Tag Archives: Thunderbolt Fantasy

Thunderbolt Fantasy Review

Seldom do we find something truly unexpected and exciting in a new season. Certainly there are programs that are exciting because of their animation style, subject matter, or links to other works, but it is rare that a show comes along that can invoke a literal double-take. Thunderbolt Fantasy is one such work.

The premise is well-worn ground at this stage. A vaguely medieval fantasy land, the pursuit of a legendary weapon, ancient dark forces threatening to return, characters with ulterior motives, a quest to save the world… Yes, we have seen these things before, perhaps more times than can be counted. But the truly original and shocking element of Thunderbolt Fantasy is that this show is entirely done with puppets.

kermit
Not those, but close. Maybe just, like, 30% more fabulous.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is a cross-production between Japan and Taiwan. Often retelling historical tales, legends, and folklore, glove puppetry is a long-running tradition in Taiwan. With writer Gen Urobuchi at the helm and the unique presentation of puppetry in lieu of animation or live actors, Thunderbolt Fantasy is a surprising production even with its standard fantasy milieu.

What Works

setting
Human hands built this! Behold!

Practical Effects – The greatest strength of Thunderbolt Fantasy is the use of practical effects. The puppets themselves are absolute works of art, being hand-carved wooden dolls clothed in some outlandish costumes. Sets are spacious and feel fully stocked, no empty wastelands or barren battlefields to be seen. Interior and exterior locales both work equally well, and have an appropriate sense of scale. Even minor details are handled with great care, whether it is the spread of a large dinner table or the debris of an outdoor battle.  The show looks superb, and the fact that all of the characters and items in the show are both real and crafted give the viewer a greater sense of appreciation for the effort involved.

Action – The action sequences in this series are a real delight. The practical effects give the movements of the characters a sense of weight and heft, making the conflicts feel more impactful. Computer generated effects are also in play, but are more for flashy special moves and particle effects than anything else, which amplifies the fantastic spectacle of these sequences. Though it would seem that since the characters are all puppets their fights would seem awkward or constrained due to the limited range of expression, this is not the case.  In fact, the battles are some of the standout moments of the show. For all the fireballs and over the top spells, these moments often feel more authentic than some of the interpersonal character scenes.

Music – Hiroyuki Sawano does phenomenal work with the soundtrack. The music is unmistakably his – driving rhythms, blaring trumpets, mellow downbeats followed by pure bombast almost without transition. While the music feels a bit too familiar at points for fans of say, Gundam Unicorn, there are enough differencws here to help it stand on its own merits. Sawano’s work fits the work perfectly and enhances it, adding to the emotional impact and drama at the high points while providing momentum during the slower segments.

 

What Doesn’t

please-stop
I actually understand less now than before you started talking.

 

Names – There really cannot be a discussion about Thunderbolt Fantasy without bringing up the issue of names. To put it bluntly, it is impossible to remember anyone’s name in this work. The Romanized names in the subtitles are still in the original language, but voice actors use the Japanese versions instead. Given the cooked-in difficulty of pronouncing the translated names and the lack of any sort of audio support for reference, this means that western viewers are basically flying blind when it comes to what anyone or anything is called. In order to help your viewing, I provide my own made up names to assist in your viewing experience.

14172_weblogo
Fancy Puppet Theater

 

ryu
Ryu
belt-neck
Belt Neck
ay-girl-ay
Ay Girl Ay
young-thirsty
Young Thirsty
witchy-witch
Witchy Witch
hawkeye
Hawkeye
darth fabulous.jpg
Darth Fabulous
nails-on-fleek
Nails On Fleek

Thankfully, characters do begin to pick up more interesting titles as the show goes on such as The Enigmatic Gale, Screaming Phoenix Killer, etc. However, by the time this becomes the norm for the majority of the characters, far too much of the show has already gone by. It’s a real testament to the strength of the voice cast and the distinctive look of the puppets that the characters are so memorable, because their names are an active impediment to telling them apart.

Predictability – You could probably guess most of the story beats from the first introduction to the characters, perhaps even earlier. A wandering warrior with a mysterious past who appears to be uncouth and low-born? Hrm, I wonder if he might shock the uptight nobles he travels alongside with martial skill and hidden virtue. A legendary blade sought by an evil group of bandits? Hrm, I wonder if the blade is the key to some dark force that will lead to terrible power beyond the ken of man. Even though there are a few delightful surprises, most of the work is pretty by the numbers and telegraphed far in advance, and the surprises take up too little real estate to have much meaning beyond their initial shock value.

Pacing – The show is generally brisk, but slows down in odd places. The final episode in particular feels like everything gets wrapped up a bit too fast and tidily for the magnitude of the events that are happening. This is only made worse when considering that the show just finished a multi-episode castle sequence with a lot of back and forth that is more tedious than compelling. There are also times when the show moves so swiftly that it seems to rush right past potential character moments or world-building opportunities that are never fully realized. For example, Young Thirsty and Ay Girl Ay have an important connection, but most the screen time is spent exploring his idealism and how it relates to Hawkeye’s more practical view of the world/heroism. Ultimately this may be more a product of the 13-episode constraint, but it is still noticeable.

Overall

Thunderbolt Fantasy Fancy Puppet Theater gets a strong recommendation as a watch for just about any viewer. It is a classic tale that may have few major twists, but is a delight to watch on the strength of its incredible effects and attention to detail. This is one of the most unique looking shows of the season and demonstrates the power of using physical models as a means of telling a story over animation. The fact that it has been given the green light for another season is just icing on the cake, and hopefully future seasons will take more risks with the narrative while continuing to amaze with its visuals.

Podcast #7 – Return of Godzilla

Return of Godzilla Poster

Download Link – Episode 7: Return of Godzilla

Drop us an Email.  Check out Grant on twitter.  Subscribe on iTunes.

Show Notes

What we’ve been watching:

  • JoJo’s Bizarre AdventureLegend of Korra, DC Animated Universe, Space Brothers, Southern Cross, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
  • Southern Cross’s “Cosmic Deja Vu  might be the most appropriately titled opening theme song ever.

News (36:15):

Finally, we review (at 1:06:13) Heat’s favorite Godzilla film, Return of Godzilla.  Directed by Koji Hashimoto, the film, released in 1984, was the first in the Heisei Series.

Leave a comment below. Enjoy!

 

Whatcha Watchin’ – 09/14/16

Hey guys, Grant here with another quick check in to see where we are at in terms of our regularly scheduled programming.

Exercises like this are a way to track progress across the various shows that we attempt to watch. It is helpful to not only measure progress, but also to see where we might go from here. If you are anything like me, then your list of “to-watch” grows a lot faster than the list of completed titles. Hopefully, this will encourage me to buckle down and finish more shows, rather than jump around too much.

So, what am I watching?

Thunderbolt Fantasy

thunderbolt

Service: Crunchyroll

Episode: 8

Feelings: Thunderbolt Fantasy is an absolutely fantastic show, and I am still continuing to enjoy it. I have lagged behind a bit, as life has gotten a bit in the way here lately. Nevertheless, I am ready to hop back into the fancy fighting puppets and see more absurd things happen to pretty dollies.

 

Ultraman Orb

orb

Service: Crunchryoll

Episode: 8

Feelings: This is actually my favorite show I am watching right now. The comedic elements, kaiju action, and genuine joy of watching this show never disappoints. Again, life has me behind, but this is the one I look forward to every week. I legitimately feel like this is a great way to start the Ultra series if you have never seen it before.

 

Macross

sdf1

Service: Amazon Prime

Episode: 2

Feelings: This is a back-burner project, so I am not really pushing myself too hard on this one. I have seen Robotech easily a dozen times, but the original Macross I have only ever watched once completely. Since it is streaming I have told myself I need to rewatch the entire show. It’s as great as I remember, but the print damage is really becoming obvious. This show needs some remastering, desperately.

 

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

stardust-crusaders-2

Service: Crunchyroll

Episode: 20, Season 2

Feelings: So I’m nearly halfway through the Stardust Crusaders arc, and I’m still a bit mixed. I really enjoyed the second arc, so my hype and energy levels were pretty high going in. The problem is that the “baddie of the week” format is only as good as the villain. I don’t feel like the narrative is building like it was in the prior season. Still, I will finish it, because it is a great show, I just need to muscle through more than one episode in a sitting.

 

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

MMPR_Rangers.jpg

Service: Netflix

Episode: 30, Season 3

Feelings: This is another rewatch project I have going. As a kid I really only stuck around for about two seasons or so, but since every single season is on Netflix I challenged myself to see if I could make it all the way to the modern day. I don’t know if that is possible, but the nice thing is that Power Rangers isn’t a show that demands a ton of my attention. I basically passively watch it every morning as I have breakfast, and that theme song gets me jazzed every time. It’s goofy and dumb, but super vibrant and I enjoy every second of it. I’m also pretty intrigued to see what happens as I get further into the seasons I know nothing about.

 

Legend of Korra

korra_the_legend_of_korra

Service: Amazon Prime

Episode: 10, Season 3

Feelings: This show is phe-no-me-nal. I loved Avatar, but wow this show is completely blowing me away. I really could gush about it for hours. The advantage here is that my wife is watching this with me, so I don’t have to fight to find spare time to watch it. It is a shared activity we are doing together every night. Truthfully, I feel like this has done nothing but build each season and I look forward to it every night. Some of the best animated work to come out of the US.

 

So that’s the long, ridiculous list of the shows I am working through, from the every day routine watches to the “eh, when I get to it” shows. What do you guys think? What are you watching right now? Let me know your progress down below.

Whatcha Watchin’? 8/11/16

Greetings Rogues! We are so close to the weekend, I can taste it.

Vash
Awww yiss

So the point of whatcha watchin’ will be to act as one part update, two parts accountability measure, an one part request. Essentially it’s a way for you to know what I am watching, but also a way for me to hold myself accountable and actually watch new things. If I know another post is coming, them maybe I will make sure to watch new things to keep myself from looking foolish (er, or, more foolish). It can also be a chance to get ideas from you guys on what I should look into next, with a few ‘Didja hear about’-s and ‘Oh if you liked that then you’ll like’-s to guide my future viewing.

I hope to do all of this without stepping on the toes of any content that the guys and I would be putting on the podcast, so the focus will definitely be on longer running shows here rather than shorter viewings.

First off, what am I watching?

Kyousougigacover
Kyousougiga

Currently my big show is Kyousougiga. This little ten episode series from 2013 went completely under my radar (and I suspect the same is true for a lot of folks). But after a recommendation from a good buddy I have been giving it a whirl. I really enjoy shorter series such as this because even when life is busy I feel like I can still make substantial progress every week towards finishing it. Overall I’m feeling good about it and look forward to completing it.

Progress: 7 episodes

Remaining: 3 episodes

Feelings: Positive

thunderbolt_fantasy_01_1
Thunderbolt Fantasy

The other major draw for me each week is Thunderbolt Fantasy. Puppet Wuxia is just something I cannot resist. This show really exemplifies what I love about tokusatsu, in that practical effects can make all the difference. The fact that these are real, physical objects moving around gives them a sort of heft we do not normally see in fully drawn or rendered images. There are a few odd things – any time feet are moving it just doesn’t look right, and every person/place/thing has a long name that is difficult to make out in dialogue. Overall though this continues to be a super exciting entry in my weekly viewing. I think the breakneck pace of the narrative, elegant fight sequences, and gorgeously detailed hoteigeki dolls are all such great draws. I don’t see myself giving up on this any time soon.

Progress: 4 episodes

Remaining: Weekly/Unknown

Feelings: Very Positive

I’ve got a few other longer running shows on the back-burner right now, getting to them as time permits, but those two are my big foci at the moment. Rogues, what shows are you watching right now? What manga are you reading? Anything I should be checking out? Let me know below.