This series was first recommended to me, honestly, by Netflix after I finished The Untamed last year, but I got a second rec for it on my post for Gank Your Heart. I won’t bore you with the convoluted explanation of how I finally decided to sit down and watch this, but basically, Yang Yang is phenomenal, and everyone should watch The King’s Avatar.
The King’s Avatar is based on a Chinese web novel by Hu Dielan and has both a live-action adaptation as well as a donghua. I watched the live-action (although when I searched for posts on Tumblr it was like 95% for the donghua, so I will probably be checking that out soon), and I’m not sure what differences there are between the two versions, or how they differ from the book. The story follows Ye Xiu, a professional gamer who is essentially forced into retirement and decides to start over completely.
The series opens with Ye Xiu and his team winning the championship for Glory. Almost immediately after, he is removed from his position as captain because his highly private lifestyle (he doesn’t do promotional events or even show his face in public) isn’t doing anything to generate revenue for the team. Rather than stay on the team after being demoted, he chooses to “retire”, despite the fact that this leaves him with no income and no place to live. He ends up at an internet café across the street from his former team’s headquarters on the night that the new Glory server launches. Using the old account of his dead best friend, Ye Xiu resolves to start from the beginning – at level 1 – and work his way back into the professional league.
A big draw of this show for me is Ye Xiu, our charismatic and entirely relatable lead. Yang Yang plays him with an endearing sort of humility, a human disaster (seriously, dude can’t even change a lightbulb at the beginning) who just wants to play video games. Soft-spoken and genuinely kind, he endures almost every setback with an inhuman level of stoicism even when faced with what seems like everyone in the world actively working to sabotage him.
But Ye Xiu isn’t the only character on The King’s Avatar. Surrounding him are a bevy of supporting characters who add drama, fun, and flair to the show. As Ye Xiu forges ahead on his quest to return to the pro league, we meet the ragtag bunch of newbies who will eventually become his new team. We are also introduced to various members of rival teams, most of whom are spectacular and not used enough. Ye Xiu seems to have a special relationship (not always a good one, mind you) with virtually every single one of them, and the varying dynamics do a good job of balancing the show.
Actually, the biggest star on this show is probably Glory. Unlike Gank Your Heart, another series about professional gamers, The King’s Avatar is more about the game itself than the people involved. We spend a lot of time in the virtual world of Glory, where the avatars all eerily resemble the characters. Matches span multiple episodes and we get to see quite a bit of gameplay. The graphics for these sequences are excellent; it’s almost like playing the game yourself. And frankly, I wish Glory was a real game, because it looks super fun.
One of the biggest surprises for me while watching this is that there was no main romance at all (although, honestly, Yu Wenzhou and Huang Shaotian are dating, right?). There are three female characters who could have easily been paired off with Ye Xiu, and instead his relationships with them end up being less romantic and more friendly or familial. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but I actually enjoyed the break from relationship drama. I also loved how the lack of romances meant that none of the supporting female characters would be reduced to simply being a love interest. They each have their own story arcs, their own obstacles to overcome. They’re not primarily defined by their relationship with Ye Xiu.
In fact, the three main actresses are all featured prominently with Yang Yang in both the opening and ending credits, while the actors playing the supporting male characters go by much more quickly. (Although, to be fair, there are a lot more of them.)
That is something that I loved about The King’s Avatar that I, only in retrospect, didn’t really like about Gank Your Heart. Gank Your Heart had some amazing female characters, but none of them were current gamers. Every character that’s introduced in The King’s Avatar (barring Ye Xiu’s family) is obsessed with Glory, because of course, they are, that’s the whole point of the show. Su Mucheng, Ye Xiu’s former teammate, and Tang Rou, a new player that Ye Xiu reluctantly takes under his wing, are the only named female gamers, but they are peppered among the rival teams. In fact, both ladies are highly revered for their skill, with Su Mucheng being considered one of the top players in the league. It’s a refreshing sight, considering even in America most shows about geek culture are primarily male-dominated.
I am a little annoyed that the female players had to wear skirts while their male teammates got to wear pants, but considering what some female Olympic athletes have to wear, it’s not that bad in the grand scheme of things.
This was an enjoyable, entertaining binge for me; I was extremely invested in virtually every step of Ye Xiu’s journey, and as I said on Twitter, I often found myself getting very tense during matches, even though I’m watching actors play a fake video game. The stakes felt very real, OK? There was a nice balance between drama (I have no idea who spat in some of these people’s bean curd, but they were really out to get Ye Xiu) and humor, and some really great messages about believing in yourself, having a passion, and remembering that idols are actually people.
Basically, this show is just a lot of fun, and it’s exactly what I needed right now.
The 40-episode first season of The King’s Avatar is currently streaming on Netflix. A second season has apparently been greenlit though does not yet seem to be in production.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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