by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy (puppet TV) ?
How would you rate episode 7 of
Thunderbolt Fantasy (puppet TV) ?
It's finally happened - Shāng Bù Huàn is finally fed up with Guǐ Niǎo mistreating him, and the wandering blade quits the merry band. You may have noticed that there was no write-up last week – that's because I was busy with Otakon coverage. Now that I'm back, however, I'm actually glad to be writing up these two episodes together, since they form more of a cohesive package than any other pair of episodes in Thunderbolt Fantasy. Disharmony plagues the merry band just prior to the expected 2/3 point climax and reversal of fortune, so these two episodes dwell on its buildup. It's the seventh episode, and our heroes have already made it through two the three trials, so there's absolutely no way they're not about to be violently ass-kicked all the way back to square one.
Shāng Bù Huàn is justified in his current frustration. The other party members have spent the past few episodes adamantly refusing to explain what Guǐ Niǎo's deal is exactly. They've even turned the tables of suspicion on Shāng Bù Huàn for his claim of being from Xī Yōu. Apparently it's sketchy to tell people that you're from a mythical nation across the Impassable Death Wastes. (It doesn't seem worse than being a demon necromancer or an ambulatory stab-enthusiast, but who am I to judge this world's standards for normalcy?) Worse, Guǐ Niǎo's mellow sadism has proved contagious, as shown by the injuries his team subjects Shāng Bù Huàn to over the course of these two trials. First, there's the Hotboxed Zombie Rave, where he gets locked out of the protective barrier while Xíng Hài figures out her necromancy spell, leaving him to fight off an army of zombies all by himself. Next, he's used as bait for the Giant Rock Monster, having to take out the security system himself when Shòu Yún Xiāo's “legendary” aim proves less than foolproof. Shāng Bù Huàn is left exhausted and humiliated, while his teammates continue to berate him. The only person who treats him with decency is the sheltered Dān Fěi, whose optimism regarding human nature continually staggers him. She'll probably be the key to roping him back in, since Shāng Bù Huàn has a poorly concealed protective streak, and Dān Fěi has proven overly eager to put herself in harm's way to retrieve the Heaven's Retribution Sword.
These two episodes explore over how well this ragtag group of strong personalities can possibly function as a group, and the prognosis isn't good. Lǐn Xuě Yā (alias Guǐ Niǎo) claims that they can make it work, but big bad Miè Tiān Hái, who shows up to talk trash for a second, declares them doomed. He doesn't even bother to finish the party off, confident that they'll wreck each other before they even get close to him. For the immediate future at least, I suspect that he's right. The party is doing their best to alienate Shāng Bù Huàn, who was already on the fence about this whole thing. A confrontation with Miè Tiān Hái is coming up, and judging by Shāng Bù Huàn's probable absence (as well as the fact that we're only halfway through the show), I doubt that it will go well. The big unknown for me at the moment is how much all of this factors into Guǐ Niǎo's master plan vs. how much is just him making poor decisions because he's high all the time.
While I have confidence that Thunderbolt Fantasy will eventually land on the side of victorious unity for the merry band, it looks like a rocky road until then, as their prickly personalities collide with one other to produce entertaining but not particularly convivial fireworks. Of course, this is all tacitly approved by their alleged leader, Guǐ Niǎo. For someone who pays so much lip service to strength through cohesion, Guǐ Niǎo seems to be doing his best to irritate Shāng Bù Huàn off the team. The ignorant foreigner has taken Juǎn Cán Yún's place as the butt of all the party's endeavors. Guǐ Niǎo's plans are as mysterious as ever, but I trust that he has a reason for stringing along Shāng Bù Huàn. At this point, I just want the show to tell us what the wizard's deal is. I suspect that it's about to, since the next episode uses his name as the title. We're probably about to see everyone get wrecked by the big bad sword man, or else Guǐ Niǎo turns out to be the secret real villain or something. My guess is still that he's the original owner of the Seven Sins Tower. That would definitely explain the “noxious mist.”
Besides all the scheming and interpersonal conflict, Thunderbolt Fantasy is still a moment-to-moment blast in terms of both action and entertaining character moments. The golem fight was a showstopper – I'm not sure how much of that effect was done via CG or traditional stop motion, but it was probably a mix of both. In terms of the characters, nothing has yet to top that posturing fight in episode 5 as a hyperbolic display of badassery, but that doesn't mean that the show isn't trying. Miè Tiān Hái drops in to diss the merry's band's teamwork skills for a sec before absconding on the back of a giant skeletal bird, cackling all the way. Juǎn Cán Yún water-runs into a gang of enemy combatants, and Shā Wú Shēng only gives him flack for not teleporting there. Speaking of those two, the horny toddler man and frigid (if surprisingly patient) murder freak have developed a surprising repartee, cooperating well in combat. Shā Wú Shēng is constantly messing with the younger man, but really, who could resist? Of course, all the stuff about bullying Shāng Bù Huàn is hilarious, and I totally understand why everyone is doing it, because it seems irresistible. Sorry bro, you were made to be punk'd.
When it comes to actual characterization, Dān Fěi continues to take the lead. This latest episode expands on her adherence to tradition and how it'll be her undoing if she doesn't adopt some flexibility for the sake of survival. This theme is present in most of Gen Urobuchi's works, and it's neat to see it appear in Thunderbolt Fantasy, which is easily the lightest thing he's ever written. If I have to assign this show a flaw, it's that the villain's lackeys are a bit too disposable. Miè Tiān Hái's lady subordinate Liè Mèi just kicked the bucket courtesy of Screaming P. Killer, and all I know about the last guy is that he dual-wields these big stupid curved swords. I was also wrong earlier – it doesn't look like there are alternate cuts of this show, or at least not ones that have been released yet. The poetic Niàn Bái sequences (those poetic soliloquys) are interspersed throughout the work rather than just at a characters' introduction, as I originally assumed. We got both Xíng Hài's and Dān Fěi's poems this episode. I'm glad to see that, in spite of several layers of cultural transliteration, Thunderbolt Fantasy is still making an effort to retain some idiosyncrasies of the medium's origins in Chinese theater.
I'm grading these episodes a little lower than normal since they're obviously building up to something and don't work as well self-contained as previous installments. Have to save the As for the major fireworks. Don't be mistaken, however – the Thunderbolt Fantasy ball is still rolling hard, and this show has yet to miss a beat.
Thunderbolt Fantasy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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