Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
Alright, so Shang's two boyfriends finally get to meet each other when Lin shows up at his recovery cave. Their reunion has been much anticipated and does not disappoint, as Lin flirts relentlessly with Shang, all while Lang looks on suspiciously. Shang doesn't want to see Lin at first, (I wonder why?) but eventually accepts his help upon realizing that there are few in-character reasons for the guy to fuck him over at this point. For his part, Lin explains that his sincere desire is to fuck other people up with Shang, since he's such a magnet for “fun” (read: danger), and what's friendship worth if one of you hasn't tricked the other into serving as the decoy in a plan to take down the overlord of Seven Sins Tower?
Anyway, Shang's leg is going to fall off in a few hours, so he needs Lin's help if he doesn't want his country to become a dictatorship of evil swords. They start testing antidotes, and in the background, redhead T.M. Revolution clenches with anxiety wondering just what happened on Brokeback Demon Spine Mountain. In the end, Lin announces that they'll probably need some dragon parts to cure Shang. These are pretty hard to get on short notice, but fortunately Shang managed to leave a dragon crippled while he was crossing over to Dong Li through the Wasteland of Spirits. Unfortunately, the damage Shang dealt to that natural boundary is what's allowing people to cross en masse, since he took out most of the obstacles that kept bad guys (and I guess also regular people) out. So once again, Shang has ruined his own plan with his own brute power and nobility of character. Good job, hero.
Right after this, Lin and Lang hail a demon bird (Lin kept them!) to the Wasteland of Spirits. Finally alone together, it's time for them to conduct their dick measuring contest and decide who gets to be Shang's top babe. Of course, Lin pulls his usual shenanigans and forces Lang to do all the work to see what he's capable of. With this, we learn that Ryouga can turn into a sword, and that Lang more than holds his own as a solo combatant. More impressively, Lang also manages to cut through Lin's bullshit to some extent, turning the pressure on him to help take down the zombies (which he does by using his pipe as a flamethrower, because Thunderbolt Fantasy is the greatest show in the world). With each passing the other's initial test, A Shot At Love with Shang Bu Huan will continue next week, when the contestants proceed to their next physical challenge.
This gets us to the villains' portion of the episode. The first significant event is a meeting between Xie and Xiao, in which we gain some clarity into the relationship between their two factions. First of all, the two of them are definitely not colleagues, as indicated by Xie's fear when Xiao calls her up to request an alliance. Now I haven't said much about Xiao Kuangjuan aka Mr. Smiley Glasses Cop yet, but I consider him to be a wonderfully sleazy bastard and can't wait to see what tricks he'll pull before his inevitable deserved comeuppance. Basically, the dude is a self-serving government official who's 100% in it for his own comfort and glory, so he'll bend the rules whichever way he wants for those purposes. His nian bai poem from a few episodes ago (“Justice” may indeed be the most magical of words / Chant it well enough, and any desire can be yours) sums him up best, and I'm super down for any opportunity Urobuchi has to rail against bad governance. Anyway, Xiao appears to be very competent in spite of his corruption – enough for the lady who commands an army of killer scorpions to be wary of him, at least. He cuts a deal with Xie to let her have the Index if he gets to apprehend Shang. This is, of course, a wildly irresponsible risk to the public safety for the sake of one man's personal glory, but Xiao seems convinced that he'll be able to handle Xie's bug bunch even with the swords back in his own territory. Okay dude. I can't wait for him to get punked by the vape wizard, because he's sort of a version of Lin that could be content with something as basic as status. Lin's sure to eat Xiao alive.
This brings us to Di Kong and his continued flittering around the edges of this story. This week, he encroaches further on the plot when he walks into Xie's makeshift home base. Cruelty-hime's first instinct is to kill him as a witness to her scheming, but Goth Giorno (perhaps thanks to his sexy Akira Ishida voice) manages to stall her out of it. We learn more of his philosophy this time, both about his ideas of sacrifice and how he views himself. As Di Kong puts it, he's searching for a cause to give himself to, as he considers his own life to have no value. This is, however, contradicted by his actions, where he makes a significant effort to stop Xie from killing him outright. You see, if his life were truly worthless to him, any cause - even being killed as a precaution against having a bad guy's hideout leak - would do. His emphasis on finding a cause “worthy” of his life suggests that he actually values himself quite highly. What he may actually be looking for is a cause that would eclipse his own life's worth by comparison. If I'm correct about this, his continued living – combined with his vocal pronouncements regarding his “worthlessness” – testify to a great deal of unexamined pride. I'm glad that you're trying to help people dude, but I smell a martyr complex brewing, and those can turn nasty if left untreated.
Now this evaluation is premised on the assumption that he isn't lying about who he is. Thunderbolt Fantasy isn't the type of show where you can assume that people are being forthright about themselves by default, but I do like my reading of Di Kong so far, so I hope that it stays true to where his character ends up going. The guy reminds me of a friend who claims to be “up for anything”, but then rapaciously shoots down all of your suggestions. Not knowing what you want isn't the same thing as being open-minded, and our morbid monk seems like a rather picky fellow. In this regard, he may eventually serve as a foil to Shang, who – despite claiming to want a quiet life – endlessly takes up other people's burdens. Now this mindset has its own problems, but pride isn't one of them, and it'd be neat to see Shang come up against someone who's in many ways his inverse. (As an aside, the coincidence of him choosing Xie's abandoned building goes unexamined. My suspicion is that it might have something to do with a certain seductive sword that's been sequestered away in the straw there.)
And finally, some corrections on the previous writeup. Plenty of you were kind enough to inform me that the Sword Guardians are not in fact part of Dong Li's government, but rather an independent organization meant to safeguard all of the land's most dangerous blades. In light of this, Shang's attempt to entrust them with the Sorcerous Sword Index is less stupid than I initially judged it. However, I still believe that my evaluation of his actions holds up, since the problems I discussed tend to pop up in all sorts of bureaucratic organizations. On top of that, there's also the wrinkle that the first season's plot started because this organization couldn't stop ONE mid-tier bad guy from making off with a single one of their swords. Having failed at that, how on earth are they going to protect thirty-five apocalypse blades from Kasei Meikou and his plague of overpowered assholes? Sorry Shang, you're stuck with the job forever. At least you'll always have (boy)friends!
At this point, I love this show so much that I have fun just breathlessly reciting plot points with jokes in between. It makes me feel like I'm six years old and describing some Digimon episode to my mom again. There's nothing better than a show that makes you feel like a little kid, while also satisfying your adult desires for smarmy dialogue, sexual tension, and bloodlust.
Anyway, when it comes to actual criticism, my one concern at this point is that the story's starting to feel like Urobuchi at Fate/Zero season one pacing. The show is taking its time setting up the character's positions in great detail, and I trust the writer enough to know that the payoff will be great, but will I get that payoff within the 13 episodes we're scheduled for this season? On the one hand, Thunderbolt Fantasy is clearly being written as a long-running serial at this point, but on the other, there are going to be periods of waiting in between more Thunderbolt Fantasy. I guess there are worse problems for a show to have. It could not be the greatest TV show of all time, right?
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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