Arguably one of the best Chinese studios out there, G.CMay Animation, decided to develop a season 2 for Mo Dao Zu shi -also known as Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation-. What they’ve managed to create is an emotional and stunning piece of animation, along the lines set out on the first season.
However, instead of taking the time to unfold the extensive backstory of the characters as they did in the onset of season 1, this time they took the plunge to the action-packed wonderful pace of the end of the 1st season from the very start, making it really enjoyable.
Without changing too much the recipe
that lead to the success of season 1, Mo Dao Zu shi presents a character-driven story based on a Chinese cultivation world setting with a fair amount of action scenes, Wei Wuxian comedic paintbrushes, and an amazing work in the artistic department; still, a darker tone is set, mainly due to the darkening/despair effect that both the misfortunate events and the demonic arts have in our protagonist.
Besides, the moral conflict WW brings to the table much more complexity and tragedy making the show much more interesting. So, though we are not facing a really complex story, they way things are told and conducted make it a really nice piece of storytelling.
Moreover, though the cast is pretty much the same, we can observe that on season 2, G.CMay Animation steps up in the characterization of both our main cast and the intricacy of the villains/evil, as on season 1 felt kind of cartoonish, given the usual pillory attitude which Wei Wuxian displayed combined with the childish goals –and attitude- our main villain -Weng Chao- had. They have managed to portray much better their feelings, their ambitions, what they seek in life, generating in the viewer different impressions depending on the characters –and their actions/state of mind/circumstances- displayed on screen. Furthermore, the score was absolutely breathtaking and well used during the course of this season, endowing much more emotion to a lot of shots of this anime.
Speaking about visuals, this show continues to do things incredibly well. Striking use of angles, elegant coloring, and smooth shading gave so much detail that even the slightest feeling was portrayed on screen; even conversations felt much more realistic than on your usual anime thanks to the animators work. That being said, this last statement can also be applied to action sequences, as both are amazing –even the use of CGI was nice-. Last but not least, backgrounds, oh backgrounds, what can I say other than what an amazing display of talent it was (again)?
So, to sum up things, season 2 has hands down taken another step forward in its project of making Mo Dao Zu Shi franchise one of the all-time great productions of the Chinese anime industry.
Season 2 doesn't disappoint.This season is just as great as the first one.
I wouldn't give it a 10 but a 9 is definitely appropriate.
Although the main action happens in the present, where WWX and LWJ try to solve the riddle of who the Demonic Ghost Hand belongs to. Some open questions are answered, when snippets of the past are beautifully interwoven with the main narrative. As usual, the fight scenes are great and directed well, while significantly less compared to the first season. The voice acting isn't lacking in any aspect, either. Every character's emotions and nuances to them are conveyed beautifully and the
soundtracks match perfectly.
So why wouldn't I give it a 10?
Because sometimes the drawing were too rushed, not every scene was as neatly drawn as I expected it to be. I heard their deadline was in April so unfortunately they had to rush a bit.
Capitalism lives on and I paid a membership to finish this season (8eps in total) early, here comes the review you're looking for that is not a 10.
Mo Dao Zu Shi did not become popular over a night, since the beginning in 2015, it has gained popularity day by day with the BL fans. The growth of the online novel gained a large following which resulted in an audio drama, a manhua, anime, live action drama, and now a second season to the anime. Not to mention a handful of original doujin music.
Out of curiosity, I decided to give it a try. To keep the
review sharp, the success of Mo Dao Zu Shi isn’t purely living off the energy of horny fujoshis but rather, the story, is, quite, interesting.
The novel in relation to the anime:
The world in which the vast amount of characters’ lives in is a complicated well thought out map. The sheer amount of important characters is insane, and to keep all of them somewhat relevant is no easy job. They all have a place in the plot. Mo Dao Zu Shi have manged to break itself out into a homophobic China demonstrates that even when the gay element is removed, the story still holds up, now that says something. If you rethink all the hetero anime, dramas and books you have encountered, if the romantic bit was removed, does the story still hold up?
Mo Dao is a mystery, supernatural story that follows the growth of our characters, allowing you to grow an attachment to the loveable(hateable) boys. Personally, I felt season 1 was rushed and missed out a few details. The beginning wasn’t explained very well and the switch over from the past and present is a bit blurry, if you blink you may have missed it, plus, the beginning of the story was already a bit messy in my opinion since you get introduced to a lot of characters you do not know, but it’s introduced in a way as if you knew them for twenty odd years. Chinese historical shows are a whole new genre, if you are not very familiar with the concepts, it may be a little difficult to digest at first. I recommend to re-watch the first few episodes of season 1 of the ‘present’ timeline again after the memoires before season two – that is, if you decide to watch on.
The drama in relation to the anime:
Recent airing of The Untamed drama based on the same novel has received extremely well feedback from the public, from the ladies and gentlemens. Without the gay agenda and reading between the lines for hidden gay interactions, the general response from the public is that – they cannot tell the original source was based on a BL novel. Alas, that’s not the point…
The elephant in the room:
I have a few major issues with the anime, it seems like most people, including me, is being clouded by too many positive comments to the point where we can’t objectively point out the flaws of the anime, especially when all the reviews are 10s. For me, watching the drama has swayed my opinion on all its offspring – including the anime as I watched it simultaneously.
First and foremost, the art is quite the ‘bang’. The anime made a what I would call a Shinkai Makoto mistakes, meaning the landscapes and backgrounds look beautiful while character designs are shite. Other than the clothes, I can’t pinpoint the characters, everyone else is just a blur, Sizhui and Jingyi is just one design. Individually, the characters appear quite slick, but all of them in a single anime? It really does not hold up.
Which lead to the next point, the messy story doesn’t help the large amount of characters that are unidentifiable. The anime missed out a lot of details, including the sworn brotherhood between Mingjue, Xichen and Guangyao and suddenly you hear them calling each other brother in the second season, and no, a narrator saying a 5000 word essay does not count as good story telling in an animated show.
If we were to speak from the perspective of a newbie for Mo Dao, the anime is going to be confusing, the reason why I don’t particularly feel that way is because my head automatically filled in the gaps with the novel and drama knowledge. When in reality, if you just watched the anime, there are too many gaps, difficult to follow the story, the events do not flow together and it jumps back and forth on the timeline too much, you kind of have to take the snippets of the past and piece it together in your head to make a flowing story. On top, it can be difficult to identify whether it’s a snippet of the past or an imagination, eg. the scene where Wei Wuxian is talking to what seems like a 3/4 year old Jinling, when really Wei Wuxian never meet Jinling until the present timeline but that was attached to the flashback - unless the anime implied that actually happened, because they also added a scene where apparently Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji meet as kids, cute, but what the fuck is going on.
In fact, I think watching the live action drama is a better option, it acts out even the smaller details the novel didn’t have (I know, crazy, how is that even possible). It had dedicated scenes to how the Jiang family was wiped out, Shijie’s relationship with Zixuan and bits and pieces that was glanced over in the novel. Plus, you can tell the characters apart because the actors look different. While the drama tells the story slightly differently with some new content due to Chinese censorship, I still think it tells the story better than the anime.
Oh for fuck sake how did this turn into a drama review, they did not pay me to say this.
Bottom line, by the progression of the show up until now, I don’t have much hope for the writing to suddenly improve, maybe in season 3 the Yicheng arc will shock me, but until then this adaption up to season 2 is a meh.
Honestly, as a Chinese person, I've never found much draw in period Chinese dramas/animations. I just tend to find the idea of ancient China and notions like sworn brotherhoods over-romanticized... but Mo Dao Zu Shi drew me in easily. The music is fantastic. I don't think I've ever come across any show that made music instruments seem so cool and believable as "weapons". The consistent emphasis on the idea of "cultivation" grounds the possibility that sounds created by instruments can have that power. This "cultivation" affects one's personality, status in society, sense of identity etc. And instruments having powers isn't treated as a whim in
a overdramatic action packed anime. Not only that, the theme songs and interludes creates the sense of a sweeping romance transcending time.
I have to say, it was a struggle at first to tell the characters apart from each other. Hence the art score rating of 8, although just based on aesthetics and appeal, it certainly deserved a 10. It adds complexity to the task to understanding the layered storyline, when some of the characters in similar clothing also look so similar... buuut, I still gave this show a high overall score of 9 because:
- The two main characters are fantastic. They're layered and flawed and aware of their own flaws. There isn't this tendency for them to be always right just because they are heroes and protagonists. The voice actors are amazingly expressive with a wide range of nuanced emotions.
- The relationship between the main characters are beautiful and believable. They don't suddenly abandon all their duties because now they've found a soulmate that they want to spend their lives with. There are so many hurdles, it almost seems impossible for this relationship to flourish, but it does... and the audience is painfully aware of the cost of that.
- You don't totally have to understand the exact chronological sequence of everything that unfolded to really enjoy this show. It's beautiful, and pacing is great, the character relationships are fascinating and complex. The timelines are still unfolding but it doesn't bother me. I mean it's a reincarnation plot. Even the characters are figuring things out.