Among the various Netflix productions coming this year, we have set our sights on one that is not co-produced by the streaming giant: Heaven Official’s Blessing. What struck us most is the context: in fact, the series is set in a fantasy world between divinities and demonic creatures, elements that could be a more than valid reason to complete the vision.
Before we begin our analysis of the first episode, we want to clarify that Heaven Official’s Blessing is not an anime, but a donghua: there is not much difference between the two media, except that by anime we mainly mean Japanese animated productions; while donghua indicates the Chinese ones. In fact, the title is the adaptation of a Chinese novel inspired by Asian mythology. Let’s find out, therefore, in more detail if the initial episode of Heaven Official’s Blessing managed to win our interest, and if you want to keep an eye on the animated productions, we advise you to read the Netflix anime coming out in April 2021.
Gods and demons
Heaven Official’s Blessing pilot opens quite enigmatically: A bride is attacked by a mysterious undead-like creature while being transported on a sedan chair in a dark forest.
The scene moves to the Heavenly Kingdom, where a pillar of light appears, a sign that a deity is ascending. It is about Xie Liang, known as Crown Prince of Xian Le, who, however, is known above all for having been exiled from the kingdom twice, and his new return could be a sign of doom. Apparently, the protagonist is haunted by his dark past, but in the course of the episode the right information is not provided to understand exactly what happened. Nonetheless, it turns out that he was the youngest Celeste Officer (name used to indicate the deities) to ascend to Heaven, at the behest of the Emperor. Due to unspecified reasons, Xie Liang has been banned twice, and now he no longer has faithful who venerate him or temples dedicated to him. Nonetheless, when Xie Liang ascended for the third time, he found himself welcoming him Ling Wen, which shows him the damage it caused on his arrival, from destroyed buildings, to torn bells that risked injuring gods.
To remedy his mistake, the protagonist would have to pay a sum that he cannot afford, but alternatively he can answer the prayers of some faithful who want the ghosts that haunt the mountain to be eliminated. Yu Jun. However, given the reputation that precedes him, the god is unable to obtain the support of other colleagues and decides to solve the problem by himself, even if he cannot use divine weapons, having exhausted his spiritual energy.
Once descended into the world of humans, Xie Liang, with the support of two lesser deities, Nan Feng e Fu Yao, begins to investigate the strange events of Mount Yu Jun: on the top, one wanders Ghost Groom kidnapping the wives headed by their future husbands and killing the members of the convoy; over the last few years 17 brides have disappeared and more than 100 people have died.
The father of the last woman kidnapped was a powerful officer who hired 40 bodyguards to protect his daughter, but it was all in vain. Then, the general prayed to the deities, giving them conspicuous offerings, and placed a bounty on the head of the ghost bridegroom: this attracted the attention of the gods.
As can be seen, therefore, Xie Liang’s goal is to capture the ghost that haunts the mountain, but to deceive him he must use a person willing to endanger his own life. The only solution that the protagonist and his helpers have managed to find is to disguise the Crown Prince as a bride and reach the top of the mountain. Here the group is attacked by a handful of undead, but Nan Feng and Fu Yao manage to resist; Xie Liang orders his men to get away because they won’t be able to stand up to the zombies. Left alone, Xie Liang is rescued by a mysterious man with an eye patch.
Myths and legends
The first episode of Heaven Official’s Blessing runs for about 30 minutes, albeit Netflix has split it into two parts, but they are well condensed, as the first details about the fantasy universe and the protagonist are provided.
We must point out, however, that at the end of the episode we noticed a greater care, especially in terms of content, rather than on the narrative side. In the course of the vision we have the opportunity to know how the Celestial Kingdom is divided, with the Celestial Emperor who dominates all, various high-ranking deities, and others of lower degrees in the service of the most influential ones; just as we learn that the gods operate in different regions, but if necessary they can act in other territories. In addition, the dark side of the otherworldly world is also introduced, including ghosts and other creatures that persecute humans: we do not exclude that in the course of the episodes we can see other frightening entities. This gives the production slightly horror tones, but which do not try to scare the viewer at all, because they are well compensated by the presence of comic curtains. In the face of this, we hope that the horror atmosphere can be a constant throughout the series, even if lightened by the comedy. The pilot also takes the right time to begin to outline Xie Liang, with the hope that it can be developed better over the course of the remaining episodes.
The hero is presented to us as a sunny and loving character, who cares about the safety of both humans and other gods and the Kingdom, despite being banned twice. In the final stages, moreover, you have the opportunity to deepen his past: once Xie Liang was a much loved deity among the inhabitants of Xian Le, for his being benevolent towards others; just think that one day, during a parade, he saved a child who was falling from the high walls of the city.
His actions managed to attract the attention of the Emperor of the Celestial Kingdom: Xie Liang ascended, therefore, for the first time; but soon after, the city was destroyed by the war and he decided to go down to try to save the survivors. The reasons are not yet clear, but it seems that this event is linked to his first exile. We still don’t know how future events will develop, but we can say that Heaven Official’s Blessing has managed to win our interest, even if only in part.
There are two main questions that have particularly attracted our attention: the first concerns the mysterious figure who saved the protagonist; we believe that an answer can be given to us as early as the second episode.
The other, on the other hand, is linked to the reasons why Xie Liang was banished from the Celestial Kingdom twice: if the first exile could be linked in some way to the events in the city of Xian Le, the reason behind it is still a mystery. The second one. Despite the interesting premises, we did not feel particularly stimulated to complete the series, with the hope of finding the right motivations in the remaining episodes. Once we got to the credits of the opening episode, we realized that the plot has not yet been introduced, since what we have seen can be understood as a long opening. An unusual and unfortunate narrative choice if you think that the series consists of only 11 episodes (12 according to the Netflix numbering) plus a special: this raises the fear that the narrative may be too hasty in some passages.
A pleasant technical sector
If on the narrative side Heaven Official’s Blessing failed to convince us completely, on the artistic one it satisfied us. Although some slight technical stumbles are evident in the wider shots, the donghua sports well-kept designs both for the rendering of the characters and the setting, in which particular attention is noted.
A gap between the stroke used for the performers and that for the background is quite evident, but the two styles manage to blend perfectly with each other without ruining the vision. The animations are smooth, although a brief confrontation has been shown at the time, but still well done.
To accompany the scenes there is a soundtrack that ranges from more contemporary songs to others that evoke Asian folklore.