Hello friends! I’m back for the summer with a bunch of drama reviews (I’ve watched a boatload of shows during quarantine, so there are a lot to get through)! We’ll see if I can keep it up, but I was already writing and posting reviews to Facebook, so I thought I would move back to the ole blog, which is a much better platform for reviewing.
Having lost his mother at a very young age, Tang San (Xiao Zhan) grew up relying on his father just as much as his father relied upon him. Meticulous and mature for his age, with extraordinary talent and wit, he was sent to Ruoding Academy, at the age of six, to begin pursuing his dream of becoming a great soul master. There, under the tutelage of Yu Xiao Gang (Calvin Chen), he befriends an orphan by the name of Gu Xiao Wu (Wu Xuan Yi), and together they begin the long and difficult journey of cultivation.
As time passes, the two friends draw ever closer, eventually swearing to look out for each other as siblings for life. As their power and connection grow, Gu Xiao Wu realizes they need more guidance than he can provide. Sending the pair to the Shrek Academy, Tang San and Xiao Wu join five other prodigies from various academies, in their journey of cultivation. Strong in their power, the seven students become known throughout the land as the “Shrek Seven Devils”. With their fame ever-growing, the talents of the Seven are eventually noticed by a few very prominent nobles who invite them to continue their cultivation at the esteemed Tian Dou Royal Academy. Not long after accepting the invitation, the Seven Devils find themselves caught up in an imperial struggle for power, between the first and fourth princes. At the same time, Tang San uncovers a long-hidden secret about his mother’s death.
Suddenly facing battles on many fronts, Tang San finds himself forced to fight, not only to protect those his loves, but to bring honor to his sect, save his country, and complete his quest to become the greatest soul master of all time.
On the surface, this show looks fantastic. The first few episodes really draw you in with a Harry Potter-esque magic that is a blast to watch unfold. Tang San (played by Xiao Zhan of The Untamed fame) is your typical sweet, noble, good guy. He finds out he can become a Spirit Master – some sort of magic wielding warrior? Not really sure what exactly they do besides go to school to learn to be a spirit master and compete in the competition to see who’s the best (I bet you can already see where the show starts losing its luster). Tang San meets Xiao Wu while at his first Academy, an adorable girl (with a bunny spirit! So cute!) who immediately latches onto him and the two form a sibling-like bond.
Shenanigans ensue, leading the two to another Academy, where they learn more about being Spirit Masters, which leads to learning about a dark plot to assassinate a prominent Spirit Master. Tang San also learns that his father is somehow connected to this plot, and he investigates to learn more about his own identity and to save as many people as his good guy conscience requires of him. This is based on an anime, and has a bit of a video game feel, so overall, I really liked the idea of the show.
Ok. The first 5-10 eps of this show were AWESOME. I was all in. I love Xiao Zhan. I hadn’t even watched the Untamed when I started Douluo Continent, and I loved him already.
He does a good job here with the “good guy searching for answers” character, who is somehow both an underdog and an overpowered beast (very anime, if you know what I’m saying), but I couldn’t help but feel the writers just wasted Tang San’s potential. Like, if you’ve seen The Untamed, you’ll know there’s nothing Xiao Zhan can’t do. He’s a remarkable actor. Tang San, while a very nice hero who has his moments of greatness, felt sort of like a cardboard cutout of a great main character for the majority of the time. When we finally got some emotional depth for him around episode 30, I was like, THERE HE IS. Finally. Give this boy something to do, scriptwriter, he’s ready for it.
After about the first 10 episodes, the writers decided to focus on the supporting cast, which was fine, except it was SO BORING. FOR 20 EPISODES. I’ve read lots of reviews where people said they loved getting to know the secondary characters and they thought this stretch of episodes was charming and hilarious, so maybe I’m just hard to please these days. Maybe I was just here for Xiao Zhan and his face was an infrequent focus on these eps. A few of the secondary characters were definitely there for more humorous purposes, and the jokes were funny until they told them for the 20th time.
Insert Sassy Jiang Cheng Eye Roll Here.
For these 20 episodes I kept wondering, “Where is Tang San? Why are we not caring about the main character? Where did the plot go?” It wasn’t like the main characters weren’t there at all, they just didn’t do anything. We focused on the secondary characters and their side stories and weird quirks, but the way it was written, we needed to be a lot more emotionally invested in them to care about what was happening, and they didn’t set us up to be that way. There was SO MUCH TALKING about completely unimportant things that truly didn’t matter, rather than anyone actually doing anything. So much tell, very little show. It was like they were trying to fill time. And then they would REPEAT these unimportant conversations that never amounted to anything. I was super frustrated. Each episode was way too little, way too late.
Side note: there was also this sort of weird elevator music for half the soundtrack, which was just strange. The music in the first episode is a LIE (we were deceived I tell you, DECEIVED). But really, the first episode is SO GOOD. It’s atmospheric, the cinematography is cool, it moves quickly, the music is great. Sigh. What a tease.
And then, a ray of sunshine shot through the clouds of boredom around episode 26ish, and Tang San got the party restarted. From then on, it was almost a totally different show. We finally moved forward with the actual plot. We stopped giving so much screen time to tired jokes and started having cool Spirit Master battles. The Shrek Devils (their academy team name) unraveled mysteries and gained spirit rings (essentially magic power levels). The last ten episodes were excellent, which gives me so much hope for the second season. We actually saw everyone doing things that made us invested in their characters. And Tang San and Xiao Wu finally took center stage again, which the show desperately needed. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger (nothing too horrible), but a second season has already been announced, so no need for the usual annoyance at an inconclusive ending that some dramas give us.
Overall, this show had some rough patches, but it ended up being decent. I know it’s based on like, the most popular donghua in China or something, but still. Xiao Zhan holds everything together, and if you can stick with it in the middle, you’ll be rewarded. This trailer shows what the best sections of the show are like, so if that looks interesting to you, you’ll probably enjoy it. Hopefully the second season keeps that momentum going and gives us a more well rounded story than the first.