With the current political climate as it is, what’s with the presence of Donald Trump and the #MeToo incidents, it is safe to say that human beings will do anything to sate their ego.
Its hard not to see why. Pleasing your ego feels good, whether it is through exerting or gaining power over others or loudly pronouncing your talent and your existence to the world. Especially if you are people in power where you don’t have to get your comeuppance for your wrongdoing because of your privilege. And it is easy to see it as the only thing that matters in life.
Ultimately however, it is a harmful illusion. Not just for the people over around you, but also how empty it all ultimately is.
Thunderbolt Fantasy is a story of ego. Of people trying to do anything to sate it through various means, either through “famous” deeds or through a pursuit of a subject (in this case, swordfighting) and how folly it all actually is.
The show stars merry band of warriors, demon and assassin who join together to take down an evil overlord, Miè Tiān Hái. His motivation to collect the show’s McGuffin in order to assert his position as the strongest swordsman makes him a clear personification of powerful men trying to please his ego. But the majority of our “heroes” are also deeply concerned about their pride. The eager youth, Juǎn Cán Yún, wants to be famous and have his self-proclaimed title be renounced worldwide. Shòu Yún Xiāo (who is also Juǎn’s master) who doesn’t seem to care working for the bad guys as long as he becomes famous. Shā Wú Shēng’s entire reason for joining the party was simply to get a chance to get back at Lǐn Xuě Yā for dishonoring him.
While majority of the men in the party are the obvious offender, the graceful Dān Fěi is also guilty of this. When pointed out by Juǎn that she should adapt her sword style to suit her posture, since her sword style is conceived with male body in mind, she was offended over this. Unconcerned with trying to be pragmatic in order to live if it means dishonoring herself for trying to modified a sacred fighting style.
Speaking of honor, people in Thunderbolt Fantasy seems to be concerned more about their pride rather than their life, like Shā. The weight of ego and pride can often feel heavier than the blessing of living, after all. This also mirrors the characters pre-occupation with title and moniker. Characters are often introduced alongside their moniker and, in the case of the show’s prequel/spin-off The Sword of Life and Death, it more or less determines your entire existence.
As the plot progress, the show more or less depict the inevitable fate that happened for those who are enslaved to their ego. In most cases, death. But for Miè Tiān Hái in particular, horrible existential confusion. During his fight against Lǐn Xuě Yā, whose sole purposes in life is to effectively “steal” the pride of powerful men, he was confounded over the fact that he is beaten in the subject that he spend majority of his life working on, especially by someone who has little interest in that subject. It was then that Lǐn dropped the truth, there is no end in trying be “the best there is” because there is always someone better out there. The path of sating your ego through power in many forms is endless. The world is just too large and uncaring of your effort or hardwork.
Rather than admitting to this fact, and be humbled and spends his life doing something else, Miè decides to more or less damn the world he couldn’t be the best in by destroying the Mcguffin that he spends the entire show searching for, thus letting an evil demon be free. His pride is still winning out in the end. Even though he made it his life occupation to take down a person’s pride, Lǐn is still capable of being blindsided by his own ego.
However, not all of the characters are forever enslaved. Juǎn’s love for Dān Fěi causes him to turn his back at his mentor and his goal to become famous. Dān Fěi also ended up modifying her fighting style in order to survive, thus keeping her alive to continue her familial duty. As hard as it is to do that, in the end, both her life and her much larger noble duty are more important.
There is also the exception to all of these characters, which is Shāng Bù Huàn, the show’s protagonist. Throughout the show, he seems have little to no regard to his pride. He brushes off insults, he picks up the moniker Juǎn made for him on the spot because why not, and he more or less happy with fighting with a wooden blade that he painted silver on to remind himself that killing feels physically awful, thus preventing him from ever going down to the path of pleasing the ego through exerting power over others. He knows who he is, he knows his goal (which is to prevent any other powerful weapon from being created/used by ego-driven evil men) and he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone else. In the end, that is all that matters.
- All of Shāng’s characteristic makes the revelation where he had a bunch of other powerful holy/demonic weapon on his disposal the whole time very satisfying. It asserts how true powerful men doesn’t flaunt their strength willy nilly. Ultimately, humility is the way forward.
- There’s also the fact that the show’s antagonist group targeted Shāng not because of vengeance but merely to keep up an image (they can’t have their terrifying evil organization officer be beaten by a nobody after all).