Name: Arsenal Military Academy
Writer/director: Xiao Xiang Dong Er / Hui Kai Dong & Guo Hao
Date: August 2019
Number of episodes: 48
Genre: Military Training, Gender Bender, Friendship, Romance, Republican Era
Based on book/manga?: NO
Why did I press play? As a stand alone drama it isn’t quite up to par. I watched it to fill a void after Joy of Life finished airing. This drama has been floating around for a while, but republican era themed dramas are not my favorite. After watching The Legends, I was keen to see this couple act together again, which lead me to this drama.
Thoughts and observations: The driving force of this drama are the characters, their distinct personalities and backgrounds.
Xie Xiang / Xie Liang – The leading lady
The biggest disappointment with the character is the dismal character development. Many of the other characters undergo changes which distracts from her plateau. She is almost always even keel, there isn’t anywhere for her character to go, perhaps if she started off with more flaws and immaturity, she could eventually blossom as she learns matures and becomes not so one-track minded – embracing other things in life. It would have been nice if she learnt to relax and let her hair down a bit more.
In the later half, Xiang’s personality waters down to something bland. For example, the same set of expressions were on repeat. Towards the end, she was agreeing with everything and taking no time to critically think about things before agreeing or always saying “i没事/Méishì”
Generally and especially towards the end, Gu brings all the flavor in their scenes together. The contrast of these two evaporated their romantic chemistry.
Bai Lu’s acting is hit or miss for me, I liked her in the Legends and Lucky’s First Love, but not in this drama. I wonder what it would have been like with a different actress?
Bai Lu has quite natural tom-boy vibes (which is part of her charm), this makes her believable as Xie Xiang and her “undercover” role. Her character is very well thought out and fits into the story. Xiang doesn’t really act cutesy in real life (when she can freely be a girl), therefore she doesn’t need to suppress this side of her at the academy. This is one of the main reasons she isn’t easily found out.
She is incredibly on track minded. This is expected and is precisely because of this trait she is willing to enter the academy in the first place – too following the steps of her brother. She is quite focused on her goal.
She values justice, completing tasks, and integrity. This does lead her to be quite nosy and butt into other people’s business by standing up for them in trivial matters. She is forgiving and doesn’t hold grudges.
Regarding justice she follows her instincts, despite average self-defence and it’s not up to far in dealing with dangerous situations. Leading her to need a knight in shining armor to save her.
Even uniform is unflattering and she takes it in her stride. She is still a women and has no issue dawning on a dress and living her usual life around her family. Since she is such a practical, brave, preserving, loyal, goal oriented person, she suits the mentality of the academy. Her “work” and “personal” roles aren’t blurred – she can separate the too. Even when she is herself and can openly embrace her femininity, her mind still thinks in the same way as at the academy. She I wish we had a chance to meet her brother. Her parents are also so likable, especially in matching her and Gu when he visits her house.
Gu Yan – The leading man
My goodness! He is a total charmer! Xu Kai is just the best: his comedy is on point, and he is so comfortable in front of the camera (and probably in his own skin), nothing he does makes you cringe, and the viewer can simply enjoy all the character has to offer. Xu Kai is a versatile actor, his well-acted role in The Legends is contrasting to this character, so much so it feels like a different person – I was quite taken aback.
Now back to Gu Yan, it’s gratifying that it takes him a while to become smitten with Xiang. This makes sense considering their dynamic and situation. When he does have love hearts beaming out of his eyes, it is adorable and hilarious. For example, when he stares at her during lunch and cleaning her boots or was it his own instead of making her do it? I don’t buy it that the other male lead only found out at the masquerade ball that she was a girl, surely he must have figured it out earlier (despite what the writers say).
Observations between the relationship between the leads.
Apparently some of the kissing scenes got cut, this is such a shame, because seeing it could have made much of Gu’s behbior makes more scense. Had it not been for the comments of other viewers I wouldn’t have known about the deleted scenes. His actions following a kiss scene that didn’t make into the drama, makes far more scene and satisfaction.
This isn’t to say that a drama “needs romance” to be good. Although I personally don’t mind a little more romance. A substantial part of the story is Gu developing feelings for her, so the romanic scenes are needed. So the theme of romance is there. Although the first kissing scene, the kiss is forced upon her as he does it in order to save her from being exposed as a female from the other cadets. She is clearly distressed. Perhaps that is why that one didn’t make it into the drama.
Shen Ting Bai
We don’t see much of him, but it’s great when we do. Despite his appearance he is surprising powerful and formidable, and brave. Out of all the characters, he feels like a real “has-it-together adult”. There is a sense of security having him around, you can breath, knowing someone skilled is defending against the Japanese. He doesn’t engage in any romantic games, but rather is steadfast, and devoted to Qu Man Ting in a rational way. He doesn’t get caught up in drama. It shows what a stable and adoring husband he will be.
Tan Xiao Jun (Xie Xiang’s friend)
She is such a delightfully loyal fiend, who treasures her friendship with Xiang. She one of the girls in the story that adds nice pops of femininity into a largely masculine oriented story. Who wouldn’t love as her as a friend in real life?
Shen Jun Shan
Honestly, I found him quite boring and too typical of a love rival. There was little attachment to what he got up to. He has a lot of guts, intelligence, independence and a sense of justice – I’ll give him that. He is a man of action with the time calls for it. The two brothers are alike in that way.
Qu Man Ting
The singers pinning for Gu also dragged out a little too long.Her character is a mixed bag, she is quite an emotional person. Flighty, but then also savvy with her. She adds lighthearted comedy, and it’s always enjoyable when she put catty/mean girls in their place. That’s no easy feat. She does have maturing to do, and this gradually takes place. She also had integrity in not leading Ting Bai on. But clearly does get along with him. I enjoyed their ending.
Jin Xian Rong/Oda Hiroshi
She felt forced into the story, As if the writers thought it would be good to have a young and beautiful woman be a leader and ruthless. Perhaps this would be pulled off with a different actress. I didn’t do it. She didn’t have a strong presence and just isn’t convincing.
As mentioned above, republican dramas aren’t my cup of tea. Hence the plot didn’t draw me in fully, but it was interesting enough to follow, it helped that there was a variety of conflict, espionage, supporting characters, and locations. If republican dramas are your flavor, this should satisfy your tastebuds. The intro song and graphics suit the drama perfectly!
Who are the main characters? Which actors play them?
Xie Xiang / Xie Liang Chen played by Bai Lu (female lead)
Gu Yan Zhen played by Xu Kai (male lead)
Shen Jun Shan played by Toby Lee (Second male lead)
Qu Man Ting played by Wu Jia Yi (second female lead – singer)
Tan Xiao Jun played by Zhang Xin (Xie Xiang’s friend)
Shen Ting Bai played by Hong Yao (Jun Shan’s brother and likes Man Ting)
Cheng Rui Beile played by Andrew Yin (Chinese Royalty)
Huo Xiao Yu played by Liu Min (Bar Owner)
Jin Xian Rong/Oda Hiroshi played by Geo Yu Er
Guo Shu Ting played by Shao Bing (Tactics Instructor).
+ many more
Theme: In times of political turmoil, there isn’t the luxury to only think about your own life.
What’s it good for: If you’re in the mood to watching something a stimulating republican drama .
*This drama review was requested by a wonderful reader.