Alchemy of Souls Season 1 Review
Alchemy of Souls is unlike many K-dramas out there. In a year that’s brought us X number of law dramas from Asia, Alchemy of Souls defiantly sticks to its guns and delivers an enthralling and intoxicating blend of fantasy and romance.
Spread across 20 episodes, the show actually does a decent job harking in an age of politics and magic, with the best parts of Goblin, Arthdal Chronicles and general C-drama epics working in tandem. But yet, the show also falters in some key areas too, holding this back from being a better show.
The story is set deep in the fictional country of Daeho. Erased from maps and deemed to be invisible, the country plays host to a number of young mages who study magic, split across four different houses.
All of this is set on the foundations of the past, which include an elite assassin named Naksu, whose soul is trapped inside the body of Mu-Deok, a servant to Jang-Uk. Jang-Uk happens to be from a powerful and noble family, Songrim. Jang-Uk holds a dark secret about his birth which could well be linked to a forbidden magic spell called the Alchemy of Souls. When he finds out about Mu-Deok’s true identity, he enlists her help to change his destiny.
Of course, there are antagonists waiting in the wings to stop that coming to fruition, which comes in the form of the house, Cheonbugwan, led by the slimy Jin-Mu. He has his claws in fellow house Jinyowon, led by Ho-Gyeong who’s still wounded by the loss of her youngest daughter.
The overseeing power above these houses comes in the form of the Royal Family, led by King Go Soon who has more than a few skeletons in his closet. And as for the Queen? Well, she’s certainly no saint either! Caught in the middle of this unholy alliance is Go Won, the Royal Prince. He ends up entangled with Jang-Uk and Mu-Deok, alongside the former’s friends, Dang-Gu and Seo-Yul.
There are a lot of characters in this and while it’s not a complete head-scratching George R.R. Martin appendices of players, there’s a lot to remember – and you need to be paying attention right the way through this to get as much out of the story and understand how all these people connect together.
The trouble with Alchemy of Souls though is that it ultimately feels like a medley of tropes and genres, with its execution hitting varying degrees of success. The romantic element of this is pretty good, and the humour hits more than it misses, but the actual narrative moves along at such a slow pace that long episodes tick by without anything really happening. When the story does get moving – with an exciting couple of episodes to finish things off – a number of contrivances and plot holes crop up, souring the experience.
I’m not going to go into spoiler-territory here but an ending can make or break a show and in the case of Alchemy of Souls, I fear that the latter is true. Given the amount of build up for Naksu and her history, seeing this badass heroine not get the amount of epic scenes she so rightly deserves is a bit disappointing.
Thankfully, the show does have some good action and a decent amount out character development that irons out some of the disappointment. As mentioned before, the romance is probably the best part of this and the show is certainly enjoyable, despite its flaws. Alchemy of Souls may have started with a bang, but it ultimately ends with a whimper, which is a real shame.
Alchemy of souls – K-Drama Episode 1 Recap & Review
Episode 1 of Alchemy of Souls starts with rain hammering down in the streets. A woman dressed in a thin veil evades a rabble of guards as she walks through town.
Slipping down the back alleys, she makes her way to a poor family. Only… there’s a problem, A strange devilish man arrives, with blue-grey skin and charges at them. Thankfully, a demon slayer called Jang Gang appears and throws it across the room. Somehow conjuring up water powers, he confines it to a prison.
It turns out this creature is the woman’s son who has lost control. She pleads with Jang Gang to bring him back but it’s no good, he’s too far gone. Jang eventually plunges this wild soul into the watery depths below. It turns to rock after losing its power.
Jang is summoned to the Royal Palace where the King bemoans his luck at being ill. However, Jang is working on a new spell that allows one’s soul to be transported into another. The King is aware of this and wants to transport inside Jang’s soul and have them switch places – just for 7 days.
Jang is wary, pointing out that it’s forbidden magic, but the will of the King is hard to fight against. Begrudgingly, he agrees to do this. He enacts the magic and they switch places.
However, the King’s target here is Do-Hwa, Jang’s beloved. He intends to have her bear a child and hurries off to make love with her, unbeknownst to the poor woman that the real Jang Gang is stuck in the wrong body.
Skip forward 20 years and the child conceived has grown into Jang Uk, who happens to be at the royal palace overseen by Park Jin. That’s not our target though, this happens to be the formidable Nak-Su. She’s a shadow assassin and uses her watery powers to stave off numerous royal soldiers who try to capture her.
There’s a really slick use of CGI here, fighting across this frozen lake. Despite taking an arrow through the chest and bleeding out, Nak-Su makes it into the nearby town and remains determined to stay alive no matter what.
Nak-Su approaches a woman in the back of a bar and brings forth a strange orb. As smoke protrudes out from the roof, Nak-Su is found dead on the ground by the soldiers, who catch up to her.
As we later find out, it’s actually been transferred into a blind girl called Mu-Deok, who’s currently receiving safe passage out of the area to another part of town. Only… she doesn’t seem to be blind but Nak-Su has also lost her powers as well.
While Nak-Su’s body is brought to the royal temple, where the royals examine the blue mark and wonder where her soul is, Nak-Su gets accustomed to becoming Mu-Deok. Those in the palace though, worry that the soul shifters have returned.
We return for now to Jang Gang’s son, Jang Uk, who’s currently off training high up in the mountains. He’s tasked with staying there for 3 years, although Uk isn’t one to follow the rules.
His current teacher, an elder monk, is angry at his attitude and refuses to teach him. Uk isn’t deterred and defiantly claims he’s going to find someone else to teach him instead.
Mu-Deok starts to understand the world she’s tumbled into, as she finds herself outside the brothel, intending to scout out the monks she’s been sent there to kill. These happen to be known as the Four Seasons of Daeho.
There’s the daughter of Jin Family, Jin Cho-Yeon, the heir of the Park family, Park Dang-Gu; genius of the Seo family, Seo Yul; and Jang Uk, the successor of the Jang family. The latter is, of course, whom she’s going to collide with in this story.
Mu-Deok’s motivation for learning who this lot are stems from the simplest of emotions – revenge. After witnessing her kin killed when she was a child, she’s intending to get her vengeance.
Only, there’s a problem. Mu-Deok is spotted wandering through the royal palace and being able to see, no less. It’s Uk who spots her while she’s trying to escape from her maid.
The pair wind up together, with Mu-Deok threatening him with a crab leg. Uk doesn’t take it seriously and points out how beautiful Mu-Deok’s eyes are. She’s caught completely off-guard.
When Mu-Deok leaves, Uk deliberates over the girl’s fighting style, realizing it’s very similar to that of Nak-Su, the assassin the Royal Palace are obviously after.
Although Mu-Deok gets away, her superiors – the ones who trained her and have sent her on her mission – deliberate over what’s happened. They know she’s in hiding but for now, settle on bringing Nak-Su’s body back. They’re concerned her soul could clash with this new body.
Well, Jang-Uk brings Mu-Deok back to the palace where she’s overly cheerful with him and apologizes for threatening him with a crab leg the previous day.
Uk constantly tries her patience, being overly picky with everything she does from making the bed to running a bath. Mu-Deok promises to kill him first once she’s regained her power. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have her water powers right now. But hey, that doesn’t stop a girl from dreaming!
Interestingly, Mu-Deok does notice something intriguing on Uk’s possession while bringing him his clothes, coming in the form of a spirit emblem; that shiny blue necklace we saw beforehand. It would seem this could hold the source of her power.
Anyway, Mu-Deok not successful and even worse, she’s spotted by Uk hiding in his bed. She manages to talk her way out of this situation, but it’s definitely touch and go for a while.
However, assassins show up at the training center that night and set the place alight. Mu-Deok watches from afar as these Four Season soldiers stave off the assassins, which appear to have been sent from that shadowy guy working as Mu-Deok’s superior.
In the middle of all this, Uk catches up with Mu-Deok and notices her eyes in the moonlight. As he sees them glisten, he tells her that she’s destined to be his master.
The Episode Review
Alchemy of Souls gets off to an intriguing start and there are some definite C-drama vibes going on here, along with deep-rooted lore that’s going to take a few episodes to straighten out. There are a lot of characters introduced in a short space of time, although the series does do a pretty good job of establishing the tone and pace from the beginning.
There are definite similarities to Bulgasal in the way this series is playing with deep-rooted myths and legends, while the characters are engaging, with light wisps of humour to level out some of the more serious parts.
The whole fight across the frozen lake was pretty cool, as was the cat and mouse chase afterwards.
As a real sucker for anything fantasy-based, this one looks to really scratch that itch and blending that with romance and drama looks like it could be a weekend hit. So far so good!
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