Thunderbolt Fantasy 3 Just Bizarrely Redefined Product Placement

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Thunderbolt Fantasy 3, now streaming on Crunchyroll.

Those aware of product placement probably wouldn't expect the subliminal marketing ploy to end up in a puppet show that takes place in an ancient fantasy world. It would be almost as weird as, say, seeing a Starbucks cup in Game of Thrones. But popular, puppet-based series, Thunderbolt Fantasy not only recently did it, it did it with the subtlety of a bulldozer, making it one of the most bizarre scenes on TV.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is a collaboration project between Japanese visual novel company Nitroplus -- mostly, the writer of Thunderbolt Fantasy, Gen Urobuchi -- the hobby goods company, Good Smile Company, which specializes in Nendoroid figures, and the Taiwanese puppetry company, Pili International. As such, the product placement scene in question plays out exactly like the lovechild of all three of these entities.

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In Season 3, Episode 5 of Thunderbolt Fantasy, the protagonist team split up to distract their enemies. Before they split, Rin Setsu A, the mischievous master thief, gave Sho Fu Kan, our heroic protagonist, a mysterious pouch. After Sho evaded pursuing the deranged Ro Shin Kai, he opens the pouch to find a Nendoroid figure of Rin Setsu A inside. The Nendoroid is a real one made by Good Smile Company and sold in 2016 after Thunderbolt Fantasy Season 1 was released.

Sho feels the figure is cursed since the chibi aesthetic doesn’t exist in ancient times. His suspicion is confirmed when the figure starts to talk in Rin Setsu A’s voice. It can even move its head and limbs and make different expressions, which are actual features of Nendoroid figures. According to Rin, he made the figure on a whim out of his hex abilities, so they can use it to communicate remotely.

In a moment of pure fan service, Rin tries to make sense of the Nendoroid by saying that he wants Sho to remember his face, explaining that he intentionally made the figure cute so that Sho won’t be freaked out by it. But of course, that's precisely how the down-to-earth Sho does react, so he puts it back into the pouch.

The scene is utterly out of place within the context of the series because both Sho and Rin just had intense confrontations that they barely escaped from. The figure itself, Rin’s forced explanations of its appearance, and the semi-flirtation all feel hilariously incongruous with the overall tone of the Thunderbolt Fantasy.

Yet, as product placement for Nendoroid, it's effective because of how bizarre and forced it feels. The scene is the most memorable part of the episode by far. It also showcases the main features of the figurine, in addition to demonstrating the abilities of the Pili puppeteers, who can even make a Nendoroid work as a puppet.

Using a puppet show to market a different type of puppet is actually a pretty ingenious idea -- a very effective advertisement for Nendoroid that doubles as a meta-joke. Not to mention a testament to Gen Urobuchi's writing abilities functioning on many different levels. And, as there is a practical purpose for it in the story, this may not be the last time we see this figure in the series, either.

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