“Even though there are times when we find ourselves in the darkness, eventually we will meet people who will shine their light on us.”
Today, I closed the lid on the box of pictures sitting in my closet, leaned back against my wall, and stared at nothing. The same feelings that overwhelmed me when I first started Link Click (Shi Guang Da Li Ren) are still there, but they’ve expanded to become much more than the nostalgic fear of regret that initially encapsulated me.
An original Chinese donghua (Chinese animation) animated by Haoliners Animation League, Link Click takes viewers on a wild ride that leaves them feeling whiplashed. For months, I’ve been enthralled by the power that is Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang. Their deep friendship and oddly well-matched abilities kept me intrigued and connected.
For those who missed my initial review on this, Link Click centers around the Time Photo Shop, where all clients need is a photograph and a request they want to fulfill. With a high-five and a twelve-hour window, shop owner Cheng Xiaoshi vanishes into the picture where he assumes the identity of the person associated with it while his partner, Lu Guang, directs what Cheng Xiaoshi says and does. The goal is to complete their mission without changing the past. Which seems simple, right?
There is nothing simple about Link Click. What I find truly remarkable is that this series never stops being about the photographs. It delivers compelling and heartfelt individual stories about the people these two men meet inside the photos while also weaving Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang’s personal emotions, regrets, and friendships into the experience. At some point, it even becomes impossible to separate the two. Their lives meld with the clients they serve.
To a devastating degree.
Cheng Xiaoshi’s words and actions in this will forever haunt me. As a writer, I make a living out of placing myself inside someone else’s life and situations. Even though the characters I pen are fictional, they’re all born out of emotions and feelings I’ve lived through. All authors indeed write what they know because even when we write stories that don’t seem linked to us at all, there is still a thread of us inside them. The photographs inside Link Click are like the stories authors place on paper. Because Cheng Xiaoshi travels inside these pictures, he puts himself inside the story while Lu Guang carefully navigates him through these people’s lives in an attempt to find the answers their clients are seeking.
The problem with this is Cheng Xiaoshi’s inability to remove himself from these stories. He becomes deeply invested in the lives he temporarily assumes, and the out-of-character things he does and says while inside the pictures start to take a toll on the future reality outside the photographs.
He begins to change history.
“I’ve experienced many different lives, but there’s always something I regret in almost every life … there’s no guarantee I can get a perfect ending.”
Even though we all have regrets, I’m not sure people really understand how potent an emotion regret really is. Regret is something we develop over time, this nostalgic “If I could go back, I would do this differently” thought that passes through our heads when we go through old pictures, talk about the past, or experience moments that remind us of things we’ve been through. That said, even though we carry those regrets with us, they are fleeting thoughts and moments we think about only when the chaos of everyday life suddenly slows down or pauses long enough for us to dwell on them. What Link Click does is keep you inside this emotion. It keeps you trapped inside regret and expounds on it every week until it becomes the key reason behind everything.
As a society, the first thing we usually say when asked, “what’s the most important emotion in your life?” is love.
But is it?
Although it seems like a fleeting emotion that simply troubles us on occasion, Link Click does a beautiful job proving that regret is one of (if not the most) important feelings a human being experiences. Regret bleeds into every decision we make, every move we take, and every word that falls out of our mouths.
“Maybe I can’t give you a perfect past, but I can’t let you miss out on a better future.”
There is no such thing as perfection. No matter how hard we try to achieve perfection, it’s unattainable. Perfection is an ideal we strive for. It’s a motivating idea that keeps us moving forward every day, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Even though logically we know there isn’t a pot of gold waiting for us at the end, we never stop trying to find it. We never stop ourselves from visualizing what that pot of gold could do for us.
Link Click is a journey two men take to make things right for other people, but along the way, things go very, very wrong for them personally as well as for the people whose lives they touch.
Although this donghua focuses a lot on Cheng Xiaoshi, the most potent part of this show is Lu Guang’s quiet but dependable presence. He is the anchor of this donghua, a gentle reminder that no matter how crazy things get in the stormy ocean of existence, he will always be there to bring everyone back to shore safely.
I should have known the overwhelmingly soothing and dependable foundation he represented would crumble. In reality, the thing we depend on the most to root us in our lives is generally the first thing that shakes us to the core.
And Link Click certainly shakes up its viewers. I am not the same person I was when I started this series, and while I could try to break down why, I don’t think it’s something I can do. The reason why this donghua is so brilliant is that it connects to everyone differently. Not a single person will walk away from each episode feeling the same as someone else, and that’s a challenging feat to achieve.
So, no matter what I write, this is a series that needs to be experienced. Take this journey with Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang, and discover why no one will finish this donghua feeling the same.
With one exception.
No one will walk away from the first season of Link Click without being rattled by it. Generally, I write these reviews knowing I will spoil a series, but I don’t want to do that with Link Click. Everyone should take this journey utterly unprepared for it.
“Some people persevere their whole lives for love. Some people get lost before finding themselves again. I believe everyone has a reason to try their best to live.”
Although Link Click never technically develops a BL loveline, the profoundly deep way Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang care about each other and their unique connection leaves a deep impression that sinks into the soul. They are two halves of something much bigger, and it’s impossible to imagine one of them without the other. This connection is why the end of the first season is not only unsettling; it hurts in a big, big way.
The plot twists in this are spectacular. They are meant to make the viewer think and feel in an overwhelmingly unique way, but what I find truly spectacular about Link Click isn’t the insane plot twists. It’s the feeling viewers are left with. The emotion we all start out feeling is the same emotion it ends with: regret.
Who knew regret could hurt so much?
Please experience this donghua for yourself. I can’t promise it won’t hurt you because it definitely hurts, but it will also carve a special niche into your heart. From the very first episode to the heart-rending end, you will inevitably become drawn to these two men, the lives they lead together, and the people they call friends. In my heart, they are soulmates that complete each other.
Check out Link Click on Bilibili and Funimation. It’s worth every moment. And then walk away from the final episode and its strangely haunting end theme, “Overthink,” utterly in need of the second season. I have no doubt what the creators of this show will bring us in the future will shake us up just as much as they already have.
Although regret is the most vivid emotion in this series, I walked away from the first season feeling none.
Rating- 4.5 out of 5