Saturday 4 January 2020

Movie REVIEW: Thunderbolt Fantasy -Bewitching Melody of the West-

Thunderbolt Fantasy -Bewitching Melody of the West-
Thunderbolt Fantasy -Bewitching Melody of the West- is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

As well as continue to prove that ornate puppet murder is the way forward for entertainment, Thunderbolt Fantasy season 2 presented fans with plenty of new things to speculate on. One such topic was the prominence of Làng Wū Yáo, the mysterious red haired musician and old acquaintance of Shāng Bù Huàn. Voiced by Takanori Nishikawa (better known by his stage name T.M. Revolution), the character was created as a means for the musician to promote the franchise but quickly added to the series proper by creator Gen Urobuchi. Now his origins are explored in Thunderbolt Fantasy -Bewitching Melody of the West-, a new feature-length presentation released at the end of 2019.

Làng Wū Yáo's childhoodLàng Wū Yáo

Born with a beautiful singing voice, a young Làng Wū Yáo is brutally trained by his mother in the art of both singing and combat. When a change in his voice leads to the death of his mother, Wū Yáo ventures down from the mountain he was confined to and tries to get by on his musical skills. With a demonic voice calling out to him, Wū Yáo eventually discovers there's a dark secret to his talents. These talents lead him from tavern performer to the songstress of bloodthirsty princess Cháo Fēng, before eventually crossing paths with the Sword Plundering Nemesis himself.

Thunderbolt Fantasy has never been a show to give its characters particularly happy lives, but boy does it feel like Urobuchi has been particularly hard on Làng Wū Yáo. Almost the entire film is centred around people mistreating him, and when he isn’t being mistreated his main talent is nothing but a curse. It’s a film of hardships that takes Wū Yáo all the way from childhood up until his acceptance of his gifts - prompting the true forging of his enchanted pipa Líng Yá. It’s a lot of time to cover, and particularly in the film’s early staging this lingering on that misery can make it a little slow at times. Wū Yáo’s evolution into the character we know him as doesn’t come until the very end of the film, which does end up making it feel a little drawn out even if it does feel earned by that point (the introductory poem is especially good). With the way it just from setting to setting, this 90 minute film might have been better placed as a three-part mini-series, which would have given each act more chance to breath and stand out on its own.

Xiào Kuáng JuànCháo Fēng

With both a songstress as the lead and a world-renowned Japanese musician voicing said character, naturally the soundtrack plays a larger part here than it has previously. T.M. Revolution has previously provided vocal songs for both seasons of the show, so the film is more greatest hits than it is all new material – but when the songs are this good that's hardly a complaint. Not only is is nice to hear the songs played directly in the show itself, but also to see how the lyrics correlate with Wū Yáo’s story.

The film also features a particularly strong supporting cast, including a few other faces from season two. The dastardly magistrate Xiào Kuáng Juàn plays a prominent role in shaping the adult Wu Yao and introducing him to Cháo Fēng, while assassin Xiē Yīng Luò also makes a brief cameo at the end to help tie these different chapters a little better. But when it comes to the other characters newcomer Cháo Fēng really stands out from the rest - the doe-eyed appearance of her puppet and vocal talents of Rie Kugimiya cleverly hiding her true personality as a murderous sadist. Though the fates of many characters that appear here have already been revealed, hers is one that’s still undetermined - prompting hope that she may return in the future to continue this element of the story.

Mù Tiān MìngShāng Bù Huàn

The appearance of Shāng in the film was to be expected given their previously established acquaintance, but what comes as a much bigger surprise is proper insight into his mission to rid the world of demonic swords – leading to the creation of the Sorcerous Sword Index. With so much of Shāng’s life still shrouded in secrecy, to properly see this part of the story covered onscreen is long overdue. His introduction into the story is cleverly done, the rest of the cast quietly dropping references to his supposed villainy. Until the penny drops it's quite easy to forget that they themselves are actually the bad ones, and fully expect Sword Plundering Nemesis to be some sort of major antagonist Wū Yáo has to face off against. His partner Mù Tiān Mìng is such a great addition to the cast it's a shame she hasn't appeared before now, but with the obvious parallels to Wū Yáo made it's undoubtedly the right place for her debut.

After two seasons and a movie it should feel redundant to write about just how good Thunderbolt Fantasy looks, but not only is it such a huge part of the show's charm but it's always finding new ways to impress. Whether Bewitching Melody of the West's feature length presentation commanded a higher budget isn't something I can comment on, but the scope of the climactic action sequences feel a cut above the show's already impressive standards. Pili's craftsmanship on both the puppets and sets is incredible, yet as the behind the scenes footage during the end credits shows they are more than happy to completely tear things down or quite literally throw a puppet from one side of the set to the other in the name of a good shot. There aren't many places you can find a puppet ripping the limbs off of other puppets using only bamboo, yet Shāng does it to his opponents as if it were an art form. Thunderbolt Fantasy has never shied away from puppet gore but this film feels almost especially brutal, yet in it that sense of artistry never feels lost. Never when watching do you stop to consider the physical limitations of the puppets, as it's almost constantly compensated by both camera trickery and swift puppeteering. Deep down you know that the lips and limbs are simply just flapping about, but Thunderbolt Fantasy makes you believe these puppets can run, do a forward flip and hack an enemy to pieces.

The creation of the Sorcerous Sword IndexLíng Yá

Despite a relatively slow start Thunderbolt Fantasy -Bewitching Melody of the West- is a double whammy of content, not only revealing the origins of one of its most popular new characters but also providing some of the story background fans have been eager to see since season one. With such a huge amount of plot to cover the film can often seem overly dense to the point a mini-series might have suited it better, but in typical Thunderbolt Fantasy fashion the visuals somehow continue to defy expectations. With season three on the horizon, it couldn't be more exciting to see where it's going to go next.

1 comment:

M said...

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