White Cat Legend (original title Da Li Si Rizhi, The Journal of Dali Temple in English) is a Chinese webcomic, or manhua (Chinese comic book). The webcomic was adapted into a donghua (Chinese cartoon) by animation studio Nice Boat Animation, known for their work on Fog Hill of Five Elements.
The story takes place in China during the Tang dynasty, ruled under Empress Wu Zetian. One simple peasant named Chen Shi arrives in the city of Luo Yang in search of his older brother, who he has never met before in his life. Being a poor man with little money to spare, Chen Shi applies for a job at Dali Court as a factotum (an employee/assistant responsible for doing all kinds of work given to them). Unbeknownst to him, his first task is providing food and water for a prisoner, a demon in the form of a human-sized cat. According to legend, once every nine years, a cat grows a new tail. Once it has grown its ninth tail and reached the age of 81, it transforms into a vicious cat demon, capable of devouring its prey and taking on their form. When a cat demon has consumed enough human beings, it can shapeshift into anything it wants and plunge the whole world into chaos.
Chen Shi is absolutely terrified of what hes guarding, but he refuses to give in to his fear because he needs the money. A few days later, he checks up on the prisoner, only to find the cell is unlocked and the captive is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Chen Shi is attacked by the cat demon and forced to give him the key to unlocking the chains around his feet, but the factotum stands his ground and swallows the key, which catches the demon off-guard. A man named Lu Na then enters the dungeon and speaks to the escaping prisoner as if he was an acquaintance. It turns out it was all a test to see if Chen Shi had what it takes to be a loyal servant of Dali Court, and he passed. The cat demons name is Li Bing, who is atoning for the sins of his family. Because of his loyalty to the empress, he is appointed Vice Minister of Justice, and declares Chen Shi his assistant. Together with the rest of Dali Court, they solve various cases left unfinished.
The first season premiered on April 10, 2020, with twelve episodes aired up until July 3. You can watch the series legally on Billi Billi with English subtitles HERE. The original manhua can be read on the same website HERE, though entirely in Chinese and unavailable in any other language.
Tropes used in White Cat Legend:
- Adaptation Expansion: The original manhua is generally fast-paced, while the donghua takes its time and expands on a lot of scenes:
- In the manhua, Chen Shi knocks the blind man on the head right after he steals his hu cake, while a whole chase sequence is added in the donghua.
- Episode 4 is new material written for the donghua, revolving around the death of one of Dali Courts vice ministers.
- The events leading up to Li Bing and Minister Xu attending Wu Zetians birthday party include a fight against assassins on the roof of a horse carriage.
- The fight between Li Bing and the four-armed demon is given a much more elaborate choreography, and there is a whole sub-plot leading up to Chen Shi making his Big Damn Heroes moment in the middle of the battle.
- Adaptational Late Appearance: Certain characters appear later in the donghua than in the manhua. Cui Bei, for instance, appears relatively early in the manhua at chapter 16, but doesnt make his proper appearance in the donghua until episode 8.
- Animation Bump: The animation maintains a high and consistent quality throughout the first season. Come episode 12, the production value takes a big leap: more fight scenes are added, several scenes blend 2D and 3D animation together, and it's compounded by the average run time of 14-17 minutes for this series's episode being extended to around 25 minutes. The battle between Li Bing and the four-armed demon is a shining example of this in the series.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Being the only one unaffected by Cui Beis horrible luck, Wang Qi casually walks up to him and beats the living tar out of him until the storm caused by Cui Bei dissipates.
- During the climactic battle of the season 1 finale, Li Bing collapses onto the ground because he forgot to take his medicine. Chen Shi shows up in time to throw him a flask from above.
- Shortly after that, General Qiu throws a spear into a demons head before it gets the chance to land the finishing blow on a dying Li Bing.
- Butt-Monkey: Wang Qi. Its often well-deserved. Ironically, hes the only one not affected by Cui Beis presence.
- Chen Shi gets the same treatment, only not as deserved as Wang Qi.
- Cat Folk: Any cats who grow nine tails and live past age 81 will turn into one. One of them is the main character, Li Bing.
- Defeat Means Friendship: After Wang Qi beats Cui Bei into a pulp, the two become fast friends.
- Determinator: The lengths Chen Shi is willing to go to fulfill his tasks are admirable, if reckless. On his first few days as a factotum, he is scared shitless when guarding a prisoner who is all too willing to claw his innards out, but he stays because he wants to keep the job. When Li Bing breaks out of his cell and pins Chen Shi to the ground, the latter swallows the key meant to unlock the foot chain around the formers feet, despite the fact he could easily be ripped apart. Luckily for him, the whole thing was a test.
- Disguised in Drag: Wang Qis usual approach when hes up to his antics.
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: During General Langs arresting spree, we see a married couple having an argument. The large, imposing wife threatens to beat up her meek, little husband until the husband snaps and starts fighting back by lightly hitting her big gut. Hes caught in the act by Langs soldiers and is promptly arrested. The whole thing is played for laughs, but thankfully, the mans wife gets arrested too.
- Downer Ending: The first season of the animated adaptation ends with Li Bing seemingly dead and Chen Shi tearfully begging him to wake up while the credits roll to sad music.
- The Eeyore: Cui Bei is so depressed over being The Jinx that a dark cloud is looming over him to hammer the point home.
- Even the Girls Want Her: When General Lang enters Luo Yang for the first time, a herd of fangirls swarms up to her, which inconveniences the male soldiers trying to fend them off.
- Felony Misdemeanor: To ensure there will be no crimes committed during Wu Zetians birthday party, General Lang sets out to arrest civilians committing the slightest of offenses (except for the woman who threatened to beat up her husband).
- Genre Shift: Episode 4 shifts from an action-adventure period piece to a supernatural crime drama period piece.
- The Jinx: Cui Bei. Completely defenseless by himself, but the only reason he survives through so many life-threatening situations is that his bad luck prevents everyone else from harming him. In the span of one day, the gang of bandits who kidnapped him were eaten alive by a stray tiger, the tiger carrying him away got washed away by an oncoming flood, and a trio of thugs attempting to hold him captive were crushed by a falling meteorite. The only person immune to Cui Beis presence and capable of inflicting physical harm on him is Wang Qi.
- Magic Realism: White Cat Legend takes place in China during the Tang dynasty, and several historical figures such as Empress Wu Zetian and General Qiu Shenji make an appearance. Aside from the main character being an anthropomorphic cat and one supporting character summoning natural disasters at random, supernatural or fantastical elements are few and far between.
- Marionette Master: Ye Chen developed the ability to control puppets when he was no longer able to do delicate work under the Ministry of Music. He makes use of this skill to force Dali Court to uncover the truth about his brothers death.
- Never Learned to Read: Chen Shi has a hard time doing work that requires literary knowledge, since he never learned how to read. The tables are turned when Li Bing and Lu Na receive a ransom note (actually a cry for help in disguise) written by Alibaba. They have trouble reading it due to its odd handwriting, except for Chen Shi who learned how to read Alibabas handwriting from him.
- Never Suicide: The brother of Vice Minister Ye, the deceased victim, believes he did not commit suicide, but was murdered, and he terrorizes Dali Court with his puppets and practical effects in order to scare them into uncovering the truth. Eventually, its revealed that it was neither suicide nor murder; it was an accident.
- Please Wake Up: Li Bing gets stabbed in the gut by a four-armed demon and bleeds out. Chen Shi sprints towards him and cradles him in his arms, desperately begging him to wake up while tears fall onto his lords lifeless body. Fortunately, Li Bing survives.
- Religious Bruiser: Sun Bao is a former soldier and deeply religious.
- Secret Test of Character: The whole point of Chen Shi guarding one of the citys prisoners was to test his loyalty to his superiors. The prisoner himself was already a candidate for Vice Minister of Justice, and officially received the title once Chen Shi was deemed his worthy assistant.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Episode 5 revolves around Alibaba preparing himself for the Mandarin Language Test Level 8 exam, which he failed two times before due to unfortunate circumstances. He gets kidnapped by a group of thugs and carried off to a forest far away from society, but he frantically makes his escape back so he can attend the exam on time. He doesnt make it.
- As Bao keeps wailing on Wang Qi, he shouts ATATATATATA!!!
- As Wang Qi keeps wailing on Cui Bei, the scene turns into a game of Taiko Drum Master.
- A poster on the wall of episode 8 has the main character from Fei Ren Zai on it.
- In episode 12 as the assassins are steering their cart down an alleyway, a black cat runs out who looks suspiciously similar to Xiao Hei.
- Undignified Death:
- Slipping off a wood beam while fixing a leak and accidentally getting hanged in the process was a pill the unfortunate victims brother found hard to swallow.
- Subverted in that he doesn't die, but accidentally tripping and landing face-first onto the pointy end of a knife would have been an embarrassing way for Yi Zhihua to go.
- Urine Trouble: On his first day guarding Li Bing, Chen Shi wets himself out of fear, and because of that he tells the cat monster he wont eat him.