just an inflamed clitoris like the bitch/bastard claimed)... Once I finished the 12 broadcast episodes of this show I found out that there's an OVA "Alternative Episode 1"... An Episode 1 that actually fills the viewer in as to how all the main players made it to the Tower in the first place, and everything that happened to Jil's party when he was originally knocked the fuck out at the start of the broadcast Episode 1 (before his unfunny dream sequence began). Holy shit. This Alternative Episode 1 has everything that the Shitty Episode 1 was missing: Actual humor; a great introduction of characters; and a much better understanding of the world and the quest that all the heroes and villains are undertaking. The only thing that I don't know tell you is if you should watch this in place of the Shitty Episode 1, or indeed wait till you've watched all of the original episodes before viewing the Alternative Episode 1... It's actually a lot more fulfilling to see the Alternative Episode 1 after you get through the 12 broadcast eps (and in this case you still need to see the Shitty Episode 1 to set up a few very important ideas and things for you — you can't just skip it). Although if you don't watch the Alternative Episode 1 first (in place of the Shitty Episode 1) then you'll start out with a bad taste in your mouth from the terrible experience of it all.... Hmmmmmmmm. Well, that's up to you now. I wash my hands of it.
Alternate dimensional programs in which robots do not exist perplex me. My numero uno question regarding them is, "Why are there no fucking robots in them?" Every show should have a robot in it. What would it take, honestly? "Oh noes, this passageway is filled with many monsters! What do we do?" "Stay calm, muchachos, just break out the robot!" El problemente es solved.
True, that giant suit of armor could be a robot — we never do see its real face. But if it is a robot then do the honorable thing and show us his awesome robotness! Let him kill a few hu-mans and step on their skulls with its spiked robot cleats! Please, let robots be robots. This is all Robot Pedro requests... This and a better blend of synthetic oils... And the Rossman's head on a pike. That is probably what I would wish for with a Blue Crystal Staff of my own. My primary mission has yet to be completed — The Rossman must die!
Meh, typical hack and slash video game turned to cartoon... The plot was weak, though the cast was okay, and it left a whole lotta shit wide open for a greedy sequel. I fucking HATE when they pull that crap!
It got me thinking though... What would I wish for if I got that magic blue staff from the Druella demon guy? Don't need gold, and I got all the womens I'll ever need. Power? Nah, power ain't worth it unless you EARN it. Pound a few heads in, stomp a few man-grapes, that sort of thing. Damn, I guess I'm pretty content. Maybe I'd just wish for all of Gilligan's Island on Blu-Ray. That or F-Troop. Goddammit I just love that show!