The Legend of Hei - A Forrest Review
The Legend of Hei, or The Legend of Luo Xiaohei, is a Chinese animated film that was released in the summer of 2019. It is apparently a prequel to the TV series of the same name, detailing events that lead up to the show. I haven’t seen the show myself, so I don’t know the details, but one day, perhaps!
After Xiaohei’s home is destroyed (due to deforestation), the cat-fey is forced to the city. Living as a small kitten, he steals food to survive, hoping to find a home again. When Xiaohei is attacked by humans, he is rescued by another fey named Fengxi, who then offers Xiaohei food and a place to stay. Fengxi leads him through a portal to a quiet island, free of humans and occupied by his crew.
The next day, a powerful human named Wuxian appears on the island and attacks Fengxi. Fengxi and his crew escape through the portal, destroying it and unfortunately leaving Xiaohei behind. Wuxian takes Xiaohei by force to bring him back to the mysterious guild.
I loved this film! The animation is gorgeous. It has a very Ghibli feel, while being its own unique style. Tons of scenes in nature, and even the urban dwellings are done in a way that ties nature in, which is a fantastic aesthetic. There are a lot of action sequences, and they feel very smooth and easy to follow. Xiaohei is especially adorable, with his tiny cat form. He and the other fey have human forms as well, and Xiaohei becomes a tiny little boy when he transforms, but still with cat ears and a cat tail. So cute! He also has a big cat form, which is really cool to see.
There is some incredible worldbuilding in The Legend of Hei. It leaves me wanting more. Humans and fey live in what appears to be harmony, with some hiccups here and there, as fey have to hide what they truly are in many cases. They are not allowed to show their fey sides but only their human forms when in cities/human occupied towns, I’m assuming to keep fey from hurting humans, whether intentionally or unintentionally. But feys are losing their homes more and more, and it is feared that humans will soon be on every inch of the planet, with feys having nowhere else to go but to live alongside them.
From what I understood when watching the film, magic is inherent in every living creature. Everyone has an element and a “special ability”, which is why Wuxian, the powerful human who attacks Fengxi, is able to do anything against Fengxi’s forest abilities. I loved how magic was shown and explained, even if it left me with questions. From what the film shows us, it seems that most humans aren’t capable of Wuxian’s level of power. His special ability is called “devour”, which allows him to break through matter in a wide circle, “devouring” everything Fengxi throws at him. He also has control over metal, of which he keeps metal bands wrapped around his arms that he can use to attack, defend, and even fly over an undetermined (but not infinite) distance.
I don’t have many complaints about this film. The one I do have is the lack of female characters. They show one woman in the city, but all we know of her is that she’s a flower seller. The other is an Executor, a fey who helps to keep fey-human laws and to keep the community safe. We don’t see her fight, so we have no idea if she’s strong (though I’d like to assume yes considering she’s an Executor), but her main purpose in the film is to fawn over one of the male characters, and to be extremely cute. (Which she is, but that isn’t the point!) All of the strong characters are male, and males have the most lines. They show a character near the end of the film that appears to be powerful, and looks female, but is actually also male (and not trans), so I got excited only to get disappointed again, haha. I felt like Fengxi should have had at least one woman in his crew, and to be just as badass as the others. This was disappointing, even if it is basically Shonen.
Still, despite this complaint, I enjoyed the film. There is an important message laden throughout the movie, that good and bad can blend, and that life is not black and white. There are fantastic leading elements and twists that I was surprised and impressed to see, making the story unique enough and fulfilling. I enjoyed the characters too, especially Wuxian and Luozhu. I absolutely recommend anime lovers to give The Legend of Hei a watch. 4/5 stars!