Solid fantasy anime is few and far between but that's simply not the case in the video game world where fantasy titles have reigned supreme since the days of programming in Basic. Wisely, a few companies have taken note of this fact and rather than simply tool a new fantasy realm from the ground up, transfer an established video game title into the animated medium. Enter The Tower of Druaga from FUNimation.
Released across a pair of discs (thin packs within a cardboard outer slipcase), The Tower of Druaga Part 1 consists of episodes 1-12 and comes in at a total runtime of 280 minutes. It wears an appropriate TV 14 rating due to violence and light supernatural imagery.
Language options are standard sub & dub with both an English dub (Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround) and original Japanese soundtrack (stereo) & the choice of English subtitled if so inclined to turn them on.
Extras are nice and thorough and include A Tale Told Twice: An alternate look at the first episode, an English commentary track over the 5th episode, textless songs, a host of FUNimation trailers on the second disc.
The story goes something like this: Summer comes to a mystical land once every five years (called the Summer of Anu here), and it is during this time that monsters hidden away within the mysterious Tower of Druaga lose their powers thanks to the intercession of an idol appropriately named "Anu".
Each Summer of Anu, the armies of the Uruk Kingdom secure their strongholds within the Tower, aiming to eventually conquer the upper floors in these periods where the demons' powers are at their weakest. It's been 60 years since the last human conquest of the tower (by a brave warrior King named Gilgamesh) and as far as huaminty is concerned, the creatures of the night wrecking havoc from within the tower are overdue for a whipping.
The story begins with the third Summer of Anu in the city of Meskia, which just so happens to be the human stronghold built on the first level of the massive Tower. The Uruk (human) Army is preparing for their campaign against Druaga; the enigmatic leader of the foul creatures occupying the levels above the stronghold. Getting in the way of warriors are freelance treasure hunters called "Climbers" who have traveled from distant lands to pursue rumors of a legendary treasure being guarded by Druaga called the Blue Crystal Rod.
We follow along with the adventures of a young warrior named Jil, who, despite a stout heart, is after the Blue Crystal Rod himself.
The plot structure is such that it focuses primarily on a few small groups of adventurers seeking to climb the Tower of Druaga and defeat the legendary Druaga once and for all (although it is explained several times that King Gilgamesh have him a spanking 60 years earlier but that seems not to have affected his ability to cause trouble). What this translates to for the viewer is a blend of action with a "race to the top" undertone working subliminally.
In truth it's no surprise that the video game incarnation was so successful since the premise boils down to overcoming challenges and dispatching monsters on a floor-by-floor basis. Progression is fairly linear with the big bad guy waiting at the very top floor (with the treasure).
The mythology comes off as a sort of blend of old Norse material mixed with a bit of early Anglo legend (think Beowulf) with just a hint of Asian influence in the form of massive dragon-like baddies. In all it works very well.
The visuals are quite remarkable as well if not for their clean, crisp look throughout, for the fact that often times it looks like an animated screenshot directly from the early Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior games. Nobody does the fantasy protagonist quite as uniquely as the Japanese and this fact is reinforced here.
The direction is nearly flawless as would be expected from the same man responsible for Last Exile. Pacing, lighting, and individual shots are beautifully constructed and lend heavy-merit to the fantasy world itself.
Voice acting is stellar in both incarnations with my nod tipping very slightly toward the English dub on this one. Not to take anything away from the impeccable Japanese vocal track, my opinion is simply a testament to the quality dubbing FUNimation has been turning out of late.
In all this is a fantastic little fantasy series filled with stunning visuals, nice direction, and a plot solid enough to keep the episodes flying by. Best of all the prose doesn't get bogged down or take itself too seriously by interjecting a dose of humor in moments that would otherwise be tension-ridden. Highly recommended.