Translator: Faelicy, Lily
Artist: Xiao Tong Kong
Shen Yuan has put a lot of thought into what he would do if he suddenly found himself transmigrated into a book or game or show. For one, he wouldn’t be all “Oh no! Where am I?” He wouldn’t ask stupid questions like: “Who are you people?” or “How did I get here?” No, oh no. He’d play along, He would fully embrace the character and do his best to take advantage of the situation, to make the most of it as it were. So when, after his death, Shen Yuan finds himself waking up in a strange, old-fashioned bed with a concerned man calling him shidi (younger martial brother), he does his best to not let on. After all, it’s not just any book he’s woken up in, it’s his favorite book!
Well, favorite might be stretching it. Proud Immortal Demon Way is a stallion novel so long, so filled with characters, plot holes, and fan service that Shen Yuan — who paid for VIP service like any decent person would — has spent more time on the forums ranting about it than he’d like to admit. He has complained bitterly about the characters. Mocked them. Sneered at the juvenile writing, nit-picked every word choice, scorned every attempt by the author to please his fans with his money-grubbing ways … he knows it better than he knows himself. And he just so happens to be in the body of one Shen Qingqiu.
Who is Shen Qingqiu? Why, he’s the villain, of course. A man so vile, so hateful that Shen Yuan was among those calling for his castration. He was the shizun who beat and tormented his student, Luo Binghe, the hero of Proud Immortal Demon Way, so badly that the protagonist ended up cutting off Shen Qingqiu’s arms, legs, and tongue before stuffing him in a jar where he would live the rest of his short, miserable life.
It’s not ideal, but the solution is simple. Just … don’t do any of those horrible things, right? Treat the hero of the story better! Be a better teacher, a kinder man, and live a long, happy life with all his bits and pieces where they should be. Or so he thinks until the System intrudes. This strange creation — one only he can see and hear — will not let Shen Qingqiu break the story. It lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that he cannot go out of character and must, instead, play his part, or die.
Shen Qingqiu (once he awakens in the book, he never thinks of himself as Shen Yuan) is an absolutely unreliable narrator. He’s clever, snarky, hyper focused, creative, and cunning, and has all the self-awareness of a brick. It’s not that he’s a narcissist, but he’s looking at the world he’s in as if it’s a television show being performed for an audience of one. He knows these characters better than they do themselves. He’ll tell you that he only read the book for the monsters and the plants — certainly not the plot, of which there was none, or for the tepid love scenes between Luo Binghe and his harem of several hundred women — but the truth is … along with the monsters and plants and cultivation powers of flying on swords and killing monsters with a single blow, Shen Qingqiu fanboys over Luo Binghe. He knows everything about him. The first sword he’ll get, and the one after that; he knows about his backstory, his side stories, all of it and everything. And for all that Shen Qingqiu wants to live and will do anything to avoid his body’s original fate, he still finds it cool to watch his favorite character.
Luo Binghe is an orphan who grew up on the streets, beaten and abused and chased until he found a home in the arms of a loving, but poor washerwoman. Who died. Luo Binghe then found his way to Qing Jing Peak where Shen Qingqiu is master, and became a disciple, only to be beaten, abused, starved, and humiliated. Through all of this, he’s been obedient, dutiful, and puts forth his best effort to be a good student and learn cultivation. When his shizun suddenly starts paying attention to him, asking him questions rather than having him taken out and beaten, Luo Binghe doesn’t quite know what to think or feel about it. But he’ll take every advantage he can, basking in the attention and pushing himself harder to please shizun and become stronger.
Luo Binghe may seem simple — written as the protagonist of a stallion novel, more attention was paid to his strength and appearance than his intelligence — but he’s not. He is internalizing Shen Qingqiu’s words throughout the book, taking in his shizun’s strange behaviors and learning how to work around them. If Shen Qingqiu likes good food, Luo Binghe will cook for him. If Shen Qingqiu needs a monster killed or a quest fulfilled, Luo Binghe will do it without question. Luo Binghe is a born manipulator, obsessive and cunning, none of which Shen Qingqiu sees, too busy being caught up in how amazing Luo Binghe will be when he’s grown up.
Again and again, Shen Qingqiu is put in situations where people get hurt and run the risk of death, but for him it’s not real. None of it is real. For all that he’s here, in this world, it’s the world of a book and these people are nothing more than characters with no real thoughts or feelings. Even when he bleeds or gets hurt, Shen Qingqiu still can’t wrap his mind around the idea that this might just be real. He is neck deep in his denial and unwilling to break out of it, and not taking the time to question what his small changes are going to do and how they’re going to affect the future.
The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System is Mo Xiang Gong Xiu’s debut novel and it is a loving poke at transmigration books. If you’re not familiar with transmigration stories, xianxia, and stories with systems, you might not get all of the humor, but the author does a good job of introducing the basic setup, terms, and tropes in a way that makes it easily understood. Shen Yuan is just … funny. He’s the straight man in a comedy routine that happens to be set in a xianxia romcom. Every single clue flies so far overhead he doesn’t even catch the shadow, blowing everything off because, having read the book, he knows better. He knows what’s important and what’s not … even as he’s blindly changing things left and right.
The translators — Faelicy and Lily — did a wonderful job getting the jokes across, and the glossary and character list help out a great deal with unfamiliar terms and a general explanation of the world building, all with a touch of humor, and Xia Tong Kong’s illustrations throughout the book are just lovely. I have been a fan of this book since I first read it and I’m so pleased to finally see it getting an English release. While this is a student/teacher relationship, there is no romance in this book of the series, and won’t be until Luo Binghe is of age. Please, please, please give this book a try. There’s even an animated adaptation (which can be found on YouTube) covering this first book in the series, with season two coming out later this year.