This Week in Anime
Thunderbolt Fantasy Proves Gen Urobuchi is The Puppet Master

by Michelle Liu & Andy Pfeiffer,

In 2016, acclaimed scriptwriter Gen Urobuchi moved on from the likes of Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass to the world of...puppetry. Thus, Thunderbolt Fantasy was born and it may be the most anime thing he's ever created to date. Micchy and Andy finally get their chance to shout their praises to the heavens as This Week in Anime (briefly) becomes This Week in Puppets.

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. NSFW Warning: Gratuitous puppet violence!

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Micchy
Andy, I've been looking back at the decade before quite settling into the new season, and I've decided: the best anime of the 2010s is neither Japanese nor animated, but it does have gratuitous puppet decapitation, which automatically makes it the best thing ever.
Andy
Oh hell yes, is it finally time for TWIP?
Heck yeah, This Week in Anime is now This Week in Puppets, where we do nothing but yell about how awesome Thunderbolt Fantasy is for years on end. Gotta say, I feel so incredibly fortunate that PILI and Gen Urobuchi have churned out a new entry in the project every year since 2016, because like I said, it's the best anime ever. It was truly a Christmas miracle when Crunchyroll announced a few weeks ago that they'd acquired the rights to the latest Thunderbolt Fantasy film "Bewitching Melody of the West", a prequel origin story for everybody's favorite J-rock puppet bard, Puppet T.M. Revolution.
Now, if you've never watched any Thunderbolt Fantasy (if so why haven't you? You owe this to yourself) then this may sound a bit confusing but it turns out Murder Bard: The Origin starring T.M. Revolution is a pretty stand-alone piece! So while I'd recommend starting from season one, if you just want a taste of what Thunderbolt has to offer this ain't a bad entry point. Iit has everything you want in an anime: Intricate character designs, snappy writing, great world building, and of course lots of that sweet, sweet puppet nectar.
This prequel definitely benefits from prior knowledge of the hero of the series proper, but it's nearly entirely self-contained, quick-paced, and constantly enthralling for more reasons than just the Kool-Aid blood. The movie starts with Baby Puppet T.M. Revolution's tragic backstory, wherein he was raised on a mountain with an abusive puppet mom who treated him as a literal puppet. Then one day he went through puppet puberty, freaking out puppet mom so much that she forgot they lived on a cliff and fell to her death, which offers a nice excuse to toss a puppet off a cliff.
Truly tragic. If only T.M. Revolution hadn't been born to rock so hard his abusive puppet mom would still be with us. Note: He also has started hearing his lute talk to him. He can't get it to stop dealing the harsh truths.
Having nowhere else to go, baby puppet T.M. Revolution (aka Lang Wuyao) starts working at the world's sketchiest biker pub/dance club, singing exactly one song for a solid decade until one day he learns a second song and starts singing that instead.
A true master of song only learns new ones when necessary. Like when A) Your Mom teaches you one or B) You meet a hot girl. Thems the rules.
Specifically, a hot girl who reminds you of your prepubescent puppet self because she literally has the same voice. Now that's something to untangle!
The voice that wouldn't have killed your mom can also be your girlfriend. See, even puppets can have psycho-sexual mommy issues! This is extremely anime.
Puppets can also have awkward sexual tension when one party is horny for murder and the other...isn't.
While this is a prequel it does introduce some new characters that may appear again in future seasons, and boy do I hope Princess Bored with Everything But Being a Monster is one of 'em.
So yeah, Wuyao very nearly gets arrested for being too sexy on stage and only gets out of a prison sentence by entering an extremely metal battle of the bands for the entertainment of the world's brattiest princess.
In a series with Evil Necromancers and Actual Demons it says a lot when someone who would lose to a guard manages to steal the role of lead villain for a while. Thus is the power of being horny for musical violence.
Chao Feng's thirst for puppet decapitation is perhaps only rivaled by my own, tbh. Look at her! She's so happy to see her oshi is demolish her entire security force!
What about puppet teeth tho? Because this image is so cursed that of course it belongs to a dirty cop.
We do NOT speak of the puppet teeth. We can however take a moment to appreciate puppet glasses sheen.
Gotta appreciate the craft here. What a true bastard man.
He'll get corncobbed eventually, but for now he's sticking around, mostly to get puppet slapped across the face.

Glasses cop isn't even that important a character in this movie, but we gotta get our fair share of puppet dunks in, whatever it takes.
Hey he tries to give some heartfelt advice to the man being kept as a pet.

"Don't rock this boat buddy, meanwhile watch me profit from your captivity." The smug self-justification of gaming an evil system for selfish reasons making you better than someone who wants to change that system is a pretty good portrayal of a cop. Also if you forgot this was written by the Booch there's your reminder.
Yeah, that's a pretty common thread throughout his work: the heroes are the people trying to make the best of whatever crappy hand they were dealt, and the villains the ones who perpetuate broken social systems. A social outcast and abuse victim, Lang Wuyao only has so many options as a literal weapon honed for others' use. One of those is disarming the entire palace guard with the power of J-rock so that everyone's favorite misclassed rogue can swoop in to save the day plunder some fancy swords (and slice a few puppets up while he's at it).
I love Shang Bu Huan so much, and appreciate that apparently his younger self wasn't nearly as hesitant on violence. What an unexpected blessing it was to see him straight up Kung Lao a dude.
He might have a bit less gray hair, but he's still as grumpy as ever. Bless this perpetually annoyed sword hobo.
I also appreciate that in contrast to the series proper where he's positioned as begrudgingly working with others this movie has a lot of willing team effort and downright comradery.
Hey, Shang Buhuan's just not very quick to warm up to people. He's perfectly willing to cooperate with people he trusts not to sit around while he does all the heavy lifting. Young Shang certainly wasn't one to mince words though. By the events of the actual series he's pretty chill about dishing out advice, but here he's almost mean when he chews Lang out for passively taking the princess' abuse. Not that that stops him from being ever the philosopher and obvious author mouthpiece.
Look, young Shang has to literally hide a storehouse of magical swords that are so dangerous they should never be wielded, so when he sees a Personified Equivalent of them just letting himself be used he gets a lil' miffed about it. And he still tries a bit by showing Lang the results of what happens when people use the swords for selfish reasons.

That this drives Lang to solitude may be harsh, but as far as Shang is considered that's a win for the world.
Luckily for him there's a perfectly nice girl to give him a questionably effective pep talk when he goes peak chuuni. Mu Tianming's idea of a motivational speech is to remind Lang that his mom could've been worse and thrown him out, but you take what you can get when you're a socially inept bard, I guess.
"Sorry ghost mom, but the hot girl I'm into said to stop being such a dweeb so time for you to go. Thanks for making me a murder singer tho cause she's into that."
He's a murder singer who chooses to use his power for good, like slaying dragons or beating up loser cops. And of course he gets a sweet magical girl transformation to go with his newfound power.
A magical transformation granted by his talking lute, who is the fucking best.

And none too soon, they're just in time for MORE PUPPET MURDER.
Just a note, this movie is absurdly violent, more so than every previous Thunderbolt Fantasy thing, so if that's not your thing then you might not enjoy the slicin' and dicin' very much. But on the other hand, they also explode, so.
I've never seen so much bamboo used to skewer puppets in so many different ways.
Consider: puppet cross-section!!
Mmm, that's the good puppet meat.
At this point, we should just admit Chao Feng represents all of us weirdos who salivate at the thought of senseless puppet violence. Perhaps not a flattering a depiction, but it's probably the one we deserve.
The difference is we aren't royalty that can play with others lives on a whim. The best we can do is watch cartoons and holler about it on the internet, and if that doesn't make me a better person then too bad I'm still gonna do it and relish in it.
I mean, if Lang's moment of self-actualization is anything to go by, being good means considering your impact on the world and carefully choosing what to do with yourself, right? So hollering about exploding puppets on the Internet is probably the best thing you can do.
You're right
There's nothing you can do to alter what made you the way you are, but you can decide what to do going forward, so I take that to mean I'm allowed to yell about Thunderbolt Fantasy to everyone who will listen. Surely my friends haven't all heard about it enough.
Now you just need to stop talking about Heybot!.
Now that is something I cannot do. How about we compromise and just cross our fingers that Shiori Izawa gets to do her Heybot! voice for another talking sword or something?

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