Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2 may look like a puppet show, but it's one of the Most Anime things airing this season. This week, Micchy and Steve dig into what they love about the new season and why you should check this curiosity out.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.
You can read our weekly coverage of Thunderbolt Fantasy Sword Seekers 2 here!
Yo, I dunno if you've heard, but following Tuesday's Karakuri Circus column, This Week in Anime is getting a massive overhaul. That's right, This Week in Anime is now This Week in Puppets. Specifically, This Week in Exploding Taiwanese Sword Puppets.
or This Week in Vaping Puppets, whichever you prefer.
I'm scared of the rebranding, but I'm also very excited about the rebranding.
That said, I'm pretty sure Thunderbolt Fantasy is the most
anime thing this season, what with Shiny Glasses Cop and all.
I think they've done that shot at least once per episode, and each time I'm stunned by how well they nail the "super reflective anime glasses" thing.
As much as Thunderbolt Fantasy owes to Taiwanese glove puppet theater, what truly makes it exceptional is the extreme anime-ness of it all, thanks in part to one of the few contemporary anime scriptwriters people know, Gen Urobuchi.
It's a surprising collaboration, and it's especially wonderful that Thunderbolt Fantasy is basically Urobuchi playing with action figures at high production values. In this hellscape of a world, seeing how much notorious character-murderer Urobuchi sincerely loves writing the dialogue for every one of these puppets is one of the few things that still gives me joy.
I've been yelling about this show since the first episode, where one villain lieutenant lopped off his own puppet head to send via air-mail to his master. It's so goddamn fun, with both loads of gory puppet spectacle and a super-tight script.
Now we're at the second season with a mostly new cast (no more Lancer Chad or Pirate Archer), and it's only better than ever. Now I realize how hard a sell Taiwanese puppets might be to the average anime fan, but I promise this is the most anime thing you're going to ever see in your life.
Yeah, there's a new cast, but it's still very much in the spirit of the first season, which could be accurately summed up by this one screenshot:
Naturally, this season goes all in with the subtitle "Sword Seekers." And what seekers of swords we have!
First, a quick recap of S1, which you really should watch right the heck now if you haven't yet. So there are two countries separated by a desert called the Wasteland of Spirits, which was created after a huge clusterfuck demon war left the land in a wreck. Shang Bu Huan, a traveling swordsman, crosses east over the wasteland trying to keep a fuckton of magic superweapon swords from falling into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, then this asshole ropes him into a convoluted plan to embarrass a local evil overlord.
I know he has a name (several actually), but I will only ever call him Vape Wizard.
That first season was all about the struggle over one sword, but season two ramps things up by bringing in Shang's old enemies in a conflict over thirty-five swords. And instead of going up against an evil overlord, our hero is up against something far worse: the cops. Shang has absolutely zero patience for cops.
So does Urobuchi, apparently!
So yeah, where S1 was a self-contained fantasy adventure of the tabletop RPG variety, S2 is digging far more into complicated villains and political commentary, which is probably more what folks expect from Urobuchi.
It definitely feels like an appropriate evolution from the first season, as this one is more methodic and thoughtful. But don't worry, we still have characters like the Princess of Cruelty. It's still Thunderbolt Fantasy.
As a genre, wuxia is full of larger-than-life characters and ridiculous conflicts, but any story can become a vehicle for interesting ideas or sharp insights, and that's absolutely what Thunderbolt Fantasy is growing into.
Everything's over-the-top and bloody, but it really boils down to a strong cast of compelling and distinctive characters whose philosophies constantly clash with each other. And I think that compelling contrast is what's earned the show a following. I didn't even know people were making puppet shows like this before Thunderbolt Fantasy, so it's great how it's introduced this entire world of theater to a brand new audience.
It's good stuff! Budaixi is a hell of a tradition over in Taiwan, but it was barely on my radar before Thunderbolt Fantasy, being a Chinese mainlander and all. And that's a real shame.
All that matters is that now we can all enjoy these beautiful puppets trying to murder each other with (and for) swords.
Everyone knows the best stories are about pretty boys fighting over suspiciously phallic objects to prove their dominance.
And vaping. Don't forget all the vaping.
Vape Wizard Lin is the actual best anime boy to ever exist, don't @ me. But anyway, this season is interesting because, despite the subtitle "Sword Seekers," it's more about warfare of the non-sword variety. Besides Lin Xueya, vaping swindler extraordinaire, the major players this season are the sleazy cop Xiao Kuangjuan, the poisoner Xie Yingluo, and Shang's bard/ex-boyfriend Lang Wuyao. They do all happen to own swords, but their actual strengths are far more subtle in nature. If S1 is about a bunch of guys dick-measuring over who's the best at swords, S2 is about poking holes in that mentality. How can people be dangerous in ways that don't involve direct violence? S2 suggests that the real threat to civilization is less megalomaniacal idiots with big swords and more the people who exploit social hierarchies for their own benefit.
It's a good deal more nuanced than the straightforward conflict of the first season, and I'm all for it.
Yeah, and of those 35 swords, we've only seen one in action so far. Even then, it wasn't the sword as much as its ability to turn people into grody faceless zombies.
There's also an evil mind control sword voiced by Aoi Yuuki (using the same cadence she uses for the Fate/Grand Order character Shuten Douji), but everyone seems pretty afraid to use that one.
So basically, swords can be bad but crooked cops wielding political power in order to incriminate people under false charges is more insidiously terrible! And one of those is a lot more relevant to the present day, so you can probably imagine why Urobuchi is focusing his themes on this.
But even Urobuchi recognizes that heavy political themes can be paired perfectly with a dude singing a T.M. Revolution song in order to fight a dragon.
Bard rolls nat20, repels dragon fire with the power of J-rock, god I love this show.
It rules so hard. We should also mention that our good bard possess a wisecracking lute. That's very important.
This is where other wuxia sometimes falter, for the record. There's not enough of a sense of humor to go with the sprawling political drama, and certainly not enough T.M. Revolution belting in English. That wisecracking pipa also transforms into a sword, because Thunderbolt Fantasy is the best anime ever.
(He's also more perceptive than the heroes, god bless.)
He gets a full-on sentai henshin sequence, and he's the only character able to verbally spar against Vape Wizard with any success. He's basically the best.
You'd think a comic relief character who never shuts up would get annoying after a while, but no, he really doesn't. Every line that comes out of his mouth is so on-point it's ridiculous.
So I guess the only other major player we haven't mentioned is old gloomy snail-hair.
Di Kong is a wandering monk looking for meaning in life, as monks do. He makes a hobby of being a Judgy McJudgyPants, playing devil's advocate at every opportunity and shopping at Hot Topic. So basically he's Fate/Zero Kotomine Kirei.
Absolutely, and if I had to put my money on it, he's likely to be the main baddie Shang and friends will need to overcome by the end.
See, he makes a big deal about not understanding how people work, so if I know the Booch, that's basically the scariest and most dangerous thing somebody can say.
Exactly. Whereas the other characters, even the blatantly evil ones, have some kind of understandable ambition or moral code that they follow, this guy talks like an especially bad Final Fantasy villain.
Either he genuinely has no moral compass - which would make him incredibly easy to lead astray with the wrong arguments - or he has a really fucked-up compass that he's convinced himself is totally neutral. One way or another, he's either psychopathic or extremely un-self-aware, both of which are recipes for disaster in Urobuchi stories.
I think he's the kind of guy who always wants to get into Twitter debates. All this adds up to one giant headache for Shang, the Most Relatable Puppet in the Universe.
Shang, the poor bastard, is too good-natured to notice the giant warning signs above Donut Hair's head. He's such a nice dude that it doesn't occur to him to doubt people. Sometimes that backfires on him, but in his own words, it's better to trust and get burned than to always be a skeptic. Unfortunately, it seems he's gonna get burned a few more times before things get better :'D
Hey, with friends like these...
Lin's explanation of why he considers them friends is still the best thing. Shang's all "wait, since when were we friends?" and he's like "since you did me a solid by being an absolute dope that one time".
If ever there was a time and place to use the word "frenemies," it's for these two.
Vapewiz really needs to cool it with the flirting tho, it's getting ridiculous.
I freaking LOST IT with his coy little finger on his cheek.
Shang, probably: "stupid sexy vapewiz"
Neither of them will ever sincerely admit it, but they are now inseparable.
Is Lin even capable of being sincere? I guess there was that one time he flipped out over Evil McBadguy choosing to magically impale himself rather than be victim to one of his schemes, but aside from that? I can't recall.
I don't know if this question is posed sincerely, but if it is, it's very funny.
Everything, Vapewiz. You deserve every bit of punishment that Bard TMR decides to inflict on you.
I also love how Shang immediately picks up on what Vape Wiz is doing to Bishounen Cop and goes, "welp, he's fucked."
Ironically, Shang's assumption right there might be what does 'em both in. Glasses Cop overheard Shang muttering to the audience, and now he's following up on the investigation.
It looks bad, but I have to believe in Vape Wiz. Nobody can outmaneuver that level of assholery.
That's what you think, but we probably shouldn't underestimate the power of sleazy cops.
Okay, but before we sign off, can we talk about how much his puppet teeth bother me? Because it's a lot.
I was hoping you wouldn't post that. Why'd you have to post the puppet teeth. They upset me deeply.
I need others to share my discomfort.
Maybe stare at Donut Head's smoky eye shadow to erase the memory of the horrible puppet teeth?
Holy shit his eyeliner game is on point. How are all these puppet boys so gd pretty I stg.
Everyone looks fabulous. Literally dressed to kill. It's just those awful teeth that I have to go meditate out of my mind's eye now.