Blurb: As a disciple of the Lei Clan, Lei Wu Jie can’t wait to prove his worth as a hero, but as a novice who has only just entered the martial arts world, the path to becoming a true hero is difficult, at best. Undeterred by the challenges that lay before him, Wu Jei makes his way to the great city of Xue Yue, certain that his time there will mould him into the hero he so longs to be. Unfortunately, his trip to Xue Yue is waylaid by an unfortunate mishap at the Villa of Fallen Snow.
As proprietor of the Villa, Xiao Se has all the looks of a wealthy innkeeper, but he can barely afford to keep the inn open. Struggling with his business, Xiao Se is less than pleased when his establishment is damaged by the antics of a young, wannabe hero. Demanding he makes amends for the damage he caused, Wu Jei can think of only one way to appease the grumpy Xiao Se, and that is to take him with him. With no other options, the two set off together without any idea of what fate has in store for them.
Befriending several people along the way, including Wu Xin, Sikong Qian Luo, Tang Lian, and Ye Ruo Yi, Xiao Se and Wu Jei soon find themselves caught up in an adventure far greater than any of them could have imagined. While facing countless dangers, the group stumbles upon a trail of clues that tie one of them to a battle for the throne that took place over a decade ago. The question is, is the intrepid hero ready and willing to take his rightful place as the leader of the people? And where will the brotherhood go from there?
I really enjoyed this show. I started writing this review when I was rewatching (again again) and on episode 6 where there’s a lot of great humor. The Blood of Youth has such a badass ending. The theme for the March TBR challenge is “baggage” and boy howdy does our (main) hero have a lot of it. The most eyebrow raising aspect is – and … get ready to mark your calendars because this is rare – ignore the “romance” in it. Truly it’s terrible. I recoiled from my screen during most the “romance” scenes 😅. I liked the great balance of this series between plot and serious matters and humor, as well as the great relationships that are displayed. Really in my opinion it’s a buddy epic, and a journey of the hero “re-discovering” himself. It’s a bit of a wuxia fantasy – there are a lot of suspension of disbelief elements (basically people flying, near sentient weapons etc), but just go along for the ride. It’s a good time.
Our hero is Xiao Se/Xiao Chu He/Prince Yong’an (XS), and he’s about 22. Although it isn’t really three identities, Xiao Chu He is Prince Yong’an – that’s just his title. (Not all princes get titles.) He’s the sixth son of the emperor of Beili, was the most outstanding prince – a genius, “the greatest [martial arts] prodigy of the world,” and expected to be the crown prince … but because he stood up for his uncle who was [wrongly] accused of and [executed] for treason, XS was stripped of his titles, deposed, and exiled. The series starts four years after that incident, where Chu He has changed his name to Xiao Se, and is merely the owner of a rather [run down] remote inn (the Snowfall Villa) located in the mountains. While The Blood of Youth is as I said, a buddy epic, it’s also the story of Xiao Se reclaiming himself/coming back to being Xiao Chu He… and making his presence known in the kingdom. (Despite people trying to find him they hadn’t been able to.)
In the fourth episode, when he meets with his shifu (like a teacher/master/stand in parent; series generally translate it as “master” which … I don’t love) for the first time in four years, his shifu says to him “just look at yourself. You’re arrogant, thin-skinned, and boastful. You show off your petty tricks, treat others ruthlessly, and are self-righteous. These are the six shortcomings a monarch should avoid.” However he then gives XS (I think his personal weapon, which is a special rod) – which is of course a big fucking deal. Our hero’s martial arts skills have been crippled though – and he says that, and his shifu says “the path you’re taking isn’t easy to walk – use it as a crutch then.” Heh. There are multiple story lines here – not just Xiao Se reclaiming his identity of Xiao Chu He, but also him wanting to clear his uncle’s name. Bundled into that is … well, he’s a prince, you know? So he has the chance of becoming the emperor too. In fact, the latter is what interests (or worries) others the most.
XS seems to know everything – it’s because he’s smart, he is/was a prince (hello access), but also his shifu is the leader of a sect that acts as an information network. It’s a powerful combination. XS keeps his identity secret, but of course some people know who he is. WX figures it out pretty quickly, and of course there are the others who knew him from “before.” There’s generally an unspoken agreement though for everyone to keep it “secret.” Some, because they don’t care to/want to support XS in however he acts. Some because they hope XS stays away from the palace. While his martial arts are gone, he still has qinggong (don’t love the article start, but – light air skills) which are second to none – so he can generally run quickly enough to escape danger, but he can’t fight or defend himself. As part of his journey XS is healed, but it’s a focal point not a detour.
It’s understandable for XS to be the way he is – he resents the fact that almost nobody stood up for his uncle. He resents the fact that his uncle died so unjustly, and is cast as a traitor. He’s also angry that someone attacked him and crippled his martial arts skills entirely. On his journey due to being exiled. As for his position/royal standing – which most people would care about most … is what concerns him the least. Vying for the throne is literally an afterthought for him. I liked that spin on things.
Lei Wu Jie (LWJ) meets Xiao Se by chance, but they were definitely fated to meet. He’s our secondary hero, and to be honest he’s kind of an idiot. However, he’s loyal, brave, and so kind and pure hearted you don’t hold it against him. Seriously, TSTL is something that drives me batty, but LWJ is just so good even I was okay with him. Also it’s low key one of the running jokes of the series – the writers are wink wink nudge nudge, which helps. In fact, Wu Xin uses the “Devil’s Eye” on him which is a technique that traps a person in their mind facing their biggest inner demon, but it doesn’t work – I think the script says something like “because he’s so pure” but I definitely feel like the underlying idea is he’s empty headed. (Wu Xin says “only two people are immune to the devil eye – someone with an innocent heart- unsullied by worldly things. The other is someone whose thoughts are buried too deep – they bury their thoughts in a bottomless abyss, so far they can’t even see themselves.” LWJ is the former, XS the latter of course.) LWJ is just entering the Jianghu and XS’s Snowfall Villa is basically his first stop. He’s a skilled fighter, but has a lot to learn, and has the bad luck (but good luck!) to meet XS and Wu Xin from go. LWJ essentially meets all the top martial artists in the world from jump. LWJ really just wants to get some fighting experience, and meet heroes, while making a name for himself. He gets his wish in unexpected ways. One of the first things he says is “how lucky am I to meet such experts” and even if and as he loses, he’s determined to continue to grow in skills and win one day. His optimistic and indomitable spirit inspire even his elders. (He is also positively influenced by XS, WX, and YRY.) When he’s down, XS reminds him of this attitude.
Wu Xin / Ye An Shi (WX) is an interesting character in multiple ways. He’s the third of the buddy trio, but he’s off screen for like three quarters of the series. He actually first takes XS and LWJ as hostages/companions – he has his reasons – I’m not clear on what all WX knows/doesn’t know or all his martial arts skills. He’s also a prodigy and essentially second only to (pre-ruined) XS. From five to seventeen (which is how old he is when the series starts) he was raised in a Buddhist temple by one of the most pure/known monks in the world. The monk passes away at the beginning of the series, so that motivates a number of WX’s actions … but it also happens to be that he’s essentially a hostage himself of the government. His father was the leader of a major martial arts sect that tried to take on the kingdom of Beili. This is where/how the name Ye An Shi comes in – WX is the next leader of a sect ~everyone thinks is evil, but he doesn’t want to go to the remote location and be a leader. (He does though, because he understands his responsibilities. What he wanted though was to finish his task to honor the monk, then travel the world.)
WX is also very smart – he figures out who XS is quickly (they actually have a petty spat about it that devolves into WX beating on XS without using his martial skills) – and he’s similar to XS in how he speaks in layers and lies. They’re so very matched and [also] best friends. Almost closer than XS and LWJ; because they innately understand each other.
Believe it or not, this series isn’t about secret identities. It’s just that who someone is and their history does come into play. Every little piece works together, and you’re engaged with the character growth and journey. There are touching moments, humor, a lot of excitement, and the major theme of “leave it to the youth.” I loved that the elders were there as support, but also they drew clear lines – most of them didn’t want their own personal grudges or problems to affect the “new world” of the youth. Also they wanted the main characters to make their own decisions and live their own lives. However there are also ties and responsibilities – sometimes left unexplained and for each individual to discover themselves. There’s also the point that sometimes (oftentimes) it’s best to let things happen naturally rather than force them. Of course they aren’t entirely selfless, and they do try to influence things – but the main elders, overall, don’t. Sikong Chang Feng (SKCF) is one of the main ones – and I loved when he told Prince Baili that he supports XS – there’s the underlying message that XS is who SKCF wants to take the throne, but SKCF clarifies “that means I support him in whatever he wants to do – if he wants to just stay an accountant, that’s great too – he’s a gifted one.”
The musicality is also really good – it’s epic and fits the moment and series. There’s one [song] with piano then electric guitars that I need to find. It’s a lead in to the most awesome scenes. (The other songs themselves aren’t that great alone, in my opinion, but they fit the story incredibly well.) The soundtrack compliments the scenes a lot better than many other dramas.
Just thinking about The Blood of Youth brings a smile to my face. I liked how each main character was developed and was so dynamic. Also that the women were as strong as the men- which isn’t uncommon in wuxia, but still is nice to see generally. I also love how complicated everything is and how layered. Some people you thought would be enemies are old friends. Many people have their own agendas. There were of course a few characters that felt like they were written in just to be killed off (seriously two of the “sword deities” … there were some discrepancies in the skill levels – which despite multiple watches I still don’t really have sorted).
The two main women are Sikong Qian Luo (QL) and Ye Ruo Yi (YRY). They’re the “love interests” of XS and LWJ, respectively. (But again like I said – the romance is super cringe.) It’s a little bit better between LWJ and YRY – LWJ is smitten from go, and YRY is eventually won over by his pure heart. She’s childhood friends with XS, and had liked him when she was younger, but the four years apart and meeting LWJ (plus XS’s lack of romantic interest in her) changes things. But QL … to me she’s more like a buddy/bodyguard. I can’t tell if it’s how the character is written, or the actress herself. I think it’s both, but more the latter. (Perhaps her costuming as well?) She just screams tomboy and her demeanor never changes, it’s … later in the series they try to lean in on the romance and I just found it awful. She’s so abrupt and in your face it’s … not good. YRY has a congenital condition (I feel you, my sister) – so she’s weaker, but she still knows martial arts, and is extremely skilled in other ways. Her astronomy is astounding, she’s incredibly smart and resourceful, very well connected, and her father is the main general. YRY is one of my favorite characters.
A second very minor complaint is how I miss actual fighting and martial arts in wuxia series, instead of a lot of CGI. It’s well done and works in the series – all the CGI, but you know, reach for the stars, right? There’s a lot of excellent dialogue, even translated it’s good but man some of it has so much more meaning in the original Mandarin. But that’s not exactly a complaint. (Also episode 39 – I felt it focused way too much on one character and wish the writers had allocated more time to other matters, but it wasn’t anything that ruined the series for me.) Lastly it would’ve been nice to see XS fight more/do more once he got his skills back.
All told, I highly recommend people watch The Blood of Youth – I’ve watched it at least twice, I think three times, and many more episodes piecemeal. There are little easter eggs tossed in – comedic moments that carry so much extra meaning the second time around. There’s also a “special episode/epilogue” which is a delight. I’m glad things happened as they did – there’s an epic “ambush” banquet. Then episode 33 has the most incredible plot twist – so much so that I remember the exact number. 34 has a confrontation scene that is soul satisfying. I liked how every villain was taken out. The ending is also incredibly epic. I don’t want to spoil it but it’s definitely memorable. The whole thing is so damn satisfying, and it doesn’t fall into a number of annoying and bad tropes like so many other series. I know I’ll re-watch it again in the future. I’d list this in my top ten, maybe top five.
And you can/should start watching the series here.