TGCF 1×9 Review: Evil Taoist Scourge

TGCF Evil Taoist Scourge Hua Cheng E-Ming

Both the content and the delivery of the ninth episode of TGCF (presumably called ‘Evil Taoist Scourge’) feels like a fever dream.

I’m not entirely sure the episode is actually called ‘Evil Taoist Scourge,’ and am going off of what’s listed in the wiki, because the delivery of this episode was hilarious catastrophic mess and most people in the English language potion of fandom still don’t have access to it.  Heaven Official’s Blessing usually drops on Bilibili at 11am on Saturdays, but just a couple minutes after that time, when fans began to realize it absolutely wasn’t there, we got a delay announcement.  They cited problems with ‘media transmission.’

The Sinner’s Pit segment of the book is a fan favorite for many reasons – the Hua Cheng reveal, Hua Cheng carrying Xie Lian as he kicks ass, E-Ming’s appearance, the Banyue Guoshi – so we were already anxious as we waited for this episode to continue the scene.  The announcement of a delay sparked absolute chaos.  Some provided context that the phrase 介质传输 is often used when something needs to get reviewed for censorship, while others assured us that it had nothing to do with censorship.

Then for some reason Bilibili threw us a bone in the form of a yogurt commercial…

And then for some inexplicable reason, the phrase ‘carp’ was trending on Twitter, and we somehow merged our frustration with the lack of an episode and the weird trending topic and produced some fanart….

In short, chaos… chaos and clownery… those were the themes of the night.


 

Eventually Bilibili put ‘Evil Taoist Scourge’ up, but Funimation still hasn’t done so, so the portion of fandom that depends on Funi has not yet been able to join in.  Once the episode gets put up there, the translation of the episode title may be different.  But at this point, I’m just going to go with it, because I’ve waited long enough to talk about my favorite chapter in Book One and I’m not going to wait on Funi to get it together.

‘Evil Taoist Scourge’ backtracks to slightly before where ‘Foreboding Wind in the Ancient Country‘ left off, with San Lang having jumped into the Sinner’s Pit to keep Xie Lian safe.  Xie Lian is determined to go after him, but Ke Mo (Millstone) has other plans.  He wants to question him since he finds him suspicious. 

A brief struggle ensues, but it’s soon disrupted when the corpse strung above the pit breaks free and starts kicking ass.  This corpse was the Banyue Guoshi (Evil Crescent Taoist/Imperial Preceptor) and she quickly gets to work beating the crap out of the Banyue soldiers still remaining on the rim of the pit.  They end up toppling into the pit before Xie Lian and Ke Mo can fully understand what’s happening.

This scene was phenomenally well done.  I know I praise Haoliners every time I review this show, but they deserve the praise.  This type of action sequence lends itself so well to animation.  The artists have the freedom to really make the magical elements of it pop and they do so wonderfully.  

Xie Lian takes this moment of distraction to pull Ke Mo into the pit with him, and then, well, the best part of the scene unfolds.  Here’s where I struggle to actually properly review things, because how can I review something that got me so damn emotional? Due to the episode delay, I woke up at about 5:00 am to watch this episode, so my first experience seeing this scene that I hold so dear translated into the donghua happened through groggy eyes and a pre-coffee brain.  But it was so worth getting up that early for.  I had a good pre-dawn cry about the whole thing.

In a parallel of the scene at the end of the first episode where Xie Lian saves a boy from falling to his death in Xian Le, a mysterious figure in red springs into action and catches Xie Lian mid-fall.  After feeling around a bit and groping every bit of the figure he can reach (and wow, they certainly didn’t censor the groping!), Xie Lian concludes that it must be San Lang.  When San Lang responds, his voice is different, but he assures him that its him and that he’s fine.

I’m going to stop dancing around the subject now.  For the past eight episodes I’ve avoided saying San Lang’s identity because I wanted donghua-only folk to be able to read my reviews too.  But at this point if you can watch this scene and still haven’t connected the dots, I don’t know how to help you anymore.  San Lang is Hua Cheng.  This shouldn’t be treated as a spoiler anymore, so I’m going to be straight about it going forward.

The moment Hua Cheng catches Xie Lian, we get that super soft piano music again.  It’s romantic.  We were afraid the episode was delayed because perhaps they wanted to tone down the gay elements, but there is no denying that this moment is beautifully romantic and between two men. This happened.  You guys! This happened!!  

San Lang’s identity is obvious to us as we can see Hua Cheng’s true form in the shadows.  We see the silver jewelry, the braid with the red bead, and we hear the jangling boots with every step he takes.  But the bottom of the Sinner’s Pit is pitch black, so all Xie Lian has to go off of is touch and sound.  Both the feel of San Lang and the sound of his voice are different, but he accepts that it’s him and holds on as San Lang battles off Ke Mo with graceful yet powerful movements.  San Lang shoves Ke Mo back with just the point of his toe and barely jostles Xie Lian during the entire ordeal.

We also get E-Ming, Hua Cheng’s spiritual weapon.  The scimitar isn’t named in the episode and I know that naming it can be considered a spoiler by some, but I don’t think it really gives away anything in this situation.  I’m going to refer to him by his name just as I did Ruoye.  Our protagonists spiritual weapons are important and they deserve to be named!  We love E-Ming. We appreciate E-Ming.  E-Ming is best boy.

As E-Ming slashes away at Ke Mo and keeps him occupied, Xie Lian and San Lang have a nice little casual chat about the situation.  San Lang has single-handedly killed all the soldiers in the pit, which is definitely helpful, but Xie Lian still lectures him about his decision to jump in.  San Lang should not do things like that in the future because it causes Xie Lian distress.  This bit of chastisement makes our fearsome ghost king pout a bit, but he listens to his gege. 

But still, this topic of conversation surprises San Lang as he expected Xie Lian to ask about the fact that he very clearly isn’t human.  There’s been plenty of clues up to this point – his knowledge of things a normal teen wouldn’t now, his strength and efficiency, his ability to dodge Fu Yao’s attack – but at this point there’s no way to wiggle out of the accusation. He isn’t breathing, doesn’t have a heartbeat, survived an extremely high fall, and is casually going toe to toe (almost literally) with a powerful ghost like it’s no big deal.  That doesn’t even touch upon the spiritual weapon zooming about in the darkness or the obvious transformation that’s being hidden in the shadows.

When San Lang prods him to ask about it, Xie Lian dismisses it.  He assures him that it doesn’t matter.  He feels they hit it off really well and it doesn’t matter if he’s a peasant or a king, he still likes him.  San Lang accepts this with a laugh and a smile and the two of them refocus their energy on dealing with the actual situation around them – Ke Mo and the very obvious bloodbath that occurred at the bottom of the pit.

Here is where the donghua deviates from both the novel and the manhua.  Shortly after setting Xie Lian down in one of the few clean spots in the pit, Hua Cheng transforms back into his San Lang form.  In the other versions, they stay in shadow for much longer, but I get that that would be difficult to depict in an animation so they had to make a choice.  This clears up a lot of confusion that fandom had about the timing of the next few episodes.  The promo pictures clearly showed San Lang in this episode, but if it stuck to the novel closely, he wouldn’t be popping back up for at least another episode or so.  

I miss Hua Cheng’s true form.  I also lament the fact we didn’t really get his face like we did in the manhua.  But I get this decision and I respect the creators for picking a route that is necessary for the format they are using.  We at least got Hua Cheng crumbs for half an episode and I’m going to replay them over and over again.  Thank you for the crumbs, Haoliners.  It’s something, at least.  And with how incredible your adaption has been so far, I can’t really be too terribly salty about it.

The conversation with Ke Mo isn’t an easy one.  He’s really angry about the fact that San Lang slaughtered all his men.  He also has a pretty severe grudge against the Banyue Guoshi.  But this difficult and frustrating conversation leads to a fantastic moment that once again makes me appreciate how this story is being adapted for animation.  Xie Lian scoffs that Ke Mo threw them into the pit, but Ke Mo says that no, no he totally didn’t.  They jumped in on their own. And he’s right. And we get this…

Someone pointed out that San Lang’s face is basically the Bilibili logo, which is hilarious.  He’s also sort of like that cat from the knife meme. You know the one.  It’s amazing.

The rest of the episode goes over the history for the Banyue Guoshi, which is fairly complicated. She was born of a Banyue mother and a Yong An father, raised at the border of the two kingdoms.  Her father abandoned them when she was an infant, however, and then her mother died from her depression leaving the child orphaned at just six years-old.  She was bullied not just for being of mixed heritage, but for her scrawny stature.  She became, as Ke Mo put it, ‘weird.’ 

After a battle at the border, she disappeared for awhile, then returned with powerful magic from Yong An.  This led to her being promoted in the ranks of Banyue, though even this new prestigious position wasn’t easy for her.  Many still doubted her due to her mixed heritage and mysterious powers. One of her powers was being able to control the scorpion-tailed snakes, which didn’t sit well with the people in charge.

Ke Mo stepped forward to defend her, however, and put a great deal of trust in the child.  He had a personal stake in her being trustworthy, but then she opened the gates and let the Yong An soldiers in during battle.  Suddenly his grudge and rage against her makes a lot more sense.  Remember that ghosts need to have strong emotions in order to remain tethered to this world, so feeling betrayal and wanting to seek revenge on the person who betrayed you is powerful enough to keep Ke Mo and his soldiers around.

The episode concludes on another cliffhanger, with the Banyue Guoshi diving down into the pit.  The real treat at the end, however, is the new ending song, which is both lovely to listen to, and filled with Easter eggs.  As this Twitter user pointed out, the first character of each line of the chorus spells out 天官赐福、百无禁忌 (Tian Guan Ci Fu Bai Wu Jin Ji), which is a phrase you’ve heard Xie Lian say repeatedly. 

You should know that ‘Tian Guan Ci Fu’ means as it’s the title of the show (Heaven Official’s Blessing), but ‘Bai Wun Jin Ji’ is also an important part of the phrase.  It’s been translated a few ways depending on the translator, but essentially means ‘all taboos are broken’ or ‘nothing is taboo.’ Again, this varies, so you may see it said slightly differently depending on where you look.

It also includes 身在无间、心在桃源  (Body In the Abyss, Heart in Paradise) using the same first-character scheme, which is a phrase I don’t believe donghua-only folks have been introduced to yet (correct me if I’m wrong!), but you should keep it in the back of your mind.  It’s central to the story, but I don’t think it’s been addressed yet in this adaption.

With that, we conclude this week’s fever dream of an episode, which, again, I think is called ‘Evil Taoist Scourge,’ but who knows?  Everything is weird. But everything is also super romantic and super badass, so I’ll accept the weirdness and look forward to next week’s episode!

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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