The spear-point in Thunderbolt Fantasy

December 19, 2016

(There will be spoilers.)

Under the surface, Thunderbolt Fantasy has an unusual structure. Although it has the expected big spectacular ending in the last episode, the real high point comes a bit less than half way through the second-last episode. The rest of the show is interesting and necessary, but it's also all denouement with a kind of inevitability to it and little real tension (cf). You might wonder how this can be.

Jo Walton has written about what she calls spear-points, which are moments that take on their power because of the weight of the story behind them. To quote her:

When Duncan picks the branches when passing through trees, he's just getting a disguise, but we the audience suddenly understand how Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane.

The climactic point in Thunderbolt Fantasy is such a spear-point; it discharges a huge central tension that the show steadily built up over its run. That central tension is the question of Shang, our protagonist.

All through the show there's been a mystery building about Shang. He's not notable or obviously incredibly skilled in the way that other characters are, there are weird things about him, and people go back and forth on how powerful he actually is (especially after he does not so great in one fight). Also, there's a scene where Lin Xue Ya gets to examine Shang's sword and exclaims that it's a terrifying sword, although of course he doesn't say why. So the show has built up all of this tension surrounding Shang. How good is he, really? When is he going to show what he can really do?

Then, part of the way into episode 12, in the middle of a fight, Shang throws away his sword to save Juan and we know the time has come. We're about to get answers at last. Shang is going to have to cut loose.

Thunderbolt Fantasy doesn't disappoint us and it doesn't waste the opportunity. First, Juan exclaims over Shang's sword, finally revealing to us what's so unusual about it so we can understand and believe in what's coming. Then we get a showy wuxia fight scene that's used as an excuse for Shang to show off, lecture us, and demonstrate his real power by curb-stomping everyone involved despite having thrown away his sword. When the dust settles we have answers, a named villain has gone down in a dramatic scene, and Shang has finally revealed himself as a badass.

That sequence, that revelation and its aftermath, is the big whoop it up, fist-pumping moment of Thunderbolt Fantasy. Not because it's the most spectacular or epic fight or the most tense moment, but because it's the scene where the spear-point finally lands, a spear-point that we've been waiting for practically from the start.

(Thunderbolt Fantasy understands how climactic a moment it is, too. For example, the show switches from ordinary fight music to the big main theme fight music when Shang's curb-stomping starts.)

(This is a 12-days post.)

Written on 19 December 2016.
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Last modified: Mon Dec 19 23:33:55 2016
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