If there is a series that I wish more people talked about, it’s Thunderbolt Fantasy. Before I say anything else, Thunderbolt Fantasy isn’t an anime. It’s a puppet show that uses Taiwan’s traditional and beautiful Wuxian puppets in its story. The story itself is still anime though. I mean, it’s written by this very famous guy by the name of Gen Urobuchi. I’m sure some of you might have heard of it. That means the action and the plot is also very anime. The only things that weren’t are the puppets and the names which are Chinese/Taiwanese based. I feel like I can honestly say that Thunderbolt Fantasy is Gen Urobuchi at his Gen Urobuchi-est. Well, at least season two. Season one had a more action, adventure vibe to it with a more than a handful of Urobuchi to it. Either way, this show is completely amazing to watch.
If there is one major selling point of Thunderbolt Fantasy, it’s the over the top and insane action. One of the opening episodes involved a battle in which he learned the main protagonist’s name, cut his head off, and sent to a wizard so they villain can know his name. Yeah, a puppet did that and it was wonderful. The best parts are that similar kinds of over the top actions continued. One involving our main protagonist Shang cutting down people with a stick. Using his chi, he was able to use make the stick as sharp and strong as a sword. Puppets were being decapitated with a sword. Should I even mention the rock voice battle between our bard and a dragon that happened in the second season? Thunderbolt Fantasy is such a fun action show, but that’s not all it is.
Thunderbolt Fantasy’s characters are just as interesting or even more so then the action. These aren’t just characters that are banging swords at each other. Oh no, this is a Gen Urobuchi Show which means that they have some sense of philosophy behind the sword banging. The first season was an action adventure story that also had some interesting conversations about what makes a hero a hero and whether people should care about making a name for themselves. Also, there were a lot of conversations of skill vs power and whether you should continue doing something if you are the best at it. The second season digs a little deeper with a police officer that is bending what the term justice means so he can get everything to go his way and a monk who judges and question’s every bodies motivation on his “objective and unbiased opinion” and finding every way possible to blame other people instead of himself. I do admit that each of these are taken to an over the top level to get entertainment out of them, but that doesn’t mean that each of these aren’t there.
Can I just say how much I love the fact Thunderbolt Fantasy is all physical and present on screen? So practical you can say. The biggest advantage that puppetry is how believable things are because everything is happening on a camera in front of you. Even if they are only hand puppets, the layer of unbelievability brought to you by animation can be large. It has its advantages as well because otherwise I wouldn’t love anime as much as I do, but sometimes a person just needs some puppets on a screen. Also, the action is surprisingly good despite the lack of hand control puppet wise. I should mention that there are cg effects when it comes to special attacks, but it’s so limited and well done that it enhances rather then takes away. You know the dragon that I mentioned early? That was a person in a suit and it was great. So very Kaiju film like and the best part was that it was huge on scale with the puppets, so the massiveness of the dragon was never lost. How can someone not love this? I know I do.
Lastly,Thunderbolt Fantasy has been teaching me a lot of things about cinematography.Thunderbolt Fantasy’s wuxia puppets are far from emotional puppets. Their moves barely move so sometimes lip flaps don’t exist. Since their faces and their expressions don’t change, that could be considered scary to some people. I do realize how similar they are to humans can be a negative point and I understand that. Still, the way these puppets are still able to show how emotional they are is extraordinary. One is the fantastic voice actors doing, because these voice actors are just fantastic and give off the personality that each puppe thas incredibly well. At the same time, how the camera focuses on the puppets in certain angles or what they aim at gives each of the puppets a sense of emotion too. Focusing on the puppet’s forehead can give them a feel of uneasy. Camera zoom outs can help give an exclamation of some kind. Those are the two examples that I can think of, but there are more I assure you.
If you ever loved watching puppet shows like the muppets or many others that were popular years ago, then you should find Thunderbolt Fantasy at least interesting.Possibly even more than that. Especially since this is like if those puppet shows have been otakuized. I mean with Gen Urobuchi psychological narratives,over the top sword fights, and beyond over the top characters with realistic psychological beliefs put into them, can it be anything else? It’s great fun.As I admitted before in this post, this show isn’t for everyone. I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about how scary and inhuman the puppets look and I can’t deny that. How inhuman and expressive puppets can be. I can’t blame people for thinking that, because bad cgi models in how inhuman their expressions are scare the hell out of me. Still, I think the puppets perfectly fit with how over the top Thunderbolt Fantasy is and that is why I love it. I hope this season ends well and we get a season three. I also hope that we can see more puppet shows making it either here or in Japan because that provides even more media choices for us. Thank you to all that have read this post.
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