There have been varying attempts in the past to tell dramatic and mature stories with puppets. The works of Gerry Anderson are great examples of this. Well, it turns out there’s a tradition of these kind of stories in Taiwan and china, through glove puppetry. We got a real great example of this a few years ago with the Taiwanese and Japanese co-production, Thunderbolt Fantasy.
Thunderbolt Fantasy‘s first season follows (and I’m going to slightly botch the names because I don’t have the right accent marks on the keyboard) Shang Bu Huan, a wandering swordsman who ends up getting caught up in a complicated situation after coming to the aid of a girl, Dan Fei. Fei is from a shrine that had been protecting a magic sword called the Tian Xing Jian. The shrine was attacked by the Xuan Gui Xong, a group lead by Mie Tian Hai (a.k.a. Bones of Creation), who is trying to acquire all the magic swords in the land, leaving Dan Fei the only survivor, and in possession of the sword’s guard – Bones of Creation has the blade and the handle.
Shang Bu Huan is roped into helping Fei by Lin Xue Ya (aka The Enigmatic Gale), who is… a trickster figure, and the three of them put a team together to retrieve the handle, to make sure that Bones of Creation is unable to user the sword.
The series is wonderfully written. All of the narrative which could have been treated as trite or juvenile is instead played as deadly serious, at level I’d compare to the more serious elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender – except with very bloody violence. Indeed, the way the fight scenes are done plays very heavily into this, with some very intricately done fight scenes – again done all with glove puppets – and all paired with very bloody violence. Heads get lopped off, characters get impaled, dismembered, bisected, or blown to bloody chunks.
All of this could easily have come off as silly, in a very Team America: World Police kind of manner. However, because the narrative is played straight, and the fight choreography is so well done , you just roll with it.
It makes for an encompassing series that was woefully overlooked, and I hope will get more love (and a physical release) in the future.
Currently Thunderbolt Fantasy is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.com.
If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to help to support the site, please consider backing my Patreon. Patreon backers get to access my reviews and Let’s Plays up to a week in advance.
If you want to support the site, but can’t afford to pledge monthly, please consider tossing a few bucks into my Ko-Fi instead.