‘Bygone Banyue Days’ was an exposition-heavy episode with small character moments bringing it all together.
The most important information presented to us in ‘Bygone Banyue Days’ was the reveal of the identity of the General that we learned about back in ‘Scorpion-Tailed Snake Shadow.’ It turns out this mystery general was actually Xie Lian, and he had a friendship with the Banyue Guoshi (Imperial Preceptor/Evil Crescent Taoist) when he was disguised as ‘General Hua Xie’ 200 years ago. That was Xie Lian who kept getting promoted and then demoted, mucking up battle plans with his attempts at peace talks, and then eventually died due to an unfortunate shoelace incident. Our poor precious Martial God’s bad luck is always consistent, it seems.
You can go back and watch ‘Scorpion-Tailed Snake Shadow’ and notice that the General is often depicted with a white bandage wrapped around his neck, just like Xie Lian. It’s not entirely consistent in the flashback images, but it’s definitely there in a few frames. But the consistency of this detail has been mildly sketchy in flashbacks already, especially during the One Flower, One Sword flashback sequence at the end of the first episode. Highlight for Tian Guan Ci Fu novel spoiler discussion: The bandage is absent prior to his first ascension, as it should be since he wasn’t cursed yet. But then it briefly appears when he turns around after Jun Wu’s first appearance, which was also prior to his curse.
‘Bygone Banyue Days’ doesn’t start with this information-bomb, however, and instead picks up at the cliffhanger from ‘Evil Taoist Scourge,’ with the Guoshi jumping into the pit. This is how we meet Banyue as an actual person, instead of a mysterious traitor to the Banyue people. For someone depicted as a ‘bad guy’ to start with, she immediately shows herself to be startlingly willing to accept her fate at the hands of Ke Mo (Millstone) and not at all hostile towards Xie Lian or San Lang.
While it’s clear she has a great deal of power and knows how to use it to her advantage, the only people she’s actually caused harm to were the Banyue soldiers, who have proven themselves to be violent towards innocent humans that happen to pass by the ruins of the Banyue Kingdom. Even then, her violence against them was merely to topple them over into the pit instead of outright destroying them. They were ultimately destroyed by San Lang and not Banyue. This doesn’t exactly stack up to her reputation as an evil Taoist bent on destroying the Banyue people as Ke Mo has depicted her.
Her introduction also leads to some precious character moments between San lang and Xie Lian. When she first lands in the pit, San Lang immediately steps in front of him, once again protecting him from a potential threat like he has so many times before. This triggers some more deep thoughts from Xie Lian, flashing back to when San Lang caught him as he fell into the Sinner’s Pit, which you may recall made me scream a lot.
While San Lang has confessed to not being human, his actions haven’t shown him to have malicious intent towards Xie Lian, so Xie Lian accepts his protection as they figure out what’s happening with the Guoshi. This is the type of dynamic that has made them an OTP for me, and I hope newcomers to the story are enjoying it as well. They are precious and I love them.
When Banyue confronts Xie Lian and San Lang – clearly not recognizing Xie Lian quite yet – Xie Lian is upfront about the fact that he’s a Heavenly Official. He’d already been fairly careless about hiding his identity around San Lang previously, but with San Lang confessing to not being human, all pretense is officially dropped between them. The only other people at the bottom of this pit are ghosts, so there’s no reason to continue putting up the ‘Taoist priest’ cover story anymore.
He introduces San Lang as ‘a friend,’ however. If San Lang wants to continue masquerading as an innocent human teen in front of others, that’s his prerogative. If he’s not offering up his identity to Ke Mo or Banyue, neither will Xie Lian. Once again, their unspoken communication about this type of thing goes to show just how much they are on the same wavelength with each other. They didn’t need to discuss it – it just happened.
Banyue releases the spell that had been preventing them from leaving the pit, confirming that she’s the one that created it in the first place. This revelation causes Xie Lian to once again reflect backward on what they’ve experienced so far. If this girl is the Banyue Guoshi, who were the women running in the desert earlier? They’d clearly had some power and were in a place most people wouldn’t want to go, so they remain fairly suspicious.
Before he has a chance to really think too hard on this, Fu Yao returns. He drops some balls of fire into the pit, and the true extent of the devastation becomes apparent. San Lang slaughtered tons of ghost soldiers, which we generally knew already, but there were enough soldiers to create high stacks of bodies all around them. It’s even more extreme than the low-light glimpses we caught so far had originally alluded to. He basically took out an entire army of powerful ghosts in seconds and it leaves everyone stunned.
This once again causes another precious moment between San Lang and Xie Lian. And yes, I’m going to use the word ‘precious’ as our characters are surrounded by hundreds of corpses. I get how jarring that is, but looks exchanged between them here deserve that descriptor. They are precious, okay? A precious OTP surrounded by corpses.
Xie Lian’s expression asks ‘wow, did you kill all these hundreds of ghosts on your own?’
San Lang’s look back at him conveys ‘yep, I did.’
And Xie Lian actually smiles and just rolls with it.
Did I mention that this is my OTP? Because it is. God, I love them so much.
The piles of bodies trigger another set of reactions among our characters at the bottom of the pit, and here’s where I actually have a bit of criticism for ‘Bygone Banyue Days.’ Anyone who has been reading my reviews knows I’m enjoying the hell out of this adaption and have very little criticism of the series beyond my fussiness about translation choices. But Ke Mo gets upset and starts to beat the crap out of Banyue, and it felt like it went just a little bit further than necessary.
Yes, this reaction has a pretty valid trigger, and I get why it happened story-wise. My issue is less with the fact that it happened and more with how gratuitous the depiction of it felt. It was a bit too brutal and a bit too long for my tastes. I’m a big fan of the book itself and that is pretty brutal to start with, so I expected some brutality in the donghua, but seeing a small child getting her head smashed into rocks by a huge soldier was alarmingly uncomfortable. Perhaps they could have had one less head-smashing scene to turn it down just a notch.
But then again, maybe my discomfort is the point? If so, ‘Bygone Banyue Days’ succeeded. I was incredibly uncomfortable.
When Xie Lian intervenes with this brutality, we dive into flashbacks in earnest and the massive information dump of ‘Bygone Banyue Days’ starts to roll out again. Xie Lian recognizes Banyue as an orphan he knew from back then, and proceeds to explain their history together to Fu Yao and San Lang. He confirms that the tombstone they previously stumbled upon was his and goes into further detail about what happened back then.
Two hundred years ago, Xie Lian came across the Banyue Kingdom by accident and got recruited into their army. He was also accidentally promoted to Lieutenant ‘somehow’ after an incident with bandits, and stuck with the army for an extended period of time.
One of Xie Lian’s quirks is that he’s an absolutely terrible cook, so this chance meeting between them tracks pretty well with his personality. His cooking was so terrible that his fellow soldiers knocked it over into the dirt, where Banyue then eagerly ate as much as she could out of desperation, then promptly gets sick from it.
The child was starving, though, and didn’t want any of this disgusting food to go to waste, so she dove back in for more just to get some food in her stomach. Xie Lian stopped her, however, and gave her a more palatable ration to eat, which she eagerly took.
Fun fact, but apparently soldiers using their helmets for cooking was an actual historical thing at that time. I love when Tian Guan Ci Fu fandom drops bits of knowledge like this. I genuinely had no idea and would have assumed this was just Xie Lian being resourceful on his own. I am forever grateful to the people in this fandom who like to drop tidbits like this so we can get a more thorough picture of the world this story is taking place in. This added another layer of depth to ‘Bygone Banyue Days.’
Xie Lian becomes protective of Banyue at that point, giving her food, comfort, and companionship that she so very desperately needed. But she also made another friend during their time together – a young Yong An boy. He loses track of both of them after he’s trampled in a riot and had no idea she’d become the Banyue Guoshi after they parted ways.
It’s also revealed that he was killed trying to save Banyue, too, which makes his death and their departure all the more tragic. She assumed he’d died protecting her, but instead he’s a God who survived the ordeal, albeit extremely injured from it. It’s a heartbreaking departure for both of them, and their fates were a mystery to each other until now.
One thing I want to expand on here is Xie Lian’s alias. Banyue had called him ‘General Hua.” ‘Hua,’ as you may recall, means ‘flower.’ This is part of Hua Cheng’s name and title as well. Xue Yu Tan Hua (血雨探花) means ‘Crimson Rain Sought Flower,’ and ‘Hua Cheng’ (花城) basically means ‘Flower City.’ It’s important to remember that Xie Lian was also known as Hua Guan Wu Shen (花冠武神), or the ‘Flower Crowned Martial God.’ So ‘Hua’ is already part of both of their official titles.
In this case, Xie Lian took his family name as a given name, and then took a word from his title as a family name. After smashing these two words together, we get ‘Hua Xie.’ The fact that both he and Hua Cheng used the same family name as an alias seems to please our dear San Lang.
Once again we get a precious character moment to tie our exposition festival together as San Lang smiles upon hearing this. My heart is so full. Yes, my sweet babies, you’re both Hua’s, even if only in alias. Love that for them.
But back to the exposition festival of ‘Bygone Banyue Days’ for a moment… Xie Lian is also taken aback by how this sweet orphan he’d watched after could be a traitor to her own Kingdom. She’s unwilling to talk about her reasons for opening the gate to the Yong An soldiers, but when Xie Lian prods her to at the very least talk about the scorpion-tailed snakes, she opens up a bit. She can control them, but there are some who refuse to obey her. She hasn’t been sending them to attack people maliciously, even though that’s what it appears has been happening.
Fu Yao doesn’t believe her and says that she’s a Wrath (second-highest ranking of ghosts), so that’s enough of an explanation for her actions to him. He clearly doesn’t think too highly of ghosts and doesn’t believe they can be anything except malicious. She doesn’t dispute this and is willingly handcuffed by him for her perceived crimes.
Xie Lian is determined to intervene before she’s taken away, though, and asks her to summon the snakes. Even though she can’t control all of them, he wants her to demonstrate this power of hers. She does so, and a few snakes immediately go on the attack, which she insists is beyond her control.
San Lang keeps the snakes at bay with just a look and a flash of his eyes, and a snake once again explodes. We’ve known he was responsible for the snake exploding previously as we had the benefit of watching his eyes flash with power as he stared the creature down. We also know that the look in his eyes can intimidate other spiritual creatures as he did so with the ghosts in ‘Ghost King Hua Cheng.’ Other people’s backs were turned when he used his powers before, but now everyone is together and looking at each other, but he does it anyway.
And then snakes start raining from the sky and the episode cuts off.
Damn, ‘Bygone Banyue Days’ felt so short! Tian Guan Ci Fu’s donghua adaption loves to cut things right in the middle and torture fans, so I shouldn’t be so shocked about this, but part of me is salty that we didn’t get just a few more paragraphs from this chapter. Come on. Please? Just, like, half a dozen more paragraphs. It’d have taken us maybe another 30 seconds or so. Why do you like to torment us with these cuts?
There’s just one more episode left of the season, and then a ‘special episode‘ in February. There’s no news on if this show has been picked up for a second season, but it’s doing pretty well ratings-wise on Bilibili, so I have high hopes. Perhaps Hua Cheng can lend us a bit of luck. Tian guan ci fu, bai wu jin ji.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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