Bonkers Fantasy Anime Made Entirely With Puppets Has To Be Seen To Be Believed

By Nina Phillips | Published

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Thunderbolt Fantasy is a show that can be very loosely considered an anime. Where most animes are animated series from Japan, this one offers something a little different, choosing to use puppets instead.

While one might assume using puppets instead of animation might not make for a good show, you’d be surprised. It’s certainly not the best anime out there, but it has a solid rating of 7.08 on MAL and a 4.1 (out of 5) on Crunchyroll.

The Thunderbolt Fantasy Story

Thunderbolt Fantasy is loosely set in an Eastern fantasy setting. Dan Fei and her brother Dan Heng are in charge of a special sword. However, an evil clan is on the search for the sword to give it to their master, known as Mie Tian Hai.

It doesn’t take long for the enemies to defeat Heng, and Fei must flee to safety with the sword in her possession.

She comes across two wandering swordsmen, Shang Bu Huan, and Lin Xu Ya, and they decide to help protect her and the sword from the evil clan.

Anime With Puppets?

Despite its use of puppets and the fact that it’s not technically animation, Thunderbolt Fantasy is an anime. According to MAL, The Association of Japanese Animation determines what counts as anime, and after many years of people protesting that it should count, the group agreed and officially listed it as Japanese animation in 2022.

The use of hand puppets puts some people off. However, others believe that they are what makes the show. The puppets aren’t like you’d find on Muppets.

They are highly detailed, human figures. Those in charge of the puppets are experts, controlling every movement to make sure the scenes stand out. The costumes are also a huge draw, full of intricate details that would be difficult to animate.

Sealing The Deal

Thunderbolt Fantasy

While the puppets are important, the background music and voice actors help to seal the deal. When used together, it feels like Thunderbolt Fantasy is a play, rather than an anime.

The puppets don’t just stand around and talk. There are all sorts of unusual and intricate action scenes, especially in Season One. For example, there’s one scene where a man’s head is cut off and sent to a wizard, all acted out with the puppets.

There are plenty of stabbing and fighting scenes that make it as enjoyable as a more traditional anime.

Traditional Use Of Puppets

Thunderbolt Fantasy

Another reason to like the puppets is that they’re traditional. Though Thunderbolt Fantasy is Japanese, it uses Taiwanese puppets. It was popular in Taiwan for a while for many dramas to feature puppets on TV, so this show brings some of that back to life.

The creator worked with Taiwanese groups, which is why the puppets look so good. Thunderbolt Fantasy has two official languages, Taiwanese and Japanese, depending on where it aired.

Not A Large Fanbase?

Thunderbolt Fantasy

Despite the unusual style, this isn’t some beginner director running the show. Gen Urobuchi wrote and created Thunderbolt Fantasy.

For those who don’t recognize the name, this is the man who came up with the concepts for Psycho-Pass, Fate/Zero, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

The show has solid reviews, though not a large fanbase. A part of this is because of the puppetry. While many pushed past the puppetry and enjoyed the show, some were too weirded out to watch, or couldn’t get over the strange animation style to get past the first episode.

Streaming Thunderbolt Fantasy

Thunderbolt Fantasy

However, if you’re someone who likes watching more offbeat anime, Thunderbolt Fantasy is definitely one to give a try. The puppets don’t hamper the storytelling in any way and may actually help the show to be more interesting and fun to watch than it would be as a standard animation.

Thankfully, you can give Thunderbolt Fantasy a try if you have a Crunchyroll subscription. The streaming platform features all three current seasons, perfect for binge-watching during a lazy weekend.