Puppet shows were exciting when we were children – teaching us valuable life lessons about staying away from spindles and avoiding wolves who give good directions. The puppet show definitely lost its pizzazz as we got older. However, this didn’t stop Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass creator, Gen Urobuchi from creating something new. After witnessing the energy of Taiwanese puppet theater, Urobuchi was inspired to create his own show, Thunderbolt Fantasy, a puppet-driven series which has all the fantastical elements and action of a regular anime.
The show follows a young girl, Dan Fei, who is tasked with protecting a magical sword capable of defeating demons. The Xuan Gui Zong are after the magical sword so demons can take over the world, as they’re wont to do. A wandering swordsman, Shang Bu Huan, comes across Dan Fei after she escapes from the Xuan Gui Zong and fights them off. After the demons learn the name of the traveling swordsman, an adventure ensues as Huan and a group of other skilled fighters attempt to kill the leader of the Xuan Gui Zong and cease their relentless pursuit of the magical sword.
If this were a regular anime, it would probably be pretty normal with prototypical anime characters and lavish action sequences. But, take those same action sequences and render them using puppets and tangible special effects, and you have something truly amazing. There have been other adult puppet shows, like Crank Yankers, but many of those are comedies and do not feature action, or an earnest attempt at long narratives. The show utilizes swift camera cuts to illustrate the action. Characters declare their finishing moves in typical anime fashion.
It’s also very violent; hands get chopped off, puppets explode, and blood spews everywhere. In the first episode, a puppet chops its own head off as he admits defeat and vows revenge on the character who defeated him.
Thunderbolt Fantasy uses glove puppetry, a popular style used in Taiwan. The puppets’ heads are carved to resemble human features. The body is made up entirely of cloth clothing, which lends itself for beautiful and extravagant costumes. The clothing moves brilliantly with the fast action of the show. Paired with the colorful CG animation, it makes for an intriguing show that surprisingly flows smoothly.
However, the characters stiffness and lack of movement in the mouth when speaking can become distracting. It is hard to suspend reality, but you must do so in order to really enjoy the animation. The characters all have different personalities and qualities and hopefully, this leads to interesting character developments as the show progresses. Thunderbolt Fantasy can be streamed on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 4:30pm EST.