Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
And so this season comes to a close, not with a game-changing twist, but with a hella rad sword fight. Honestly, I have to admit that I found this finale a little underwhelming compared to the first season's, but I guess that they can't all end with someone whipping 33 mystic blades out of their back pocket. Instead, we “only” got a wicked fight scene, some nice closure for the morbid Monk x Sword storyline, and a bunch of setup for a truly epic-looking third season. And really, that's a more than acceptable way to send us off. Thunderbolt Fantasy is a show that I want to see continue airing for a long time, so it probably shouldn't make a habit out of topping itself every single time. In the end, this season's main goal seems to have been the continuation of certain character arcs that'll likely reach a climax later on in the show. In the meantime, it was consistently entertaining as hell – so really, what more can you ask for?
There isn't actually much to recap, seeing as this episode was dominated by a fight scene, but I'll try my best to keep things spicy. So our main character trio has finally teamed up in pursuit of the Hunting Fox. They chase him down without too much trouble, only to find an even bigger fish tugging at their line – Lou Zhen Jie found the guy first, using his corpse to convey the message that he's waiting for Shang on Showdown Mountain. After that, they just run off to tackle the final showdown, not even bothering to comment on Xiao's strung-up body before they leave; it's great. Really, what was there left to say about Glasses Cop at this point? He was a commensurate crook who finally died by getting into hotter water than he could handle. Appropriate for his type of shallow soul, he died snitching to someone with ambitions that he could never comprehend. For his part, Lin must be happy that he's no longer around to tell people about their humiliating partnership (or the night that they spent together). So this counts as a break for the Vape Wizard's dignity.
So they finally all show up for Lou's dick measuring contest. He'll be tough to take down with the handicap of having to look away from the Seven Blasphemous Deaths' charm effect, but our boys have come up with a plan. Appropriately, it involves the season's other mystic sword, the Night of Mourning. Basically, Shang gets himself puppet-ified and controlled by a distressingly aroused Lin so that he can go all-out despite the charm effect. This lets Lang get in a sneak attack, and eventually they all disarm Lou together. At this point, Shang tries to suck SBD into his magic paintbrush (he got it for preordering the Okami HD remaster for the Wii U), while she screams about not wanting to go back in. This makes Lou launch one last desperate maneuver, lunging toward his lady love to plummet right into the mouth of a bottomless ravine. While it's not exactly what they planned, our heroes decide that this resolves the matter, and the day is saved.
It's an oddly satisfying end for our horrible honeymooners, because in the end, it's hard to hate Lou that much. His malice came secondary to his madness, and so long as what he wants doesn't hurt anyone (besides a certain vampiric beast whose only joy was slaughter), I don't see why he should be prevented from getting it. So let him rest side-by-side with his sword wife for the rest of eternity. For her part, Seven Blasphemous Deaths needs to be shut away to prevent her from killing people. In light of this, it might serve as a tiny bit of consolation for her to be locked up alongside someone who truly loved her (or the idea of her or the brain dopamine she gave him or something), enough to die with her of his own free will. After all, I'm not sure you could find a partner more devoted than Lou Zhen Jie. In the end, Gen Urobuchi resurrected his Chaos Dragon OC to tell a love story straight out of one of Ryohgo Narita's novels. I'm sure his old party members (who Urobuchi spent the entire time griefing) would be proud.
I'll admit that this second season went in an unexpectedly small circle regarding its principle conflict with the murderously married mendicant. Sure, our heroes will likely need to deal with the consequences of his actions next season (mostly how he wrecked Dong Li's Sword Guardian infrastructure right before a planned demon invasion), but the guy himself was pretty much unrelated to the larger plot. He was just an antisocial weirdo who killed a bunch of people and then fell in a pit with his sword GF. You sure do find some strange people wandering around in wuxia world – it's sort of like the inverse version of what happened to Lin when he picked up Shang at the beginning of the first season. But for now, the important bits going into the show's third season seem to be as follows—the main trio is now together (even if Lin mostly joined to wipe away the taste of his failed heist), the Bug Bunch are now planning a full scale invasion of Dong Li, Shang lost one magic sword and gained three more, and Xi You's government is probably wondering what the hell happened to their fugitive hunter. I'm really looking forward to the next season, which looks like it'll ratchet up the stakes and deliver the most sought-after treasure of them all: character backstory.
Once again, this ending upset a bunch of my predictions, but now I think that those weren't adequate for what the show is looking to be – a long-running serial where these sorts of seasonal villains will show up and get taken down without altering the show's overall dynamic very much. If Thunderbolt Fantasy is looking to run for a long time (and PILI's mainline series is currently on something like its 34th season), it'll need to pull these sorts of tricks, where some arcs are mostly dedicated to setup in preparation for the bigger climaxes. This doesn't mean that the story fails to develop – it certainly did over the course of this season, with Lang added to the party and our heroes in quite different positions from where they started – it just won't always be a drastic upset like the first season's iconic Sorcerous Sword Index reversal.
Honestly, this isn't the type of storytelling I'm accustomed to dealing with in anime. The shows I review tend to be one or two cours, which means that they either end after episode 12's climax or pour half their resources into episode 24. I'm not used to shows ending their first cours on an explosive note, only for the stakes to diminish in the second in preparation for something that might happen much further down the line. (My point is that I don't review much long-running shounen stuff.) Thunderbolt Fantasy is looking to be a marathon rather than a sprint, and I've adjusted my expectations accordingly. I guess this is just a roundabout way of saying that I should stop putting pressure on the show to play all of its cards at the first opportunity. I've got to start treating it like a long, luxurious, gourmet meal.
At the close of this second season, I can still say with confidence that Thunderbolt Fantasy is the most fun you can have in the world of puppet-based anime. A burgeoning adventure serial with killer plotting and an impressive amount of thematic meat, TBF is a combination feast for the eye and the brain, and I look forward to what Urobuchi and the folks at PILI might cook up next time. Will the gang ever run into an enemy that Shang can't deal with? Will Lin be forced to reassess his worldview? And will T.M. Revolution record even more songs for the show? We'll find out next time, which will hopefully be less than two years from now.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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