If I said I didn’t spend the last half of ‘Foreboding Wind in the Ancient Country’ crying at my computer, I would be lying.
‘Foreboding Wind in the Ancient Country’ had the beginning of a scene I’ve been sort of vague about for the donghua-only crowd. I’ve been describing it as ‘one of my three favorite scenes’ or ‘my favorite scene from book one’ (there are five ‘books’ in TGCF) and left it at that. But it’s here now, guys! Welcome to the Sinner’s Pit!
But that happens at the end! And I’m picky about how I review things and like to go in chronological order. So I’m going to put a pin into my frantic fangirl sob-fest and start at the beginning.
‘Foreboding Wind in the Ancient Country’ picks up right where ‘Scorpion-Tailed Snake Shadow‘ left off, with our main characters hiding from these two mysterious women in the ruins of Banyue (Crescent). We see that at least one of these women has some pretty powerful magic, which makes the already precarious building that San Lang and Xie Lian chose to hide out in shake and crumble even more when she uses it.
Of course San Lang protects Xie Lian from potential harm, because if you haven’t picked up on it by now, there are some BIG FEELS between them. He has intervened repeatedly to protect Xie Lian from danger, and a potentially collapsing building can be pretty darn dangerous. He plays it cool after, simply waving his hand to disperse the dust, but Xie Lian is still surprised by the action. Add this to the growing pile of San Lang oddities to analyze. That pile is getting pretty huge, honestly.
The immediate danger passes when Nan Feng sends a blast of fire at the women, thus getting their attention and having them follow him away from the others. This scene was so aesthetically pleasing that I once again find myself singing the gospel of Haoliners. These two women characters, which have yet to be named, are fan favorites and they are absolutely doing them justice here. Animation suits them well as it can really show off how they use their powers. My mind is immediately skipping ahead to other action-heavy scenes and how amazing those are going to look. I can’t wait.
Also, let’s be real, a lot of fans have crushes on these women (myself included) and they look really really pretty. There’s a very base desire of wanting to see the characters we have a crush on do badass things and look gorgeous while doing it. It’s important, you guys. And I will watch these scenes on repeat with big hearts in my eyes. Thank you, Haoliners. You did us a solid here.
After pulling A-Zhao from the rubble, they set about to find the Banyue Fern, which is the antidote for the scorpion-tailed snake venom. An interesting translation note here is that they kept ‘Banyue’ as a descriptor for the plant and the soldiers, whereas they translated ‘Banyue’ as ‘Crescent’ for the kingdom and its people themselves. I’m not sure why they choose to translate it in some cases, but not others.
I feel moderately bad for donghua-only fans when it comes to discussing Banyue now because the translation choices are going to make it confusing. For anyone who reads my reviews, however, just know that ‘Banyue’ means ‘crescent’ and you should be able to keep up just fine. Most of us just call everything ‘Banyue’ when discussing this segment of the plot, so keep that in mind.
Our group soon discover that they aren’t alone in Banyue. Some members of band of travelers chose to follow them in search of the the Banyue fern. This is, of course, a terrible decision on their part. The dangers of Banyue clearly weren’t really adequately conveyed to them, because why else would you not only head there but bring a kid with you. Honestly, people. Have some self preservation.
I suppose the draw of the antidote outweighs the risk for them, though, and they set about trying to find it themselves. San Lang, however, has found a dose of the antidote and applies it to Xie Lian’s sting. There’s an aversion to touch on San Lang’s part in many scenes, this one included, and part of him second guesses Xie Lian’s reactions every time there’s physical contact between them. We’ve had a few moments like this already going all the way back to when San Lang almost fell off the oxcart in ‘Daily Life at Chestnut Temple.’
I’m not sure how clear this type of awkward interaction is conveyed in the donghua without having read it more explicitly spelled out in the novel, but consider this me firmly pointing donghua-only fans at these moments so you can be all sad like the rest of us. Sometimes his reactions feel like a punch to the heart, and I want donghua-only people to truly feel this deep in their bones, too. Hurts, doesn’t it? Yeah.
The group finds even more of the plant, but also stumble across what we call the ‘mud man’ or ‘mud face.’ Someone or something is living in the dirt of Banyue, completely unable to move and clearly confused about the world around him. This creature thinks he’s human, but he’s very clearly not. Somehow he’s convinced himself that it’s perfectly normal to be stuck in the mud for 50 to 60 years and not die. It would be almost sad if he wasn’t, you know, trying to kill them.
This moment leads to another interesting comparison between the donghua and manhua. Whereas the donghua shows that this creature lashed out its tongue and killed one of the travelers, you don’t really see much. There’s a little bit of blood trickling from his ear, but that’s in. The manhua got super graphic with this, however, and shows… bits of brain. It’s gross, y’all.
The manhua artist STARember clearly has more freedom with how they choose to depict things and really pushes it hard. We get both inexplicably sexy San Lang, and gross brain matter flying all over the place in the manhua. The donghua, however, remains fairly PG. Even without the graphic brain splatter, though, the mud man is fairly gross. Especially when he gets shattered and has to confront what he really looks like. He still can’t quite wrap his head around what’s happened to him and goes to great lengths to explain that he’s still human.
‘Foreboding Wind in the Ancient Country’ has now introduced us to Ke Mo (Millstone) and his soldiers. Nobody in the book fandom calls him ‘General Millstone,’ though, so just expect us to call him ‘Ke Mo’ going forward.
The divergence with how the manhua and donghua choose to depict things really strengthens with Ke Mo. In the manhua he looks basically human, but in the donghua he’s very clearly a ‘creature’ of some kind, with a brightly colored uniform.
Can I say here that I’m really not fond of either depiction? That’s a rare criticism coming from me. I think both STARember and Haoliners are doing a fantastic job of bringing this story to life, but neither image matches what I had in mind. I saw the more creature-like Ke Mo in my head, but in more subdued armor.
But that’s okay. Honestly, the novel leaves some of his appearance up in the air, so this is fine. This is the description of Ke Mo and his soldiers from the Suika translation of the book:
This “man” was gigantic.
His face was as grim as steel, his expression ferocious and turbulent, like the face of a beast. A thin layer of armour draped from his shoulders and reached down at least nine feet. Rather than a man, one could say he was more like a walking wolf. Behind him, more and more similar forms appeared.
Each one of these “men” were large like horses, built like beasts, and carried a sharp tooth-filled mace on their shoulders. They might as well have been werewolves.
I can see how this could be taken in either direction, and how my own mind supplied something in the middle. So yeah, I’m being a little critical, but I can see how this difference happened fairly easily.
General Ke Mo and his soldiers take Xie Lian, San Lang, A-Zhao, and the travelers to the Sinner’s Pit.
THE SINNER’S PIT!
I said I’d have trouble writing a proper review of this scene because I’d just want to scream about it. So forgive me for a moment as I just AAHHHHHHHHH!
Have you ever had your favorite scene from your favorite book get adapted so well you just want to cry? Because that’s what I’m going through now. I’m so incredibly pleased by it that I’m struggling to find words. It’s beautiful.
Granted, we only get the first half of the scene before ‘Foreboding Wind in the Ancient Kingdom’ ends. And there are a few differences between the novel and the donghua, so it’s hard for me to say that this scene plays out perfectly. But I’m really okay with these minor tweaks, and I don’t expect the last half of this scene will vary too terribly much either. These changes don’t at all take away from how it played out in the book, and actually add to it.
The Sinner’s Pit is a huge enclosed space filled with Banyue soldiers and the corpse of a girl strung up to a pole over it. There’s not a lot of context for the pit spelled out in the donghua and you might get some more in depth explanation for it next episode, but I think it’s safe to say it’s a really scary place to be and you definitely don’t want to end up down there. It basically means certain death unless you are an immortal of some kind.
Ke Mo, however, decides that two people should get thrown in, and the first unlucky person is A-Zhao. The second would have been the child, but Xie Lian steps in to prevent that from happening. It’s revealed that Xie Lian can speak the Banyue language, and we’re given another history lesson about the world that we’re in as a result of this.
Yong An is the kingdom that Banyue considers to be their enemy. They occupied adjacent areas of the desert and had a lot of interaction with one another, so being able to communicate in a shared language is a given. Since Banyue has fallen, they assume Xie Lian is from Yong An. That kingdom, too, has fallen, but they assume he’s at the very least an ancestor of them and, thus, an enemy to Banyue.
Xie Lian can’t really explain that he’s an immortal who learned the language hundreds of years ago without revealing his identity as a God. It’s all very tense and hard to explain, so Xie Lian finds himself in a fairly tricky spot. He either has to make up a bunch of lies on the spot or reveal himself in front of everyone. He’s insistent that he’s the one thrown in the pit, though… until San Lang steps forward.
I repeat, AAAAAHHHHHH!!!
I have read this section of the book maybe, I don’t know, 20 times? The translation of the dialogue varies a tiny bit, but not enough to change the context of the scene. Xie Lian is terrified seeing San Lang at the edge of the pit, but San Lang assures him that it’s fine, and that he’s going to just go for a little while. And then he jumps into the Sinner’s Pit.
Both the novel and the Manhua have him simply stepping off the ledge and falling in with his arms crossed, but he has significantly more style in the donghua. He takes a running leap, spins in mid air, and extends his arms out as he falls backwards into the pit. And you know what? I’m cool with this change. It looked incredible.
Xie Lian, however, is shattered by this. While he knows San Lang is a bit weird and knows way too much for a teen his age, he doesn’t know if he can survive a fall from that height into a pit of angry ghost soldiers. He’s losing the only person who has really treated him with kindness, and it’s absolutely devastating.
One key difference between the book and the donghua is that San Lang appears to whisper something up to Xie Lian as he falls. What does he say? Well, us book-readers don’t know either!
One guess is that he says ‘xin mo,’ which is a line said in the trailer for the donghua that basically means ‘trust me.’ It actually matches up pretty well…
PLEASE CONSIDER. pic.twitter.com/sSzn6TvtBb
— bella (@hualjan) December 12, 2020
Another guess is ‘Dianxia,’ which is Xie Lian’s royal title that translates as ‘Your Highness.’ Other Gods use this title to address Xie Lian, so we’ve heard it elsewhere before. Normal mortals wouldn’t address him as such without knowing that he’s a God, though.
— ria (@floweringcity) December 12, 2020
We’re in uncharted territory here. Both Heaven Official’s Blessing book fans and donghua-only folk are going to have to learn what was said together at some point. Or maybe we’ll never know? Maybe it’ll remain a mystery.
Either way, OH MY GOD you guys, we are at the Sinner’s Pit. And we get even more Sinner’s Pit next week. And I really don’t know if I can wait. Do I need to reread this chapter of the book another twenty times this week? Perhaps. Because I don’t know how I’m going to just sit here and wait for the rest of this. THIS IS TORTURE!
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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