"I Am Nobody" went through a wave of controversies and delays when it premiered in early August, leaving the audience uncertain about its overall quality. Furthermore, as an adaptation of the manga "Yi Ren Zhi Xia (一人之下)," with its association with ACG, and its edgy and passionate storyline, it seemed to inherently carry a sense of unreliability, causing some anxiety. However, after watching the first 20 episodes, the plot, visual effects, and essence of the drama have all proven to be successful. In fact, for some viewers, the drama version is even more enjoyable than the anime.
Director by Xu Hongyu, who previously directed web dramas such as "Cross Fire" and the film "Coffee or Tea?" particularly excelling in the youth-oriented and hot-blooded genre. This time, he approached " I Am Nobody" from the perspective of a seasoned editor, skillfully capturing the compact storyline of the series, and has achieved an impressive 10.5% market share in terms of viewership. What deserves even greater recognition is that, following "Bureau of Transformer" in 2019, the cdrama market has finally seen the emergence of a high-quality, truly urban fantasy drama, bringing a gust of innovation to the audience.
01 Trimming and tightening, refining the essence of the manga adaptation
The manga version of "Yi Ren Zhi Xia," created by Mi Er, has been serialized since 2015. In the middle of 2016, the first season of the animated adaptation, including the "Feng Baobao Chapter," "Luo Shan Da Jiao Chapter," "Beijing Arc," and "Chen Duo Chapter," was released and is still ongoing.
The anime series is based on the backdrop of Chinese Taoist culture, with Zhang Chulan, who seeks the truth behind his grandfather's death, Feng Baobao, who searches for her origins, and Wang Ye, a true Taoist priest in search of the secrets of the heavenly path, serving as the main characters. It incorporates themes of youthful growth, spiritual cultivation, and Taoist philosophy, offering a blend of hot-blooded action, fantastical elements, and cultural depth. It has been hailed as a masterpiece of Chinese animation.
With an average rating of 8.42 of 10 on Douban for the anime, and a popularity exceeding 21.2 billion for the manga, this work ranked among the top 15 in the 2022 China IP Value Composite List, being the only anime IP on the list. Its unique style, profound storytelling, and massive fan base have made its adaptation into a visual medium a highly challenging task. However, the drama version of "I Am Nobody" has successfully lived up to its predecessor, primarily by excelling in two key aspects.
Trimming: the drama version of "I Am Nobody" has removed the popular internet slang and male-oriented close-up shots of female characters, which were limited by the era. Instead, it incorporates futuristic technological elements, such as presenting the "Na Dou Tong" express delivery company with a sense of near-future technology, and linking the intangible and intangible Qi of the cultivators with dark matter, adding a layer of science fiction to the urban fantasy genre.
One of the main changes is the trimming of unnecessary details, while still retaining key scenes such as Xia He's seductive powers, Feng Baobao's amnesia, and Zhang Chulan's classic scene. However, these scenes are presented in a relatively comedic and satirical manner, greatly reducing the sense of era limitations in the original work and emphasizing the aspects of youth, friendship, and the struggle between good and evil. Perhaps as a result, the drama version has attracted a wide range of viewers aged 18 to 40, with female viewers accounting for 40%, which is particularly outstanding compared to similar male-oriented adaptations.
Tightening: refers to the significant acceleration of the main plot by condensing the original 200+ episodes/3 seasons of the animated series into 27 episodes. By only watching the drama version, the storyline is very clear.
The early stages consist of two main storylines: Zhang Chulan's search for the truth behind his grandfather's death and the mystery of the powerful girl Feng Baobao's origins. These two storylines intertwine, and later, the storyline of Wang Ye, a Wudang Taoist who secretly observes the secrets of the world, is introduced during the Longhu Mountain Martial Arts Competition. These three main storylines converge towards the central conflict, the Jia Shen Rebellion.
At the same time, while condensing the entire story, a significant portion (10 episodes) is dedicated to the detailed depiction of the competition in the Longhu Mountain Martial Arts Competition, corresponding to the "Luo Shan Da Jiao Chapter" in the animation, which has received a high rating of 9 points from nearly 80,000 people on Douban, and is highly acclaimed.
This allows for the exploration of the distribution of family factions and the background knowledge of the Eight Extraordinary Techniques in the world of extraordinary beings. The overall pace of the series is tense, with some loose details, allowing even viewers who are completely unfamiliar with the original work to be quickly immersed in the fantastical world of Yi Ren.
Fa Jin Xi Sui (伐筋洗髓), is a term unique to Chinese Taoism, which refers to the process of "removing impurities and waste from the body and mind, and thoroughly cleansing the meridians, in order to help individuals achieve a better physical condition". In the current era when many classical IPs have failed repeatedly, adaptations like "I Am Nobody" that rejuvenate the IP can be seen as an effective operational model.
02 Urban fantasy, a new frontier in Chinese drama innovation
Director Xu Hongyu expressed a strong interest in urban fantasy stories as early as the movie "Transformers". Urban fantasy has become a popular type of commercial film innovation, as it presents the strange and unknown within the familiar world and breaks away from mundane narratives.
Although some viewers consider "Parallel World" and "I Am Nobody" as contemporaneous urban fantasy creations, strictly speaking, including "Parallel World", most of these works lean more towards the fantasy adventure genre, with many fantastical elements related to otherworldly realms.
"Rattan" is relatively closer to the concept of urban fantasy, as it adapts plant and animal-based monsters such as Siteng, Shen Yindeng, and Baijin, into extraterrestrial visitors known as the Yi tribe, who coexist with humans.
The previous widely acclaimed urban fantasy drama was "Bureau of Transformer" produced by Gongfu Film Industry in 2019, with a rating of 7.6 from over 70,000 users on Douban. The drama's setting revolves around certain animals being able to transform into human-like, creating a world where ordinary people coexist with these beings.
The transformers are under the unified management of the Bureau of Transforme, with a raccoon serving as the director, a squirrel as the director of the household registration center, a donkey as the detective inspector, a rabbit as the head of the medical station, and a bat monitoring the surveillance for the information department. This peculiar yet logical arrangement adds to the show's charm.
In this world filled with fantastical concepts, the detectives are still tasked with solving trivial matters that are close to the lives of ordinary people. Behind the combination of "fantasy + trivial matters" lies the real stories that have sprouted from the soil of reality. The allure of urban fantasy dramas lies in their ability to stimulate the audience's imagination with the most imaginative settings and innovative narrative concepts, while also deeply connecting with reality through the profound meaning and emotions embedded within the story.
"I Am Nobody" is no exception. It blends traditional Chinese Taoism, Qi Men Dun Jia, and the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches with the passionate world of manga, allowing the urban fantasy drama to break free from the shackles and dance gracefully.
Furthermore, the show seizes the aspect that is often lacking in adaptations of manga, which is visual effects. For instance, during the Longhu Mountain Martial Arts Tournament, Wang Ye confronts Zhuge Qing in a spectacular battle of divination and Taoist magic, where the Eight Trigrams Formation unfolds, and the Five Elements interact, giving the audience a sense of both fantasy movies and time-traveling adventures.
Additionally, the confrontations between Zhang Chulan and Zhang Lingyu's Yin-Yang Thunders, and Fengsha Yan and Jia Zhengliang's thrilling and exciting action scenes are also visually captivating moments that the audience can savor repeatedly. With such a tightly woven storyline and high-quality visual effects, even though there are still some shortcomings in terms of costume and character design, they are not enough to overshadow the overall brilliance.
When we look at the cdrama market, urban fantasy dramas have brought about innovative attempts in Chinese dramas this year. With their strong plotlines, emphasis on visual effects, cohesive world-building, and development across multiple seasons, they are a relatively closer choice to the industrialization of the film and television industry. The collective anticipation of practitioners in the Chinese TV drama industry for a dash of new flavors for the audience may very well start with the innovation of urban fantasy dramas.