Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2
by Gabriella Ekens,
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How would you rate episode 5 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
Gen Urobuchi is the type of writer who lays out his characters' movements with extreme precision. He plots out intricate, multifaceted affairs that could conceivably be told from any major character's point of view. When his stories are fully set into motion, they culminate in grand contests of competing worldviews and possess emotional force approaching the sublime. On the way to that, however, we're sometimes treated to episodes like this one; “positioning episodes” are what I call them, in that they do little to advance the story thematically, but show the characters moving into the positions that are required for some later point in the story. Yeah, there are usually a few tidbits of new info thrown in, and sometimes even a cool action scene, but overall, we're mostly having information reiterated to us while the pieces are shuffled around on the board. As such, this is the least excited I've been by an episode of Thunderbolt Fantasy so far (not that a proclamation like that means much in light of how constantly the show fries my brain with its spectacle). While it may be more dull to watch the machinery being assembled, I'm confident that this will all culminate in an epic conclusion.
Otherwise, this was a pretty action-heavy week for Thunderbolt Fantasy, so I'm afraid I won't have much plot to recount today. Our hero team's immediate preoccupation is to find a cure for the poison afflicting Shang. With no 24-hour pharmacies in the world of wuxia, Lin and Lang have to do the heavy lifting themselves and harvest his medication from a dragon in the Wasteland of Spirits. Predictably, the dragon doesn't feel like giving up one of its body parts to save the guy who crippled them, and our rival boyfriends are forced to team up to take down a rampaging rubber suit monster. Over the course of this excursion, we learn that Lang's reticence to speak comes from the fact that he has an enchanted voice. The exact nature of this enchantment is ambiguous, but it's tough enough to repel dragon fire with J-rock, so it must be pretty hardcore. Or maybe Takanori Nishikawa's voice can just do that? Anyway, after that Lang decides that he's not done fighting and tries to take out Lin based on the (correct) assessment that he is a mendacious vapeweasel who's messing with Shang for fun. No doubt used to these sorts of encounters, a nonplussed Lin absconds from the scene while leaving it to Lang to deliver Shang his pills.
On the villain side of things, they've finally gotten to chasing down Shang, forcing him to flee his recovery cave. When they catch up to the injured man, Shang is shocked to see Xie working with the law and asks her what her master might think of that. So unlike last season's Mie Tian Hai, Kasei Meikou seems to possess ideological motivations beyond “give me all of the swords.” Interesting. Anyway, Shang looks pretty screwed until Lang swoops in on a demon bird and slips him some magical Viagra. The tides have turned on our bad guys as they now find themselves facing down a full-powered, completely erect Edgeless Blade.
This is more of a comment than a concern, but I have noticed that Xie might slot into a trend in Urobuchi's writing where specifically female characters are made to experience crises over their worldviews and require existential guidance by a male figure. As of next week, it looks like she's going to start receiving life counseling from the gloomy donut-head. Previous examples of this include Saber from Fate/Zero, Akane from Psycho-Pass, Angela Balzac from Expelled from Paradise, and even Tan Hi from TBF's first season. This isn't true for all of his female characters (to name just one example, season one featured the cruelly confident demoness Xing Hai). It's just that they get assigned this role a lot, especially relative to Urobuchi's male characters, who are allowed to occupy a wider range of character types. It's a little lame to make the only lady out as the vulnerable one in a story that basically only has six characters.
At this point, I should clarify that I'm not outraged or offended by this development. It's more that I'm curious about this pattern in Urobuchi's work and want to investigate it further. It's a limitation that he makes up for with the fact that his ladies are wonderfully written (and wholly distinct) human beings. It also never feels like he's knocking women down a peg out of sadism. He doesn't invite you to leer at their pain or laugh at their naivete, which I commonly see in other media, anime and otherwise. If I were to guess, it seems to me that his issues come from a pedestalization of women, rather than any desire for their degradation. So in opposition to the usual sexist problem of believing that women are inferior to men, Urobuchi may suffer from the reverse – the assumption that women are morally the superior sex. This may also be the reason that he doesn't dole brutality out to his female characters to the same extent as Kiritsugu or Kougami or Screaming P. Killer. That type of fall requires a wrongheaded conviction that his female characters tend to be thoughtful enough to avoid. (Note that Madoka contradicts quite this theory, but that show's premise allows it to only have female characters, so I'm counting it as an exception.)
On the one hand, that's flattering, I guess. But on the other, why can't we have a female Screaming Phoenix Killer or Shougo Makishima or Kotomine Kirei? I'm not saying that Urobuchi has to be the guy to write this – in fact he seems to be aware of his limitations on this front and has collaborated with female writers when a lady character exceeds his typology – but still, I want it.
In the end, I'm giving this episode a relatively low grade for being a straightforward exchange of character positions with some action scenes thrown in. To sum up, Lin antagonizes Lang, Xie is harboring existential doubts, and Shang seems to have been brought back to health. I'm sure that this is all building up to a juicy dramatic climax later, so for now I'm content to enjoy their exposition-heavy side trip to the fireworks factory. Thunderbolt Fantasy is a joy to watch even in setup mode, but I'll take this opportunity to reserve my A grades for when they finally arrive at the fireworks factory headquarters.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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