- Genre: Action, Fantasy, Wuxia, Historical, Martial Arts
- Director: 黄剑 Huang Jian
- Screenwriter: 尹衡/蒋戈Ying Heng & Jiang Ge
- Studio: Motion Magic
- Producers and Licenser: Tencent Penguin Pictures
- Aired: Spring 2021: February 8 – March 15, 16 eps
For a donghua that barely made a blip on my radar, I was pleasantly surprised by Thousand Autumns. Also known as Shan He Jian Xin or Qian Qiu—as the source novel by Meng Xi Shi is known as—this Chinese anime is weirdly good.
Let me explain.
The Plot of Thousand Autums
Thousand Autumns is about Shen Qiao, the sect leader of Mount Xuandu, who falls off a cliff after losing a battle against Beimu Kunye—the disciple of an enemy of Shen Qiao’s own master. Due to the fall and the fight, Shen Qiao is severely injured, loses his memories, his sight, and his qi. This means he cannot fight to the same extent he once could. Yan Wushi, leader of the Huanyue (Evil Gang) finds him in this vulnerable state and takes advantage of him.
From there, Shen Qiao meets a great many tribulations that test his beliefs of non-involvement in the secular world and to always do good. Yan Wushi, on his end, tries his best to manipulate Shen Qiao to bring him to his side, his sect. Basically, it’s all about:
- no one being completely good or evil,
- how turning a blind eye doesn’t mean things won’t get worse and,
- growing as a person by travelling the world and meeting new people.
The most obvious thing that might make it or break it for you is probably the animation. Look. I understand. I hear CGI and I cringe, shrivel, run away. But it’s not that bad. I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you and say it’s Arcane or Green Snake level or even Ghost in the Shell SAC 2045 good but! Even if it’s hit-or-miss, it’s mostly hit.
The backgrounds—especially the rocks—are beautifully rendered. It’s honestly some of the best work I’ve ever seen.
Most of the action scenes are okay, inoffensive.
Of course, every character is some airbrushed pretty boy or girl. Even the more rugged characters are smoothed over. It’s not really convincing and it annoyed me because Motion Magic studio clearly had the skill to make some great character designs that don’t rely only on the characters’ clothes for us to recognize them. Honestly, you can’t even tell how old characters are. They could be 16 or 60 and they would have the same long black hair and soft, smooth skin. The clothes were pretty amazing though. Except for where they all shine like they’re made of polyester.
The movements of characters outside of fights were very unnatural. Some NPC nonsense. Literally Oblivion level.
Speaking of characters, I didn’t particularly care for Shen Qiao, the main character. His milk toast, white liberal non-interference stance was grating at best. I mean, the guy lived in the lap of luxury. By that, I mean: nice clothes, disciples at hand to serve him, a large compound, food, and enough of it to give away to the poor. And yet, the country is in the middle of a famine. And he chooses to stay within the walls of his compound, only doing his little charity work every so often. So. Yeah. I’m not a fan.
However, Yan Wushi, deceiver and all-round schemer… him I like. I was a little thrown by his character at first. He is callous, devious, and a bunch of other negative adjectives, but it works so well for such a nuanced character. He comes to Shen Qiao’s aid a great many times—even when leaving Shen Qiao be wouldn’t hurt his plans. And his laugh! I love it. It’s so adorable how he’ll get caught doing something he shouldn’t be doing and will just go off with his maniacal laugh.
The Problems in Thousand Autumns
A common issue I saw fans had with the animated version of Thousand Autumns is the fact that this is not a close adaptation. For one, the animated version is rushed, scenes mashed together. This—apparently—has made characters’ decisions feel unrealistic or even uncharacteristic and has made otherwise well-crafted characters shallow plot devices.
Personally, I did not feel that. The story did feel fast-paced but in a good way. As for the characters, I found them all nuanced—to varying degrees, of course. Yan Wushi definitely comes out on top.
A reason why the adaptation isn’t too close is not only attributed to them trying to make things fit in a single season but also to navigate Chinese censorship laws. The original novel is a BL. The animated version is decidedly not a BL, but there are a few scenes that might make you squeal if you’re into it.
Lastly, I’m not surprised by this but the story feels vaguely racist. I’m not too certain about ancient garbs but the way Yan Wushi and Bai Rong were dressed felt very pointed. It doesn’t help that no one from the ‘righteous’ sects is dressed like them. Also, even if this story is inspired by China’s history, making the northern tribe the unmistakably evil antagonist—even more than the literal ‘Evil Gang’ —leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Especially considering how Thousand Autumns goes to great pains to prove nothing is black or white.
What Worked in Thousand Autumns
As I mentioned before, there is never a dull moment; I devoured this donghua so quick it was all a blur.
The plot is intricately woven and that’s a breath of fresh air after so many straightforward anime. The story was carefully told so as to avoid confusion. Honestly, after Mo Dao Zu Shi’s abysmal introduction, I was worried.
Shen Qiao and Yan Wushi have great chemistry represented in some of the best animation. Their relationship makes me want to read the original novel.
The recaps—and I know this is random—were amazing: Short, to the point and the sound design is so fitting!
Thousand Autumns Season 2
As of time of writing this review, a second season has not been announced but a character trailer has been released for a possible second season. It is safe to expect another season though it won’t be released any time soon.
My Anime List puts this at a 7.76 and IMDb puts it at a really suspicious 9.1/10 with way too many fishy, glowing reviews.
Having only watched the first season and not read any of the source material, I can see how others may rate this donghua lower but for me it’s a solid 7. The backgrounds, plot, and Yan Wushi do the heavy lifting but man, those NPC movements are really whack.
Would I recommend Thousand Autumns? Definitely. Even if it is only to see how Chinese CGI ONA (Original Net Animation) has improved by leaps and bounds.