We are in the midst of a pandemic and my family is looking for yet another drama to watch while staying home. And that’s how I wound up rewatching the 2019’s drama, The King’s Avatar (全职高手, quan zhi gao shou).
Ye Xiu (Yang Yang) is a well known top tier player in an online game Glory. After being forcefully expelled out of his professional team, he was employed in an Internet Cafe as an odd-job worker. From there, he formed a team made up of nobodies and fought his way back to the top of the professional scene.
The drama is based on an online novel with 1700+ chapters by Butterfly Blue (蝴蝶蓝). There is also an anime (with 3 seasons, I believe) released in 2017. Before we proceed with the drama review, I just need to strongly recommend the novel (now fully translated in English!) and the anime!
I chanced upon the anime while browsing youtube and was thoroughly absorbed by it even though fighting and e-sport was totally not my thing then. The anime piqued my interest and I started reading the novel – it was a long and arduous journey but I loved every moment of it! My love for The King’s Avatar transcended to the point where I braved the chinese raws when I reached the end of the english translations then.
With my love for The King’s Avatar (全职高手), I have a few draft posts of The King Avatar lying around but I never got around to publishing them due to procrastination. Here’s an excerpt:
Why I love it:
Characterisation. Very well-written characters. I love them all. I cried so many times reading this novel even though it is by no means ‘tragedy‘ or ‘melo’. I have grown to love these characters over the 1,600 chapters and I’m touched by each and every one of their story and growth. Until today, I don’t have a favourite character. Not from Team Happy, and even moreso not from all the characters. I love them all. They are my babies. I would love to do a detailed introduction on them all soon! I have so, so much to share on each and every one of them.
It so happened that The King Avatar aired in 2019… and that was the year I went to China. Imagine my excitement when I saw Ye Xiu, Su Mucheng and Huang Shaotian in the supermarket! As a qualified fangirl, of course I bought them all and made my roommates drink Mei Yi Tian (每益添, mei yi tian: the brand of the drink) mei yi tian (每一天, mei yi tian: everyday)! Yeap, that’s a chinese pun heh.
Alright, enough of the digression. Jumping back to the actual review itself. I’ll be mentioning the drama along with the novel because my whole TKA experience is deeply tied to the novel itself.
Rewatching the drama itself was an experience in itself. I was crying throughout the drama because behind every little action and every interaction, there was a rich story behind. I felt like squealing and cheering every other episode. I’m at the front half of the drama now and every time I see Ye Xiu interacting with members from the other teams, my heart just melts. Yes, they are competitors but above all, they are all comrades seeking to be at the top of Glory. As much as they hate Ye Xiu for his shamelessness and skills, they are all happy to see him back on the field and have him as a competitor. Because this is Glory, and they want to win with Glory.
But the difference watching the drama this time was: I was watching it with my family. They asked me for a drama recommendation and I was apprehensive about introducing The King’s Avatar to them because I feel that this theme (e-sports) was not something they usually watched. After a bit of struggle, I went ahead with the recommendation (mainly because I wanted to watch it heh).
In my mind, I thought that TKA was an inspiring and light-hearted drama. Perhaps, this was due to the familiarity with the novel that I had this misconception. While touching and full of passion, the novel had many comedic elements that I fell in love with. When I tried to watch the first episode in the perspective of someone who know nothing about TKA, I realised that the drama was actually very gloomy and suppressive. The mood of the first episode was very down. And honestly, I felt that if I were someone who didn’t know about TKA, I might not continue watching. Same with the second and third episode. Even the comedic elements weren’t as obvious.
My family didn’t last through the first three episodes – and I could totally understand why. Perhaps, the drama wasn’t attractive enough. It didn’t manage to capitalise and highlight the comedic elements. Also, the storyline might be slightly messy in terms of presentation. I felt that they might have compromised the storytelling aspect in an attempt to portray the background of characters. However, with 40 episodes, it is simply impossible to address the rich background of the world.
While I understand the constraints of compressing a novel into a drama, I find that the producers didn’t manage to maximise the time and episodes they had. The pace of the drama felt rather slow and this might be a personal bias but I felt that too much time was spent on the details of the game. Don’t get me wrong: of course, Glory is a main component of the story and should get focus but I felt that if I was someone who knew nothing about games (which is true), the content from the drama is not dumbed down enough for me to quickly pick up. In a way, it felt like they were spending too much time (on something I don’t understand enough) and too little time (to properly explain it to me). It is a balancing act, and perhaps they didn’t do too well in that aspect.
There were also a lot of flashbacks which was completely unacceptable because those were precious time that could have been used to further flesh out the characters! And while I get that these flashbacks align with the theme of growth (reflection, yeah…) which makes it more inspiring, it is used too often to the point where I feel like the creators are just trying to extend the duration of the episode forcefully….
But do not get me wrong, do I love the drama? Yes! Do I tear every other episode because I feel the boiling passion for Glory? Indeed. Do I scream and cheer for the various teams as I watch the drama? Definitely. Would I watch it again and again? Still, yes… But I also recognise that my love for the drama might be because these characters all have a special place in my heart. Even 2 years after I last (re)read the novel, I still remember all these characters fondly.
Still, the drama has done a very good job illustrating the relationships between characters. The love between Ye Xiu and Huang Shaotian, Chen Guo and Tang Rou; the friendly rivalry between Ye Xiu and Han Wenqing/Yu Wenzhou and even the adoration of Lan He (Blue River). Awww. The sense of comradery was portrayed very well. Besides the e-sport theme, the main highlight would definitely be the brotherhood theme.
I also liked that they didn’t try to forcefully insert romance (or worst, a harem for Ye Xiu, gasp!). Some might ship Ye Xiu and Su MuCheng because of their cute interaction but I think it’s fair because that is the type of interaction I would expect from two person who grew up together with only each other. Also, while Ye Xiu’s relationships with the female characters were all pretty good and ‘ship-able’, the drama left it to the audience’s imagination and didn’t overstep its boundary.
While there were some adaptations made to the storyline and characters (RIP Chang Xian – I loved the novel version but the drama version…. sigh….), I think the drama did well in delivering an exceptional experience for the novel fans. The fact that I can cry from watching an absolutely peaceful and boring scene (according to my family’s reaction at watching the same scene), I think it shows the drama’s success. It has managed to bring the novel to life and ignite connection and engagement from viewers. Well, either that or I have a very strong imagination.
Another thing about the drama adaptation is the cast they chose. I initially thought that Yang Yang (and actually, a lot of the characters that were initially announced) were miscast. For instance, the actors for Bao Zi (bright and cheery!) and An WenYi (cool and stuck up) should have been swapped. Even the actors for Luo Ji and Qiao Yifan looked like they would be better fit if they swapped roles. They turned out fine though. The real disappointment was in the casting for the other teams. When I read the novel, I was expecting drama-leads kind of quality for those characters because they have that much weight! The actual casting was disappointing with many unfamiliar and… common-looking faces but I guess it is expected because why would any established male actor be willing to play the 173624th male character regardless of how lovable the character is?
I just went to MyDramaList and realised that this drama scored 8.6. If rating standards haven’t changed since I was last active (circa 2016/7), this is a very high score for a Chinese production. Chinese dramas hovering over 8 are generally already masterpieces-quality because Korean dramas tend to fare better there. So, perhaps, this drama is more popular than I thought with the general crowd who haven’t read the novel.
It also seems that The King Avatar is now available on Netflix with English subs. Perhaps I will go reread The King Avatar novel again after I finish watching the drama. And hopefully, I’ll have the motivation to blog about TKA again soon.
Recently, I rewatched Love O2O (which also stars Yang Yang) and reread Just A Smile Is Alluring (Wei Wei Yi Xiao Hen Qin Cheng), the novel that Love O2O was based on. That was a sweet, sweet fest. And because I reread the novel before watching the drama, I can safely exclaim that that drama was a huge success. It not only became a hit amongst mainstream viewers, it also followed the novel closely and gave readers a huge treat!
Love O2O also has a gaming theme but it is heavily romance-focused. As much as I love Love O2O, I couldn’t help mentally dissing how unrealistic it is for Xiao Nai to be the top player because he was spending so much time NOT playing the game! Just look at Ye Xiu and Glory! A few hours offline? You are probably off the leaderboard, heh.
Another e-sport/game themed drama I watched recently was Cross Fire that starred Lu Han and Wu Lei. That was a surprisingly good watch and I’m starting to think that gaming genres might just be my thing. I’ll be looking forward to more gaming dramas.
Have any recommendations or thoughts to share? Leave them in the comments below!