Alchemy of Souls season 2 review – a welcome return to Daeho

By Nathan Sartain
Published: December 12, 2022 (Last updated: January 10, 2024)
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A welcome return to Daeho centered around entirely fresh plot developments.

We review the Netflix K-Drama series Alchemy of Souls season 2, which contains some spoilers.

In Alchemy of Souls season 2, we’re three years into the future, and plenty has changed in Daeho. Jang Uk (Lee Jae-wook) is no longer the bright, bubbly young mage who, with the assistance of his love (and master) Naksu, determinedly set out to master his craft. Instead, he is now a monster hunter, a partially isolated man living with the goals of slaying the soul shifters which plague this secretive part of the world and finding someone to remove the coveted ice stone from within him. His friends, Dang-gu (Yoo In-soo) and Seo Yul (Hwang Min-hyun) have also undergone significant changes. The former is the fresh-faced new leader of Songrim, developing himself as a mature mage worthy of his significant role, while the latter has returned to Daeho intent on no longer hiding away, though seems comfortable enough concealing a worsening health issue.

Of course, there is the matter of Bu-yeon (Ko Yoon-jung) too. Ho-gyeong’s eldest daughter, who was desperately searched for by her mother, has been found, she just isn’t permitted to leave her room in Jinyowon. For the priestess has lost her divine powers, and now hosts the soul of Naksu inside of her simply so she can stay alive (though only Ho-gyeong and Lee Cheol (Im Chul-soo) currently know this, thanks to Bu-yeon’s memory loss). Still, she has ended up entangled with Jang Uk, who she has impulsively married for the sake of being able to live more freely, so lost memories may soon begin to be pieced together.

Yet for all the things that have changed, the responsibilities which have switched, and the people who have found themselves moving around thanks to the events of three years ago, plenty has stayed the same too. Jin Mu (Jo Jae-yoon) is still the cynical leader of Cheonbugwan who loves to disrupt, the Crown Prince is still a petty royal holding a grudge against Jang Uk, and Maidservant Kim (Oh Na-ra) remains the charismatic figure from before.

It’s this comfortable familiarity that can sometimes aid proceedings, particularly when the show starts to feel drastically different from this summer’s first season. The new focus on Bu-yeon is welcome and necessary considering the Jinyowon priestess is technically Naksu, but it can sporadically be incongruous viewing, unable to lack the same punch as when we see someone like Jang Uk doing his thing because of our pre-baked investment in him. We’re only technically meeting Ho-gyeong’s eldest daughter properly now, and as a result, her story is one currently entirely different in feeling from the ones centered around the rest of the ensemble (not that the variety is a bad thing). This all may change once Bu-yeon comes to realize she actually is Naksu, but for now, the series is largely at its best when we’re able to witness the fruits of the narratively three-year-long developments the recognizable leads have undergone.

With that being said, it’s the character of Jang Uk which carries the bulk of the load, with his layered narrative direction one which becomes the driving force of Alchemy of Souls’ second season. Dressed in darkened clothes, this reflective, almost brooding incarnation of the once humorously boyish mage makes for fascinating viewing, and leaves the audience with an exciting abundance of questions. Will Jang Uk actually sacrifice his life for peace by having the ice stone removed from him? How else could he intend to use Bu-yeon’s powers, and how will this then change when he realizes the soul inside the body belongs to the person he yearns for? What will he ultimately do to save Daeho from the threats facing it given his immense power? Seeing how things will play out for Jang Uk in this shortened part two gifts viewers an unflinching reason to tune in for more, especially when they now know he could genuinely end up with Naksu after all.

READ: Highest Rated Korean Dramas in 2023 Based on Nielsen Ratings

Needless to say, you can’t praise the character of Jang Uk without commending Lee Jae-wook, who here adds more wrinkles to his already strong performance as the show’s central protagonist. Filled with depth, Lee’s depiction showcases a fresh edge to his character, one which highlights how his growth from the charismatic mage in love with his master into the steely-nerved monster hunter has been one syringed with pain. Similarly, Ko Yoon-jung serves up an intriguing showing as Bu-yeon, bringing considered life to the confused priestess attempting to simultaneously rediscover herself, and escape the suffocation of her “sickened cell” of a room she is usually locked inside. It’s overall an interesting reinvention of Jung So-min’s Naksu too, though of course, this has plenty to do with the fact Bu-yeon has no clue she is only Ho-gyeong’s eldest daughter in name.

Technically, Alchemy of Souls holds onto its colorful cinematography, with the multitude of settings the occasionally underappreciated backbone of every scene. Daeho really has been built up as a meticulously detailed world of its own, one dripping with personality, history, and life.

Overall then, Alchemy of Souls season two has an element of both past and present to it, a quality which helps it feel both wholly unique from the first installment and equal parts familiar. There’s a palpable sense that the undercurrents of intensity are ready to boil into something significant at any moment too, so you’d be wise to avoid skipping over the final chapter of this story, particularly if you were a fan of what you saw in the summer.

What did you think of the K-Drama Alchemy of Souls season 2? Comment below.

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