The Demon Sorcerers (from Jackie Chan Adventures)

So we’ve done second insight into Roxas, made an impassioned plea to love Davy Jones, and yelled at Varian with the fury of 1,000 suns.  So now we must do one final kind of article.  This is probably going to be the rarest, for two reasons.  This will look at a high point in a series (part of our under-appreciated form) but also looks at a group.  This will be done rarely.  But in truth the demon sorcerers are so brief, and under developed, that they really count as one entity.  Shendu, even though he is a Demon Sorcerer, shows up in all seasons of Jackie Chan Adventures, and is thus “his own character”.  Because this is part of the greater story in JCA, this may look a little more formal, because as much as I want to crack jokes, it’s a post-2000 cartoon for a children’s demographic, the bar is pretty low here, anything like lack of depth is part of the contract.

Background

The Demon Sorcerers were the predominant arc in Season 2.  I personally have a love of this arc because it was the start of this arc, S2E5, where I first saw the show, and even if it was mid-stream it caught my attention.  Unfortunately this also set high expectations for me so once the arc finished I quickly lost interest.  I watched briefly in the Daolon Wong arc, which was definitely a response to sagging viewership after the end of the Demon Sorcerers, but mostly I just outgrew the series, and in fact if I had started on Season 1 that would have been my opinion right off the bat, but the Demon Sorcerers arc was much more complex than the majority of the show.

Up until this point JCA had been trying to find it’s footing.  It was a cartoony fighter cartoon (hell, it was based on Jackie Chan for cryin out loud) with goofy Spongebob like antics and minor Chinese mysticism.  Many of the first season episodes varied in the amount of elements that each story contained. Some episodes, like S1E8, where the Rat Talisman is discovered by having it bring a wind up toy to life, fell more on the goofy, and S1E3, the Ox Talisman, was much more down to earth and focused on comedic antics between Jade and Paco (as most El Toro episodes do) as well as the very human character El Toro Fuerte, though this humanism kind of evaporated as the series went on to a much more one dimensional luchador personality.

The Demon Sorcerer arc set the standard for the rest of the series after premiering in Season 2.  It established that henceforth Jackie Chan Adventures would use its Chinese Mysticism elements as the driving force for the story arcs, while the slapstick and action would weave into those plots, not the other way around. Even a good deal of the filler episodes would follow this formula.

Shendu as a rabbit...cute, but not threatening

However where the following seasons waned compared to the second season was the Demon Sorcerers themselves.  They were diverse enough, for a kids show, and represented a fascinating difference.  The build up alone was quite long for an episodic series aimed at the 7-12 demographic, 6 episodes to put the set pieces into play.  This was quite extended for shows where each episode was trying to stay self-contained, though that’s probably why the build up lasted so long.  If they had been going on a chapter by chapter basis it probably would have been done in three.

There had even been some cliffhanger material.  At the end of Season 1, when Jade kills Shendu, and Uncle proclaims that there was a void for a stronger evil, it set up the introduction of the Demon Sorcerers.

So when S2E5 came around, and we are fianlly introduced to the demons in their prison realm in grand style. Each one is varied, and have a very cool, sleek, or colossal look to them.  Even more striking is the bright red eyes they all share with Shendu, who it is quickly revealed is their brother.  After some brief exposition we learn that Shendu was sent to Earth to free the other seven Sorcerers.  Some credit to the writers here, this is a HUGE load of retconned exposition, and it comes off very naturally, in words you’d expect eternal sorcerers who are pissed at their little brother.  Each demon has slightly different personalities, but they are all essentially the same MacGuffin, they desire freedom and to reestablish their ancient kingdoms on Earth.  Shendu is sent to Earth, this time as a dead spirit, to possess a human so he can free his siblings properly.  This time, however, they will keep a leash on him, so he will be compelled to perform his task instead of simply conquering China for himself as he did last time (the backstory from Season 1).  Shendu tries to possess Chan, but accidentally takes Valmont, and must perform his tasks within, as he puts it, “this proven failure of an ally”‘s body.

Po Kong

Po Kong, the Mountain Demon, is basically a fat slob demon.  She displays the least amount of magical prowess, preferring to use her huge size to crush enemies and intimidate servants.  Further, half of Po Kong’s episode is dedicated to the Pan Ku Box, and she’s only onscreen for about four minutes.  Even in the Demon World arc, she is knocked off early.

Tchang Zu

The self proclaimed King of the Demon Sorcerers, Tchang Zu is probably the least developed Demon to Po Kong, although Shendu doesn’t seem willing to argue his demand that he be referred to as Master. He doesn’t even have a speaking line in Demon World.  As the Thunder Demon, he seems to be the most elemental, relying on his lightning and sonic attacks.  His immortal is Cao, the patron of actors, so it’s fitting he is found in Hollywood.

Hsi Wu

Hsi Wu is the Sky Demon, and shows probably the most crafty personality.  This is probably useful being the runt of the Demons family, and constantly being given mundane tasks like scratching Po Kong’s back.  He demonstrates the ability to shapeshift and is the only sorcerer to infiltrate into Uncle’s shop.  He also blends well into Jade’s school despite having no contact with the Human world for thousands of years.  In Demon World he keeps Viper as his own personal pet, I must admit I like his style.  His intelligence probably reflects that his Immortal nemesis is Han Xiang, the philosopher.  In my personal opinion Hsi Wu is probably the living demon symbol of the series, as whenever Hsi Wu appears you know stuff’s about to be badass or amusing.

Tso Lan

The Moon Demon has probably the most natural affinity for his element.  Tso Lan is always seen using his dark energy to levitate or fire beams at his enemies.  It is through Tso Lan that we notice that all the demon sorcerers all possess similar motivation, as he thinks nothing of changing the Moon’s orbit to freeze the Earth and possibly keep his siblings imprisoned.

Bai Tza

Bai Tza, the water demon, is the most developed of the seven sorcerers next to Shendu.  She displays immense affinity for her element, and casts many chi spells to try and submerge San Francisco and escape the J-Team.  In a jarring difference, Bai Tza seems to be very loyal to her siblings, enraged that despite the fact Shendu did release the six other demons, he was unable to stop the J-Team from sealing them up again, almost looking like she would take his life. She also seems to have the most respect for Uncle, both fearing his powers and trusting his judgement on matters of the mystical.  She also seems to have a degree of humility, understanding that while the other demons fought the J-Team and lost, that she would have no better chance alone, and instead opts to retreat from battle the moment it turns against her, the only other demon to display this trait was Hsi Wu.

Dai Gui

The “burliest” of demons, Dai Gui is pretty dim and simple.  He prefers to fight his opponents head on with his strength similar to Po Kong.  He also shows open contempt for Shendu and his talismans.  Whether this is because they get turned into weapons against the demons so often, or because he dislikes the idea of using sorcery instead of fists to defeat his opponents is left open for interpretation.

Xiao Fung

The Wind Demon is like many of his counterparts in other series, preferring freedom above all else.  Compared to his other siblings, who upon release are enraged or saddened by the loss of their realms, Xiao Fung is happy enough to be free from the Prison Realm.  He also doesn’t show much contempt for Shendu, nor does the need to assume a Human form appear to displease him, and overall he comes off as very live-and-let-live for a demon sorcerer. In Demon World he hosts gladiatorial games, even showing some affection for his Human slaves, giving them credit for meeting and surpassing their limitations, enough so that Paco still considers El Toro’s wrestling a noble profession to be looked up to.

Legacy

The Demon Sorcerers were the first true villains in JCA, unlike Valmont’s comic relief troupe.  They showed a true threat to the heroes and were not there to be left in comical positions at the end of the episode.  They would be defeated or else, there was no middle ground to keep the plot moving to the next episode.

Though the series would later backpedal and meet a middle ground with the first season’s comical, scavenger hunt antics, this arc was comparatively dark and complex for its demographic at the time.  Most importantly, it set up JCA’s brushing with Chinese Mysticism and made it a solid component of the series.  There is no denying that although the individual demons themselves, with a couple exceptions, left something to be desired, as a unit they definitely mark a pivotal turn for the show.

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