ANIME & MANGA - Article
09:16 - 10th July 2013, by Matt Kamen

The Tower of Druaga

To properly explore where Namco's Druaga franchise comes from, we need to look back almost four thousand years. Nope, we're not being hyperbolic - many of the figures in the greater mythos of the original arcade games, their sequels and now the anime series from Gonzo stem from an ancient region, around modern day Iraq, and the Sumerian religion that lived alongside it.

Take Druaga himself - the big bad was effectively the Hades or Satan of the religion, and ruler of the underworld. Gilgamesh - hero of the games and legendary king in the anime - was the fifth king of Uruk, a city of the early Bronze Age. The goddess Ishtar, who helps players in the game and blesses the lead character, Jil, in the anime, was the patron deity of Uruk in ancient times, and associated with sex and love (in that order!). Throw in the character Ki (filling the role of one of the many priestesses who served Ishtar, and sharing the name of a Sumerian Earth goddess), and it's clear that Namco really brushed up on ancient mythology when developing the property.

In taking so much inspiration from the beliefs of the Babylonian, Akkadian and Sumerian cultures, it's no surprise that the gaming tetralogy that debuted in 1984 is known collectively as the 'Babylonian Castle Saga'. The first game in the series, the eponymous Tower of Druaga, was a single player arcade cabinet that challenged players - cast in the role of Gilgamesh, and armed with a sword and shield - to ascend 60 stories, defeat Druaga and rescue Ki. Gameplay was simplistic but engaging, with each level seeing you navigating a maze, killing monsters of increasing toughness; in many ways, it could be seen as a more aggressive take on the company's earlier smash-hit, Pac-Man - it even ran on Namco's 'Super Pac-Man' hardware! In each level, a randomly placed key opened doors to the next, while completing certain criteria revealed hidden treasures. The game was a popular one, and has been ported to many later systems, though mostly only for Japanese release.

The Tower of Druaga also spawned several sequels. 1986 saw the release of The Return of Ishtar, one of the very earliest collaborative arcade games, with Gilgamesh and Ki both playable simultaneously. The game also incorporated an innovative password-based save system, allowing arcade goers to continue their quest on subsequent visits. 1988's The Quest of Ki took a turn into 2D platforming and served as a prequel to the first game, ending where that title began. The official series would come to an end in 1994, with the release of The Blue Crystal Rod: The Destiny of Gilgamesh for the Super Nintendo - the first entry specifically designed for consoles. Once again playing as Gil and Ki, this entry was a more standard RPG than its predecessors. However, several side story games and soft reboots would follow, with 2004's Nightmare of Druaga the most recent.

Fast forward to 2008: Namco partner with one of the top animation studios in the business, Gonzo, to reintroduce the world to the Tower of Druaga universe. As part of the "Animation x Online RPG" project (the MMO half of the endeavour, titled The Recovery of BABYLIM has yet to make it to the western world), director Koichi Chigira would helm the Druaga anime. Already a fan-favourite from his work on shows as varied as Full Metal Panic! and Last Exile, Chigira would structure the series as two half-seasons of 12 episodes each. The first, The Aegis of Uruk, is set 80 years after Gilgamesh's final defeat of Druaga, and focuses on a new hero, Jil - you'll notice the similarity in name to Gil himself - who sets out to reach the top of the tower during the 'Summer of Anu', a phenomenon that occurs only once every five years, rendering the monsters inhabiting the endless structure at their weakest. Unfortunately, Jil isn't the seasoned, capable warrior he thinks he is, and even his brother Neeba boots him from their adventuring party. The second season, The Sword of Uruk takes everything into slightly more mature territory, resolving many of the character relationships and story arcs of the first.

Despite introducing a whole new cast of characters to support Jil, the anime remains wholly consistent with the universe and mythology established by the games. The classic figures Namco created in the early 1980s are still prevalent within the show, as is their impact on the world's history. Gilgamesh himself is still alive, an apparently immortal king, though his behaviour has become much darker. As well as that, a mysterious girl who bears a strong resemblance to Ishtar joins Jil on his quest. Despite the references to this rather obscure (to westerners, anyway) gaming franchise, director Chigira makes it all accessible to newcomers, and knowledge of the source material only enhances enjoyment of the series, rather than being a pre-requisite to understanding.

Perhaps inspired by The Revenge of Ishtar and its revolutionary use of passwords, Gonzo chose to pioneer another burgeoning technology with the Druaga anime - online streaming. To be fair, streaming itself had been around for a while by the time of the series' premiere but, with illegal fansubbing running rampant, the series was one of the first to be broadcast online internationally, simultaneous to its Japanese airing. The bold move paved the way for services such as Crunchyroll that we enjoy today - and it's all thanks to The Tower of Druaga, the only anime series 4,000 years in the making!

To check it out for yourself, pick up the series now from MVM Entertainment.

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