Tower of God is only partway into its first season and already it feels like the start of something truly special. Based on the hit web manhwa by SUI, otherwise known as Lee Jong Hui, the anime centers on an unusually gifted boy named Bam who follows his friend, Rachel, into a mysterious tower. As he begins his climb, an empire of exoticism and danger unfolds around him, populated by a weird and wonderful roster of characters — each with their own competing reasons for wanting to reach the top.
The billion-strong readership, creative ingenuity and scope of the decade-spanning source material draws comparison to Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, signaling the start of a huge South Korean invasion onto the anime scene. At the forefront of this seachange is anime brand Crunchyroll and its collaboration with LINE Webtoon, the online publisher responsible for Tower of God‘s English-language release. Hot on the heels of Tower of God will be the companies’ co-produced adaptations of the other two “Big Three” of digital manhwa: The God of High School and Noblesse. The pressure, therefore, to ensure Tower of God‘s animated success comes not only from its legions of fans but also to attract a whole new audience to a different well of storytelling.
In the director’s seat for Tower of God is Takeshi Sano who, ahead of the anime’s premiere, spoke with CBR about taking the challenge on, as well as the importance of meeting fan expectations while still producing a unique work in its own right.
CBR: Tower of God has built up a massive following as a webtoon and beyond with its video game spinoffs. Did you feel the pressure to meet fan expectations when working on it, or did you try not to think about that too much?
Takeshi Sano: At first I didn’t know much about it. It was difficult to achieve a balance between how best to present the series to people who wouldn’t know what it was when it became an anime and how best to follow the original work to satisfy its fans.
What can you tell me about Tower of God that will get viewers excited to watch it?
We spent a lot of time on the animation, so I’d like people to pay attention to that.
Will this season tell a complete story, or you hoping to continue with more seasons?
This question seems a bit spoilery, but since the original work has been running for such a long time, we won’t be reaching its conclusion.
Should fans be prepared for any drastic changes to the original story, or will this be quite a faithful adaptation?
We respect the original work, so we put as much effort as possible into the art and story without losing the feel of the original work.
The animation could be described as an “elevated” interpretation of the manhwa’s art style — a bit like how the One-Punch Man webcomic was turned into a more professional-looking manga, and then an anime. What was the process like in developing the look of Tower of God?
We actually wanted to use the art of the original work as-is, but producing the anime required that we create characters for animation and at times create an appearance unique to the anime. I believe those are the differences in the art style compared to the original work.
Have you found adapting a webtoon to be much different from adapting a manga series?
There weren’t really any differences. The original author was helpful in his involvement in the production.
Can you see this opening the floodgates to more webtoons being turned into anime?
I believe webtoon projects other than Tower of God will be broadcast. Depending on how they are received when they air in Japan, if LINE manga becomes popular in Japan, then there would be an opportunity for LINE manga to enter the Japanese market.
This is your second time directing a series after Sengoku BASARA Judge End. What lessons did you take with you into directing Tower of God?
The previous series I worked on had a lot of limitations, but this time the client granted me a lot of latitude, so as the director I was able to take a lot of responsibility for the work.
Based on the web manhwa of the same name by SUI, Tower of God is the first co-production between Crunchyroll and WEBTOON and launched as part of the anime brand’s inaugural Originals slate in April. New episodes of Tower of God are released every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. PT on Crunchyroll.
Speaking to CBR, director Takeshi Sano assures fans of the webtoon Tower of God will be satisfied with the anime adaptation's faithfulness.