Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

After experiencing the oriental beauty of "The Island of Siliang" and the passionate combat in "Douluo Continent", what other expectations can we have for Chinese animation? The release of stylized martial arts animation "Blades of the Guardians" on June 1, 2023, surprises us with something new.

Unlike the recent popular science fiction or immortality themes on various streaming platforms, Chinese martial arts finally becomes the theme again in the animated series "Blades of the Guardians (Biao Ren, 镖人)".

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

A mysterious middle-aged martial artist, with a thin horse and a young child, walks in the desert outside of the country. He negotiates deals with bandits while making friends among commoners, he is both a armed escort and possesses an adventurer's courage.

This character has rekindled memories of martial arts within society after only four episodes aired. Some see it as embodying Wuxia aesthetics; others use it to refute claims that martial arts are dead - even inspiring some to pick up original comic books once more.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

For a long time, whenever the content industry reached certain points, it was necessary to discuss the disappearance of martial arts theme. It is believed that lack of audience interest and reluctance from production teams to create these works are the main reasons why martial arts have fallen out of favour.

However, in reality, if you carefully browse through Chinese animation lists, you will discover that martial arts has never lost its popularity. From decades-long updates on six seasons of "Buliangren" to audiences getting a glimpse into desert adventures with "Blades of the Guardians", traditional martial arts may be experiencing an interregnum period but Chinese animation platforms and some animation production companies still insist on producing them. The industry is gradually finding a way forward for contemporary martial art productions through trial and error.


01 Martial Arts Enlightenment for the Young Generation

On June 1, 2023, the animated series "Blades of the Guardians" was released as scheduled. Undoubtedly, its tight plot and exciting climax, as well as its accurate depiction of wandering warriors in the Jianghu world are important factors that have garnered attention. However, beyond this, another reason for its popularity is the discussion of martial arts spirit it has sparked among the younger generation.

In an era when Jin Yong's works are a distant memory and the path to becoming a wandering warrior seems far away, "Blades of the Guardians" wins favour with martial arts fans because it redefines the "wandering warrior" spirit. Its protagonist is outstandingly designed with a strong sense of chivalry present but not illusory; depicting both general folk common to Jianghu while also showcasing high-level courts.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

Prior to this, the younger generation had seen too many depictions of romantic love and scholars' spirits in Jianghu. Therefore, when a tough masculine character like those found in Gu Long's works became the protagonist, audiences who were not familiar with the original martial arts culture discovered that this was what truly embodied majestic Chinese martial arts.

In the desert under a crimson sunset, "Blades of the Guardians" opens up with an antique yellowish tone and rough yet forceful lines filling up the screen. This evokes a sense of Sui-Tang Dynasty aesthetics and even feels reminiscent of classic martial arts action films during moments where weapons clash.

"Blades of the Guardians" tells the story of a skilled courier named "Dao Ma" traveling through western deserts prior to civil unrest before end of Sui Dynasty. He forges various bonds with heroes, merchants, assassins and civilians alike which lead into all kinds of conflicts that affect fate on their journey.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

Firstly let us take a look at its historical background: During 607 AD in Emperor Yang's reign era (Sui Dynasty). Throughout history books it is known as one brief moment, only lasting thirty-seven years, but much happened during such short time frame.

The plot takes place shortly after Emperor Yang ascends to throne; engaging internal construction extravagantly while indulging himself recklessly. With external greed surpassing expectations yearning for Western Regions leading to continuous warfare causing damage upon both people and wealth.

Despite being flourishing externally, Sui dynasty has already reached its final stage akin to an arrow at full draw readying itself for release unable to hold any longer amidst grandeur collapsing from within along. These times are characterized by darkness however depicted heroism is still present among wandering warriors underneath darkened art style which represents life’s greatest pleasures

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

Currently, the animated series has only aired four episodes, yet it has already presented viewers with an intense and elegant world of Sui-Tang Dynasty, and more and more young people are starting to discuss this work. From its visuals to plot, from dubbing to character designs,the attraction of Chinese martial arts can be seen.

In fact, "Blades of the Guardians" is not the only one; flipping through the 2023 anime list shows that martial arts cannot be avoided as a genre. "Bu Liang Ren" depicted a Jianghu filled with ingenious schemes and poetic sentiments while "Blades of the Guardians" reveals a world of fast-paced revenge in western deserts. Unconsciously these stories have been updated daily forming part of younger generations' shared memories and dreams about martial arts becoming their initiation into this new era of audiences.

Today, if we want to comprehensively examine the enlightenment on martial arts for younger generations then animation plays an indispensable role. With direct visual forms,it captures this generation's ideals regarding Chinese martial arts.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture


02 New breakthrough in the martial arts genre

Some have said that the appearance of "Blades of the Guardians" injected a dose of vitality into an era where people claimed martial arts was dead. However, Jianghu has never disappeared and neither has martial arts; even from the perspective of Chinese martial arts works flooding social media platforms, such claims are rather short-sighted.

A quick glance at Tencent video's anime list reveals that martial arts themes have never vanished from the animation industry. Surprisingly, before "Blades of the Guardians," there were several highly regarded martial arts animations on Tencent video alone. Starting with "Zhen Dao Ge", known as a dark horse among new Chinese-style wuxia stories, animators' enthusiasm for this genre is evident in their programming schedules.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

This year,the accumulation of this passion resulted in more tangible presentations.From "Bu Liang Ren" to"Blades of the Guardians," one after another animated series proved through their high view counts that each generation has its own taste and preferences when it comes to wuxia. Inevitably these works prompt us to reflect: what exactly is the charm of wuxia? What kind do we need now?

At first glance, the appeal of wuxia lies in the exhilarating experience brought by sword fights and martial arts moves. However, upon closer inspection, one can find that its deeper attraction actually comes from reflections or observations on characters, society and even reality itself. On this basis, it is necessary to focus on various details such as storylines, visuals and music to create an authentic wuxia world.

"Bu Liang Ren" stood out for its highly thrilling plot design, unconventional protagonist characterization, and exquisite detail depiction.The same applies to "Blades of the Guardians," which has sparked discussions recently.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

The protagonist of "Blades of the Guardians," Dao Ma,is a middle-aged martial artist who makes a living taking care of his child.This portrayal differs from traditional images of chivalrous heroes in wuxia works; although he possesses excellent martial arts skills ,he does not have any saintly attributes. His creed is about paying back debts with honor - neither wanting others to owe him nor owing anyone else anything.

Taking wuxia as an example,different from science fiction's emphasis on grand scenes, Wuxia stories are built around intricate details. What sets them apart and appeals most to fans could be traced back, in some aspects, to their production philosophy.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

For example, in terms of world-building, both "Bu Liang Ren" and "Blades of the Guardians" are based on traditional Chinese culture to construct an authentic Wuxia worldview. In terms of production, they also adopt a stylized approach. Especially for "Blades of the Guardians," the use of 2D colored pencil lines to depict character movements not only preserves the antique charm of the visuals but also adds a sense of Chinese ink painting style.

Previously, people believed that the more violent and bloody a Wuxia story was, the better it would be because it could provide viewers with direct sensory stimulation. However, the key to Wuxia lies in its characters' heroic attributes rather than just violence or destruction. Only by unlocking this gate with the key can we present wuxia's ultimate value.


03 Significance of "Blades of the Guardians" for the Times

From 2015 to 2023, the number of Chinese animation works has increased from dozens per year to hundreds per year. However, a sharper question is whether their quality has also increased along with the quantity as each platform's library reaches a certain standard.

As for "Blades of the Guardians," it seems like a clear tribute work at first glance, but in fact, if you delve into its creative process, you will find that the extension of wuxia culture and phenomena have never stopped, or rather,since every era has its own wuxia culture.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

In graphic novel times, the dissemination of wuxia culture was flat, colorful pages, and crude lines. In video times, Wuxia culture began to move from books to screens, and from two dimensions to three dimensions, the world of wuxia became more vivid and realistic. In this process, streaming video platforms are constantly innovating on production techniques and expression styles that cater to young people's aesthetics and needs.

Looking back from when "Bu Liang Ren," the first true animated series based on Wuxia themes was released in 2014, to when "Blades of the Guardians," the pinnacle achievement of Wuxia, is successfully animated in 2023, in this context, Wuxia is always been breaking new ground.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

For younger audiences who grew up watching these shows, this transition isn't just about changes in content style; it represents an accurate judgement by platforms regarding young people's aesthetic preferencesand deep-seated desires.

This current wave of discussions around martial arts spirits combined with these martial arts stories being broadcasted together constitutesthe current era's Wuxia culture. Following this train of thought, the creation of this world of Wuxia not only provides a spiritual space for martial arts fans to enjoy, but also sets the standard for new Wuxia stories that will soon be told.

Blades of the Guardians: A Fresh Take on Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture

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