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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009

I recently bumped into Mo Dao Zu Shi, a 2015 Chinese fantasy/romance light novel series/webcomic/animated show by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, localized under the name "Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation". Official english translations of the light novels are being published by Seven Seas and can be found at various book retailers. I'm not aware of any official localization of either the comic or the animated show, but a fansub of the show can be found here: (LINK), and a fan translation of the comic can be found here (LINK). - though I recommend having good add blockers in place before following either of those links.

rather than an extensive plot or setting summary, which you can find via google if you want, here's just a brief list of selling points:
  • what if Nagash were a genuinely nice and pretty good boy, and he had a prim and stuffy but equally good and nice and pretty boyfriend, but he was still, you know, Nagash?
  • feudal Chinese fantasy setting a neat change of pace from European medieval settings
  • plot mixes elements of war, politics, romance, mysticism, mystery, comedy, tragedy, horror, handles all of them fairly well imo.
  • Pretty. Nice character designs, nice color use, nice free-flow vertical format to the webcomic chapters, the production value of the animated show is solid, decent action choreography, even if it over-uses motion blur to cover lower frame rates a bit more than it should.
  • Pretty gay. Meets my own minimum gayness standard, at least.
  • odd couple protagonist duo of disrespectful low class chaotic good troublemaker and super serious, by-the-books lawful-good temple monk, brought together by their shared unbreakable moral codes. A strong pairing for romance, drama, and comedy, fun to watch them navigate political mystery thriller & supernatural horror situations together.
  • colors and music used as compelling motifs. The angry red screeching of pretty boy Nagash's flute is very striking, and contrasts nicely with the austere blue plucking of boyfriend's magic stringed instrument.
  • There are so many war crimes. You don't turn a good boy into Nagash without some war crimes, and adding even a relatively well intentioned Nagash to your setting isn't exactly going to reduce the amount of war crimes going around. Are war crimes a selling point? The war crimes are pretty badass, so I think so.
Potential downsides
  • Non-chronological storytelling can be a bit confusing, alternating between 'modern day' segments following Pretty Boy Nagash's revival 13 years after his death and extended flashbacks to his past life. Can be particularly confusing since his character design pre and post revival are pretty similar despite the fact that he's supposed to be in a completely different body, and most other characters haven't visibly aged all that much despite the decade+ time skip.
  • Every character has like 4 names - formal names, courtesy names, nick-names between close friends and family members, etc. You get used to it eventually, but until you do it can get a bit confusing. Doesn't help that the character designs have fairly similar faces.
  • A bit slow to get going. Lots of time in season one spent building up the setting and characters and relationships. That's all well and good, the time isn't wasted imo, but if you're here to see pretty boy Nagash do some badass war crimes, you're going to be waiting a long time. Worth the wait, imo, but time means very little to me these days, so your experience may vary.
  • Slow going extends to the romance between the main duo. I've finished season 2 and am still waiting for them to kiss already. So while the show is pretty gay, it could honestly have stood to be a fair bit gayer.
  • fansub has some common fansub issues, like 'translator notes' shoved off in the corner that only flash on the screen for like a quarter second so you have to wind the show back and pause to get the context. I still remember the days of 80s and 90s bootleg vhs anime fandubs so this is kind of nostalgic to me, but I could see others either preferring the novel or comic or else wanting to wait for an official localization of the show, though I'm not sure when or if one is coming.

Anyone else heard of / following this? Thoughts & opinions? Any interest in trying to arrange watch parties? I'm always eager to give any media property with a necromancer protagonist a fair try, and I've been pretty happy with this one so far.

It's honestly been a pretty good few years for necromancy or at least necromancy-adjacent media properties. Should I make separate threads about some of the others, or just make separate posts in this thread?
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Master Necromancer
True Blood
Sep 23, 2009

So what's the necromancy actually like in Mo Dao Zu Shi?

The world: Inspired by feudal chinese mythology, Dao/Tauism, etc. Monsters, Magical Creatures, and local gods are just a thing in the world. Humans have souls which can reincarnate. Human emotion can subtly influence the spiritual aspect of the world around them including lingering after death. 'Resentful' energy - negative emotions in general but especially grudges - is especially influential and prone to lingering and acting in the world, potentially manifesting as hostile ghosts or possessing corpses and animating them as feral zombies that lash out against the living. Active resentful energy like this tends to compound as some ghost or zombie monster causes more suffering, provoking more grudges. At a sufficient concentration, the mere presence of resentful energy can be seen in the environment as a heavy dark fog, or as open flames changing colors from reds and yellows to unnatural greens and blues.

Cultivators: At some point in the past people developed methods of 'cultivating' - accumulating and focusing - the internal spiritual energy of their own soul. With a powerful enough soul and strong enough focus they could then manifest supernatural abilities, from sensing supernatural energies to unleashing spiritual or elemental blasts to moving things with their mind. Tools were developed to further extend this ability. Swords were forged to channel spiritual energy allowing their owners to telekinetically control them with extra strength & dexterity, even while standing on them to fly around. Scrolls or tokens were created capable of carrying spells to bind resentful energy or ward it away. Musical instruments were among the special tools developed by some Cultivator Families. Spiritual energy is heavily driven by or even consists of human emotion, and human emotion can be influenced by music, making such tools particularly effective, if not terribly common due to the additional talent and skills needed to use them. Thanks to cultivation, human civilization could hold the dangers of the world in check, and human settlements could grow into large cities without a fatal accumulation of resentful energy resulting. With physical power comes political power, and so early cultivators developed into powerful rival families that each maintained their own techniques, special items, and territories.

The Demonic Path: The practice of cultivation required souls with strong internal spiritual energy, so not everyone was physically capable of it. Furthermore, the teaching was eventually restricted to particular noble families, so even those who could do it were denied the opportunity if they were born outside of those families. And several cultivation families abused their arcane and political power over others. So there were those both within and outside of the cultivation families who looked on the practice with hatred and jealousy, and these sometimes turned to a darker path. If they could not manipulate their own spiritual energy, why not manipulate resentful energy that had accumulated in the world instead? But weaker or untrained souls were easily overwhelmed by resentful energy, driving demonic practitioners mad, inevitably resulting in atrocities followed by death.

And so it was until one cultivator with a powerful soul and extensive skills and training, was driven by desperate circumstances to practice demonic cultivation. This man had always been a target for the resentment of others, even chose to be such a target, adopting a deliberately annoying persona in order to defuse conflict by attracting negative attention to himself. With the strength and skill not to be immediately overwhelmed, and an inner nature already prone to accepting and redirecting resentful emotions, he was able to develop methods and tools to protect his mind and soul while manipulating resentful energies in the environment - a source of energy potentially far beyond the magical reserves available to even an entire army of traditional Cultivators. Where it might take a single strong cultivator or a group of initiates working together to subdue a single feral zombie, a demonic practitioner following this masters methods and using his tools - a piercing flute to rouse and direct resentful energies, or a special amulet that collects and magnifies them - could potentially control dozens or even hundreds of such zombies at a time.

The other houses, simultaneously fearful and jealous of this master's power, united to overthrow and slay him, but many of his methods survived, and while the houses decried demonic cultivation as evil, they also incorporated aspects of the dark art into their own practices - for example scrolls using demonic cultivation principles to draw and gather resentful energy in order to lure feral ghosts or zombies into traps, and while some families kill demonic practitioners as soon as they're discovered, others tolerate their existence or secretly train their own due to their potential usefulness. All the cultivator families watch carefully for the original demonic master's revival - whether through reincarnation or though possession or some other unknown art. Even 13 years after his death, few believe a genius capable of so many necromantic wonders is gone from the world forever.

Why it's cool: Part of what makes necromancy cool, at least to me, is the inherent danger of it. A necromancer is working with hostile spirits, exposing their own soul to magic that inherently hates the life and longs to consume and destroy it. Necromancers thus inevitably teeter of the brink of horror and tragedy - even if they try to use that power for good, its inherent nature is such that they're always a careless moment away from tragedy. This danger is core to the setting, story, and characters in Mo Dao Zu Shi. Tragedy does follow the protagonist as a result of his choices in life, striking especially hard against those he tries to protect. His most loyal servant is the zombie of a man who was meek but always kind, who in life never hurt anyone, yet in death is forced to kill again and again - sometimes in service to his master and sometimes just because the hateful magic that animates him is too much to control, or has allowed him to be manipulated by other demonic practitioners. This kind of thing is what separates necromancy from other more generic 'too much power can be a dangerous thing' type narratives.

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