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Out of My Comfort Zone #7

My seventh post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

This time, I did something a little different, and tried experiencing the same story in three different formats at the same time.


A Little History

For several month now, my twitter timeline has been full of people talking about a something called Mo Dao Zu Shi (or, as it usually is in tweets, mdzs). I didn’t pay that much attention to it, because most of what I saw was completely out of context and I had no idea of what it even was. I just assumed it was something movie/show/animation-related, and didn’t investigate further. (If you want to know about my history and relationships with things on screens: here. The TL;DR is that watching things on a screen and my anxiety don’t go along well.)

So, I went through months of being spoiled for basically everything, but in a way that was so out-of-context that it didn’t even matter or affect my following experience with mdzs. All I really knew was that it was a) gay in some way, at least in subtext and b) historical, maybe?

Then, I don’t remember how we got there, but I ended up talking about it with Silvia on twitter, and she recently got into it – so I finally understood that the thing that was everywhere on my timeline was a Chinese m/m adult fantasy novel involving necromancy that was adapted both as a donghua and as a live action show.

This combination of hype + recommendation from people I trust + vague but interesting premise meant that, at that point, I really wanted to try it. Since I had been wanting to try again and watch something on a screen for a while as well (in small doses, I can do that, if I can skim certain kinds of scenes), I did.

If you want more detailed information about what this story is and where to start, Silvia wrote a post about that!


Overall Thoughts

43188345._sx318_Someone should have told me that this had the very specific trope “the most hated person of the realm comes back from the dead, chaos ensues” sooner!

I realize that I’ve never talked about this because it’s an overly specific combination of things and because I had only seen it in another book before, but… it might be my favorite trope. (Even though these stories have nothing in common, Mo Dao Zu Shi opens with exactly the same trope as Raven Stratagem.) I love reading about hated undead. It might be the many years spent in Catholic school and the whole framing of resurrection as holy when actually it’s a terrifying concept, I don’t know.

Also: complicated family dynamics! Music as magic! Necromancy and blood magic! There were a lot of tropes I loved in here.

Anyway, the story overall was great, and this was such a good time. Far from flawless, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I would only recommend with disclaimers, but was it addicting.

Now I’m going to talk about what I liked about each format. Keep in mind that I have very little experience with two of them.


Mo Dao Zu Shi [Donghua]

I started from here. Season one has been completed, season two is ongoing, and there should be a season three but I’m not sure when.

Pros:

  • There is a lot to take in at first. Not only because it’s fantasy and we know how worldbuilding can be, but because it starts at a point in which the main characters already have a long, fraught history with each other, so you don’t really understand their reactions at first (after, there will be many flashbacks). However, I have to say that, as I was told, the donghua beginning is the easiest to follow – it doesn’t infodump you but it gives you most of the information you need.
  • Even before you get to appreciate the characters for who they are, this is funny just for how dramatic it is, and I loved that about it. The first scene involving the protagonist is one of the most dramatic things I have ever seen and I was there for it. (Might be typical of the format? I wouldn’t know.)

Cons:

  • So many scenes happen in the dark. Scenes set in tombs, in caves, dark buildings, woods at night – there’s a lot. Every time I got to one of those scenes, I couldn’t understand anything about what was happening, because of the terrible lighting/lack of contrast.
  • I kind of find it aesthetically unpleasant for a variety of choices.
  • It’s not finished yet.
  • The fight scenes are boring and proportionally longer than they are in the live action (at least they’re really dramatic, which makes them funny).
  • Of course, as usual, I need to skim some scenes, which means that I do lose some things.
  • The m/m relationship can only be heavily hinted at because censorship.

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation [Novel]

This one was a really interesting experience. You might already know that I have little to no patience for long books, especially ones longer than 600 pages. If I had known that this one was longer than 1000, maybe I wouldn’t even have started it. And it didn’t feel like something longer than 1000 pages, which made me think about what exactly I don’t like about long books – it’s not the length, not really. It’s the repetitive structure in a novel that just takes longer to get there.

A published American novel, unless it’s somehow experimenting with format, has a beginning in which the characters and world are introduced (or: new elements are introduced if it’s a sequel), a middle in which there might be a journey and there’s usually rising tension, and then a climax and an ending. It might be 100 or 500 pages, but it’s always that. If the story is really long, it gets broken up in two to three books, so you have to do this exact same thing three times. And from knowing this structure, you can more or less predict what’s going to happen next.

And it’s not that in this novel these elements are absent. There is a beginning, there is a main climax, there is an ending; however, it’s also a mess of incredibly long flashbacks sometimes following characters different from the main couple, and while it’s long it’s one story and not one broken and watered down to make three books, and all of this paradoxically makes it less boring.

Pros:

  • Being a novel, you get more details and many thing that can’t be translated as well on a screen;
  • Comparing structure and tropes with the novels I usually read was really interesting, and there are some parallels as well as things that I’ve never seen a fantasy novel try, when they clearly should have. (Fake redemption arcs in a Shatter Me/A Court of Mist and Fury style are boring and always feel somewhat forced. What this book did is so much better when it comes to reversal of expectations, why don’t YA novels do [this spoilery thing] more often?)
  • Unlike the other two formats, this is explicitly gay and doesn’t only hint at things. This way, you get that it took the main character years to understand that he is gay while being clearly in love with another man.
  • If you’re interested in another of the two formats, this tells you the significance of certain symbols, so that the gay subtext of the adaptations becomes way closer to text in your head.

Cons:

  • This is messy at heart.
  • While the author is really good at writing pining and romantically oblivious characters, the same definitely isn’t true for actual romantic scenes. The amount of dubcon in the form of non-consensual kisses and drunk kisses and drunk sex was really uncomfortable. The love interest’s jealousy also made my skin crawl. Let’s say that while I liked the romance in theory, the execution was bad.
  • A person who values their own eyes should skip the sex scenes. I’ve never seen a fandom agree so strongly about the fact that these are terrible.
  • It’s true for all of the formats, but something that is even more glaring in the novel is that every single female character is either evil, dead or irrelevant, with usually a big emphasis on irrelevant. While the other formats at least attempt to develop the female characters who end up dying, especially the live action, the novel does not.

The Untamed [Live Action]

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Pros:

  • Listen. The aesthetic. I love everything about the way they chose to portray the setting and the costumes and everything looks so pretty on the screen
  • I thought the casting choices were really good! I mean, there is to say that even if the acting was mediocre, I wouldn’t know, but I thought the characters were portrayed really well on the screen
  • The romantic tension. This is such a good example of dancing around censorship. The longing, the loving gazes, the romantic songs… perfect. (This led to the weird phenomenon in which I like the romance in the live action, in which it can’t be explicit, far more than I do in the novel, because all the weird dubcon isn’t there. What a recipe for pain.)
  • Female characters have a more active and important role! It’s still very flawed but at least they do something.

Cons:

  • It’s completely impossible to take the fight scenes seriously. (Maybe that was the purpose, I’m not sure, but they’re kind of ridiculous).
  • It got rid of some of the moral ambiguity, which I have mixed feelings about.
  • Censorship, of course
  • Since this looks more realistic than the other two formats, I needed to skim a lot.
  • Even though this ended up being my favorite format (I know, I didn’t see that coming either), I don’t recommend starting from it because I think I would have found the beginning really confusing if I had.

So, How Was Following A Story in Three Formats?

It helped.

A problem I have with anything on a screen is that I have to skim. By skimming, I usually lose interest, because I lose details. Being able to switch from one format to another when it came to a point in which I started to lose interest in one was helpful, so that I ended up finishing all of them [well, the first one isn’t finished, but I saw all that was out]

It was really confusing, yes. These stories are similar enough to all feel the same story and different enough to cause confusion. I don’t separate them clearly in my head, but there’s also some good that comes from that – watching something that only heavily hints at the m/m relationship while reading the novel in which they’re explicitly gay (and what I said about the novel explaining the symbolism) ends up making you feel as if you are in fact watching something explicitly gay, because you mix them up in your head, everything feels like the same story. It never feels like baiting.

There are not many stories with which I could do this kind of thing – the stories that I’m interested in reading rarely get adapted, which is sad – but I would do it again if I had the chance.


Have you ever tried following a story in multiple formats at the same time?

10 thoughts on “Out of My Comfort Zone #7

  1. when it comes to anime/manga, i usually follow both formats. i watch the anime first then read the manga where the anime has left off. but since the anime adaptation is always almost identical to the source material, it’s a pretty seamless transition. i just like watching first so i have some ideas what the characters *sound* like. some series has light novels as well, but unless i start with them, i rarely actually read them after consuming the story in both anime and manga.

    also, i’m really itching to start mdzs 👀 it’s incredibly popular in vietnam, and since the live-action series was released it’s all what everyone i know (both irl and online) has been talking about. i’m a bit hesitant to read the novel because… frankly, i don’t have a good history with chinese BL novels. the few i read when i was younger were full of dubcon and noncon to the point i had to dnf. but i think i’m going to check out the donghua to see how i feel about the characters. some of them look so cute 🥺 and the premise sounds a lot more interesting than most western fantasy novels i’ve come across lately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t thought about how the characters sounded like but it’s true, it was nice having an idea of that before getting to the novel. It wasn’t really seamless here because censorship meant they had to dance around some things and that in some cases meant changing the plot (especially in the live action), but in the end it worked out well.

      And yes, the dubcon/noncon is a problem here too (in the novel), but as those scenes are far in-between, I could make it through; the fact that it wasn’t a problem with the adaptations also helped. Anyway, I hope you like it if you end up trying it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so happy that your experience with this was mostly positive. I would have felt terrible if you hadn’t at least somewhat enjoyed it ahah!

    I had the experience of following a story in different formats with a couple of anime/manga, plus like, Harry Potter and LOTR, and recently with Good Omens (in…four? different adaptations) and the thing that came closest to what I’m witnessing with mdzs was indeed Good Omens. There’s a kind of joy that comes from loving a story and being able to explore it more and feeling like every different format/adaptation gives you something more to think about, or makes you understand a character a bit more. MDZS is the epitome of that for me, and it’s also the perfect way to merge different canons so you can make your own perfect and unproblematic canon in which nothing bad happens (replace the dubcon kiss of the novel with the soulmate scene from the untamed! The untamed ends with them being married if you really want to!)

    Sldjdkddj anyway, it was fun sharing part of this journey with you and I love that your post focused on what worked and didn’t work for you in the different formats!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Four adaptations? I didn’t know there were that many dfkjgk I only knew of the GO show and book.

      Being able to form my own perfect canon was one of the best parts about the whole experience, because I had some problems with every version but loved the overall story so deeply? It really is easier to ignore what doesn’t work if it isn’t in the other versions.

      And same, being able to talk about it was one of the best parts of all of this, too. (I would have missed out on yeet city jokes… and I wouldn’t have been able to complain about the ill-placed stink tree!) Best unintentional buddy read/watch of the century?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s book, series, audio drama and the script for the series – which I personally count as its own thing because it has annotations by Neil Gaiman that give a little insight on tiny details – plus deleted scenes that never made it into the show, so I’m counting it as its own adaptation lol!

        YES LMAO being able to share jokes and memes with someone who was more or less at my same point in the story was awesome (I forgot about stinky tree why did you remind me)!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t realize “most hated person in the realm comes back from the dead and chaos ensues” was a trope- but hot damn it’s a trope I really want to read now. Preferably told from the POV of the hated person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I need more of it too. This is the only time I’ve seen it happen specifically from the PoV of the hated person, and I don’t understand why we don’t see more of it, it’s the perfect recipe for conflict, hilarious consequences, and world-changing disasters…

      Liked by 1 person

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