I love complicated characters with a mix of positive and negative facets, so I was excited to learn that the finale of Tower of God was going to be all about Rachel. Unfortunately, this attempt to humanize the show’s villain is as messy and flawed as she is. Rachel’s entire characterization hinges on a desperate motive—”to see the stars”—that is never fully explained. As details emerge about Rachel’s series-long murderous plot, cracks form in the story’s worldbuilding, in part due to the arbitrary nature of which details did and didn’t make the transition from the webtoon to the anime. No wonder fans hate Rachel: her internal struggle between looking at the sky and killing the person who treasures her most in this world would be a no-brainer for any viewer, but for some nonsensical reason leaves her conflicted.
Would you believe that SIU, the author of Tower of God, has said publicly that Rachel is his favorite character? It’s possible he’s joking and the humor got lost in translation. But assuming these are his true feelings, I’m certain that there’s something I am missing about what makes Rachel an interesting antagonist. Let’s start with her most relatable element: she’s just an average Joe. Headon gives it to her straight: “You don’t have a shred of charm about you.” Rachel insists that she wants “to see the stars,” but Headon corrects her: “You want to become a star.” That seems to be true enough, but I don’t understand how Rachel’s desire to be special is eating away at her so intensely that she would kill for it. Even more perplexing: Bam is the one character who treats Rachel like she is special, and she knows it. If becoming special is her only motive, then it’d be more logical for her to do everything in her power to keep Bam alive. Rachel is relatable to an extent: I recall rolling my eyes a bit at Bam’s typical shonen protagonist narrative as a person who isn’t attempting to become more powerful, but learning to harness the sheer power he’s been blessed with already. But if Rachel’s goal is to become/see the stars, why not coast along with the dude who worships her and is knocking every test out of the park? The answer seems to be lost in the bureaucratic and socio-political details of the way the Tower functions.
This episode rewinds us back to the first episode, where it turns out Rachel was watching Bam take the test that whole time. I rewatched the first episode hoping for a glimpse of Rachel (since, as SIU hints in his notes on the webtoon’s season 1 epilogue, you can see “something like Rachel’s eyes” in the earliest comics) but couldn’t find her. It’s gratifying to find out there’s a reason that Bam has been brought to the Tower as an irregular, but it’s perplexing that things work according to Headon’s plan—there’s no way he could have foreseen Lady Yuri coming to help out Bam, or was there? Headon’s plan makes about as much sense as Hansung Yu’s does to me—I guess these two are fighting some sort of inter-Tower proxy war, but I don’t know why and there doesn’t seem to be much logic to this game of 3D chess. For example: what does killing Bam have to do with anything (and why does Rachel go along with that? “Because she’s evil” is a weak explanation). Later, when Rachel says she’s running out of points, it occurs to me that this is the first mention of the point system and what it does that I can recall.
From the details of Rachel’s bodyguard, to the fact that she has somehow “misread the signs” that led to her getting stabbed by Hoh, this episode feels like it’s trying to say “gotcha!” but is just exposing plot holes that I never would have paid attention to otherwise. (Why does Headon give her a bodyguard simply because she says “it’s not fair?” With his terrifying eel test, Headon doesn’t seem like somebody too caught up on fairness.) Rachel’s own narration is self-admittedly inconsistent, as she wrestles with loving and hating Bam, in feeling guilty and wanting him dead, from looking downcast to practicing her most evil laugh in the moonlight. This internal conflict would be the best part about her if only she were weighing Bam’s death against an equally powerful motive. But there is hope on the horizon: it turns out this was only the prologue. Apparently this has all taken place on the same floor, the testing floor, and nobody has even started climbing the Tower yet. With a late-episode time jump and a new hairdo for Bam, big changes are afoot. Considering that this series is currently ranked first in popularity on Crunchyroll (so yeah, maybe I’ve been a little harsh), I’m optimistic that the show will get another season to fill in the blanks. For now, I’m going to celebrate this show’s conclusion by finally reading the webtoon, which I’d refrained from (aside from the first couple of chapters just to get a feel for it) in order to give the show an assessment with zero expectations. I hear from the fans that it’s a pretty fantastic read.
Tower of God is currently streaming on
Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist and model kits at Gunpla 101.