Sakura-Con 2017 - Thunderbolt Fantasy Interview

Thunderbolt Fantasy.

Japan-A-Radio was given the opportunity to interview members of the production team of Thunderbolt Fantasy 東離劍遊紀 at Sakura-Con 2017. Thunderbolt Fantasy is a joint international collaboration between Nitroplus in Japan and PILI International Multimedia, Inc. in Taiwan, and is advised by Good Smile Company in Japan. The primary work of the project is probably best described as a heroic Eastern fantasy glove puppet show, formatted for TV broadcast. Most of the show is recorded using real Taiwanese Bu-Dai-Xi glove puppets, props, and sets.

Participating in the interview were:

  • Gen Urobuchi (虚淵玄) from Nitroplus, series creator
  • Liang-Hsun Huang (黃亮勛), vice president and successor of PILI International Multimedia, Inc. (PILI)
  • Takanori Aki (安藝貴範), President and CEO of Good Smile Company (GSC)

The team started the project to try to bridge a cultural gap between Taiwan and Japan. When Urobuchi visited Taiwan, he took notice of PILI’s work and started thinking about why he had not seen such wonderful things in Japan; while PILI has existed for decades in Taiwan, it has not been very popular in Japan. He noticed that Japanese anime fans primarily enjoy only content produced in Japan, and hopes that the Thunderbolt Fantasy project will help raise the visibility and popularity of Taiwanese puppetry and culture. Huang sees the presence of the international team at a convention in the USA as concrete proof that they have helped this mission.

Regarding puppets you can buy for yourself, GSC is currently helping to offer for sale real puppets created by PILI. Nitroplus and GSC are quite content leaving the puppet production to the experts, but are working with them to help navigate the new market in Japan and around the world.

GSC also produces Nendroids for Thunderbolt Fantasy, but not Figma action figures. We asked about the possibility of seeing Figma in the future, but were told they are not currently in the works. Aki explained that because of the fine detail involved in the puppets, a Figma version will likely either lack a lot of detail causing interest to decline, or be too expensive to make causing its price to be much higher than other Figma. The deformed nature of Nendroids allows the designers to omit some of the fine details while staying consistent with the overall style of the product line.

As a topic of personal interest that we hadn’t seen addressed in many other places, we asked about the weapon creation process. While the characters were designed primarily by Nitroplus, the weapons were designed by both companies. They tried to integrate each character’s concept (e.g. crow for Lǐn Xuě Yā) into the respective weapons (e.g. the shape and colour of crow feathers). Huang told us that each weapon was then created both as a real model and as a digital 3D model, with the real model being used for close-up shots and the digital model being used for action shots with fast movements.

Finally, we asked each person for their thoughts on Sakura-Con and USA anime conventions in general. This was Urobuchi’s second Sakura-Con, his first also being his first invitation to an anime convention in the USA. He recalls his impression of the USA primarily coming from his knowledge of Gotham City, and was moved by the beauty of Seattle when he finally visited it. Aki is also well-traveled, but enjoys how Sakura-Con appears to resist commercial pressure to turn into a simple marketplace event where people primarily line up early to buy things. He gets the impression that everybody involved truly enjoys the convention and hopes that this style can spread in Japan as well. Huang on the other hand had never attended a convention in the USA before and learned a lot about the perspectives of fans from outside of Taiwan. He was struck by how people here try to view Thunderbolt Fantasy as something from the Japanese animation genre rather than as primarily a puppet show. His interactions with fans here has helped him learn more about his audience, and is very happy and satisfied with his visit.

We would like to thank the Thunderbolt Fantasy team for taking the time and effort to answer our questions, and to thank Sakura-Con for providing us with the opportunity to meet such a widely talented group of people.

Thunderbolt Fantasy 東離劍遊紀:
PILI International Multimedia, Inc.:
Good Smile Company: