Friday, July 8, 2022

The TWO MILLION word serial novel that stayed good

My House of Horror by I Fix Air-Conditioner is a Chinese web novel.  I read a fan translation that was 2.07 million words long (that .07 represents 70,000 words -- a novel length!) or 6,892 pages on my Nook e-reader.  It took me 3-1/2 weeks to complete.  And I had that time off work, so I was reading 30+ hours a week.

Previously, I've never lasted over about 1,500 pages on a serial novel or anything in serial novel form (like light novels that were originally web novels).  I find that authors have this great idea, write it, and then . . . run out but keep writing anyway so that even the best book becomes, frankly, bad.

But that didn't happen here.  Now, the novel isn't perfect; part of it is bloated and the writing disintegrates somewhat.  But it never becomes bad and it always picks up again.  Considering the utter fatigue of writing at the pace the author did, this is a truly stupendous feat.  So I'd like to tell you about it.

-

The Story

Chen Ge owns a haunted house at an amusement park after his parents mysterious disappeared six months ago. They left him nothing except a rag doll and a black phone. Then one day the black phone vibrates and gives him the option to accept missions. Some of these missions are mundane things to improve the quality of his haunted house, like to install more security cameras. But other missions warn him that they are dangerous and will interact with REAL ghosts.

There may be things living in his room, in his mirror, behind the door of his bathroom. The bigger the danger, the bigger the reward. And then there's the biggest reward of all . . . because maybe, just maybe, by taking on these dangerous missions, Chen Ge might unravel the mystery behind his parents' disappearance.

The story is a times funny, creepy, and action-packed.  The best part of the book is probably the fact that the way in which some of the scenarios unravel is genuinely creepy in the best way.  By which I mean: I'm not a horror person.  I like a bit of thrill, but I don't want to be actually horrified.  Playing creepy horror games that turn out to be real, exploring abandoned mental asylums . . . this hit a real sweet spot for me.

-

Why It Worked

The book had a very effective formula.  It went like this:

Chen Ge has problems: his parents disappeared and the haunted house they left him is small, falling apart, and on the edge of bankruptcy--as is the theme park it exists within.  He's friends with his sole employee and the theme park director.

The black phone gives him a mission to do something creepy and dangerous but with rewards.  Chen Ge does the mission (and these can get very long indeed, the further we get into the book) and gets the reward.  Along the way, he meets dangerous ghosts, most of whom have dangerous follow-up missions he'd better fulfil or they'll kill him.  The mission reward in some way changes his skillset or the haunted house itself, and we have a sequence (sometimes tens of thousands of words long) showing this change to the audience.  At the same time, he deals with the reactions of customers/ competitors/ online critics.

The essential points of this pattern are: 

- Everything is related.

- Everything has consequences.

- Everything drags Chen Ge deeper into the world of real ghosts and horrors.

Chen Ge is an extraordinarily active protagonist.  Near the beginning especially, he could've just said "No."  He could've never done the black phone's dangerous missions.  He could've sold the haunted house.  He could've rested on his laurels.  But he doesn't.   He continually presses forward until he can no longer draw back, because he's made enemies and they're coming for him.

This pattern sustains Chen Ge's story for 2.07 million words.  The full pattern wouldn't suit a single novel, but the essential points would.  I've learned a lot and enjoyed myself in the process.  If you've ever considered writing a serial novel and want to see a good example of how to sustain them (or just want a good book to read), I'd recommend this one.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Skills I've Learned at the Bank

I've worked as a teller (and vault teller and new accounts rep) at a bank for nearly two years now.  Some of the skills and knowledge I've gained are obvious -- I know what our different types of accounts are, for example.  Here is a list of the ones I find most interesting.

1. Count money quickly.  Okay, this one is pretty obvious, but I've gotten much, much faster and more accurate.  When counting out to customers, I fan the money so they can see every bill.  When counting to myself, I use the first technique in this video.  Only faster:


2. Estimate money accurately.  The other day, someone came in with a coffee can full of icky $1 bills.  I asked how many they had, and they had no idea.  I estimated 170.  In fact, it was 171.  (I'm much less accurate with coin.)

3. Recognize the distinct turning, head-bobbing movement of someone looking for something to tell them what the date is.

4. Tell at a glance how many are in a string of zeros, between one and eight.  So if I have a number like 45000000025734, I can type it perfectly without stopping to count the zeroes.  In general, I've gotten much better at tracking long strings of numbers and typing them without getting lost.

5. Identify unusual coins.  My favorite is that I can pick out real silver half dollars, quarters, and dimes out of a giant pile of coin.  The trick is to look at the rims--they're straight silver instead of a gradient.  The color also has a different tone--but remember, I don't deal much with new coins.  Most of those things are nasty, which can mess with the color.

6. Identify counterfeit.  Money is made of 75% cotton and 25% linen, and has a special coating that allows it to react with counterfeit pens.  This is why counterfeit pens aren't actually a great tool; that security thread, which is on the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100.  It's actually inside the fabric of the bill, which makes it difficult to fake and -- this is important -- it's in a different spot on each denomination, so you can catch it if a $5 is washed and $50 printed on top.  It won't wash out if you put the bill in your jeans' pocket in the laundry.  And all you need to view it is your eyes and a decent light source.  Here's a quick reference guide to the security features of US currency.  (But honestly, a lot of "counterfeit" is just movie money, which has the wrong texture, so you can tell by touch.)

7. Get people to thank me for giving them bad news.  It's all in the phrasing!  It's nothing bad you did . . . it's that you're doing them a favor by giving them a head's up for the bad thing that's not in your control (even if it partly is).

There's no doubt more, but those are the ones that come to mind as particularly amusing me at the moment. :)

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Art of the Serial Novel

They’re gaining some traction again, but time was, serial novels were a big deal in English language countries.  They were published in the newspapers (some more legitimate than others), and some of our best-beloved classics were first written that way—A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, for example.

A mess of a novel if I’ve ever read one . . .

 

Writing Yourself into a Corner

Okay, let me go back.  I’ll first say that I actively adore A Christmas Carol, and really enjoy some of Dickens’s other books.  But A Tale of Two Cities feels really . . . unedited.  It has serious continuity issues, as if the author wrote the chapters one at a time without planning ahead or rereading his old material—and then once he was committed, that was pretty much it.

Which is a fairly accurate representation of how a lot of serial formats are written.  In fact, it’s very, very familiar to me, because I have read a lot of fan fiction, and most fan fiction is written as a serial, one chapter at a time.  Unlike stories posted in newspapers, fan fiction authors can go back and edit their earlier chapters, and even do large revisions.  Even so, it’s common for a fan fiction serial to stop abruptly, because the author has written herself into a corner and can’t get out.

Easy to do.  So how do you solve it?  If you’re writing a novel on your own, you can always go back and overhaul it, deleting tens of thousands of words if necessary.  If you’re writing fan fiction, you can simply stop or redo a lot of early material.  Sure, your readers will be bummed, but it’s not like this is serious published stuff.

But Dickens didn’t have that option.  What does that leave him?  Prewriting the whole thing?  If he was writing for money, that would’ve been a problem.  Heavily outlining the entire novel before he began?  A better option, but not the best.  

See, his real problem was that he went into the novel the wrong way: he tried to write a traditional novel in serial form instead of writing a serial novel.


The Modern Serial Novel

Serial novels aren’t currently that big in English-speaking countries, but they are in some Asian countries.  I’ve read Chinese, Korean, and Japanese web novels, as well as (in some cases) the edited light novel versions of the same.  And in doing so, I’ve noticed a real pattern:

The really good web novels begin as 4- or 5- star books and stay that way for the first 100,000 words or so (about 300 pages) but then slowly decline until I stop reading them around page 1000 or 1200 . . . even though the novels continue for up to another 4000 pages.  Sometimes the decline is abrupt, sometimes gradual, but it’s pretty much always there.

So why does it happen?

Well, the main reason it seem so to happen is that the author has a great idea for the first arc or season, but then they have to just keep writing . . . and maybe they have a few more ideas for the second or third, but eventually, they just keep writing without anything fresh, so the whole book goes downhill.  This can and does happen in ordinary book series also, of course, but the time pressures on a web novel combined with the inability to easily change earlier material to any substantial extend makes the situation much tougher.

 

So What’s the Solution?

As I’m writing my own serial novel on what is, for me, quite a tight schedule, and as I just finished writing the first arc, this is definitely something I’ve thought about!  I’ve come to several conclusions.

First of all, aside from novels, what successful examples do we have of serial formats?  Well, we have long-running television shows.  We have both modern shows and older ones that were in a more traditional serial format of 4-to-8 20-minute episodes (Doctor Who, for example).  Let's look at TV shows that ran for more than three seasons without their quality dipping and in some cases improving: The X-Files, Farscape, and Star Trek TNG.  What made these work so well for so long?

First, the characters.  The X-Files has just Mulder and Scully (and their later replacements), but those are really, really strong, intricate, interesting characters with a great dynamic.  Farscape has a very strong lead and is willing to swap out some of its secondary leads when they get stale.  TNG has a strong captain and enough of a large and varied main cast that, even if not all the characters are that deep, they can switch between them and therefore not get stale.

Second, the setting.  Each of these shows has a home base (FBI Headquarters or their star ships) but then explores many different locations and meets many different types of people. 

Third, the format.  It’s . . . episodic.  But here we have more variety.  The X-Files has a background running plot, but nothing changes that much from season to season.  Unfortunately, it's running-plot episodes are weaker than its monster-of-the-week episodes; 

TNG doesn’t have much of a running plot, and nothing much changes from season to season.  This means the overall story is rather irrelevant, and you can watch easily watch episodes in in any order (great for reruns, but not a bonus for a serial novel.  It's more like a series of short stories); 

Farscape has a background running plot but it also changes a lot as the characters progress and change from season to season.  Both the first and the last season are very good, and if you watch it in order, it all makes sense—but things change a lot in between.  I find Farscape the most satisfying because of this progression, and it also helps keep the characters interesting.  It also does something wonderful in that it has more of a proper full-season arc storyline that feels full integrated with the storyline without interrupting it.  In my opinion, it does the best job of being both a single running story and having lots of little episodic stories.

In essence my ideal is as follows:

Each episode (single- or multi-parter) has its own arc; each season has its own arc; and the show of the own has its own arc.  This episodic format ideal, because it makes it way harder to write yourself into a corner; but having the longer arcs also makes the story feel more coherent and relevant.  Since each episode is mostly self-contained, you can completely edit it and make it work before posting.  Of course, you have to have the self-control to do this properly . . . but isn’t that always the case with writing?

 

To put these together, you want:

1) One or more strong and intricate leads with enough secondary characters that you have someone to jump to if you need something different

2) A strong and interesting home base but many interesting places to visit with interesting people to meet 

3) A format that both is episodic and has a running plot that occurs naturally, not as a weird interruption.

 

4- and 5-star Serial Novels

Here is a list of novels I’ve read in serial novel form, and they stayed good for at least 500 pages, and that I highly recommend.

(I’m not including the novels I’ve read that were originally web novels but I read the light novel versions only).

Dungeon Defense (KR) I lasted maybe 700 pages, I think.  There’s also a light novel version.  It’s 5 books long, and extremely different

Experimental Log of the Crazy Lich (CN) I lasted 1000 pages

The Novel’s Extra (KR) I lasted 1300 pages

I’m Really Not the Evil God’s Lackey (CN) the first 1000+ pages have been translated.  I've read that far, and I'm going to keep going.  It's extremely good!

Kingdom’s Bloodline (CN) I only made it through the first arc/season before the quality abruptly dropped, but that first arc was superb!

My Death Flags Show No Signs of Ending (J) I binge-read the over-1200 pages that had been translated.  There was a weird shift near the end that damaged quality, but I’d keep going

Edit 7/3/2022: 
My House of Horrors.  (CN) It's complete at 1211 chapters long or around 5600 pages.  I started 3 weeks ago and am 5300 pages in.  It dips in quality once, but other than that is solid.  I am in awe.  Over 5000 pages in and still going strong! 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

On Leadership

This is something I've been thinking about for the past few years.  I've seen examples of good leadership and bad and amazingly atrocious.  I've seen moral cowardice, and I've seen outstanding inspiration.  For the most part, I think of most organization jobs as taking part in a feudal system: the subordinates obey the supervisor, and the supervisor protects the subordinates.  And that is part of it, but not all.  So here are my thoughts in an essay in bullet point form:


The Duties and Decorum of a Supervisor 

v  To be available to and supportive of subordinates

§  To be physically present when needed

§  To be ever patient and kind, consistent and trustworthy

§  To never criticize subordinates for seeking help

§  To never show temper or dislike or preference.  Where dislike or preference is shown, injustice will be more likely and will be assumed whether present or not.  This will make subordinates despise the supervisor, which above all must be avoided

§  To recognize, encourage, and direct towards individual talents

§  To protect subordinates from bullying and injustice from customers and colleagues alike

v  To teach and train subordinates

§  To do so using positive reinforcement insofar as possible

§  To encourage questions

§  To stay up-to-date and accurate on all functions over which one has supervision, or at least to be aware of the resources for finding answers.  To never invent answers when a true answer is readily available, but to reach out when necessary and without pride

§  To make sure subordinates are aware of regulations and procedures, are properly trained, and are aware of their resources

§  To correctly set expectations

§  To set an example through dress, timeliness, and willingness to go the extra mile

§  To give feedback without personal criticism or any show of dislike or preference

§  To refrain from criticizing any employee or the organization to a subordinate

v  To support fellow supervisors and the organization

§  To provide a united front with other supervisors.  To bring concerns directly to fellow supervisors and never criticize them before or undermine them to subordinates

§  To share the workload and provide backup when necessary, including for aggressive or otherwise inappropriate customers

§  To uphold the regulations and honor of the organization.  To never criticize the organization to subordinates or customers, to follow the rules and legal necessities, and to properly report illicit or questionable incidents


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

What Else Do You Want, My Firstborn?

 At the bank where I work, if people don't have photo ID and want cash or account information, we can ask them other questions -- things like last four of tax ID, mother's maiden name, birthday, at which branch they opened their account, and recent account activity.  Not all customers enjoyed being IDed before money is removed from their accounts.  The following exchange is therefore pretty common:

"I'd like $400 out of checking."

"Sure thing!  What's your mother's maiden name and last four of Social?"

". . . Seriously?  What else do you want?  My firstborn?"

And I can't help but wonder: what if I said yes?

Thanks to my colleague MF, who brainstormed the following with me!











April 1, 2022
 
From: Collections Department and Provisions Department
To: Inter-Realm Relations Department
Subject: Mutually Beneficial Proposal (see Resolution)
 
 
 
RESOLUTION FOR THE ACQUISITION OF ASSETS
 
 
WHEREAS it has come to the attention of the Infernal Bank that customers of lesser, Earthly banks frequently offer their firstborn children when asked for identification, and
 
WHEREAS the Infernal Bank Collections Agency is in permanent need of trained, competent Collections agents, and
 
WHEREAS the Infernal Bank Provisions Department is seeking a more varied supply of materials, and
 
WHEREAS the Infernal Bank’s interactions and contracts with Earthly banks have traditionally proven most profitable,
 
The Infernal Bank’s Collections and Provisions Departments hereby jointly resolve to immediately institute the Resolution for the Acquisition of Assets, details as follows:
 
 
PROCEDURE
 
Upon initial contact with the potential parent/parent of an unborn firstborn child (hereafter, Principal), Principal shall be offered the opportunity to sign away his or her firstborn child (hereafter, Asset).  Principal shall execute the Asset contract using no medium other than his or her own fresh blood.
 
Upon birth of Asset, it is Principal’s responsibility to notify the Infernal Bank within 90 days.  The Infernal Bank will deliver relevant State paperwork upon collection of Asset.
 
In all cases of multiple children born containing the same genetic material (aka identical twins and other identical multiples), all said children will be accounted as a single Asset, and Principal will be granted 10% credit as compensation; however, see Substitutions below.
 
Principal does not retain any right to information or property after or beyond transaction, including any information regarding the distribution of Assets.
 
 
SUBSTITUTIONS
 
Failure of Principal to make proper notification of Asset acquisition within 90 days will result in penalties, the severity of which will depend upon the duration of delinquency (see addendum, Penalties).  In the event that the Asset dies after birth and before collection, substitution may be made of a combination of a) Principal’s secondborn child within 90 days of birth, and b) 50% of Principal.  If a third child is born to Principal, Principal may substitute 100% of thirdborn for the remainder of part b) of the substitution (i.e., 50% of Principal).  In the case of identical multiples, substitution will instead be made of all multiples and no Principal, and no further compensation will be granted on either side.
 
In the case of Principal being unwilling or unable to produce Asset after five years (or five years after puberty, if contract is made with a prepubescent Principal), substitution will be made of 100% of Principal.  Thereafter, ownership of Principal shall continue under all circumstances, regardless of whether Asset is produced.
 

DISTRIBUTION OF ASSETS
 
Once acquired, Asset shall be subjected to rigorous training.  At the end of the training period, Asset will be given an aptitude test.  Asset will then be assigned to either the Collections Department as an agent or the Provisions Department as sustenance.
 
 
PARTNERSHIP WITH THE INTER-REALM RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
 
In order for this joint Resolution to attain optimal results, a partnership will be sought with the Inter-Realm Relations Department.  In return for its support, the Inter-Realm Relations Department will receive 0.1% of all Assets acquired, as follows: the 500th Asset collected to be delivered within 14 days of collection and without any testing being performed on said Asset; and every 1000th Asset acquired thereafter.
 
 
THIS RESOLUTION IS HEREBY APPROVED BY THE AUTHORIZED OFFICERS
 

 Krez Scheinen

Collections Departments Synthesizing Incarcerator Sovereign
April 1, 2022

 

Gluttonius Vomens

Provisions Department Gormandizer Supreme
April 1, 2022
 
 


Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Genius(?) of Self-Delusion

 Because this keeps happening.  Allow me to illustrate the most recent example.

 On Thursday night, I went to bed around nine.  I woke up a couple of hours later, absolutely freezing.  I was so cold that I at first tried curling up because I couldn’t bear to leave the bed, but finally got up the courage to go turn up the thermostat.  I usually keep it at 66 at night and 69-70 during the day, so I turned it up to 68, wrapped myself in my bathrobe, pulled on an extra blanket, and went back to sleep.

I woke up at half-past midnight, sweating like crazy, horribly overheated.  The thermometer on my alarm clock said it was 70.6 degrees in my room, and there I was in two extra layers.  So I threw off the extra layers and went back to sleep, but I slept very badly, waking up every couple of hours until I finally gave up and got up around 4am.

Unsurprisingly, I felt pretty bedraggled.  I puttered around a bit and happened to glance out the window.  I was going, I thought, to have to shovel before work.  It looked like it had snowed a couple of inches.  So at 5:30, I went out . . . and found that it had snowed SEVEN inches.

Hard labor time.  I hauled snow off my driveway and away from my mailbox until I was panting in the freezing air.  Then the plow truck came by and I had to redo a great deal of my hard work.  After 45 minutes, I decided it was good enough, and gave my sister a warning call.  I couldn’t help her shovel, but I walked my dog over to bring her my ergonomic shovel, because back pain sucketh.

The whole time, I’d so over-exerted myself that I just wanted to lie around panting.  But I had to leave for work at 7:30, so I headed home . . . and realized, on the two blocks back, that I'd vastly overestimated how warm it was out.  I'd been warm when exercising, but my brief walk back deeply chilled me.

So I got to work, helped with initial stuff while wearing my heavy coat despite being indoors, and then had to go around the corner and sit down, because I felt so exhausted and overwrought I was dizzy and nauseated and about to fall asleep.  I asked for, and was granted, an extra hour for lunch so I could take a nap.  That got rid of the dizziness and the worst of the nausea and fatigue, and I got through the rest of the day.  I was sometimes cold and sometimes hot, which is unsurprising because the building I work in is old and has very eccentric ideas about heating.  So I’d freeze and then turn on my personal heater until I was overwarm and then turn it off.

For the record, the symptoms of over-exertion, which I looked up, are:

·        dizziness

·        feeling faint

·        lightheadedness

·        nausea

·        shortness of breath

·        thirst    

Additionally, panting in the freezing air had wrecked my throat, and it was very sore and that soreness made me occasionally cough.  I drank a lot of water.

Anyway, I went to bed at 6:30 that night, wisely grabbing an electric blanket and setting it on low to help stabilize my body temperature.  After talking all day, my throat hurt so badly it was unbearable and I’d start coughing unless I actively had a cough drop in my mouth at all times.  I kept drinking water, and I tried a few other things, but my stomach was feeling kind of unsettled.  I took ibuprofen for my headache, but the headache itself didn't mean anything, because EVERY ailment of any variety gives me a headache.

The next day was Saturday.  I wasn’t feeling great but not that bad, so I spent a couple of hours puttering around baking bread until my eye sockets started aching.  As in, every time I moved my eyes, my eye muscles were like, “ow, I ache.”

So I looked up what caused eyeball aches, and nothing seemed right.  Then I remembered—hold on, aren’t weird muscle aches a sign of Covid?  And yes, apparently, eye socket aches are the most common ocular symptom of Covid.

So why, then, wasn’t my lymph node particularly swollen, huh?  Clearly, I was fine.  In fact, didn’t I have an oral thermometer somewhere around here?  I’d take my temperature!

100.4.

Nah, that can’t be right.  I'm 34 years old.  I don't get temperatures that high.  I’ll take it again.

100.4.

Really?  I think this is the first time I’ve used my thermometer.  I’ll test it in my hand, just in case it’s fault.

It’s not faulty.

Well . . . maybe I should get Covid tested.  Tomorrow, if I didn’t feel better.

Sunday, I felt better.  Yay!  My fever is gone!  I’m clearly fine!  If only my throat weren’t so sore.  Hey, sister, do you think it’s okay for me to go to work tomorrow?

Sister: No.  You’re going to go get Covid tested tomorrow.  You have almost all the symptoms of the Omicron variant and YOUR EYEBALLS ACHED.

Me: Oh.  Okay.

The point is not whether I test positive.  The point is this KEEPS HAPPENING.  This is the third time in a row that I’ve been sick and have had a whole, flawless set of explanations that demonstrate that I’m clearly not sick.  Why do I have symptoms?  Clearly, some other reason.

This self-delusion, it's . . . it's like some sort of hidden genius. . . .

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Best Villain

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the best action sequence, and what made it so amazing; I’ve also put up a graph of different villain types.  I’ve wanted for a long time to write an article or make a video about really great villains, but the truth is . . . I’m not particularly interested in most villains.

I don’t mean “great antagonists” here; I mean great villains.  I mean a bad guy who is really, irredeemably evil is still a fascinating character.  Interview with the Vampire managed this somewhat with Lestat (I’m ignoring the travesty of the sequel ).  He was horrible, he loved being horrible, he was never going to turn good or even all that sympathetic, but he was still interesting and enjoyable to watch while being completely loathsome.  As a character, he was very good.

Contrast this to the cackling big bad, the lip-licking pervert, or the unkillable killer.  They may make good antagonists, but they’re not great characters.  Or compare it to the baddie you can empathize with because, poor things, they were abused before they became abusers.  Those may be great characters, but they’re not through-and-through villains.

If I ever wrote a post about great villains, I wanted to have a truly great villain to write about.  I finally found him in Yao Jing Zhong Zhi Shou Ce.  That has various translations, from Demon Spirit Seed Manual to Fairy Seed Planting Manual.  It’s a manhwa-turned-donghua (aka Chinese anime).  Yuan Ding, a young man from our world, is suddenly transported to a fantasy world.  There, he finds seeds that, once certain conditions are fulfilled, can become a plant-based lifeform called demons/fairies.  They take the forms of beautiful women and are extremely powerful.  The better their relationship with him, the more powerful they become.

Also, the opening song is staggeringly beautiful:



Okay, now I’m going to get into some spoilers.  So if you’ll take my advice, you’ll go binge watch the show now and then come back.  (I think the show is better, and the manhwa is a bit, um, ecchi, so I can’t really recommend it.  Also, pretty music!)

Watched it all?  Great!  Let’s move on.

So, Yuan Ding successful grows his first fairy, Mo Fei, and she immediately tries to kill him.  She is absolutely furious at him, and he has no idea why.  In order to improve their relationship, he goes into her past.  He interacts with her when she’s a small child, but when she's older, she can't see him, and he can't even touch her.  This confuses him deeply, until his fairy planting manual tells him this is because, “In this space and time, you already exist.”  

Enter a young man who looks exactly like him (except strangely handsomer):

 


And yes, behold our villain.  He’s handsome, he’s charismatic . . . and he’s playing a romance scam on Mo Fei.  Best of all, he never, ever breaks character.  No matter what he’s doing.  Even while he’s actively revealing his betrayal.

 



I cannot emphasize this enough.  At all times, he is beautiful and he is charming and he is likeable.

And the moment you start thinking of him that way is the moment you are totally screwed.  And yet you cannot think of him otherwise.  I've never come across anything like it.

It’s brilliant.

It’s also brilliant, by the way, that he is a villain, but he is both is and is not the true antagonist.  He lived a thousand years ago, and he is our protagonist also.  They're the same person.  So it’s not like he wants to hurt our protagonist.  He talks with our protagonist, but doesn't actively try to make him do anything or believe anything in particular.  (Despite them being in different times, he can speak with our protagonist because they’re the same person.)  The protagonist has other external antagonists, yes, but more than anything, the protagonist must fight against the memory of his other self has done—against the misbeliefs of those who love and hate him for it.

It is an absolutely fascinating dynamic.

We have a protagonist who is prone to being selfish, to objectifying women and going about his own way.  Our protagonist is beautiful and he is charming and he is likeable and he is capable of romance scams and he wants power.  Now he has to choose how to use his abilities.

And we see him, in his past and present selves, choose both of the two paths before him.

I cannot praise the show highly enough.