Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Series Review

Their Fight Isn’t To Save The World – Just Their Corner Of It

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary was one of those odd titles that comes out each season where I haven’t heard of it, haven’t seen any promotional materials, and just kind of go in blind. A fantasy-action, according to MAL at least, it seemed like it could be quite fun. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a fantasy that wasn’t isekai and instead had a faintly historical setting though the inclusion of mechas and ultimately flying armour kind of threw any basis in reality right out the window.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 6 Cheng

Now, I am going to end up recommending this title, mostly because very few people watched it while it was airing and I feel it really got overlooked in a strong season. However, that recommendation comes with a caution. The animation goes from average to terrible and remains that way through most of the run time. So if you are someone who expects modern anime to have high quality or at least reasonably consistent animation, I’d suggest not even trying this one because you are not going to enjoy it. For those that don’t mind the slightly shoddy visuals, there’s a pretty decent story to be found here.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

The setting works very well in Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary. The Taibai Empire is expanding and wants to conquer the world and does so by brutalising the inhabitants of small villages. It is more or less the expansion of China though don’t expect historical accuracy here. Yin and Ning are two sisters whose lives are destroyed when their village is attacked. Yin is waiting outside the village at the time and escapes mostly unscathed but Ning loses both arms (in what becomes an ongoing trend in this story – seriously, how many sets of arms does she go through?).

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 6 Yin and Ning

With this backdrop we follow Yin and Ning as they join up with the rebels fighting the empire. However, their scenes are interspersed with Zhao (Yin and Ning’s childhood friend) and Cheng, the Empress. We see both sides of this conflict and the personal dramas of these four young people all propelled into a war they didn’t start but are now just kind of destined to get caught up in. It borders on melodramatic at times, but each of the characters is interesting in their own way.

Yin and Ning, despite being close as sisters, are changed by the events in different ways. Yin just wants to keep her sister safe and out of the war but Ning is far more violent and wanting revenge for Zhao’s ‘death’ as well as the loss of her arms. It is probably telling that Ning’s fate isn’t exactly wonderful given her motivation rides from one hatred to the next. Yin on the other-hand suffers ongoing heartache as she tries and fails to keep the war away from her life.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

Zhao’s transition to serving the empire seems really odd at first but ultimately his character begins to make sense as he consistently chooses the path of least resistance. He’s someone who just wants to get a little ahead in the world and find a small piece of strength for himself. But it is his wavering between his various allegiances that ends up costing him.

Lastly, we have Cheng who is torn between being a very young girl who lost her father and being the Empress of a vastly expanded nation. I really liked that Cheng got treated as a human throughout all of this rather than just being the face of the enemy. Her relationship with Zhao is complicated and interesting to watch unfold even if you know early on there is no way it will end well.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

With a cast that all hold their own ground and a setting rich with potential, it is almost a shame that the animation wasn’t up to the challenge. We have sword fights, magic, burning villages, explosive death machines, and impossibly awkward mechas. The story choosing to focus in on the young cast members caught up in events makes things feel more personal and allows there to be some resolution within the thirteen episodes but a lot of the plot is implied or occurs off-screen with plenty more to happen after the end of the final episode, should there ever be a continuation.

As I said at the start, I do recommend this one for people looking for a fantasy or action story though it isn’t without its problems. Still, despite it not being that great, it was a little different and certainly interesting enough week to week.

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The Small Victory and Loss Within a Greater Battle

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Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 13 Review

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This week we got the conclusion to Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary but really there was never much chance of the overall story being resolved. There was just too much going on in the world and so this final episode, much like the series, chose instead to focus on a battle that will decide the next steps for each of these characters.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 13

The Yin, Ning and Zhao issue is effectively brought to a close by the events in this episode. And while Zhao remains a conflicted character who can’t really seem to pick a side, he does at least take action rather than waiting for power to be bestowed upon him. He pays a high price but he does manage to contribute in some small way to the survival of Yin, Ning and Cheng.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 13 Zhao

Yin and Ning’s sisterly conflict is also kind of resolved though all things considered it just kind of feels like they are back to where they started at the beginning of the series. Possibly there was more of a resolution here but it just felt like we’d come full circle with Ning in even worse shape and Yin with yet more baggage to carry emotionally. While it might seem callous, it really felt like one of these two needed to be sacrificed for the story to make sense and while they kind of manage to make this work, it doesn’t have a lot of impact as you are kind of just left rolling your eyes as Yin refuses to leave Ning and Zhao and then they pull a power of love last minute save (though again, Ning and Zhao have already taken quite heavy losses throughout this fight).

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 13 Cheng

However, it is Cheng, in her very limited screen time, who gains the most this episode. While Zhao is wishing for her happiness, Cheng has kind of adopted a very fatalistic attitude refusing to leave the palace despite the danger. She survives unscathed physically but her attitude during the credits and the ongoing expansion of the empire makes it clear that she’s been emotionally scarred and she has no one left around her to soften her attitude. While Cheng was the leader of the empire through this series, it was hard to see her as the big bad, but if this ever got a second season that is almost sure to change.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 13 Zhao and Ning

It is hard to say if anything was actually accomplished by these events other than a big explosion and some personal dramas, but I will admit this season has been relatively fun to watch. I’ll get to a full season review of it soon, but despite the fairly dodgy animation, this was a fun historical/fantasy story to get lost in this season.

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Everybody Hurts Sometimes; Even If You Want To Forget

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Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 12 Review

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary has been a fun journey this season, provided the terrible animation didn’t send you running in the opposite direction early on. But now all the pieces are in place and we just have to watch how it all unfolds. I’m kind of torn as to whether I think they will kill off any of the main cast. This anime hasn’t really avoided killing people off but despite everything the main cast is still pretty much in-tact as we turn into our final episode.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 12 Cheng

Though, perhaps I should make that physically in-tact. And even that isn’t really right given Yin is now one yet another pair of prosthetic arms after multiple instances of losing her arms throughout the series.

Zhao is pretty much a hollow shell at this point having been unable to protect Yin. He’s going through the motions of serving the empire but he can’t really have his heart in that with Ning on the rebel’s side and being unable to save Yin. But he also can’t abandon Cheng (the Empress) so he’s just completely shutting down at this point.

Yin was already broken by the water torture – and her incredibly horrible life.

Ning is still naively clinging to the potential hope that maybe, just maybe, she can save Yin and Zhao and put her family back together and get a happily ever after. Ning is either the best optimist ever or completely deluded and I guess it depends how tragically next week goes as to which way her character will end up being judged.

And Cheng, well her aunt finally attempted to overthrow her and while that went poorly it did open up a memory Cheng had suppressed and it may very well be the straw that finally drives Cheng right over the edge she’s been walking along for weeks.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 12 Juan

So, cheery episode with a potential disaster looming ahead for next week. Still, despite everything, this one has remained a relatively entertaining watch.

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Give In To Your Hate – Embrace The Darkness

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Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 11 Review

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary has been heading for a tragic end for awhile and right now it is kind of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The Empress is in a state of emotional turmoil after sentencing Ning to water torture last week (and Ning has fully gone off the deep end after experiencing said water torture). All this has done is emboldened the Empress’ enemies and they are now moving far more openly against her.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 11 the Empress

Meanwhile, Zhao has thrown himself fully into his work. Last week though I made the comment that he was doing nothing about Ning and apparently that is untrue. He’s been sending petitions to the Empress to receive her pardon. Petitions the Empress hasn’t been reading. Way to be a great friend and all. Still, there’s a massive construct to complete before the series end because if it doesn’t even get finished it will be the sub-plot that’s gone nowhere and I’d have to wonder what the point was.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 11 Zhao

Also meanwhile, Yin has finally accepted joining the rebel family and now has more brothers and sisters. She’s still totally brooding about Ning though. Good thing this anime isn’t in to making us wait as Ning returns, insane and powered up, ready to fight her sister to the death.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 11 Ning fights Yin

At this point the battle between the rebels and the empire is almost superfluous to the central characters’ personal dramas. One thing is for sure, Ning has definitely misplaced all of her anger onto her sister and it doesn’t look like she’s coming back from that any time soon.

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Great Heights and Great Falls: It All Comes With Ambition

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Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episodes 8 – 10 Review

Zhao’s character has been a curiosity from the beginning given despite being enslaved he ultimately chose to pursue power within the empire after it was offered to him. His lack of understanding of Yin’s disgust with the idea of serving an empire that wiped out their village was odd to say the least. See, I’d get his character if he knew the empire was evil but had decided that it was worth siding with them for the opportunity to have power. But instead, he’d kind of convinced himself that those getting wiped out deserved it because they were weak and the empire was right all along. It was a little bit odd.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 8 Zhao and Ning

However, despite the Empress’ favour, or perhaps because of it, Zhao wasn’t in the secure position he thought he’d established and these episodes bring that to the front loud and clear. As those plotting around the Empress seek to bring her down, it is only natural that Zhao’s weakness be exposed and Ning, who in episode 7 essentially ditched her sister for the chance to be with Zhao, became the lynch-pin that brought all of Zhao’s ambitions and prior achievements tumbling down.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 9 Cheng

To say that there are some uncomfortable moments in these episodes would be a bit of an understatement, and for once I’m not talking about the cringe worthy CG animation during fight sequences (though there is plenty of that as well). Seeing Cheng enraged that her toy has others he cares about and taking that anger out on Ning, who is without her arms and chained, is pretty horrific. As is Zhao’s decision after he’s been demoted four ranks and ordered to build his ultimate death machine to just suck it up and get on with it. Not one even vague thought that maybe he should use those secret passages Cheng showed off to him to maybe try and rescue Ning. It never even crosses his mind.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 10 Cheng punished Ning

However, the moment that really hits is the water torture. Not only do we get some horrible insight into what is going on in Ning’s mind while the drops of water continue to flow but we also see that Cheng is nearly self-destructing after inflicting the punishment. At least she didn’t delegate the task, which she was well within her rights to, but the previously composed child-ruler is clearly coming unhinged now. None of the three characters have come out of this scheme unscathed and Cheng’s enemies are delighted and becoming more open in their preparations to perhaps take her out.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 10 Ning

All of this is interspersed with cuts to the rebels, who for once weren’t the more interesting story. Instead we get some pretty ordinary action sequences and even after they unveil their new magic armour, it actually just makes the next fight sequence dull to watch. Yin is still a mopey character and while I kind of get her role in all of this, she wasn’t fun to watch and the absence of Ning really hurt her scenes as she no longer has anyone to bounce off of.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 8 Rebels

Still, with three episodes to go there’s quite a lot that can happen and my only real wish is that Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary does come to an end properly because leaving this story hanging will kind of hurt. I’ve really enjoyed the plot and the intrigues even if the animation and visuals haven’t quite been up to the same level of ambition.

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Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 5: Attack of the Poor Animation

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 5

Right from episode 1 this anime came across as rough. There was some pretty bad CG and more than a few off model character moments. After that though things kind of settled, until this episode (that isn’t saying there aren’t some poorer moments in the episodes in between but they weren’t noteworthy). Episode 5 on the other hand manages to look incredibly rushed.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 5

It is most prominent when shifting between close ups of characters that look mostly fine, save perhaps a misshapen neck, slightly unfocused eyes or just a general wrongness, to far shots where eyes might disappear altogether and the character looks very much like a placeholder rather than a finished product. It’s actively distracting in this episode and that’s before we even look at the fighting animation which is, in the most generous description of it, terrible.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 5

And all of this is quite the shame because the plot here is rolling along nicely. The concern Yin has as Ning is apparently slipping further into bloodlust and revenge is quite touching. The rebels are pretty cliche but interesting enough and the concept of the fights are pretty cool even if the execution is questionable. Not to mention, this week we saw Zhao reunited with the sisters even if neither side actually knew it and we got to see more of how the Empress feels about Zhao in general. This is a fairly interesting story and with slightly more competence behind its production it could have actually been great.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 5
Part of me wonders if she’s putting on a show for her attendant or if this is how she really sees Zhao.

The end result is I’m sticking with this one and I’m enjoying it for what it is but I can’t say I really recommend it. There’s too many areas where it just under-performs. Still, for what it is there are things to enjoy and hopefully it will bring things together nicely by the end (though past experience probably suggests otherwise).

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Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4: Rising Tension

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

Episode 3 progresses the story nicely with the sisters dealing with the fallout of last week and almost being recruited into the rebellion army (though apparently they just want to live in peace – and that didn’t last very long) and Zhou dealing with the failure of his constructs and wanting to do something nice for the Empress (which still seems really weird given the empire are the ones who ‘killed’ his friends but I guess he is pragmatic about the whole thing. Anyway, all of the plots are bubbling along nicely and working towards a head on collision which should be entertaining.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

We do however have the usual hang-ups of this type of show with the Empress being a kid but also bound by all sorts of codes and honour. She’s manipulated into action, she is upset by the war, and yet her actions perpetuate the violence she’s apparently so hurt by. With limited life experience and some fairly vague direction from those around her, I’m sure she’s doing the best she can but looking in from the outside it all just seems pretty tragic.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

The rebels as well with their usual fighting for peace mentality seem completely unaware of the irony of their own statements. Admittedly, just laying down arms and trying to live peacefully doesn’t work so great when the empire literally stomps your village flat and sets it on fire so I kind of get why they feel a need to fight, but fighting for peace is always a weird moral line given the actions taken are decidedly un-peaceful.

Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary Episode 4

Still, while there are a lot of cliches being thrown at us and the animation still isn’t exactly amazing, this one has set up a pretty decent story and things are more or less in motion which means they can just pretty much ride this to its natural conclusion (I’d prefer it if they did rather than trying to throw in a dozen or so plot twists). I guess we’ll see what it does in the coming weeks.

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