The special episode of Tian Guan Ci Fu was basically everything I wanted and more. The Hualian was strong today.
The special episode covered a section of the book I’ve read dozens of times. When I’m stressed I pull up this section and read it again and again and again because it’s just so wonderful. Did the donghua vary a bit? Yeah. Do I care? No, not at all. The donghua has been remarkably good at keeping the most important bits and only changing what needs to be tweaked for the format the story is being told in. In fact, some of the changes they make actually enhance things, which is surprising and delightful. Overall, I’m incredibly happy with how this turned out. This hit all the notes it needed to and left me as a puddle of feelings on the floor.
The special episode picks up shortly after the finale. While in the book the entire Hua Cheng reveal takes place at Puji Shrine, they chose to start it off still out in Banyue Pass during the finale. This took away some of the intimacy that the close quarters and privacy of Puji Shrine offered for that scene, but it appears they changed their mind about altering the setting of this moment and had the rest play out as it does in the book. The remainder of the Hua Cheng reveal takes place in Xie Lian’s tiny shrine, complete with romantic candlelit mood lighting and all the most sentimental music imaginable.
My favorite moment from this incredible scene is when Xie Lian is chopping vegetables with his back turned to Hua Cheng and they use each other’s proper titles for the first time.
“Xue Yu Tan Hua (Crimson Rain Sought Flower)?”
“Taizi Dianxia (Your Royal Highness, the Crown Prince).”
This moment is just so beautiful I basically want to cry. And oh god, if me crying about two lines from the special episode is too much for you, this review is definitely not going to be for you because I cried multiple times. I have a lot of emotions about this story, guys. A lot.
The false identities have been dropped and they can finally get to know each other in a very real way. They no longer have to dance around their identities or feign ignorance. They are God Taizi Dianxia, Xie Lian and Crimson Rain Sought Flower, Hua Cheng, and they are friends. There’s still the fact, of course, that Hua Cheng is wearing the innocent false face he used to disguise himself with. But we’ll get to that in a bit. It’s an important bit, but a lot plays out before we get to address it.
Can we, for just a moment, focus on the fact that Xie Lian feels that his title sounds ‘treasured’ coming from Hua Cheng? I am dead. I am deceased. He doesn’t really say anything about how it makes him feel in the book. He starts to, but then cuts himself off and has an entire inner monologue about it before changing the subject. This is how it plays out (excerpt from the Suika translation):
‘When others called him “Your Highness,” it was sometimes emotionless and all business like Ling Wen. But most of the time, when people called him “Your Highness,” it was laced with a sense of disdain; like intentionally addressing an ugly woman as a beauty, somewhat sarcastic.
Yet when Hua Cheng called him “Your Highness,” those two words were uttered with grave sincerity. So, while it was hard to describe, Xie Lian felt when Hua Cheng called him “Your Highness,” it felt different than when others called him “Your Highness.”‘
At that point, Xie Lian changes the topic and starts to talk about Mount Yujun without actually addressing why it feels different coming from him. Again, I’m not at all bothered by changes like this, and actually think it enhances the moment. Judging by the screaming and crying of my fellow Hualian shippers all over social media, it seems this change is almost universally loved. A lot of us feared that censorship issues would remove a lot of the inherent romantic moments between them, but somehow it’s even more explicitly romantic on its face. I’m impressed!
But then we get to the Ghost Groom situation, and the flirting really gets turned up to 11 here. Xie Lian asks if Hua Cheng was the bridegroom that took him away from the bridal sedan, but then stops himself. He rephrases and asks if he was pretending to be the bridegroom that led him away and Hua Cheng responds he wasn’t pretending to be anything. In retrospect, yeah, he didn’t really put on a front here. He was all in red like a traditional Chinese wedding, sure, but he always wears red. So really, this meeting was him being more upfront about who he was than when they encountered each other on the oxcart.
The raw power in their flirting in this conversation cannot be overstated. They are making hardcore heart-eyes at each other throughout the entire thing and, again, I’d like to remind everyone that I AM DECEASED. This is my OTP, okay? So seeing them flirt like this is just a lot. It feels good, man. Bravo, Haoliners. You absolutely did this scene justice.
When asked by Hua Cheng how he knew it was him, Xie Lian explains what we’ve all been seeing this entire season: Hua Cheng wasn’t trying very hard to disguise himself! Seriously. It wasn’t that big of a challenge, all things considered. Hua Cheng passed all of the ghost tests, which means he had to be a Devastation in order to have such a convincing false body. He did all sorts of miraculous feats, so he clearly wasn’t human. And he was all dressed in red, which narrows down the field to exactly one suspect. The Calamities are all color-coordinated: Bai Wuxiang wears white, Black Water wears black, Qi Rong wears green, and Hua Cheng wears red. It’s not terribly difficult to deduce.
Before their conversation can get too far, Banyue has a moment and rolls out the door while still in her pot. The poor girl has been through some trauma and just wanted to enjoy the stars for a bit. Her presence in the special episode does bring up an important bit of information about Xie Lian, however. Our Taizi Dianxia has a habit of saying very profound things that impact people, but then kind of brushing it off or outright forgetting about it. In Banyue’s case, he said he wanted to save the world. This impacted Banyue so much that she remembers that exact conversation over 200 years later. Xie Lian, however, remembers nothing of this moment and is actually kind of embarrassed that he’d said it. This bit is important later in the episode when Xie Lian takes a trip down Memory Lane.
When they return to the shrine and allow Banyue to rest in her little pot, they pick their conversation back up and start discussing things from their past. Their conversation does a lot of things here, including some world-building about the Gods and ghosts and how they function. Both Gods and ghosts can create ‘avatars’ or ‘clones’ to go do their bidding, but these forms are weaker than their original maker. This leads to the face-holding scene from the trailer for the special episode that has been driving everyone absolutely feral since it dropped. Talk about intimate!
But we learn from this scene that this is the real Hua Cheng and not a clone. The Ghost King himself chose to walk in the mortal realm and hang out with Xie Lian himself. Given the way this world works, that is an incredibly personal choice to make. Xie Lian has another request, however. He wants to see Hua Cheng’s true face. This request creates an awkward pause that’s a bit hard to dissect at this point without the backing of the novel, but I think the fact that Hua Cheng is self-conscious about his real appearance is evident enough. This is an ongoing theme of the story, though, so I’m going to let that play out further as the story dictates instead of diving too deep at this time. If you want to talk about Hua Cheng’s self-esteem issues, however, I can absolutely talk your ear off over on Twitter.
We also discuss the fact that that conversation with Banyue wasn’t the only time Xie Lian has said something that he found embarrassing in retrospect. A long time ago, Xie Lian encountered someone who didn’t feel he had anything to live for. Xie Lian tells him that if he really has nothing to live for, then he should make Xie Lian the meaning of his life. He should live for him.
Needless to say, this is a huge thing to say to someone. But this is just how Xie Lian is. He’s incredibly sincere, even if he’s a bit embarrassed about that passion in retrospect. Over the years he’s grown to doubt himself and become more modest about the impact he can have on the world, but this sincerity and passion still exist underneath the humble exterior. He’s still Taizi Dianxia, Xie Lian. He is still the same person at his core, but the 800 years since then have changed how he expresses himself.
There are lots of other details in this conversation between them to make note of, too. For example, Heaven and the Ghost Realm function incredibly differently. Everyone in the Ghost Realm generally minds their own business. Hua Cheng doesn’t need to ‘report’ to anyone for any reason not only because he’s the boss, but because that sort of structure among ghosts is completely voluntary. He’s a Ghost King, technically, but that doesn’t mean all the other ghosts have to defer to him about everything. The antagonism with Qi Rong makes that bit evident enough.
Alternatively, Heaven is incredibly rigid with their structure. There’s a power structure in Heaven and the Emperor is on top with little room for debate. Xie Lian has to check-in and has to do the tasks that he’s assigned. There’s significantly less freedom being a God than a ghost. In order to remain a God you have to remain in good standing with those in charge, but being a powerful ghost is all up to the individual’s own will. When outlined like this, I would very much rather be a ghost!
The episode nears its conclusion with Xie Lian and Hua Cheng going to bed, teasing each other in a way that borders on being a minor tiff, but is still generally a positive and intimate moment. You can see in Hua Cheng’s eyes that there’s some hurt underneath it all, however, and he’s still generally avoidant to physical touch. This is something that’s been always present, but not quite explained in the donghua narrative quite yet. This hesitancy towards touching is worsened when he reaches out to touch Xie Lian, who then, completely unaware of what’s going on behind him, moves just out of reach. This moment was heartbreaking and I may never recover.
Then we get another quote from the books that makes me cry. “I swear, you cannot find anyone who is more sincere than me.”
The episode concludes with the morning after the Hua Cheng reveal. Xie Lian wakes up alone, but discovers a mysterious ring around his neck. This is the same ring from the ending song of the series, which we see laid out on the altar under the Taizi Dianxia painting.
And then, my friends, we get…
HUA CHENG’S FACE.
HIS REAL FACE.
Of course, Xie Lian doesn’t see this. It’s just for the benefit of us donghua viewers. We’re shown several flashbacks where Hua Cheng’s face was hidden in shadow, but this time they show us the detail that had been kept from us. The quality of the animation during this montage varies quite a bit, but the scenes that come from the first and last episode of the season have some of the best Hua Cheng Face possible.
We have a parallel shot of Hua Cheng catching Xie Lian, which mirrors when Xie Lian caught the child from the fall in the first episode…
And then we have a lightened shot from the Sinner’s Pit, which is honestly my absolute favorite shot of his face so far.
If I had to choose, I’d say I’m more partial to how STARember portrays Hua Cheng’s face in the manhua, but these two adaptions have always been slightly different and neither of them is bad. STARember’s art just gripped me hard and won’t let go, though, so I will occasionally choose it over the donghua from a purely personal aesthetic preference. Hua Cheng is gorgeous in any adaptions, however, so there are no losers here. Everybody wins!
Also, shout out to the person that guessed he was saying “Gege” as he fell into the Sinner’s Pit. The flashback sequence proved you right. Good job calling that one!
Phenomenal sequence! Well done, Haoliners.
The face reveal and flashback sequence had fandom so absolutely feral that we ended up trending on Twitter in several regions. We’re just that powerful. Good job, fandom.
This ‘special episode’ was truly something special, and it was well worth the wait. Thankfully we know we’ll have a season two so the special episode isn’t the last we’ll get of this adaption. It’s going to be a long wait, however, and with the manhua also on hiatus, it might be sort of a painful one. For those of us who have already read the book and the manhua, I guess we can maybe reread them both? They are fantastic. What else do we have going on?
But for those of you who have been donghua-only this whole time, now is a great opportunity to read the source material! I know a 244 chapter fan-translated book in a genre you might not be familiar with can be a bit daunting, but I promise you that it’s worth your time. I’ve read the entire book through twice and reread segments of it dozens of times. If you are enamored by it even a fraction as much as I am, it won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time at all. And, who knows, maybe your love for the story will rival mine someday!
Until we get a season two, I suppose I’ll be putting a pin in my constant flow of Heaven Official’s Blessing content for a bit. Until next time, Tian Guan Ci Fu, Bai Wu Jin Ji. By heaven official’s blessing, nothing is taboo.
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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