Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
This episode opens on the return of everyone's favorite Lancer Chad: Juan Can Yun. Following a fakeout fight between him and Shang, it's revealed that Shang has requisitioned him to look after the Sorcerous Sword Index while he tries to take out the suped-up Lou Zhen Jie. Juan agrees and also gives us a quick update on his life with Dan Fei. As it turns out, they're now married (!!!) and Chad has given up the lance to become yet another basic sword-boy. (Insert Shang's classic line here.) While I'm heartened to learn that love fully blossomed between them, I am a little sad that we've traded Blondie swinging around on a pole for yet another member of the yard-long pointy stick club. Oh well. Hopefully he'll bust out the old moves in a future combat scene (which will probably take place in a future season at this rate). At the moment, Shang has a sword-based honeymoon to break up – or else the newlywed bliss of others may not be able to exist in the world for much longer.
But this episode's real highlight was the long-awaited payoff to Lin's scheme against the Hunting Fox. I've got to admit that I didn't see this outcome coming. The Vape Wizard once again fails in his quest of comeuppance because the figure he's targeting turns out to be quite different than he initially anticipated. While last season's quarry escaped due to an unexpected excess of pride, this new target is just so shamelessly committed to petty greed that he doesn't bother to have an ego about it. Without even realizing what reaction Lin wanted out of him, Xiao shrugs his shoulders at his ruined grift and says “easy come easy go”, while our dashing thief of hearts melts in the background. It's fantastic. So the Enigmatic Gale is now zero for two on his last couple games of high-stakes ego-crushing.
Honestly, I see a humanist message under all this in that I find it reassuring that people – even the nastiest ones – can't be put neatly into any box required for these sorts of extended humiliation gambits. I mean, I guess it'd be nice if it were that easy to quash crooks like Xiao and Mie Tian Hai with something like a pride-baited mouse trap. However, if people were really that simple, then we'd never get the chance to be heartened by the redemptive possibility within Sha Wu Sheng or Xie Ying Lou (before they were unceremoniously betrayed or murdered, at least). If Thunderbolt Fantasy has anything to teach us, it's probably that you can never know for sure what a person is capable of, either for good or for ill. Internally, the show is still debating the merits of both the optimistic and pessimistic ways of responding to this reality. For example, many people would've been spared if Lang had acted on his hunch and killed Lou based on the likelihood (but not absolute certainty) that the dude would bring nothing good into the world. At the same time, would it have felt right if he'd used the same logic to kill Xie, or Sha, or even Lin?
Shang Bu Huan represents the more hopeful belief that you shouldn't take anyone out of the world until it's absolutely certain that they're crossing a serious line, for the sake of the 1% or 0.1% or even 0.00001% chance that they might repent. (And even then, you should feel a degree of sadness, because in killing even the worst person, you're also killing off that remote possibility.) I don't think that the show has taken a side in this dilemma yet. It's clearly sympathetic to both perspectives. But I think that's also Thunderbolt Fantasy's power – the power of dialogue between opposing points of view and deep respect for the human capacity to overturn expectations. This ties into Gen Urobuchi's ongoing commitment to surprising audiences with his stories. The world and its stories would just be so boring if you always knew their trajectory in advance. We can make guesses sometimes (that's part of my job as a critic), but on some level you always want your prediction to be overcome by something even better, and Urobuchi consistently accomplishes this feat.
Anyway, back to the actual plot. Upon realizing that he's been inadvertently owned by the show's pettiest asshole yet, the Enigmatic Gale runs out in a stormy huff. Notably, he leaves the Night of Mourning in Xiao's possession, proving that he doesn't really care about helping people at all. Good job, Wiz. Pretty soon he runs into Lang, who's been cornered by Lou and The Seven Blasphemous Deaths. Lang had been trying to use his immunity to Aoi Yuuki's charms to stop their rampage in its tracks, but her amorous acolyte was just too good in a fight. Fortunately, Lin shows up just in time to exploit Lou's greatest weakness: being too good at playing catch. Lou is sent into the sky by a well-timed bird whistle fastball, leaving him stuck several hundred feet in the air. Back on earth, Lang and Lin run off to go do their own things, so the gang is still broken up going into our penultimate episode.
With just two episodes left, it's hard to imagine how this season might conclude, but that's what's so fun about this show – I have no idea where it's going, but I can still trust it to blow my mind. It's been a hell of a season so far, and if the first season was anything to go by, it's only going to get better from here.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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