A solid first season alchemy of souls brings lots of praise but leaves a few small areas for improvement.
This review of the Netflix K-Drama series Alchemy of Souls season 1 contains no spoilers.
ACCESS: Alchemy of Souls recaps, news and reviews archive.
READ: Alchemy of Souls season 1 ending explained.
Intertwined with complexity, detail and dedicated world building, alchemy of souls has all the hallmarks of a remarkable and memorable K-Drama. Yet its sometimes circular narrative, or sometimes noticeably methodical pacing, has at times become a downside to the famed Hong sisters’ latest project, slowing the climb to the season’s perfectly memorable finale.
As for the plot, the show revolves around the lives of people residing in a place unknown to ordinary humans, Daeho. There, mages, wizards, assassins, maids, and every other conceivable personage ply their trade, helping the many realms of this restricted world to function.
If that sounds complex, that’s because it certainly is, and yet alchemy of souls goes even further by focusing on a number of characters and their lives within Daeho as well. Primarily, there’s Jang Uk, a developing mage who, once his energy gate is unlocked, navigates the journey from being a hopeless goofball to a refined, confident man. He is greatly aided by Mu-deok, who houses the soul of former assassin Naksu. The two have an unconventional relationship that evolves into so much more and allows both to become inherently better people.
On the other side of things, Jin Mu is the central antagonist. A cynical Gwanju wizard who seeks to control Daeho through illegal sorcery, while manipulating those around him, he is the usually shrewd and hard-to-beat foil to the proverbial good guys, and instantly detestable. Add to that a stacked supporting cast that ranges from tricksters to soul-changing queens, and once again, it’s clear just how layers alchemy of souls is.
As discussed earlier, this intricate level of detail is a major strength, as well as a periodic flaw. As for the overwhelming positives, it’s so easy to get sucked into this fantasy world, so intriguing in its many threads that it genuinely makes the show feel like a form of escapism. Stories about a charismatic, maturing mage like Jang Uk, who is inherently flawed, but dedicated to traveling the right path in life, contain an investable emotion that’s usually hard to find. Likewise, Mu-deok’s frantic changes from a resilient, steely assassin to a selfless, caring partner are enjoyable in the way they play out, especially since she never quite loses touch. with the hard-nosed person she once was.
That being said, there were frustrating elements about how evenly some of these plot points were built. Sometimes stories involving relationships or key decisions were repeated or continued to the point that the outcome became entirely predictable or lost some of its impact. It was nothing overtly bad, far from it, but in the second half of December, a higher pace could provide increased entertainment, as well as maximize the minutes of already undeniably long episodes.
In the grand scheme of things, flaws are just tiny complaints, especially when there’s so much to praise. On the one hand, Jung So-min is excellent in her portrayal of Mu-deok, hugging her performance with depth as her character struggles with the progression from vengeful assassin to selfless protector. Equally impressive are Lee Jae-wook and Jo Jae-yun, who play their respective roles as Daeho’s potential savior and region’s potential downfall with marked efficiency.
Moving on, the whole series is visually fantastic. Bringing this fictional world to life, director Park Joon-hwa emphasizes the vast area he has to play with, immersing the viewer in every scene. Complete with some rather solid CGI, visual effects, and use of pathetic sophistry, the show has an undeniably elegant appeal.
Overall, the first season of Netflix alchemy of souls was an engaging and still solid introduction to (and journey through) the complex world of Daeho. It may not have been perfect, nothing ever is, but there is something for everyone, as well as enough substance for those looking for something complete to enjoy.
What did you think of Netflix K-Drama Alchemy of Souls Season 1? Comments below.
You can watch this series with a Netflix subscription.