What’s it About? The Taibai Empire seeks world unification through the use of mass-produced war machines known as “constructs.” Sheep herders Fu Yin, Fu Ning and Pu Zhou are victims of the Taibai’s thirst for conquest as their own village is destroyed. Sisters Yin and Ning become traveling martial artists to make a meager living on the road while Zhou is enslaved by the empire to construct more of the machines that destroyed his home. A rebellion brews three years after Yin, Ning and Zhou’s homeland is destroyed.
A lot happens in the very first episode of Xuan Yuan Sword. Part of it might be because the show seems to want to wedge in every significant character into the first episode to assure the viewer, “look at all these cool people, they know magic and stuff.”
While it doesn’t waste any time before getting into the main story, it perhaps could have taken its time to set up its characters a little more effectively. The trio are depicted in their idyllic life before the invasion for less than a minute to establish that, “yes, they were close before the fire nation attacked.” Then, instead of elaborating any further, the show cuts into exposition about the Taibai’s massive machine army.
Everything feels so rushed that Yin’s discovery of the legendary sword, the namesake of the series, is given almost no fanfare whatsoever. The young warrior stumbles upon an abandoned village and falls into a dark pit where she is imbued by the power of the sword and a powerful magical robot guardian named Yun. There’s no time to discuss why Yin was chosen or what Yun or the blade are, but she wields it readily when the empire attacks in the latter half of the episode.
With so much going on, Xuan Yuan Sword still somehow manages to dedicate a good portion of the episode to firmly state Taibai is an evil empire by having a general needlessly order the slaughter of an innocent village under the hunch that rebels may have escaped there. Luck would have it, Yin and Ning were staying there and through the power of Yun and Yin’s new magical sword, they handily drive back the machine army.
But while most of Yin, Ning and Yun’s fight choreography are fluidly animated, Xuan Yuan Sword also relies heavily on 3D animation for its fight scenes — and it’s shoddy at best.
The massive army of Taibai constructs are boxy behemonths with low-resolution decals applied, reminiscent to what I’d expect from a decade ago when the show’s base material Xuan Yuan Sword: The Millennial Destiny was first released in 2004. The constructs aren’t the only ones to suffer from poor 3D modeling as Yun’s transformation into a wolf-like machine painfully stands out, as does Yin when she unnaturally gravitates off the ground to fight a la Dragon Ball.
Also at issue is Yun’s transformation into her beast form, which offers a gratuitous cut of animation showing off a shapely mechanical butt as the camera pans down her body before panning back up to show the final stage of her transformation.
While the show was otherwise devoid of fan service during the first episode, the next episode’s preview also alluded to a young Yin, Ning and Zhou bathing together in happier times, so there might be more of that to come.
That said, Xuan Yuan Sword offers likeable characters and a brewing drama that’s bound to get messy. Yin and Ning are resillient women and exhibit upstanding bravery in the face of danger. The story will no doubt raise them as heroes against Taibai while their friend Zhou will unknowingly rise against them.
And while it remains to be seen whether Zhou will fully embrace his status as a noble in the country that robbed him of his home, it appears the Empress Long Chen is aware and sympathetic to how her country has devastated so many lives.
Also unclear, however, is whether the Empress, young as she is, is a mere puppet holding a figurehead role in the capitol or if she is in full command of the military policies that are the source of all the drama in the first place.
My money’s on the two advisors being the real big bads.
Thus, Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary has a lukewarm start, not for the lack of good or bad, but a strong mix of good elements with some major stipulations. It’s action scenes are fluid and great, but only when not so reliant on awkwardly floating 3D models. The cast of main characters and antagonists have thus far been demonstrably interesting people, but we saw so little of them that it really didn’t matter outside of the main trio.
With such a rushed exposition, this pace of storytelling may be untenable for more than one episode. At most it might be worth checking in on the second episode to see if they slow things down to get any real sense as to just how much attention the series will pay to the story.