Grim_Noir Is Thunderstruck By Thunderbolt Fantasy

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Title: Thunderbolt Fantasy

Script: Gen Urobuchi

Original Concept: Gen Urobuchi

Sound Director: Yoshikazu Iwanami

Puppet Animation: Pili International Multimedia

Music: Hiroyuki Sawano

Opening Theme: RAIMEI by T.M. Revolution

Produced by Nitroplus, Good Smile Company, and Pili International Multimedia

Published in North America on Crunchyroll

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

“Sanity,” someone much wiser than me once said, “is vastly overrated.” This credo will serve you in good stead as you watch Thunderbolt Fantasy, because this show is BONKERS (in absolutely the best possible way).

Throw The Seven Samurai, all the Final Fantasy videogames, Team America, the most “wushu” martial arts movie you ever saw on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and The Venture Brothers into a blender and hit “puree” until you can’t tell where one part ends and the next part begins. This only begins to give you an idea of the action-packed, dark-humored swagger of writer Gen (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Psycho-Pass, Aldnoah.Zero) Urobuchi’s audacious take on Shaw-Brothers-style historical kung-fu flicks. And, like a perfectly prepared mixed drink, it goes down smooth.

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The story begins when shrine maiden Dan Fei and her brother, Dan Heng, are forced to flee. Everyone in their family temple has been slaughtered by nefarious Xuan Gui Zong clan, whose ruthless master, Mie Tian Hai, seeks the magical sword Tian Xing Jian. For ages, the Dan family has guarded the sword against evil, butĀ facing the relentless assault of Mie Tian Hai’s minions there is suddenly a very real possibility of demonic horrors overrunning the earth. Thinking quickly, Dan Heng separates the crossguard from the sword itself (thus negating the magic of the sword until the parts are reunited). Sacrificing himself to the on-coming horde, his sister is able to flee with the sacred sword’s crossguard.

Cut to the mysterious, but clueless, wandering swordsman Shang Bu Huan (whose name alone is a joke: It means “Unconcerned with Dying Young”). He is tricked by the enigmatic Lin Xue Ya (who Shang has just met) into protecting Dan Fei from the Xuan Gui Zong, earning Shang a death sentence from the clan (which Shang refers to as “a huge pain in the ass”). Dan Fei quickly convinces the two to help her recover the legendary sword. Together, they assemble a team including a female necromancer, a one-eyed long-range archer (and his young protege), and a brutal assassin to storm Mie Tian Hai’s stronghold in the Devil’s Spine Mountains.

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The plot races along like an accelerating Tesla, leaving the viewer breathless. Double-crosses pile on top of triple-crosses and everyone has a secondary motivation. There is so much character depth in this series that you quickly forget the actors are expressionless wooden puppets…

Did I forget to mention that Thunderbolt Fantasy is a puppet show?. Well, it is. Deal with it. It is a Taiwanese puppet theater production of a Japanese script for an original Chinese martial arts fantasy with state-of-the-art CGI-ed special effects. Not only does this let them tell the story in a new and unique way, but Urobuchi is well aware that he is affectionately spoofing the Seinen anime genre in much the same way Team America simultaneously spoofs 60s & 70s Supermarionation shows and 80s action movies. From the opening notes of the T.M. Revolution theme song, it is clear that the genetics of this story are also spliced from the worlds of Airplane and Police Squad: The more deadpan you play the scenes, the funnier they get. And no one is more straight-faced than a puppet.

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Yet, at the same time, the action scenes are downright thrilling. The usual tricks and miniatures of live Taiwanese puppet theater have been skillfully combined with cunning camera cuts and digital special effects to create a show that is as addicting as it is amusing.

Of course, in my mind, there are really just two types of people: 1) Those who enjoy Team America, yet can hold nostalgic warm fuzzies for the shows of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson, or 2) People who need to get the hell away from me.

Let me know which one you decide you are… AFTER watching at least three episodes of Thunderbolt Fantasy.

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Ol' Grim Hisself

* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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