People aren’t talking nearly enough about Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师, AKA “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”). I saw pretty art on Twitter and went hunting, only to find this GORGEOUS work that had me first reading 75 chapters of the manga before marathon watching a full season of donghua (Chinese animation) in one day. One day. Then I started on what I could find of season two.
So, what is it?
Just so beautiful I could cry.
Oh, and it’s boys love.
No, I’m kidding. Well, I mean, I’m not kidding, but let’s just get that out of the way right now. It’s BL. But is more than that alone.
From what I gather, it originates from a novel I’ve never read and spawned a whole bunch of additional media including audio dramas, manga, a two season donghua (both the latter aforementioned, of course), and even a live-action adaptation! The manga is admittedly a bit hard to understand when you’re first jumping in (especially because of all the “formal name/birth name” stuff), but if you hold out it begins to make more sense, and the donghua really clears things up on its end. The animation is also SO BEAUTIFUL that I am obsessed.
It’s about this guy named Wei Ying who is kind of a troublemaker, but he’s got a very good heart. This kid lives in a time and place that attempts to cultivate Xain (spirituality, guys) and keep things at peace by balancing forces. To get more specific, there are these “cultivators” who strive to control spiritual power in moral ways to help people and keep them safe from demons, ghosts, spirits, and the like. Well, getting into very minor spoilers, stuff goes down, and this kid falls off the straight and narrow cultivation path for all the right reasons. GUY. BECOMES. INFAMOUS.
After several years, circumstances dictate his death, and he’s reincarnated after several more by a random guy who lost his mind due to familial abuse. (Yeah, not kidding.) That guy dies, and Ying takes over his body, not that he has a choice in the matter. Things get even more complicated when he stumbles upon people he knew in his previous life, including the epitome of straight and narrow himself, Lan Zhan.
Lan Zhan is a man from a very strict and proper cultivation clan who knew Ying from childhood. They spent some time learning together as teens and, consequently…
Well, to avoid further spoilers, I’ll just say that Lan Zhan did doth protest too much, but even he knew that after a while.
That, my readers, is just where the story BEGINS. There’s so much to unpack in this tale of love, morality, and betrayal. The show (and manga, but I’m focusing on this STUNNING show) examines ways in which things aren’t always as black and white as they seem when it comes to right and wrong. It also shows how people grow, change, and adapt to their circumstances for good or ill. So much pressure and motivation go into the choices people make, and family relationships are complicated, to say the least. Friendships fall together and apart. Do the ends justify the means?
There’s not enough self-restraint in the world that would allow me to further sing its praises without getting into heavy spoilerific content, so instead, I’ll tell you how to watch this unlicensed gem.
You CAN watch the first 13-15 episodes (season one) on YouTube thanks to Tencent, but some of those episodes may be region-locked depending on where you live. In that case (and also in order to watch season 2), I must admit… I pirated. Sort of.
I’m ALL ABOUT supporting the official release when possible; I am fortunate enough that I’m even in a financial situation that I subscribe to both HIDIVE and Funimation Now. But this is one of those shows that doesn’t (and probably will never) give a western company a license, so, in order to watch it, I had to stream it on one of the many free-to-watch pirate sites. Keeping in mind that I will ABSOLUTELY support the legal release and buy it because I love it so much, I recommend you check out one of the safer sites to watch. And then, you know, fangirl with me about it.
The show is somewhat obscure, but I can’t figure out why because it’s frankly incredible. Have you seen it? Do you love it? Let me know in the comments below! (Which I always read, guys! And I love them! My brain is just bad at letting me respond right nowwwwww <3)
UPDATE: TENCENT IS UPLOADING THE CURRENT SEASON 2 CONTENT TO YOUTUBE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. GO WATCH IT LEGALLY, FOLKS!!