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Light Chaser Animation has been a rather fantastic new addition to the animation game. Since its founding in 2013, they have made it their goal to elevate the animation scene in China after years of stagnation and questionable quality. While they haven’t made a banger every single time, their contribution to the animation scene has been nothing but positive, especially after 2019, which was just a good year for China’s film scene with three major hits with The Wandering Earth, Nezha, and Light Chaser’s White Snake. After that, they have been hitting it out of the park. They are one of the most well-known animation houses in China, and they are putting out some killer films like New Gods: Yang Jian.
Directed by Ji Zhao, and written by Muchuan, This is the second film in the New Gods franchise that takes place after New Gods: Nezha Reborn. Our story follows Yang Jian, dubbed by Nicholas Andrew Louie. He used to be a powerful god, but after an incident that happened 1500 years ago, he is now skating on by in life as a bounty hunter, as he and his crew go from bounty to bounty so their ship doesn’t run out of fuel and they don’t starve. After taking care of a recent bounty, they are approached by a mysterious woman named Wanluo, dubbed by Christine Lin. She requests Yang to help capture a young man named Chenxiang, who has taken a precious and important artifact with powerful properties. Yang Jian takes on the task as he tries to find this individual, leading to conspiracies, murder, and finding out what exactly is going on with the incident that happened so long ago and the characters at play in this overall scheme of things.
Who knew that they could top the world-building from the previous film? What we get in this outing is essentially a steampunk take on Cowboy Bebop, where we follow our bounty hunter and his crew through different cities and unique locations, travel through warp stations, fight criminals from the underworld and the deities that help run things, all of which is backed by some very funky jazz/blues-like tunes. Of course, all of this is mixed with the distinct identity of the architect, which is so full of life, details, and personality. It’s rather shocking how much they fit into each scene as you truly feel like you are traversing a living world with bustling crowds and beautiful landscapes that show a world ravaged by war and other cataclysmic events. There are so many neat world-building moments, like the energy Chexiang steals during the early part of the film being guarded by a multi-armed beast with eyes in the palm of its hands. They put in a lot of effort to make the world feel cohesive and sensible as we explore a world where demons and gods use ships to race across the skies. Not only that, but we also have some of the most well-executed fight sequences seen in animation. At first, you think they aren’t going to bring back the power abilities from the previous film for this one due to how low-key and grounded the fights are during the beginning hour of the two-hour runtime. Then, during an important fight sequence with an obstacle in Chenxiang’s way, the powers come back, revealing how certain individuals can unlock special powers from their past. The studio really knows how to make these powers feel grand in scale and larger than life, especially when we see Yang Jian unleash his powers after so much of the film had him be like an animated version of Jackie Chan as he tries to avoid aggressive action unless required. It makes sense, due to how Yang’s story arc is basically holding onto the regrets of his past actions, and trying to let go of them. There are many twists and turns with how the story unfolds, with it feeling so cut and dry with what’s going on until you dive deeper and deeper into the morally gray and messy history and wires that are crossed between everyone involved. Some characters are holding back secrets from others, and some manipulate and use others for their own selfish needs. It’s a fascinating journey as it goes from steampunk action to fantastical action thriller as everything falls into place. We go from Yang being a laid-back reluctant hero who would rather not get involved with the bigger picture and then seeing him push against literal gods to fix the mistakes from the past, taking down the threat that wants to unleash powerful chaotic forces to wipe the world clean.
Animation-wise, it might feel like they are sticking close to the human designs and visual fidelity that their previous films have used, but they find ways to still have these creative touches from the combination of CGI and ink painting visuals. When they look good from the ghetto, no need to make as many improvements as you would think. Sure, I want to see them experiment like other studios doing stuff like China’s other major release this year, Deep Sea, but New Gods is doing enough to not feel repetitive. The matter of fact is that all of the designs are appealing to look at and aren’t detracting from the story and experience of the film. The cast is great and the English dub is also doing fantastic with the cast that includes Nicholas Andrew Louie, Luke Naphat Sath, Parry Shen, Christine Lin, James Sie, Johnny Young Bosch, Stephanie Sheh, Su Ling Chan, David Chen, Angela Tan, Mick Lauer, Jimmie Yamaguchi, and many others. The music, as mentioned before, is a mixture of both jazz and fantastical. It gives the film a different flavor of music compared to the last film.
While some may prefer the dieselpunk visual look of the first New Gods film, and while this film makes some small stumbles in the second half, New Gods: Yang Jian is exactly the change of pace everyone should want to go out and find if they are getting burned out by US animation. It has a lot of the best aspects from Light Chasers Animation, and with this obviously building up of an epic franchise, we will have to see where they go with this retelling of mythological epics and their continued evolution of incredible CGI animated fare. Next time though, we will be talking about the next film in the Sword Art Online retelling films with Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night