Sunday, January 23, 2022

REVIEW: The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System: Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong, Vol. 1 (book) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, illustrated by Xiao Tong Kong (Velinxi), translated by Faelicy and Lily

The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System is, at least in this first volume, a fantasy comedy that was originally serialized online, in Chinese. As the series progresses, it gains more serious elements and m/m romance. According to the little genre guide in the back of this volume, it would be considered part of both the danmei (Chinese BL) and xianxia genres. It's licensed by Seven Seas - I bought my copy brand new.

This review includes a few spoilers, mostly because I couldn't help indulging my urge to write about the series as a whole and not just this one volume.


Proud Immortal Demon Way is an incredibly long online serial, a "stallion" novel about Luo Binghe (referred to as LBH from here on out), a humble young cultivation disciple who is mistreated by Shen Qingqui (SQQ), the Lord of Qing Jing Peak, until he eventually awakens to his demonic powers, gathers up a massive harem, and kills everyone who formerly mistreated him. Shen Yuan has just spent 20 days plowing through Proud Immortal Demon Way when he suddenly dies and wakes up in the body of SQQ.

Shen Yuan had lots of complaints about Proud Immortal Demon Way and was known for being a massive anti-fan. As SQQ, he is told by System, a voice only he can hear, that he's being given the opportunity to "transform a stupid work into a magnificent, high-quality, first-rate classic" (14). It's a chance to finally address the original work's inconsistencies, plot holes, and various details that are brought up only to never be mentioned again. Unfortunately, the original SQQ was a scum villain who betrayed his sect and eventually had his arms and legs chopped off by LBH, the protagonist with invincible plot armor. If SQQ dies the same way now, Shen Yuan is dead as well. His first instinct is to suck up to LBH as hard as he can, but OOC (out of character) behavior is forbidden until he can fulfill some initial requirements. 

SQQ somehow has to survive long enough to unlock additional abilities, earn various types types of points (B-points, awarded for being a badass, are the most prominent, but System adds other at will) so that he can afford to break rules or screw up here and there, and somehow still accomplish whichever story events System decides are vital to the book's existence while transforming Proud Immortal Demon Way into a "better" story.

I first read this as a fan translation, never expecting that MXTX's works would ever be licensed and officially translated into English. The fan translation wasn't great, but I still had fun with it, and this was the only one of MXTX's works I ever managed to read from start to finish (I'm 75% done with Heaven Official's Blessing, and I barely even started Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, although I had a little more success with the live action TV series). Even in awkward fan translation form, I loved the beginning of The Scum Villain's Self-saving System and was looking forward to seeing how much an official English translation might improve it.

I'm going to guess that the first few pages of this book were just overall hard to translate, because I don't know that it was much better in this version than it was in the fan translation I read. That eventually smoothed out, although I'd personally have preferred a few more footnotes here and there to clarify things.

The book was at its best during the "System vs. SQQ" scenes, as well as any moments in which SQQ was mentally screaming in frustration or horror as he tried to steer the story in a direction that wouldn't eventually get him killed. While System was kind enough to warn SQQ when he was about to do something that would lose him a fatal number of points, I wouldn't say that System played fair at all. As the story progressed, I knew, as the reader, that the rules under which SQQ was operating were shifting, but I noticed System didn't bother to clue SQQ in. 

If I hadn't gone into this book knowing what I'd be dealing with, I'm not entirely sure if I'd have noticed the shift either - for those interested in this series for its m/m romance aspects, FYI, it takes a long while, more than just this first volume, for anything more than hints to show up. Also, just as a warning, as much as I enjoyed this series' humor, LBH/SQQ is my least favorite of MXTX's romantic pairings. If you think about it for very long at all, even if you're okay with teacher-student romances and their power imbalance, this couple doesn't make much sense considering how abusive SQQ was towards LBH prior to Shen Yuan being plopped into the story. And that doesn't even get into the horror of the sex scene that happens later in the series. ::shudder::

Considering what I know about how things turn out, I couldn't help but think about System's initial words to SQQ, about how he was being given the opportunity to transform this work into something better. SQQ, understandably, chose to make his own survival his top priority, but I started to wonder about that original goal. Did MXTX forget about it, or did we just have different ideas about what counted as "better"?

I've been toying with the possibility of it being the second option, considering the author (who I believe was in high school when she originally wrote this) and certain things that come up later on. However, even that doesn't really work, considering that Original SQQ's villainous behavior is inconsistent with Shen Yuan's danmei love interest SQQ - no matter which genre perspective you evaluate it from, Proud Immortal Demon Way is a bloated mess with details that don't quite add up from start to finish.

Which isn't to say that I disliked this volume. I poke at it because I think it could have been better (dear Universe, this is not a request that I die and end up in the novel with instructions to "fix" it or shut up). I had a lot of fun with SQQ's attempts to navigate System's often arbitrary rules, his enormous blind spots where LBH was concerned, and his habit of getting caught up in the story and its characters enough to really care about what was going on beyond the things that could directly lead to his own death.

I plan to read the rest of this, even knowing that I'll dislike the direction the series takes. Seven Seas is taking a bit of a risk, venturing outside of Japanese manga and light novels, and so far they seem to be pretty well committed to it and trying their best.


Two full-color illustrations, black and white illustrations throughout, a few footnotes, and lots of appendices. There's a character & name guide, an extensive glossary, and a bonus image gallery with black and white illustrations of Shen Qingqui, young Luo Binghe, Yue Qingyuan, Liu Qingge, Ming Fan, and Ning Yingying. My personal preference would have been for more footnotes and perhaps a reduced glossary - I think some of the things in the glossary would have made more sense if they'd been more closely paired with their context. That said, it's a much better selection of extras than I expected, and I think shows that Seven Seas is taking this venture seriously. 

The character guide starts with a warning that it may contain spoilers. While I can sort of see that (although I honestly didn't think it was very spoilery), I still think it's helpful to at least read the other appendices prior to starting the novel. The "names, honorifics, & titles" guide, in particular, is very helpful if you, like me, don't have much of a background in Chinese culture and martial arts stories.

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