Quanzhi Fashi (QF) is one of the most interesting anime shows I have seen in recent years (I believe the correct term is ‘donghua,’ but I’m still going to call it ‘anime’ because I’m racist like that). On the surface, it does not look like it much of anything: The general premise is hackneyed by this point; the character designs are bland & cookie-cutter; the animation is shoddy; the voice acting is underwhelming at best; and the entire production smacks of low-budget garbage. By all accounts, this series should suck serious ass... but, somehow, it doesn't. In fact, part of the reason why I find it so interesting is the mere fact that I do indeed like this show. A lot.
Now, let's get those scores out of the way and jump right into this shit:
STORY + CHARACTERS: QF is, at its core, a coming-of-age story about a boy who finds himself in a strange world and must fight the odds to reach the top. The MC, Mo Fan, is a normal-ish Chinese teenager who wakes up one day to find that his world has fundamentally changed. For the most part, everything is the same, but for two major differences: The world is now governed by magic; and monsters are a very real threat, even to society as a whole. Unfortunately for Mo Fan, because he lived without magic up to this point, he knows next to nothing about it, making him an instant flunkie in middle school. Now, he has to find a way to not only survive in a world of magic & monsters, but get himself enrolled in a magic high school and become the best damn mage he can possibly be…
While the story is another addition to the isekai library, this show puts a bit of a twist on the typical plot of such fare: Instead of finding himself in a completely different universe a la Overlord or Rise of the Shield Hero, he wakes up in basically the same place, but with a few added, yet significant, details; also, unlike most isekai these days, knowledge of his “old world” will do him no good because he hasn’t really gone anywhere different - this, combined with his ignorance of magic, immediately puts him at a severe disadvantage in nearly all respects. I think these aspects give QF a unique flavor that sets it apart from other entries in the genre, and the fact that Mo Fan is a sympathetic MC makes it work in spite of its flaws.
Perhaps the most engaging part of QF for me, however, is the “mythology” of the series: How spells are cast; which spells one can use; what one must do to become powerful; etc. The progression of the story and the presentation of various facets of their society & its use of magic made it feel as though one were playing an RPG, in a way, which can be a good thing or a bad thing - in this case, it was a good thing, because it kept you engaged. Solid foot-in-the-door work, I must say. Is it particularly detailed or immersive? Absolutely not. This is, IMO, to the benefit of the show, however, since your imagination can run a little wild without losing sight of the central mythos. Sometimes a little goes a long way, and I think the production understood this… or was forced by budget constraints.
Obviously, one shouldn’t expect Oscar-worthy dialogue & storytelling out of a cheaply-produced Chinese anime series, and QF is no exception. The plot is a bit predictable, which can be a downer for some. Also, the flow of the story is pretty disjointed, and there are times when you don’t know how many years have passed between scenes. Another issue I had with it is the lack of character development, with only maybe two characters changing significantly as the series progresses - outside of them, everyone was rigidly-defined and didn’t deviate much from their molds. Then again, when you have perhaps 25% less time than other shows of the same length, how much character development can you really fit into the picture? In the end, though, I can forgive this fault because the show is really only concerned with one character, and that single-minded devotion actually kind of works in this case.
A show like this would fall apart without the right MC, and Mo Fan is a protagonist you cannot help but get behind and support. Unlike most male protagonists in anime these days, Mo Fan is just a normal-yet-good-natured teenager, not some 30-something virgin otaku, borderline sex offender, washed-up loser or Jesus-like holy figure in the rough. The character is actually a human being with human strengths & flaws and not some insufferable wannabe-saint (which becomes apparent when you hear his inner monologue), making him instantly more relatable than most. He is also pretty much the only character to undergo any significant change throughout the show, and even that is pretty limited personality-wise (although such becomes more pronounced in season 2). Mo Fan may not be the most complex or profound character, but he is a solid & likeable MC, much better than, say, a certain handsy demon lord I could mention.
ART: I can sum up the quality of the animation in QF with three words: poor, lazy and inconsistent. It is not so much the art itself completely sucked ass, although there are a few really shittily-drawn scenes (ep. 6 @ ~6:00 mark), but that so little effort was put into making the animation flow properly, much less seamlessly. It is really obvious that the animators were trying to get by with as few frames as possible, a fatal flaw which becomes particularly noticeable in many of the “action” scenes. This truly is a shame, since this visuals could have been stunning if the producers actually gave a shit.
Here is what surprises me the most about the low art quality in QF: This show was produced by Tencent Penguin Pictures (TPP), which also produced the acclaimed masterpiece known as Quanzhi Gaoshou (QG). Truthfully, QG is one of the most beautifully-animated shows I have ever seen, and one of the few which has been able to incorporate CGI in such a flawless & appropriate fashion. I gave that motherfucker a solid 10 out of 10 because it is a prime example of a perfect anime: The animation is top-notch, the plot is unique and gripping, the character designs are gorgeous, and pretty much everything about the world it created is intriguing and engaging. This raises the inevitable question: If TPP was able to produce a masterpiece like QG, why is the animation in QF such garbage by comparison? Sure, any production house can end up releasing a total piece of shit, but the companies capable of producing something like, say, Cowboy Bebop or Princess Mononoke or even QG usually wouldn’t fuck up quite this bad.
Shit, if I keep up with these abbreviations, this is going to start reading like some high-OT Scientology shit!
SOUND: The same complaints I had about the art can be, to some extent, applied to the sound design as well, but you may have noticed that I rated the sound much higher. Why? Simple: Smooth-ass jazz licks! Aside from the voice acting being more acceptable than the animation (some of it is a bit cringey, though) there is actually some good music in the series, especially those jazzy guitar licks, which are fucking sexy as hell. In fact, I loved that lick in the outro theme so much that I taught myself how to play it - the only other anime-related tune I have ever bothered to learn is BoA’s “Every Heart,” which I consider to be perhaps the best song ever used in anime… well, unless you include “10’s” by Pantera, which was used in the Dragonball Z film ‘Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan,’ because Pantera is stronger than all. Bitches.
To sum it up succinctly, the voice acting & sound effects are generally lackluster, but the music is pretty solid, especially when it involves that jazzy guitar.
ENJOYMENT: Simply put, I loved watching this series. So much so, in fact, that I’ve binge-watched all three seasons more than once, and again for this review. Surprisingly, considering all of its flaws, the show has a lot of replay value, and due to its shorter episodes, the time investment is far less than most episodic anime. When you are excited for the next season, you know the show did something right.
IN SUMMATION: I see QF as something of a “butterface” in the world of Chinese anime: She may not have a pretty face or a stylish wardrobe, but she has a heart of gold and a sexy-ass body to boot. What QF is lacking in the production department it makes up for with a compelling story, an intriguing world setting and sympathetic characters, making it something of a raw, unpolished gem. If you want a different flavor of isekai, this is definitely worth a look-see.