During our time at Anime Central we had a chance to talk with Pili International Media, the production company behind the hit show “Thunderbolt Fantasy”! Pili has been in the puppetry show business for over 30 years and continues to dazzle the world with intricate set pieces and beautiful costumes. We were joined by Pili CEO Liang-Hsun Huang, CBO Jen-Jia Huang, Puppeteer Master Chia-Chang Hung, and Lead Puppeteer Jia-Shen Liao to talk a little about Thunderbolt Fantasy and what they enjoy about working on it!

From left to right: Chia-Chang Hung, Jen-Jia Huang, Liang-Hsun Huang, Jia-Shen Liao

KKS: Here we are with 3 seasons and 2 movies plus the upcoming 4th season for Thunderbolt Fantasy. When you first embarked on this project with Urobuchi Gen-san and Good Smile Company, did you think this would go on as long as it has?

Ms. Huang: At first, Urobuchi-san thought it would only be one season, so the story was written in a way that it could be finished by the end of the first season. Surprisingly, the response from the audience was pretty good. Then it came to the decision of creating side story novels and the second season. After that, considering the increasing popularity, the Bewitching Melody of the West, the third season, the fourth season, and the finale movie were developed together. Urobuchi-san also said the worldview would grow bigger and bigger in the three sequels. Here we also want to thank all our fans. Thanks to their support, we have developed so much in this series and expect to create more.

KKS: With the amount of puppetry and set pieces involved, how long would it typically take to produce one episode of the show?

Mr. Huang: We usually divide the production into an early phase and a latter phase. The early phase includes writing script, designing artworks, crafting puppets, making props, and preparing stage scenes. This can take approximately 1 year long. Then the shooting takes 3 months to produce 13 episodes and the latter phase requires another half a year. Thus, it can take about 2 years in total to produce a whole season.

KKS: How do you approach the challenge of balancing practical and digital effects in the show?

Mr. Huang: The puppetry is basically what we are doing, so the physical effects are the priority in this type of show performance. In principle, we always pursue live-action shooting and generate those effects practically onsite as much as possible. In the latter phase that mentioned, we apply the digital method only when we need to strengthen the physical effects or when the practical live-action shooting is not feasible to generate some of the effects.

KKS: Were there any character designs there that were particularly different to make into puppets?

Ms. Huang: This is kind of interesting because it was our first time converting the 2d characters that were drawn and provided by Nitro+ to puppets. I remember there is a character called Xie Ying Luo (pictured below) in the second season. The 2d design of this character was sexy and gorgeous, but to show her skin exposure through puppet was difficult. In the end, the actual puppet of hers looked like an adorkable cute girl, which was a huge difference. The characters’ puppets are often not too distinct from their original designs, yet sometimes there could be such structural factors that can lead to potential differences.


KKS: Lastly, for each member here, do you have a favorite character from TBF and why?

Ms. Huang: Hmm… We will let the two puppeteers share something first.
(Looks at Master Liao)
Master Liao: Oh, Lin Xue Ya is my favorite, and so is Dan Fei… Lang Wu Yao, too!
Mr. Huang: This is not “one” favorite, this is “three” …
Master Liao: We started working on TBF from the first season to the latest season’s ending so far. Dan Fei is the young beautiful and naïve main heroine in the first season. During the shooting, I designed some new puppet movements for her, which we had never done and filmed before. Hence, this makes me have a lot of affection for her.
Ms. Huang (Looks at Master Hung): Do you want to say something?
(Master Hong was a little shy so he passed, and everyone laughed)
Ms. Huang (Looks at Mr. Huang): Should I say? Or what about you say something.
Mr. Huang: Okay. My favorite is Shang Bu Huan. He is highly skilled in martial arts and has a strong sense of justice. In addition, there is some funny contrast in him because he has a tsundere personality despite being an older character and is usually roasted by Lin Xue Ya, which I found very hilarious. When Shang Bu Huan speaks in a serious tone, his words are mostly insightful and thought-provoking as well.

KKS: That’s great to hear. Thank you again!

Everyone: Thank you.

After the interview, Puppeteer Masters Liao and Hung also gave us a little show!

Thank you to Anime Central and Eugene Harng for arranging the interview and Ricky Li for interpretation. 

You can watch the first three seasons and movies of Thunderbolt Fantasy on Crunchyroll

Thunderbolt Fantasy
Official Website: https://www.thunderboltfantasy.com/
Official X: https://x.com/TBF_PR

PILI International Media
Official Website: https://www.pili.com.tw/
Official X: https://x.com/epilinet
Official Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pili_puppetry/

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