This recap contains spoilers for Tower of God episode “Tower of God”.

Disclaimer: Pre-release screening and screenshot materials for this recap were provided for GGA by Crunchyroll.

It’s never an easy thing to admit you underestimated a series. Tower of God did not need to prove that shonen anime can be cerebral. That’s been proven. But it does prove that Tower of God itself can be a surprisingly thoughtful source of character and societal study. It is an unconventional finale, to say the least. I expect it will be divisive. But speaking personally, I think it’s cemented Tower of God as the single strongest anime of the Spring 2020 season. 

Tower of God ends where it began. Much of the finale is flashback, some of it all the way back to events that occurred in the first episode. A good amount of it is dedicated to an exploration of Rachel’s character, and what an exploration it is. Rachel is here elevated from our hero’s raison d’être-turned-traitor into a stunningly complex “fake hero” motivated, seemingly, by pure jealousy. It’s an astounding peek into the mind of a very broken person. We don’t get all of the answers here–and there’s a reason for that–but we get a lot. Let’s dive in.

“The Tower wasn’t calling you.”

We do not open on any direct continuation from last week. Instead, we get Rachel’s story up ’til now, as told through flashbacks. Each of these is interlaced with her narration. Contrasting these scenes, many of which we’ve already seen, with her internal monologue as they happened. The first scene that’s new to us is Rachel meeting Headon, the rabbit-like Tower administrator who has been absent for the majority of the season. 

Headon and Rachel (Tower of God, season 1, episode 13)

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Headon flatly explains to Rachel that her presence in the Tower is a mistake. Bam, not her, is who the Tower intended to summon. She insists to be given a chance, too. Headon is amused, and relents. He offers her the same test we saw Bam conquer in the very first episode. A monstrous white eel, a steel ball, the whole nine. She refuses to even try, complaining that the test is impossible. This amuses Headon much less, and he binds her in a shinsu prison. There she sits, invisible, as Bam completes the test. When even this doesn’t stop her complaints, Headon grants her a ‘weapon’; the oni warrior who abruptly vanished several episodes ago.  He was, we are told, a sort of substitute. When Rachel was stabbed in the back, he died instead.

“You must end Bam’s story with your own hands.”

More important than these literal details though, is a very telling exchange between Rachel and Headon. Rachel claims that her reason for climbing the Tower is to see the stars. Headon rebukes her, countering that she wants to become a star. Her real desire, he says, is to be special. Rachel has no rebuttal. If we take Headon at his word–and we’re given every reason to here–these few sentences are the crux of Rachel’s entire characterization in this episode. And, retroactively, in the whole series. 

Another important aspect here is the way this conversation flows. Rachel is transparently desperate, something very unlike the calm demeanor we’ve gotten used to over the rest of the show’s run. She prostrates herself at Headon’s feet, and out of, as he puts it “respect for her boundless stupidity”, he makes an exception.

Headon gives Rachel a task. Bam must die. Then, and only then, can she properly climb the Tower.

“He keeps getting everything I want.”

Over the course of several more lengthy flashbacks, Rachel’s desperation comes into sharp focus. Bam has everything she wants, most of all shinsu manipulation, and she, by sharp contrast, has nothing. We get inside her head quite a bit here. Crucially though, none of this actually seems engineered to make Rachel sympathetic. On the contrary, a lot of it makes her look even worse. Rachel here is a character driven to desperation. It’s still not totally clear by what, as her desire to be a shinsu user lacks wider in-universe context.

Rachel (Tower of God, season 1, episode 13)

Nonetheless, Tower of God’s finale excels at humanizing a character who by all rights should be outright despicable. We don’t need to see every gear of a clock to know it ticks, and we do not need to know every aspect of the Tower’s politics to know that there’s sinister machinery at work here. Any system that can drive someone to this is a terrifying one indeed.

“We couldn’t find Bam’s body.”

Back in the present, Bam’s companions find themselves successfully having passed the test, but without their group’s guiding light. This creates a fascinating–if nasty–contrast. We know that Rachel deliberately pushed Bam out of the shinsu bubble. The other characters in-story, however, don’t. They are, understandably, consumed with grief. Rak even lets out a massive “grieving warrior” yell, which serves as the soundtrack to Lero Ro’s final actions in the series.

Bam's companions (Tower of God, season 1, episode 13)

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He confronts Yu, bitterly grilling him on how much of this, exactly, he planned. Yu’s answer is evasive, but dissatisfying enough that Lero resigns his test proctor position in the show’s closing scenes. (Quant gets the boot, too. Though not of his own will.) 

“I wish I could’ve met Bam before you did.”

Bam’s former companions end the series determined to soldier on without him, but with Rachel. Khun seems to be the only one who might have some inkling of the truth of the matter. His final words in the series, directed at Rachel, absolutely drip with contempt. 

Meanwhile, at the very bottom of the Tower, is Bam. Alive, but wounded, is Hwaryun, the mysterious redhead whose role is finally somewhat clarified for us here. Her role, as it turns out, has been one of observation and sabotage. We don’t get all the details–have we ever, in Tower of God?–but it’s enough to guess that she seems to be a pawn of whatever game Yu is playing. 

The final shot of the series is this, delivered to us in a brief flash, free of context. A glimpse of the future? An event from the past? It’s impossible to say. 

the unidentified figure in the end shot (Tower of God, season 1, episode 13)

If I can toss a wild theory out. He does look a bit like an older, longer-haired Bam. But who knows?

No second season has been announced as of the time of this writing, a few days before the finale formally airs. However, at the risk of jinxing it, it seems all but certain that Tower of God is not over, it’s only just begun.

So in that spirit, I say: until next time, Tower of God fans.

Catch up on our Tower of God recaps here!

 

 

Jane Auman
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