Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
How would you rate episode 7 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2 (puppet TV) ?
Apologies for my absence last week, guys – I ran into some delays while crossing the Wasteland of Midterms. Let it be known that the Dragon of English Paper and Cannibal Village of Econ Exam have both been dealt with, so you can look forward to a smooth journey for the remainder of the season. That is, unless anyone gets their hands on my nemesis, the Seven Blasphemous Stomach Viruses. But anyway, on to the show!
Okay, so Shang took his magic Viagra and now he's ready to party. The following fight mostly serves as characterization for Xie and Xiao, who continue down their established trajectories. The rebellious princess is still being forced to work for the rapacious lawman to take down Shang. Impassioned by her conversation with Di Kong, Xie puts up a strong fight against our hero, but it still isn't enough to take him down. Shang knocks her off her feet, and while she's disabled, Xiao strikes a blow against his erstwhile ally and steals the Night of Mourning for himself. As Shang puts it: what a scumbag. Xie is forced to flee while experiencing a crisis of confidence. Of course, the monk soon finds her, looming over her body as he has over this whole show…
Di Kong has been keeping up his role as the wild card in this accelerating fiasco. Episode 6 finally sees him run into a major character other than Xie, when he lures Shang and Lang off her trail as they chase her down. While Shang seems to accept the monk's deflections at face value, Lang's asshole alarm goes off and sends him into murder mode. The Morbid Monk manages to dodge Lang's assault (with some sweet Michael Jackson moves!) and abscond into the distance. As Shang confronts his friend for his sudden act of prejudice against goths, Lang explains that the dude was clearly a douchebag whose continued existence can bring no good into the world. His characterization clairvoyance told him that the guy has no respect for human life (and I'd say the same), so this monk could eventually find his purpose for living in some real nasty business.
Unfortunately for our heroes, I get the feeling that this nasty business has already arrived. Our boy has taken it upon himself to play the role of Xie's therapist, and in Scorpion Lady's vulnerable state, she finds herself assenting. Unfortunately for her, Kong is extraordinarily bad at the job to the point where I have to wonder if he's leading her down a dark path on purpose. Their conversation consists of him making more claims about his nihilistic worldview and “disinterested” curiosity regarding how other people live their lives. He claims to admire humans for their ability to find purpose in life, but he does nothing but belittle Xie as she explains her own motivations. By the end, she's made to feel worthless, leading to the desperate actions that she takes at the conclusion of episode seven.
We now know that Di Kong is a skilled sophist who'll try to draw other people around him into his nihilistic state of mind. What remains to be seen is whether he takes any pleasure in the emotional havoc that he wreaks. Basically, is he just externalizing his dumb worldview at a convenient audience in Xie while remaining totally indifferent to the results, or is he actively trying to screw with her in order to sow discord and torment? If the former is true, we get a character who's dumber and more honest, but less actively malicious. But if it's the latter case, we get someone who's crafty, probably a liar (or at least deliberately inconsistent in how he presents himself), and definitely a total sadist. In either case, what we've learned about him over these two episodes has allowed me to identify his archetypal analogue in the Urobuchi Star System – mostly Fate/Zero's Kirei Kotomine, with a little bit of Psycho-Pass's Shogo Makishima. Now the Kirei parallels were always there (men of the cloth who don't experience pleasure and lack purpose in life), but if it turns out that Di Kong has also decided to fill the void in his heart with the blood of the innocent, then he's basically just a remake of Kirei with the slight difference that the Buddhist Kirei is at least somewhat interested in women. (The real Kirei is strictly masc4masc, although in fairness, I'm not sure whether masculinity as we know it can be said to exist in the world of Thunderbolt Fantasy.)
Next we find Vapewiz in conversation with Glasses Cop. After rambling on for a while about how much of a scuzzball he is, Xiao asks “Gui Niao” if he's ever heard of that Enigmatic Gale fellow. As it turns out, Xiao overheard Shang's monologue to himself at the end of their previous encounter, and now he knows that somebody by that name is after him. Good job, Shang. Thankfully, the kind Inspector explains that it's nothing to worry about, just a story that the guards tell in order to disrespect his hard-earned authority (while doing dramatic quintuple takes to strengthen his lie). Xiao outwardly acquiesces to this explanation, but it's ambiguous how much he buys it considering the foreboding music and the fact that these conversations operate at a high level of disingenuous politeness. Conversations in this show are really just another form of combat, and judging by the increasing stakes, I get the vibe that this corrupt official has caught wind of the target on his head.
After that, Vapewiz holds a boyfriend meeting to try and “fish” Shang for information. At this point, the show is clearly tiptoeing around some major backstory details. They're trying hard to pique our curiosity over exactly what happened in Shang's past, which will probably be delivered to us around episode 10 or so. For now, however, we're being drip fed details, like that Shang stole the swords to keep the government from using them against their neighbors. (So it looks like Urobuchi's anti-imperialist streak is showing again.) Honestly, if I have a criticism of these episodes, it's that Lin doesn't ask Xiao for more information on Shang's backstory or anything else that went down in Xi You. It seems like a missed opportunity for Lin, although he may just be acting cautiously now that the fuzz is onto him. Either way, not a big deal.
Throughout all this, I get the vibe that Lin may be starting to regret the extent that he's toyed with people in the past, mostly Shang. Sure, it was a lot of fun to pwn Mie Tian Hai and his gang of thugs back at Seven Sins Tower, but Shang really doesn't like him now, so he refuses to provide information that would be useful for his latest conquest. I think that Shang is pulling the Enigmatic Gale into a situation that even he can't handle, at least not without being forced to modify his ethical sense of himself. Prior to meeting Shang, the Vapewiz had carved out a pretty good equilibrium for himself, indulging his sadism in ways that still allowed him to feel like a good (or at least, not actively harmful) person. But gradually, he's had to start confronting the fact that even this measure of indulgence has undesirable consequences. Sha Wu Sheng – a man who at one point attempted to redeem himself – was emotionally broken and then killed. Lin's old master died in the process. Mie Tian Hai very nearly destroyed the world, and who knows what else could happen if Lin keeps chasing bigger fish. We're reaching a point where, if things keep up as they've been going, the Vape Wizard will become undeniably villainous. And I'm not sure he's comfortable with that.
Or I might just be projecting. There are two ways to interpret the Enigmatic Gale, and while they both have their charms, they're also both mutually exclusive to one another. On the one hand, if there's a gooey moral center hiding within that sharp and glittery exterior of his, it means that we're up for some interesting pathos in the future. However, this also comes at an unbearable cost in that it likely require that Lin stop being the Enigmatic Gale someday. And we can't have that! The Enigmatic Gale is the heart of adventure, an endless fount of easy yuks at the expense of megalomaniacs with sword fetishes. But on the other hand, if the show keeps operating at its current level of sharpness – and I wouldn't want it to not be this smart – it can't keep letting Lin off the hook forever. He's an incorrigibly selfish asshole, but he's just such a fun asshole, so I love him even though I know that he would never love someone else as he is now.
Lin Xue Ya is likely the embodiment of Gen Urobuchi's dark side, his power to sympathize with sadists and the pleasure that he gains from digging into the depths of the human heart. Unfortunately for this side of himself, it coexists with a strong moral center (represented by Shang Bu Huan) and equally strong sympathy for those victimized by history. The conflict between these two tendencies manifests throughout all of the Butcher's work. Despite their alliance of convenience – and my desire for a more permanent one – either Shang's or Lin's side will be forced to give way in their battle on the terrain of this show's soul. Oh well, I'll just try to enjoy the action while it lasts. I anticipate that it'll at least throw me through a few good loops before the journey is over.
At the end of all this, Xiao finally pushes Xie too hard in his sadism and provokes a response that he can't handle; how appropriate for the Vapewiz's seasonal foil. Pushed to her limits both physically and emotionally, the Princess of Cruelty draws Seven Blasphemous Deaths from its sheath and becomes its slave. The Blade appears to work as an intoxicant, getting its wielder high from satisfying its every desire as it goes stronger. Also, anyone who looks at it becomes desperate to wield it themselves. Yeah, this thing is nasty. Curiously, the sword recognizes Shang – it refers to him as “the brat who sealed me away” and comments on him having aged. So the man legendary for accruing swords and exes wherever he goes has an ex who is, in fact, a sword. How appropriate. Things seem to have ended really badly though. Hopefully the season won't close without enlightening us about what happened during this much earlier adventure. Vapewiz, you have one job from now on, and it is asking questions. Just don't chat up any monks you see wandering around. Or swords radiating hard pink light. Actually, just stick with Shang. He's going to need you.
All in all, it looks like Thunderbolt Fantasy S2 has experienced its first major dramatic reversal. We have a new conflict and villain, and while the dust hasn't quite settled into a new status quo, I'm curious to see how our characters will react to it. Is Xie lost for good, will Xiao finally start living up to his name as the “Roaring Maniac,” and what exactly does Di Kong even want? Also, who is the dreaded “Enigmatic Gale,” and will Shang ever catch a break? At least we know the answer to that last one is "nope". Them's the breaks when you've appointed yourself an evil sword babysitter.
See you next puppet time!
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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