Clarity Bells ring, are you listening. In the clan, the men are glistening. Beautiful sights, we’re gay tonight. Watching the Demonic Cultivation show. In the archery range you can make a target, then pretend that he is the Yiling Patriarch. He’ll say, “Have you brutally dismember your enemies?” We’ll say, “No man, but you can do that job when you’re in town”.
The lyrics of these Christmas carols just keep getting weirder. Hope you are feeling very festive, as today I do pretty much a post for my anime blogging secret Santa. So basically a whole lot of anime themed reviewers have gotten together, and have randomly been assigned partnerships. Each partnership is then recommending each other an anime to watch. I have been partnered with the phenomenal writer Yu Alexis, who you can skip over to their site and check out their review on my recommendation Beyond the Boundary. (HEY WOAH, RUDE, READ MINE FIRST AND THEN YOU CAN GO TAKE A LOOK).
As for myself, I have been recommended a Chinese anime. Mo Dao Zu Shi, or The Founder of Diabolism, or Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is an epic fantasy adventure with a lot of pretty young men. Here’s what you need to know about Mo Dao Zu Shi.
Every Frame a Perfect Picture
When watching Mo Dao Zu Shi it’s undeniable that the men are gorgeous. I meant to say that it’s undeniable that the visual presentation is absolutely breathtaking. The widescreen aspect ratio alone presents a more cinematic feel than your average series, but the cinematography and animation do plenty to add a sense of grandiose scale. There’s a lot of creative scene transitions, the action comes across as fast paced but not obscured, and the world seems large and looming. This anime actually overcomes one of my personal turnoffs and that’s an abundance of CGI incorporation.
Dare I say it, it’s one of the best 2D/3D hybridizations since The Prince of Egypt. An odd compliment to say that this show looks like a movie that came out 2 decades prior, but The Prince of Egypt is nothing short of a Magnum Opus. The fact that something on made for television, on a smaller budget, producing more runtime can evoke a similar sense of epic narrative unfolding is quite impressive.
You can compare the two if you like here, though be forewarned that the Mo Dao Zu Shi one does summarize S1 of the anime. I think the editing is quick and vague but if you’d want to avoid them I understand just don’t watch the video or pause it after like halfway through.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s sometimes where it looks more like Sinbad: Leagues of the Seven Seas but for the most part it’s uniquely beautiful. I think a lot of it comes in the form of using the CG elements as dressing. Their inclusion is mostly in ancillary ways either adding vast environments, background elements, or flair to certain effects. That’s why it’s interesting to see this version in comparison to the live action.
Enter the Untamed
The Untamed is the live-action series the accompanies Mo Dao Zu Shi. Now, as a live-action I’m probably supposed to rag on it mercilessly just for attempting to bring a cartoon to life but end up so silly. The truth is that I respect the live action a lot from what I’ve seen. It’s a cinema caliber production, and while it’s a little too reliant on some less credible special effects it is often dazzling. It reminds me a bit of the Full Metal Alchemist live-action than some of the more abysmal attempts. The philosophy is to have a faithful adaptation which it does a spectacular job at, I just wish they would have edited some elements to better fit the medium change.
The Untamed does boosts some positives, even when compared to its animated counterpart. I’ve heard that The Untamed has a much slower pace and allows for a lot more lulls and character-building moments. The anime does feel a bit rushed and does seem to brush over some side characters, so I am interested in how much these changes make a difference. I also give the live action some credit for at least making some distinction between Wei Wuxian before and after the flashback. Despite using the same actor it at the very least uses a mask to distinguish between the 2 identities.
It’s not a spoiler because it’s literally the first thing you learn but Wei Wuxian is dead upon the launching point of the series. Wei holds an infamous reputation of the Yiling Patriarch one of the most evil and wretched to have walked the earth. However, at the start of the story he’s resurrected by a scornful servant who commits suicide to a perform a sacrificial ritual so that the Yiling Patriarch can reign terror once again. So despite being two entirely different people, the appearance change is the difference between the following images.
In the end The Untamed has a lot of clunky action and effects but is entirely watchable. It’s filled with a lot of flashy eastern camerawork and editing such as edited zooms or changing frame rate. It appears to be a lot less consistent of a product whole, but it might be one with a lot more creative choices to dissect.
Who’s This For?
I feel this anime is done a great disservice by the buzzwords associated with it. It’s a BL (Boy Love) anime, or it’s the Chinese anime, but don’t let that detract from what’s important… it’s a good anime. The world of Mo Dao Zu Shi is immensely vibrant, and I think there’s a lot of delicate storytelling to preserve historical culture, while making an enticing fantasy adventure. The characters have very well-defined personalities and characteristics, while not feeling artificial and in a lot of ways creating something raw and genuine.
Despite the story in some ways being standard, I respect a lot of the risks and takes and how overall mature it comes across. It’s a lot of stuff we recognize in other things but not exactly have maybe seen. We’ve all heard about the time when the Fire Nation attacked, but that’s usually relegated to past. It sets up a dramatic and intense story of destruction and genocide and it doesn’t shy away from showing the carnage without being too unnerving or explicit.
The Fallen Hero is certainly a recognizable troupe or character archetype, but rarely do we deal with the consequences of this particular arc. Usually, the fallen hero is a hero easily converted or a quick and simple villain origin story. Here we see the slow descent of a noble and heroic warrior who damned by allies and tormented by foes quickly harnesses his hatred and anger into become a vile monster himself. We get the see the emergence of evil, through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s honestly what the Star Wars prequels tried to be if it wasn’t just a constant stream of meme-worthy dialogue.
Mo Dao Zu Shi has a surprisingly wide appeal if you can get past the homoeroticism and the “not real anime”. I mean I’m sure if I just said, would you like to watch an anime that essential was Game of Thrones then more people would be willing to give this a chance.
While I preach that removing the labels are beneficial as the series offers more the appeasing those two things, let’s not acknowledge their significance. This series is considered greatly controversial so let’s appreciate how incredible it is that this series even exists in China.
I know I come from a country where “people sitting comfortably on the subway” is a form of “oppression” but let’s not forget how less progressive some of the world is. Chinese LGBT citizens still as of 2020 can’t: get married, adopt children as a same-sex couple, and don’t have anti-discrimination law protections. Trust me, this isn’t my country is so much better…it’s not but it is insane to look outside and recognize how something that is trending and becoming so normalized and accepted in my surrounding worldview is still foreign in some cultures. It’s even more insane that in a country that doesn’t even recognize same-sex marriage has this popular show with an all but explicit gay men who lustfully gaze into each other’s eyes.
It seems from what little I know that LGBT Rights Advocacy is a more recognized social issue and is gaining a lot of traction. So, while I do think the series offers something more beyond the BL drama, it’s something significant about the series that it deserves to wear with pride.
That’s an Ending
Before, I end it…. I just have to say that Mo Dao Zu Shi has some great music tracks that really fit the environment so well. The opening theme is distinct and certainly fitting of the series. One of my favorite tracks is the Yiling Patriarch Flute music which is a spine-tingling cacophonous wailing that fits the dark energy of the character. It honestly sounds intense and majestic, it gives the same impression of Sephiroth theme in that you know someone is in trouble.
Something you will only get for me, I enjoy the 2nd ending song, I think the singer is exceptionally talented. However, I could stop thinking that it sounded like a cat food commercial. It says, I believe “Qing Sheng Miao Miao” but every time I just kept thinking “Meow- Meow”. So good luck unhearing that fans of the show, you’re welcome.
I do hope that some fans of the show do show up here. I know that when this was recommended to me that some people were ecstatic about it…probably not realizing that it was me. I’m not one to be afraid to challenge perception and maybe float and unpopular opinion even if a respectable writer such as Yu Alexis recommended it. I don’t care if my own mother recommends it, I’m not going to sugar-coat something to be agreeable and nice to someone. I’ll be respectful about it, but if I didn’t like things than I’ll be sure to include them.
That’s why I hope Yu and the Mo Dao Zu Shi fans can rejoice again with how predominately positive my thoughts are being. I genuinely agree with you guys, this was an interesting series that I’m glad I got to watch. You can find Mo Dao Zu Shi on YouTube and watch it for free. As well as The Untamed being free on VIKI. Give it a watch if you haven’t already.
Did you enjoy the series, what was some of your favorite moments or characters, did it ever convince you to buy ice cream (the fans will know)? These are all things you should consider answering in the comments, I do love me some comments. Thanks for reading, happy holidays, and I’ll see you at the movies!