Heaven Official's Blessing Season 2
Xie Lan is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of some Heavenly Officials, and runs into a familiar- even beloved- face.
I honestly hated the first episode of Season Two. It's been a long time since I watched Season One, and so I had no memory of the offense that "General Pei, Junior" committed, but the bulk of the first episode this time is an extended conversation about, whatever should be done about him? This series has always been more dialogue-heavy than fantasies- even period fantasies- usually are, and I could see someone whose first experience of the show was this episode simply giving up in frustration.
Another source of confusion for a Heaven Official's Blessing neophyte is the multiple names/titles the characters are known by. One character important to this season's plot- despite the fact that it seems to him, at one point, that he's "only worth a half-eaten steamed bun"- is known as Prince Taihua, AKA Lang Qianqiu, AKA the Crown Prince of Yong An, AKA The Martial God of the East. (He's a rather impetuous sort, DESPITE the titles bestowed on him.) Our main lead Xie Lan's romantic interest, San Lang, is also known as Hua Cheng, and (my favorite!) "The Crimson Rain-Sought Flower". It does take some effort to figure out which names belong with which characters, and yet this also inspires one to ask if maybe Xie Lan himself might have been known under some other name, perhaps? And indeed he was. In fact, much of Season Two is about that.
It's about it in a rather roundabout way, though. I prefer more linear storytelling, but our leads here seem to meander toward the conclusion rather than proceed in any direct fashion; I often had to backtrack to figure out exactly how they got from Point A to Point B. I think maybe this all started when San Lang was introduced back in Season One; he's not only distracting Xie Lan, he also seems to be distracting the whole narrative.
About San Lang, I'll say that in a 19th Century Western romantic potboiler, he'd be the rakish rogue (complete with eyepatch!) that the heroine would feel both attraction and disdain toward, with attraction inevitably eventually winning. Since we're yaoi here, there's no "heroine" per se; Xie Lan is an attractive fellow, and seemingly a gentle one, though we find his current nonviolent nature is at least partly due to a horrible event in his past. While Season Two ends up giving us much of Xie Lan's backstory, San Lang's looks like it wil be dealt with in another time. There's little overt sexuality between the two- well, there's some hand touching- but the show finds a way to create eroticism in some of the most innocuous acts, memorably in one character showing another how to roll dice.
I'll also note that the show's creator seems to love putting their characters in damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situations, though the victim of this sort of dilemma in Season Two became much higher in the Heavenly Hierarchy than the recipient of the Impossible Choice in Season One. It also seems that a troublesome relative can not only screw up your life, they can even screw up your afterlife. This season's ending was certainly moving enough, but this looks like a middle chapter in the saga. And you know how those can get.
And yet the trappings of the show remain as glorious as ever. The opening baritone ballad is warm and engaging; the artwork is superb.
But one of the greatest strengths of this series has always been its gentle humor. Xie Lan doesn't have to carry that ball alone here; this time, he's assigned a traveling companion, Wind Master, whose gender varies according to their personal whim. Wind Master's antics help temper the story's serious- sometimes even grim-turns; and Wind Master's loyalty to Xie Lan is rather moving.
Some other things from my notes:
- Xie Lan may have a thing going with San Lang, but he's not above being tempted by others. At one point, he has to recite a little Taoist mantra to keep himself on the "narrow path".
- The Crunchyroll comments sections of more popular shows (and particularly of lowest-common-denominator shows) tend to attract trolls and spammers. By contrast, most of the comments on this one are from aficionados of the show's source material, which makes it both one of the most civil, AND the most arcane, forums I've ever seen.
It LOOKS beautiful, but I simply found it harder to follow than Season One, even though Xie Lan remains a sympathetic character, and his relationship with San Lang remains an intriguing one. If I were as familiar with the original source material as the Crunchy commenters, I'm sure I'd love this adaptation as much as they do. But I'm not. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Never explicitly sexual. There's violence, though, including some shocking violence from someone you'd never expect it from. Still TV-14.
Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Heaven Official's Blessing Season 2 © 2023 Mo Xiang Tong Xiu/Jinjiang Literature City/Bilibili/FUNimation
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