Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
Puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets puppets pupPETS PUPPETS!!!!!!!!!
Alright, now that I've gotten that out of my system, welcome back to our reviews for the greatest anime of all time, Thunderbolt Fantasy. Yes, I'm excited, and no, I haven't been able to hide it. On top of being one of the best shows I've ever reviewed, my reviews for the original season are some of my favorite writing that I've ever contributed to this site, because the show itself is just magically fun to write about. (And if you're confused by any of the puppet nicknames used in this writeup, you can consult the s1 reviews for clarification.) If the first season was any indication, this second installment will deliver enough twists and turns to keep me yapping for ages. And in the end, it all comes back to swords. In the immortal words of our hero, Shang Bu Huan:
Since I've already written so much about it, I'll skip recapping the first season and just remind you to watch the movie that was released in the interim between seasons: Thunderbolt Fantasy – The Sword of Life and Death. Seriously, go watch it right now if you haven't already. It's on Crunchyroll. I can wait.
You're back? Good. And just in case there are any liars out there who've decided to keep reading this review without first experiencing the rise and fall of Screaming Phoenix Killer, I haven't written about that yet, so here's what's relevant about it heading into the new season.
Basically, the movie is two different OVA episodes crammed together. As it happens, they're both really good – albeit in entirely different ways – so the result is worth watching. The first half concerns Lace Face and what exactly Lin Xue Ya did to piss him off so bad. But that part isn't all that relevant to this second season, since SCP is no longer with us, Alexander McQueen bless his soul. More importantly, what this OVA tells us is that Lin Xue Ya is totally willing to not only humiliate villains, but ruin others' lives if he thinks that would make his hubris heist more fun. That's what's really dangerous about Lin – while he's found a way to channel his psychopathic tendencies into something that helps rather than hurts society (demolishing villains' oversized egos), there are consequences that even he can't handle, and sooner or later they're going to bite him in his beautiful bishonen butt. This nearly happened at the end of the first season, when Gravelord Maybelline decided that he'd rather destroy the world than be humiliated by some vaping prima donna. Oops. In the end, they only survived because Shang, the most underestimated of the Snow Crow's playthings, turned out to be the strongest of them all. So the hubris-killer is standing close to the edge himself, and while he lucked out of the consequences for bringing down Mie Tian Hai, he risks experiencing his own comeuppance if he keeps pushing it. We'll find out whether keeping company with Shang Bu Huan, the humblest and most beleaguered man alive, will ultimately exacerbate or neutralize Lin Xue Ya's threat to humanity. For my part, I'll just enjoy watching their tightrope walk between trolling and mass travesty. After all, it's better than just letting the bad guys do as they please.
As for the second half of the film, it breaks new ground as a rare entertaining recap episode. So if you need a refresher on the first season, that alone probably justifies watching the film. Otherwise, it has a lot of Shang being exasperated while Lin wears a silly hat. What more could you want?
Coming off of last season, Shang is still trying to get rid of the 35 (previously 36) SS+ rank evil swords that he stole from the government of his home country, Xi You. His first idea – handing them over to Dong Li's government – goes about as poorly as you'd expect when they get confiscated by a sketchy official and then stolen by one of Shang's old enemies, the dramatically named Princess of Cruelty (Xie Yingluo). Fortunately, it seems that everyone is crossing the wasteland of spirits these days, and Shang's old friend/possible ex Lang Wu Yao shows up to lend him a hand. Once he fills in the role of the party's bard, they manage to interrupt the Princess's mission and get back the Sorcerous Scoll Index—or most of it. As her final gambit, Little Miss Scorpion Necklace (as her name translates to) manages to cut a scrap off the end and absconds from the fray. So now Shang's old enemies are back, and while he's managed to rectify most of his stupid mistake at the fortress, they've gotten their hands on a couple swords and will be badgering him for the rest for the foreseeable future.
That's just the first episode. Over the course of the second and third, Cruelty-hime inspects her winnings to learn that she snagged the sword that turns people into mind slaves. It's hot pink, which goes great with her overall look, so she decides to keep it. She also got some other super duper dangerous sword – the Seven Blasphemous Deaths – that tempts you with a sultry voice to become the ruler of the world. After barely resisting its spell, she decides to save that one for her leader and use the other one (the Night of Mourning) to ambush Shang. She launches her attack in the middle of a town and manages to poison Shang by taking advantage of his unwillingness to harm civilians. While our new bard friend manages to spare Shang an immediate execution at the Princess's hand, our hero is left seriously injured, making him easy pickings for any sword-stealing assailants. Before he can continue his quest, he'll need to find a way to counteract the poison. Fortunately, another “friend” of his happens to arrive at that exact moment – although Shang might not be so happy to see this one.
So while the Edgeless Blade has been having a hard time with his half of the adventure, Lin's share reassures me that at least somebody on the squad is capable of operating with sneakiness. As per his resolution at the end of the first season, Lin had been following Shang around in the hopes of running into some major bad guys to grief. These expectations were quickly met when Xi You's evil overlords sent some of their stooges to Dong Li. So while Shang is dealing with the assassin unit, Lin has set his sights on the bureaucratic villains. Because while Little Miss Scorpion Necklace is trying to apprehend the Sorcerous Sword Index directly, Xiao Kuang Juan's job seems to be to poison the government against Shang so that he can't move around freely. Hilariously, he's not that good at this, and Lin (who seems to be trying to buddy up with the guy so as to better betray him later) ends up having to do most of the work. So there are now two infiltration specialists fresh from Xi You, and while they can cheese the hell out of goody-two-shoes Shang, they have no idea what they're about to face in the Enigmatic Gale. I can see why he's into this arrangement. Also, I fully expect that said Vape Wiz will screw us over at least once over the ensuing adventure. You shouldn't ever get too comfortable with guys like him, or else you become too fun to prank.
Anyway, Xie was sent on behalf of some evil dude named Kasei Meikou, while Xiao appears to be acting on behalf of Xi You's formal government. The degree to which these are two separate entities remains to be seen, but it seems to me that Shang stole the Index mostly to keep it away from Kasei Meikou when the government couldn't protect it. In light of this, it's pretty dumb of him to think that he could just hand the Index off to a different government in Dong Li. Sure, they've got a big-ass fortress, but it's not like those actually do anything in this crazy world, and the type of people who'd want to use a superweapon (or 35 of them!) are pretty common in those sorts of organizations too. Poor Shang is just thinking wishfully at this point. He really needs to accept that he'll be lugging around these swords forever, being the only guy in the world who's strong enough to protect them without being tempted to use them. At least he'll always have companionship in the form of a certain smoking (and smoking-hot) scoundrel. The two of them are going to spend the rest of their lives pwning n00bs and swatting away wannabe overlords together.
The final running thread throughout these episodes concerns Mr. Goth Cinnabon Head from the opening theme. He finally shows up in the third episode, where he's revealed to be a travelling monk named Di Kong who specializes in expelling poisons. How convenient. We don't technically know that he's a bad guy yet, but with that sense of style and the notable imbalance in our hero vs. villain count, I'm calling it a safe bet that he'll be impeding our heroes in some capacity. While the Funky Monk-y has hardly had any screentime so far, he seems to evince a flaw of sorts in the demand that his patients prove themselves “worthy” of life before he cures them. It takes some arrogance to believe yourself capable of discerning between those who “deserve” to live and those who don't. Do you think that Shang will qualify? Somehow, according to the laws of dramatic tension, I doubt it. Plus, if I know my Urobuchi, he's the exact type of writer who likes to bring down the thunder on this sort of thinking. Anyone for some hamartia?
God, I've missed Thunderbolt Fantasy. I've missed Shang's relatable exhaustion at absolutely everything. I've missed Lin's worldspanning quest to pants assholes. I've missed the epic wuxia names and outfits, PILI's incredible artistry, and Gen Urobuchi's impeccable narrative craftsmanship. I realize that meta-commentative fantasy RPGs are a trend in anime nowadays, but this is truly the greatest one to me, the pinnacle of the genre, reserved for viewers of the most refined taste: the taste for puppets. Puppets that spurt blood and shoot lasers.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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