This Xian Jian 5 tie-in manhua came out in November 2012, around a year and four months after the game. It’s a one-off retelling of the earliest parts of the excellent Chinese RPG Xian Jian 5 over 211 pages, and unlike some other attempts (Chinese and otherwise) to cash in on an existing title this has the honour being being written and illustrated by members of the original development team, making the experience as close to the real thing as possible without actually going through the immense hassle of reinstalling the game.
While Qing He Zhen Pian may be a highly compressed retelling it doesn’t actually come across as feeling rushed – there’s always plenty of space for the fantastic line work and ethereal paintings to breathe and even with so much story to cram in panels are still given over to wordless expressions and actions, complimented by a few striking double page spreads and full page illustrations to really show off a particular character or scene. Even with the weight of a lengthy million-selling RPG resting on a single book’s shoulders there’s never a feeling of a tale that’s afraid to set its own tempo – a confidence that probably comes from being handled in-house by staff who already know the plot inside out and can pinpoint exactly which parts to focus on for maximum effect.
IP-jun’s artwork conveys both kinetic battles and sillier scenes well, always in keeping with the game’s style whether drawing peaceful vistas, snarling monsters or even SD-style comedy faces. Overall the tone of the book is more towards the light-hearted end of the spectrum, partly because the adventure’s only really getting started for our heroes just as the book ends, but also because sticking with the smiles and silliness makes for a more pleasant and free-flowing read than having to stop and explain the numerous intertwined tragedies that go back generations for some of the characters in a mere handful of pages. There’s a sense that Qing He Zhen Pian was created more as a ‘victory lap’ for the development team and a tasty morsel for fans missing Xiao Man’s adorable bickering with Long You than an attempt to woo anyone who still hadn’t played the game - basic knowledge of Xian Jian 5’s characters and setting is assumed of the reader from the start, meaning there was no more need for this manhua to rake over the fine details of Xian Jian 5 any more than Advent Children did for Final Fantasy VII.
Qing He Zhen Pian always leaves me with conflicting emotions when I come to read it as it’s simultaneously an excellent adaptation and yet also feels a bit disappointing when you reach the end, mostly because what’s here is so promising it’s practically begging for a full series even if it would have required some ridiculous One Piece-length endeavour to see through to the finish. Sadly it appears that scenario was never on the cards, so all we can do is enjoy this lovely little piece of ‘what if’ and hope that perhaps Softstar will reconsider one day and give Xian Jian 5 the spinoff manhua it really deserves.