The Tian Guan Ci Fu (TGCF) donghua adaption has finally premiered, and it’s so absolutely gorgeous I legit cried about it.
Tian Guan Ci Fu (TGCF) is based off the popular danmei novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, who also wrote Mo Dao Zu Shi. As I’ve read the novel, much of my reviews will be a novel-donghua comparison, but I will try my best to keep those comparisons as spoiler-free as possible for all you newbies to the series. If I absolutely must talk about a spoiler from the novel, I will give you warning and make it as easy to avoid as possible. If I ever mess up and assume something is known when it isn’t, let me know and I’ll edit a spoiler warning into that section of the review. I want to talk to all fans, regardless of how you found this story!
With that preamble out of the way, let’s talk about these two premiere episodes and just how amazing they are! Weren’t they gorgeous? I’m in awe. I cried. I can’t contain the smile on my face. It’s too much! The fangirl tears are flowing!
The first episode of TGCF sets up the premise pretty succinctly. Xie Lian is a God who has ascended to Heaven and fallen twice already. He has now ascended a third time and caused quite a commotion in the process.
Due to his frequent ascensions and falls from Heaven, he has a reputation as sort of a walking disaster. It’s not as though that reputation is unwarranted, however, as his third ascension caused a bell to nearly squash a God named Mu Qing. It also causes the collapse of a palace that belong to another God named Feng Xin. So yeah, he’s a disaster.
So far the depiction of Xie Lian is pretty incredible and very much how I imagined him to be. He knows his reputation and has had a lot of time to get used to it, but he still reacts apologetically to those that get caught in his terrible luck. The added comedic quirks that come naturally with an animation format really help highlight this side of him and I love how it translates through the animation.
I adore Xie Lian and all of my favorite quirks about him seemed to have been carried over to the donghua pretty nicely. I hope donghua-only viewers fall in love with him as much as the rest of us. He’s fantastic. Love and appreciate Xie Lian.
Xie Lian’s messy third ascension puts him immediately in debt to those whom he harmed, but the Civil God Ling Wen provides him an opportunity to pay back some of what he owes. There are prayers from worshipers in the north that are asking for help dealing with some ghosts. A mysterious Ghost Groom is kidnapping brides that are carried through the mountains in their bridal sedans.
It’s important to note that while our walking-disaster of a God Xie Lian is very clearly skilled in martial arts and can seemingly move in a supernatural way, he’s fairly weak for a God. He’s unable to generate his own spiritual power, so there’s a lot of typical Godly things that he just can’t do. Nevertheless, he takes on the Ghost Groom task solo at first. But somehow the Heavens found two Middle Court Gods who are willing to help him along the way.
Enter: Nan Feng and Fu Yao.
Honestly, they are a divine comedic duo and I appreciate their antagonism based purely on entertainment value. However, their constant bickering is less than helpful to poor Xie Lian, who just wants to solve the Ghost Groom case and work off some of his debt. They are basically Xie Lian’s backup power, as he can’t generate his own spiritual energy anymore, and extra muscle when things get tense. But as far as any sort of moral support… they are pretty useless so far. If anything, their bickering stresses poor Xie Lian out even more.
But even without power, Xie Lian springs into action and seems perfectly capable handling himself in even the most dire situations. Let’s not forget, Xie Lian is a Martial God. As we learn later in the episode, he was so skilled and brave that he attracted the attention of the Heavenly Emperor and, thus ascended for the first time 800 years ago. He’s just naturally talented, powered or not.
The flashbacks to 800 years ago contain some of the best art in the first episode of TGCF. The depiction of Xie Lian as Taizi Dianxia (His Royal Highness, The Crown Prince) is breathtakingly beautiful. This is who he was before he ascended as a God for the first time. This is Xie Lian before he ever touched Heaven. It’s so beautiful that it absolutely took my breath away.
Taizi Dianxia, you are so wonderful I could cry. Huge thank you to the animation team for bringing his beauty to life. This was beyond gorgeous.
But back to the plot…
During the bridal sedan scene, Xie Lian gets separated from Fu Yao and Nang Feng and has to fend for himself a bit. It’s here where we meet his spiritual weapon, Ruoye. While he doesn’t have any spiritual power of his own and thus shouldn’t be able to wield a spiritual weapon, this is, as he puts it, “an exception.” The silk band Ruoye obeys his commands and protects him from the monsters that surround his sedan.
It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he’s not alone in the forest. A mysterious figure accompanied by silver translucent butterflies offers him his hand and guides him from the sedan. The being has a red string around his finger, red robes, silver butterfly themed jewelry, and silver chains on his boots.
This is honestly one of my favorite character designs from any piece of media ever so it’s worth detailing just so we can appreciate how beautiful the whole thing is. It might seem like gratuitous fashion ramblings, but this design is truly something else and I like just enjoying the details of it all.
Seriously, please look at this gorgeous character design. LOOK AT IT. Love it. Appreciate it. Commit it to memory.
While this mystery man is guiding our Xie Lian away from the bridal sedan, we get glimpses from 800 years ago in a series of flashbacks. We see Taizi Dianxia in all his glory. We see him spring into action, even before he was a God, and rescue a child as he falls from a tall wall. We see battles and bloodshed and a steadfast child with a bandage over his right eye.
We see so many things during this flashback that I almost feel it goes too quickly, and I hope it slows down to really explain what we’re seeing here in future episodes. These are some of my favorite – and most important – moments from the book and they deserve some more in depth screen time.
For those of us who have read the books, there may have been a lot of screaming going on during this rapid series of scenes, but I’m not sure quite what the rest of you took away from it. I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on it with fresh eyes! I’m not going to explain what you saw here because if they do go over them in more detail later, it’ll be a spoiler. If you want to know before the show goes over it, go read the TGCF book. I explain how to do that here.
After guiding him through a blood-rain forest, the mystery man reaches for his veil and makes to lift it. Before he has a chance, however, Ruoye lurches forth and attempts to capture him. But the red-clad man explodes into a swarm of silver butterflies and vanishes.
This is all beyond gorgeous and I can’t believe how lucky we are to get such an iconic scene right here in the first episode. This scene is pivotal in the books, and one of the most popular scenes in fanart. The donghua absolutely did it justice and I’m once again incredibly grateful to the animation team.
We don’t learn the name of this character quite yet (but if you’re on Twitter, you probably know by now), but we can tell from Fu Yao and Nan Feng’s reactions that he’s something fairly formidable. The Ghost Groom that they are currently hunting is the second highest ranked type of ghost – a Wrath. The only rank higher than that is a Devastation. So if Fu Yao and Nan Feng are comfortable taking on a Wrath but not whoever this mystery man is, well…. you do the math on that one.
Xie Lian is not going to give up, however. He came here to solve the mystery of the Ghost Groom and that’s exactly what he’s going to do. If that mystery man was a Devastation, Xie Lian didn’t seem to pick up any ill intent from him, so he feels pretty confident in continuing his work. Fu Yao, however, leaves. He’s not going to chance it.
Much of the second episode focuses on this very task. The second episode has more of an emphasis on the villagers, including a young girl named Xiao Ying. Xiao Ying, while she’s clearly overpowered by the men who came hunting the Ghost Groom, is brave as hell and sticks to her guns despite being far outmatched. Her compassion for others is most notable for how she treats a young homeless boy named Lang Ying, who is clearly a social outcast as well.
The episode ends with a big reveal: it’s not a Ghost Groom that they’re hunting, but a Ghost Bride. And she seems pretty angry that the villagers are coming in and messing up everything she was working on. So we’re left off on a pretty intense cliff hanger.
While the second episode didn’t have as many iconic scenes as the first, it’s still important for laying out the Ghost Groom arc and introducing Xiao Ying and Lang Ying. Much of the book deals with these sorts of side quests and uses them to deepen our understanding of the characters, so its a pretty faithful adaption of how the book is laid out.
At the rate the TGCF donghua is going, I feel like we’ll get through a pretty decent chunk of material in the first 11-episode season. We’ll probably even surpass where the manhua is at this pace. But I don’t exactly feel like it’s being rushed a long at all. The only parts I wish would have had more time were brief snippets of pre-God Xie Lian, but I feel like they’ll expand on those later so I’m not too bothered by it. I’m overall pretty happy with it.
If Twitter is anything to go by, this show has a bright future. Somehow we got both Hua Cheng (*ahem* who could that be? haha) and Xie Lian to trend in the United States shortly after it dropped on Bilibili.
Honestly, I did not see us trending on Twitter. Our fandom is apparently way more powerful than I thought, and I’m almost kind of frightened that we could do that! Who knew there were so many of us. Jeez! I love you guys.
It’s no wonder Funimation made the decision to license it, making it the first Chinese donghua its ever simulcast. They seem to be in tune enough with our little (or not so little?) fandom to know it’ll bring in a sizable audience.
Will this open the floodgates for more donghua to come over? I’m not sure. So far I’ve only explored danmei (Chinese BL novels) so I don’t quite know what else is out there. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.
As far as TGCF goes, we’ll be getting new episodes dropped on Bilibili weekly on Saturdays in China (Fridays here in the United States). Funimation was supposed to drop the episode on Friday, but had a delay. I’m unclear if this means they’ll be airing episodes on Friday’s going forward or if it’s a permanent shift to Saturdays for some reason.
Either way, I’ll be watching it in both places to let both Bilibili and Funimation know just how much this show is loved. With high viewership comes more seasons and more merchandise. And honestly, that’s exactly what I need right now. Just.. more. More TGCF in any way I can have it.
Are you watching TGCF? Have you read the novel or are you a donghua-only viewer? Either way, I’d love to know your thoughts! Talk to me. Tell me your feels. By Heaven Official’s Blessing, no FEELS are unbound.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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