To Be With You is simultaneously not what I expected, but also better than what I thought it would be. After watching the first episode of To Be With You, I was excited to see where this drama would go, but my expectations were quickly lowered by the second episode, which reached Meteor Garden/Moon River levels of ridiculous. Thankfully, To Be With You ended up being a little more level-headed than those two dramas, but also wasn’t as much of a freak favorite.
Set in 2037, To Be With You‘s world is one in which virtual reality technology has reached a breakthrough, and is now one of the most popular games and pastimes in the world. It follows Chang Yu Qi (Bai Xue), a happy-go-lucky young woman who helps her mother Lucy-jie (Jill Hsu) run their family’s braised pork restaurant, but who harbors dreams of going professional in the VR world in the top VR game, Alpha Territory. As luck would have it, she ends up getting the chance to work at Alpha, starting at the very lowest level in their new recruit training camp, where she gets to train under her idol, Feng Zhou (Ray Chang), the top player in Alpha Territory. But there is conspiracy abound: people think that Yu Qi only got into the Alpha training camp through connections (she and Feng Zhou get involved in a tabloid scandal early on) and there’s also some mysterious virus or other bug going on with the Alpha Territory game itself.
While at first, the drama seems like it’s all about Yu Qi trying to make it in the professional VR world and the romance between her and Feng Zhou, the main focus of the show is actually the other conspiracy: the reason behind the virus/bug going on with Alpha Territory. This is probably why I actually enjoyed the show quite a bit, since so much of the show focused on a wider plot that just happens to involve Yu Qi, instead of dragging out the chase and misunderstandings that are inevitably involved in framing a whole series around a romance.
The VR world of Alpha Territory may seem like “just a game,” but as Feng Zhou mentions early on: it’s not just a game. The futuristic world of To Be With You isn’t all that futuristic, beyond the breakthrough in VR technology. It seems a bit like current MMoRPGs on a much wider, life-encompassing scale, and is a familiar concept for people read/watch any sort of sci-fi (Ready Player One and the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror come to mind for me.) And it’s not all fun and games either: problems in virtual reality have a way of creeping into real life, with people falling into comas and getting trapped in the virtual world. So if anything, the show also harbors a bit of a warning about virtual reality and how damaging it can be: people fall in love with NPCs (characters who aren’t even real) or end up lost in virtual reality.
After the first episode, I thought the show had a lot of potential for some cool action/adventure scenes with in-game scenarios, and I liked how the sets we’d seen so far felt real rather than CGI. Unfortunately, my hopes were soon dashed because we proceeded to get a lot of CGI scenes, and the fight scenes were pretty lame since they lacked real force or impact behind the choreographed moves and were pretty simple.
The first episode also gave me some warning signs about a lot of potential cliché and overly peppy characters. Fortunately, I actually liked Yu Qi’s character a lot. She was a large part of what made the show great. She never got unbearably peppy and instead I found her very earnest, genuine, and refreshing. Yu Qi was a strong female character that drama-land could really use and wasn’t afraid to stand for what she believed in and stand up for her friends and what was right, even if that meant going against her love interest. She was optimistic but never annoying, and stayed true to herself throughout the show without making any bizarre decisions, which I appreciated.
Of course, the show got pretty ridiculous in other ways with some overreacting characters and unreal scenarios, but at that point I had decided to not take the show too seriously and expect too much.
For all the early craziness, I found To Be With You to be paced very well overall. The story never got too draggy or convoluted. Drama wasn’t too drawn out. The plot and story structure itself was well done and kept me guessing about different characters’ alliances and motives. Up until the last few episodes, I still wasn’t quite sure which side of the aforementioned conspiracy was the right one, or where individual characters’ true allegiances lay, except for our main girl Yu Qi of course.
I liked most of the characters — we get a lot of comic relief from Yu Qi’s newfound best friend Mi Qiao Er as well as the Omega team members and Beta team members Lei Shen and Luo Fei. I would say that my favorite character, other than Yu Qi, was the CEO’s secretary, Liu Ying/Lydia (Liu Si Yuan). She was very capable, hard to read, and held a lot of cards in her hand that she didn’t really play until the end. Our main love interest Feng Zhou was pretty boring, although he was pretty to look at.
Overall, the acting from the primary characters involved in the plot was a bit stiff and flat, especially from Angela (Long Ni) and Feng Zhou. I feel like the only stand-out performance was from Bai Xue, the actress who plays Yu Qi. Perhaps it’s part of Yu Qi’s character, but Bai Xue’s performance as a whole felt very genuine.
To Be With You is not the drama I thought it would be, but is a pretty decent watch for what it is, if you can get past some stiff performances and ridiculous scenarios. It failed to have an addictive hook for me or get me to really feel for the characters, but the plot had enough going on that kept me watching and kept me interested, and the story is paced very well. It is a good light, fun watch for someone not looking for something too serious.