Tuesday 12 July 2016

First Impressions: Thunderbolt Fantasy

Thunderbolt Fantasy

After enjoying a string of successful anime shows, it shouldn’t be any surprise to see Gen Urobuchi branching out into a number of different mediums. 2014 saw the creator of Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass, Gargantia and more take a stab at tokusatsu with Kamen Rider Gaim, and now he’s trying his hand at Taiwanese puppet drama. Yes, you read that correctly – Thunderbolt Fantasy is a collaboration between Nitroplus, Good Smile Company and Taiwanese puppet production company Pili International Multimedia, bringing the world of puppet drama into the Japanese spotlight.

Taking place in an Eastern fantasy setting, sibling guardians of the Tian Xing Jiàn sword are on the run from the evil Xuan Gui Zong clan – who seek to obtain the sword for their master Miè Tian Hai. Although her brother is defeated, Dān Fěi manages to escape. She is then later protected by the Shāng Bù Huàn, a wandering swordsman who then becomes a target of the Xuan Gui Zong. Together with the mysterious Lǐn Xuě Yā, these two strangers become Dān Fěi’s guardians from the pursuing clan.

As a UK child who grew up on a healthy diet of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet puppet drama isn't exactly a whole new world for me nor is it likely to be for many others. What I wasn't prepared for was just how much further Taiwan takes it - the quality of this show is astounding. Puppets are always going to have some sort of quirky jerky motion, but on the Thunderbolt Fantasy just feels so fluid in everything it does - from the quiet moments of dialogue to the glorious over the top fight sequences. The eerie puppet vibe certainly isn't going to be to everyone's tastes, but the overall presentation of this show is of an unbelievably high quality. If you're checking the simulcast out through Crunchyroll be sure to also check out the special "making of" episode 0 just to see how much effort goes into this. Ever wanted to see a puppet decapitate itself with fountains of blood? Then you'll already be right at home here.

However the story so far doesn't seem like a whole lot to write home about. The fantasy setting and wandering swordsman protagonist are awfully generic, and there wasn't a whole lot in this episode to suggest much role breaking either. Still, it's a bit early to tell on all of that just yet and the characters are at least pretty fun. The voice acting is great (fun fact: the show is actually in Chinese and then dubbed into Japanese, which is why the mouths don't quite match), with the purposely over the top dialogue enough to help overlook the cliche plot. "Bombastic" is a pretty apt description of Thunderbolt Fantasy, and only time will tell if it has the substance to go along with the style.

If nothing else, Thunderbolt Fantasy is undoubtedly going to consitently prove itself a visual treat. Though the show might not be doing anything new with the medium, puppet theatre is likely to only be familiar with a small portion of its audience – making the novelty of it all fresh. And although the story might not seem like much from just one episode, with the Urobutcher behind the wheel you can be almost certain that it’s going to have a few tricks up its sleeves down the line. Whether you’re an anime fan, a tokusatsu fan or both – if you’re looking for something different this anime season than you don’t have to look much further than here.

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