Mo Dao Zu Shi - Reviews

Alt title: The Founder of Diabolism

tigerlily9's avatar
Feb 26, 2019

Well, folks, this one is a real masterpiece.

Mo Dao Zu Shi (literally: Demonic Path Master) - or The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation - is based off a popular Chinese light novel of the same name. In this ancient Chinese-inspired fantasy, cultivation of one's own life force is used to battle evil spirits and demons. You've got people flying on swords, a whip made of purple ligthning, demon-slaying musical instruments - all that good stuff.

Our main character, Wei Wuxian, is the adopted son of the leader of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect (a prominent cultivation clan), who makes a name for himself as his Sect's most promising young disciple. Despite his talent, he's a total prankster known for stirring up trouble but also for standing up for what he believes in.

Here's where things get interesting: when the Wen Sect begins attacking and conquering their neighbors and four major cultivation Sects unite in retaliation, a series of tragic circumstances leads Wei Wuxian to resort to cultivating not his own life force, but the resentful energy of the dead (aka Demonic Cultivation). Using a flute to summon and control corpses, Wei Wuxian plays a major role in defeating the Wen Sect.

However, due to the sinister nature of his methods, Wei Wuxian's friends and allies turn on him and viciously kill him.

Our story takes place 13 years after Wei Wuxian's death, when a dude named Mo Xuanyu summons the soul of Wei Wuxian into his body in order to exact revenge on his family. In Mo Xuanyu's body, Wei Wuxian begins to encounter his past friends - all of whom still seem to hate him - and thus begins the retelling of his path to the dark side.

Be warned: this fantasy is dark and full of tragedy.

- STORY 9.5/10 -

This entire first season is basically a "villian" origins arc, telling the story of how Wei Wuxian goes from humble, charismatic, and kind-hearted to walking down a dangerously dark path and becoming the Yiling Patriarch, or the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation. 

Episodes 1 & 2 focus on the status of Wei Wuxian's relationships post-demonic path. In ep. 3, however, the flashbacks begin, and we are thrust back to when a teenage Wei Wuxian and his adoptive brother, Jiang Cheng, arrive at the Gusu Lan Sect's Cloud Recesses for a year of cultivation. The remainder of the episodes continue these flashbacks, focusing on fleshing out Wei Wuxian's transition.

Young Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji in the Cloud Recesses' Library Pavillion. Yes the argument is escalating. Yes Wei Wuxian started it.

The story is not the most complex, yet I would argue the manner in which it is told is delightfully refreshing. There are countless symbolic references throughout for more detail-oriented viewers. I kid you not - even the images reflected in a character's cup of tea hold symbolic meaning. And that's barely scratching the surface. If you love to analyze every aspect of a scene, this show will be your paradise.

I have rewatched this show a couple of times already and each view brings out new details I hadn't noticed previously. The connection between the melody Wei Wuxian plays for Wen Ning in ep. 2 and the melody Lan Wangji plays for Wei Wuxian when they're trapped in the cave as teenagers is a big one. The contrast between Wen Ning before and after Wei Wuxian cultivated the demonic path is another great example. I could go on.

I have also read the English translation of the Mo Dao Zu Shi light novel and I have to say the animation director's adaptation of the original material is excellent. He brings a seriousness to the story while still maintaining the comedic wit and banter emphasized in the light novel. I appreicate his deicison to focus less on the relationship between the two main characters and more on Wei Wuxian's journey and development.

Speaking of - note that although there are slight romantic undertones hinted at between the two MCs, this donghua definitely is not yaoi by any means. While the light novel prioritizes their relationship, the donghua prioritizes Wei Wuxian's development as a character. 

- ANIMATION 9/10 -

The visuals are stylistically gorgeous with a seriously acute attention to detail. Action sequences are unveiled from a number of different angles and landscapes are so intricate they look like photographs. The 3D animated portions are also well-integrated. I really appreciate the animators' attention to facial expressions as well, and love how the animation in the opening mimics the ink of traditional Chinese calligraphy and brush paintings.

That being said, my overall score would be higher here if not for how difficult it was to distinguish between Wei Wuxian and Mo Xuanyu's physical appearances. Plus the horrifically rendered turtle-snake monster which appeared mid-series seriously detracted from my viewing experience. I'm still shocked the director didn't demand the animators rework that bit.

- SOUND 10/10-

No complaints here. Technicalities aside, they pulled out all the stops to produce that score. It is absolutely incredible, relying heavily upon traditional Chinese rhythms that somehow don't put me to sleep like normal guqin music does. Speaking of the guqin - scenes featuring Lan Wangji playing the guqin are not only beautifully animated but gloriously supplemented with a heavy bass that gives me chills every. single. time. 

 Lan Wangji ripping the Wen Sect to shreds with his guqin. (You'll just have to imagine the bass.)


There is a huge cast of characters in this show. In following Wei Wuxian on his path towards mastering the dark side, we meet the two friends (I mean *cough* foils) who try and fail to save him:

  1. Lan Wangji - the embodiment of righteous morality and virtue - couldn't be more fundamentally at odds with Wei Wuxian. He consistently worries about the impact these demonic methods will have on Wei Wuxian's physical body and soul. Yet despite his own Sect's condemnation of the Yiling Patriarch and his own struggle to justify his friend's actions, Lan Wangji still fiercely protects Wei Wuxian until the latter's death.
  2. Jiang Cheng, Wei Wuxian's adoptive brother, is the person who first notices Wei Wuxian's deviation from the righteous path and tries SO HARD to save him from himself. But he is always a moment too late, in addition to struggling to accept that Wei Wuxian is better than him in every aspect of cultivation.

The moral conflict Wei Wuxian brings to Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng is central to the plot of the entire story. It's even more tragic when we know from the start that Lan Wangji never succeeds in saving Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng gets the credit for killing him, despite how close they were in their youth. I'm not crying. You're crying.

Lan Wangji (left) and Yiling Patriarch, Wei Wuxian (right)

There are countless other relationships and characters which the donghua somehow manages to find time to elaborate upon, such as the (absolutely TRAGIC) love story between Jiang Cheng's parents - Jiang Fengmian and Yu Ziyuan (aka the most badass woman ever) - which brilliantly threatens to destroy Jiang Cheng's friendship with Wei Wuxian. There's also the romantic relationship between Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan and the relationships between other Sect leaders and their children. Everything is so well developed. 

Minor characters with less screentime are still elaborated upon in a manner that hints at future development in season two. The contrast between Wen Ning in eps. 2 and 7, for example, is SO terrifying you can't help but wonder what Wei Wuxian did to the poor boy (please tell me I'm not the only one concerned?!).

- THEME 10/10 -

*adding a section on theme here because Mo Dao Zu Shi deserves it*

The main theme of the show is a delightfully simple one. But because the characters are so well constructed, that theme is elaborated upon endlessly. Here is some insight to get you thinking:

This is a society with a rigid set of morals - there is only one way that cultivation is taught and everyone considers this way to be the one and only "right" way. Yet despite choosing to follow a method deemed immoral by society, Wei Wuxian is still revealed to be a good person. Other characters parade around under the pretense of justice, but are secretly power hungry, manipulative, and selfish in the face of challenges to their authority. Wei Wuxian is consistently selfless, unflinchingly loyal, and fiercely protective of those he loves (despite being an annoying pain in the ass to Lan Wangji and Jiang Cheng). 

If not for his methods, he would be considered as righteous as they come. In another society, he would have been seen as a god, or hailed as the hero of ages for defeating the Wen Sect.

Jiang Cheng after releasing Zidian (purple lightning)

Brilliantly, this story shows us the creation of a villain deemed such for his methods, despite his good deeds. Tragically, society cannot handle this. They revile Wei Wuxian and condemn him to die.

In the first few episodes, we learn that many sought to follow Wei Wuxian's demonic path but lacked his good intentions, fueling themselves on rage and resentment. But that doesn't mean those following righteous paths never commited evil acts. 

With Wei Wuxian's reincarnation, the creators challenge the very foundations of black and white morality. This is a show that forces its audience to consider for themselves whether or not Wei Wuxian's actions were just. It's a show that asks you to question the very fabric of your own morality.

- CONCLUSION 10/10 -

Overall, The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is a new all-time favorite and a must-watch in my opinion. It's refreshingly different from your typical shounen and the quality surpasses the bulk of what I've seen in recent years. Other than Banana Fish and Run with the Wind, no other 2018 release even came close to topping the charts (in my opinion). Seriously people. DO NOT sleep on this one!!

For those who haven't seen the show yet, I've listed some pointers below that will help in keeping all the characters straight.


*The animation team when we asked if they could make it easy to distinguish between Wei Wuxian and Mo Xuanyu*

Both Wei Wuxian and Mo Xuanyu (the kid who summons Wei Wuxian's soul in ep. 1) look SUPER SIMILAR. Now that I've watched the show a few times, I do notice the subtle differences, but they're hard to catch on your first watch. All you need to remember is that Wei Wuxian - in ep. 1-2 - is in the body of Mo Xuanyu. Ep. 3 and beyond are all flashbacks to MC's youth, so Wei Wuxian is back in his own body. 

Most characters have multiple names. All Chinese are traditionally given two names at birth - a given name and a nickname/courtesy name. At home, your family members typically call you by a shortened version of your nickname. Yes, it's complicated and confusing but also totally normal for the time period of the story. Here are the names which come up for some of the main characters (*not a complete list*):

  • Wei Wuxian (nickname) = Wei Ying (given name) = A-Xian (family name) = Yiling Laozu ("Yiling Patriarch")
  • Lan Wangji (nickname) = Lan Zhan (given name) = Hanguang-jun (self-selected title) = Lan-Er-Ge (Second Brother Lan)
  • Lan Xichen (nickname) = Lan Huan (given name, rarely used in the donghua) = Zewu-jun (self-selected title)
  • Jiang Cheng (nickename) = Jiang Wanyin (given name, rarely used in the donghua) = A-Cheng (family name) = Sandu Shengshou (title, also rarely used)

Distinguishing between the five main Sects is also a confusing task. First, note that Sects are each run by a Clan, or family. The name of each Sect consists of the geographic location of the Sect + the last name of their leading Clan. Thus, the Yunmeng Jiang Sect is located in Yunmeng and is run by the Jiang Clan (or Jiang family). Here is a list of the five main Sects and their robe colors/motifs:

  • Yunmeng Jiang Sect: run by the Jiang Clan; purple robes/lotus flower motif
  • Gusu Lan Sect: run by the Lan Clan; white & blue robes/drifting clouds motif
  • Lanling Jin Sect: run by the Jin Clan; gold robes/white peony (sparks amidst snow) motif
  • Qinghe Nie Sect: run by the Nie Clan; green & brown robes/beast head motif
  • Qishan Wen Sect: run by the Wen Clan; red robes/sun motif

That wraps up my (first) review (ever)! Hope I convinced you to give this show a watch! :)

9.5/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
9.6/10 overall
asterris's avatar
Aug 15, 2018

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is done by the same folks that brought us The King's Avatar. This donghua is based off a popular chinese novel.

The story is set in Ancient China, following the chinese fantasy of a 'cultivation' (wuxia/xianxia etc.) world, where people meditate, practice the martial arts, and control Qi in combat, battling supernatural entities and demonic disturbances, often as a member of a sect.

Tags, NOTE CAREFULLY; Action, Cultivation/Martial Arts, Supernatural, Drama, Light Mystery, Bishounen everywhere, and  Light BL <-----

Disclaimers: Yes, you can notice the romantic undertones, however, it is shounen ai at best. For those who are wary of BL, you can manage to watch this as long as you don't absolutely hate it, as the story is much more focused on the plot. Although the cast is mainly male characters, there are several very likable and important females ones. 

There is an action tag, but I would consider it to be laid-back action, with some cool scenes interspersed within the story/drama. 

Story 8.5/10:

For those who want it summed up succintly, I would describe it as a 'meadering revenge story' or a 'dark awakening' story. The start of it isn't about revenge at all, but it becomes that way later.

Our MC is Wei Wuxian, shortly described as a cunning little shit, with a hero complex, who likes to pester people until they face-palm. He was (before death), the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, playing a flute to control corpses, to, in essence, massacre and do evil deeds (or at least, that's what people think).

No, the MC is not a stupid teenage boy that has mush for brains and the temper of a two-year old. No, the MC is not 100% OP. No, the MC does not have a harem of girls, loved by everyone for no reason.

Actually, in ep. 1 it appears that the MC ended up being hated by almost everyone. 

The story starts with two episodes giving a broad look at what the transpired events of the past have resulted in--it is the present. When our MC revives after dying in the past in a new body, he opens his eyes to find himself being actively kicked and bullied by two nobodies. He playfully wanders around, pretending to be a lunatic, wondering what the heck went on while he was dead for 13 years. 

On ep. 3, we are brought to the past to find answers to some of the mysteries presented, see the tragedies, and in general, to flesh out a rather large cast of characters. Like how did Wei Wuxian become a demonic cultivator? Who is this so-called Ghost General guy that he is controlling with his somewhat bad flute skills? Etc.

The show's presentation of this story is thoughtful and beautiful. I was actually impressed with the depth they gave a chunk of the side characters. Overall, the plot is fairly simple, but for what they were trying to do, and the refreshing feel of a chinese cultivation world setting, it really kept me entertained. I would say that I think they hit us over the head too much about MC being ready to become a demonic cultivatior. The ep. where he did 'become' a demonic cultivator was somewhat forced, however its frankly more effort explaining and building up to why the MC becomes OP than the usual show where character just 'has' this special power. 

As warning, the eng. subtitles can go fast, be prepared to test your reading skills. Okay. Let's just say this. If, by the end of ep. 2, you can tell that an apple thown into the air, with clouds changing continously over the sky, along with text that says '20 years ago' is the start of a flashback on ep. 3, congratulations! You're smart enough to understand this show. (I'm only saying this from how many comments there are with people confused if it's a flashback or not.) 

Another thing to note are the bits of foreshadowing, symbolism, and details in each episode.

For example, symbolism in some of the plants, such as the symbolic meaning of a lotus flower in china being applied to a character. Another is a scene where a turtle dives into the water while two cranes fly above the surface, signifying one character staying relatively hidden/not true to themself, while the other two 'cranes' fly openly in the sky. Subtle expression changes in characters that aren't even in main focus on the screen during a scene, indirectly revealing their inner feelings. Even what a character is writing on a piece of paper, that is only in the screen for a few seconds, could actually have a piece of plot relevant information in another episode?! If only I could read chinese.

I could go on. These little details are something extra the viewer can think about and potentially look for. Now, none of the symbolism is too complicated, a dead branch = withering relationships, hairpin = unexpressed love, and some of it is pretty darn obvious; crow = death, but nonetheless, I'm enjoying it a lot. 

Downsides: There are a lot of characters to remember, and many characters have more than one name! Same goes for all the different sect names(*hint* use robe color discern). If you aren't familiar with chinese cultivational terms, it can also be more difficult to follow.

In fact, the terminology and other small confusing elements to unfamiliar viewers can be a real downer. I'm not sure how much to knock the show for it, though, as in china most people would know more about it and if you pay careful attention you can learn the details. 

The end of this season basically wraps up a chunk of the MC's past, but it doesn't conclude any of the present or even all of the mysteries first presented. Unfortunately, that is set to be included in the next two seasons.

Animation 8.5/10 : Different than what I'm used to, and I love it. The animation practically bleeds out money. 

3D animation is used to make extensive, intricate backgrounds and beautiful landscapes of forests and flowing streams, they blend it pretty with the regular animation. 

Perspective changes are frequent, making even conversation between characters interesting. Lighting and special effects are dramatic, but not the big explosion kind of dramatic. When things are supposed to be dark and spooky, there is maybe just the glow of a lantern, when things are supposed to be happy and colorful, sunlight is filtering through the trees, flowers blooming.

Characters often change facial expression smoothly, they don't stand still for what seems like ten minutes, talking about nothing. As a single sentence is spoken, the camera might zoom in as the lips of a character twist in an angered or tense manner. 

Downsides: The past and current MC's appearance, despite the fact he is supposed to be in a different body, looks exactly the same. It's strange to make the two look identical.

In general , there are really some hit and misses. Most times I'm completely in love with the animation, but things like the the awful CGI turtle (the Xuanwu in the room) along with occasionally other awkward re-use of the same animation definitely detracts.

Sound 10/10: Plox Gib Me Moar

They legit, seemed to hire a personal orchestra for this. Actually, they probably did. It's hard to describe sound. Of course, it's all setting-based, so ancient china classical probably not the name for it but I tried. 

For example:

Lan Wanji fights with a guiqin (old type of chinese zither family instrument) they have multiple freaken zither soundtracks to play in the background, just in case you don't know he's on the screen, or going to walk out, or something.  

MC plays the flute, they have multiple flute themed songs for him. The starting scene of the first ep, literally is him, coming in with a high and piercing flute song that sounds somewhat chaotic, causing the dead to rise and attack. 

The OP and ED songs are both give character depth, foreshadowing, and sound beautiful. The OP is in the MC's POV, about using the demonic arts despite the opinion of the rest of the world.

Characters 9/10: 

There is a large cast, many connected as family, by sect, through marriage, or friends (also called martial brothers/sisters). Each character has their own upbringing and circumstances to act as they do, which is subtly and slowly unraveled in each episode. There are many hidden sides to characters, so far the plot has hinted at close-friend ships that end in tragic betrayal, and families/sects that are ripped apart due to underlying suspicions.

One main theme in the show is the grey in between 'good vs. evil'. A lot of the characters have obvious flaws or do questionable things while still being likable, or even having justifiable intentions. 

Is it better to follow justice and morality in the moment, for a small cause, for it anger someone and snowball, ending up affecting hundreds more people rather than if you closed your eyes to that one small injustice? This common sort of moral dilemma rears its head for the MC multiple times. 

Even the sect that is supposed to be the 'antagonist group', has some characters in it that are not dislikable or 'evil' at all. One character within the 'bad' group might help the 'good' characters, but not directly stop the 'bad' group, are they still to be viewed as a worthless little coward/evil doer?

Let me also use an example of a character I particularily like; Madam Yu, the mother of Jiang Cheng and also the matriarch of Jiang Clan. 

Madamn Yu could be summarized as the 'jealous wife',  if you wanted to ignore all the subtlety of her. She obviously detests the MC (the adopted 'son' of Jiang clan) because her husband appears to treat MC with extra care, making it seem that husband may have had an affair with another woman in the past. Madam Yu also detests MC because he's better than her own son in cultivation and a troublemaker. She is constantly bashing her own son, MC, and the husband, with as much pride as an empress. And yet, I can't detest Madam Yu at all for her actions. If you think carefully, her husband never gives her an answer to her questioning and only avoids it. MC really does stir up trouble for their sect, as she always criticized him for. Is her bitterness, and her own personal feelings portrayed in ep6, where she clearly desires to know for sure that her own husband loves her, really so unfounded? And then one might be confused, why the hell doesn't the husband reassure her??? Alas, pride is a lurking problem at the Jiang sect. 

I do not want to write an entire novel over the whole cast, but here are another two important ones besides the MC, and are also foils to eachother;

Jiang Cheng- Seems to despise(...maybe?) MC, but was his martial brother at the same sect during MC's adolescence. (AKA tsundere jealous dude.)

Lan Wanji- Seems to be stone-faced and only believes in utmost righteous morality, but helps MC (who does not follow a 'moral path') when he's in trouble. (AKA tsundere OP dude.)

Overall 9/10:

Overall, it isn't an overly complicated show. It's not like a sort of Katanagatari or Welcome to the NHK, but it does seem to delve more into details than the typical shounen fair or cookie cutter romance.

Looking for a change of pace with chinese good-quality animation, martial arts/action, supernatural creatures, drama, a small dash of tragedy, and exploring good vs. evil within the cultivational world? I recommend.

Especially if you want some good slow-burn (BL) romance. But, do remember, censorship in China likely means we won't see even a single kiss.

For anyone that is curious, this show is set to have 3 seasons. The second season will come out in 2019.

8.5/10 story
8.5/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
8.6/10 overall
KarmicJoke's avatar
Aug 31, 2018

Absolutely Magical!

To piggyback on  asterris's review which was a marvel in itself, I can't gush enough about this wonder of an anime. It is pure magic! The music, the animation art style, the story, is all so lovely. Much different than the usual animes I've watched until recently. The art itself is gorgeous and so lovely to view. The music is exceptional and really enhances the overall mood and scenes that it goes along with. The music is so masterful, I daresay it could stand on it's own.

As asterris did such a phenomenal job of comprehensively reviewing this, I will only add a very short piece. I can't recommend this anime more. Really, you should give it a view. I, myself have had no trouble following along as the story has progressed and I haven't found the time swap at all difficult to work out. I can only echo, that the color of the outfits does help one quickly realize what clan a person belongs to if one has a moment of being confuzzled.

Right now, there are some really solid, interesting anime coming out of China and I would place this at the top of the list. The main character is a bit of a cheeky b*stard, which in some stories is a detractor, but it really works here. You can't help but want to cheer him on even if he is a bit of a villian, mostly he just comes off as mischievous and cheerfully youthful. I really want to learn what eventually made him turn to the dark side and end up hunted as was shown at the beginning of the story...

Anyhow, as I can only echo what asterris has already stated, I will end now by saying that I love this!

9/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.5/10 overall
Puddichan's avatar
Nov 5, 2018

Mo Dao Zu Shi is the best animation I have ever seen. Amazing music and story. Can't wait to see the continuation. 

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
Insphexcyr's avatar
Nov 8, 2018

         I have never liked Chinese animations until this one showed up. I loved this anime very much, due to the beautiful songs and expressions of culture. I also found that the story and the characters are very well thought out, and gave the viewer an exploration of happiness, sadness, laughter, and just a little bit of hate for the annoying enemies:)

         I am less than impatient to wait for the new episodes coming out in 2019. I think that this animation has a lot of potential, if they play their cards right. And they have a hell of a lot of cards to choose from hehe. 

This was one of my first reviews I've done. Sorry if it isnt really good lmao.

Hope you thought this was relatable.

10/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.5/10 overall