Using the story from The Tower of Druaga video game as its own history, The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk anime focuses on protagonist Jil, a subtly alluded-to avatar for the Everyman, as he (and thereby every newbie RPG sympathizer) quests to acquire the Blue Crystal Rod from atop a tower guarded by the demon Druaga in order to … well, just ‘cause. Actually, the impetus behind Jil’s climb runs deeper than that (sort of). In the end, Jil’s reason for undertaking such a monumental task as enclosing himself in his room for days on end in front of his computer is to simply complete a game, to not fail at bringing about its predestined end, to reap the catharsis only possible by playing the hero (that his brother, by way of example and competitor, inspires him to be).
As an homage to the original game (at least based on what I’ve read of it), Aegis of Uruk touches on and incorporates all the key points: story, characters, enemies, and items…even graphics and gameplay (see episodes 5 & 8 respectively). This is important because there is very little else fully realized here. Self-referencing humor is the order of the day, and it’s served in abundance and piping hot with lots of in-joke laughs and clever associations betwixt mediums. Heck, even episode 8 references the third Namco Museum game, in which there is a handbook that explains how to get the tower’s treasures. But take away the viewer’s familiarity with the game on which the anime is based, and The Aegis of Uruk offers little more than a couple good laughs and half-developed character conflicts.
I was drooling over promises of brotherly tension between Jil and Neeba, independent of (yet not entirely disassociated from) romantic friction betwixt Neeba/Fatina and Jil/Kaaya. Honestly, I thought that, early on, the conflict was well developed via the third person virtualization. Jil is a newbie (younger brother) trying to earn the respect of a more experienced player (elder brother) by accompanying him in an online game for which Neeba (at least) has a great love/vested interest. This alone invites the older brother, younger brother tag-along tension, which is both dismissed and enhanced by Neeba’s “firing” of Jil early on for his incompetent in-party performance and thereafter complicated by Neeba’s incessant and frankly unjustified instinct to protect Jil from situations larger than himself (it’s a game, after all, and not real life). While this tension sets the tone for the series as well as Jil’s ambitions, the lack of real-world backing, despite the opening and some very slyly written lines of otherwise dismissable dialog, leaves the portrayal of the in-game characters as 2D as the blocky pixels they represent. In this way, the writing for main and supporting characters alike proved so almost capable of digging into inter- and intra-character conflicts that its shortcoming made more impact than the attempt.
As far a production value goes, this 2008 anime is decent if only a bit flat compared to that of preceding titles. Character and world designs, while fairly standard, attempt a decent level of detail and situate viewers in a convincing fantasy/RPG environment so as to not distract from the story. Also, for better or worse, the series does not skimp on fan service for the guys (animators evidently liked them some lovely lady lumps) and even put in a li’l somethin’-somethin’ for the ladies.
The overly indulgent episode, though, would be #5, in which ALL the stops (by which I mean costume fetishes) are pulled out and dusted off for quickie sight gags. Aside from previews for upcoming episodes, this episode also features animation that pays humorous homage to the original game and gives a foreseeable yet chuckle-worthy twist to the hot springs episode. The most hideous and awesome design, and the one which obviously garnered the most effort in its rendering, portrays Druaga as some CG Cell-like, locust/dragon monstrosity that at its best is disturbing and at its worst is laughably out of place.
Before I was offered this series via the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project, an RPG-playing friend of mine had been recommending it. I can definitely see why. It delivers humor, action, and feeling, but only within its fantasy world. The in-game characters are all that there are. To be a better anime, those same characters would have to represent something outside of themselves, and I don’t see Aegis of Uruk accomplishing that to the necessary degree. It also relies a little too heavily on a viewer’s experience with and appreciation of RPGs for the humor to stand completely on its own. That said, viewers who are not RPG-oriented can still take away a goodly paced hero’s tale, albeit one featuring a rather undefined/uninspired lead and under-contextualized story. There is a follow-up series, The Tower of Druaga: The Sword of Uruk, which might further explore characters’ issues, but as Aegis of Uruk ends at episode 12, so does my drink and so does this review.