Oriental Treasures: Thunderbolt Fantasy
I’m officially calling it the wackiest show to have ever come out anywhere in the world, in 2016. It’s absurd. It’s extremely flashy. The dialogue is deliberately bombastic over the top. It’s a very different piece of work to all the stuff currently out there.
Thunderbolt Fantasy is an ‘anime’ by Gen Urobuchi, one known in the indsutry for inserting lots of philosophical themes in his works, such as Psycho-Pass (often referencing Franz Fanon), if loosely, as instead of using animation, it uses a very different kind of animation- in the form of puppets.
I wondered how the pitching process went:
EXECUTIVE (excited face): So Urobuchi-san? What is your next big thing?
UROBUCHI clears his throat. Takes deep breath.
EXECUTIVE (face gleaming with joy): Interesting! We’ll fund it!
Probably something like that.
Nonetheless, the concept is so out of the left field its almost a joy to watch. Thunderbolt Fantasy is inspired by classic Chinese Literature pieces like Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (most known in the form of a video game called Dynasty Warriors), and of course, once you mention the topic at hand- Journey to the West (or the story of the Monkey King as its commonly referred to.), and set in a fantasy universe with all the hallmarks of very 90’s Asian television staples- lots of swordplay, kick-ass finishing moves, and deliberately grandiose statements before said finishing moves. With this in mind the story follows a young shrine girl named Dan Fei (will just use Chinese renderings here) to recover the crossguard of an ancient sword in order to return to its rightful place- the shrine where she hails from. And after the crossguard is an evil treasure collector with a posse of black-clad henchmen. Along the way our shrine girl recruits a rag-tag group of mismatched and individuals with more conflicting personalities than a shared house to stop the evil collector. The audience mainly follows the story through the eyes of Shan Bu Huan, a stranger from a strange land (and deliberately so- because he functions as the audience’s questions about the adventure he is in), who only reluctantly helps the group.
The use of puppets is by far the most interesting part, and you get used to it after a while, but there’s a certain sense of the comic that comes from the deliberately cheap effects (meant to resemble the 90s), and the amount of blood splatters and decapitations that doesn’t come easy to television these days, and notably saves the production house a lot of money when compared to modern animation techniques, because of the time saved on drawing.
As for the content of the show itself, it is always combat, combat, and more combat. Every scene and lead-up is an excuse to just get straight into the fighting, and the combat itself is done at a million miles per hours, with our heroes slaying their foes at light speed. The pacing of the narrative is faster than a Maserati on an autobahn. It’s a fresh change from all the recent television with all the set-up, slow-peeling reveals. Just kick back and laugh for this one.
Where to Watch?: You can probably google anime streaming sites as most of the (good, if not popular- Psycho-Pass has only got its recent English dub.) stuff doesn’t make it out via legitimate channels to a Western market (it’s worth noting that most of the stuff we get is the curated, good stuff, so we would end up having a distorted perception of anime culture and work.)