Sword of the Stranger

Deal Score0
Deal Score0

Product Description
Studio: Infinity Resources Inc Release Date: 06/16/2009 Run time: 102 minutesAmazon.com
Masahiro Ando’s Sword of the Stranger (2007) is a no-holds-barred samurai action film that happens to be animated. Accompanied by his faithful dog, Tobimaru, Kotaro is forced to flee when the troops of a feudal lord and their Chinese allies attack the temple where he’s been living. Taking refuge in an abandoned shrine, Kotaro meets No Name, a sardonic but extremely ab… More >>

Sword of the Stranger

This site uses affiliate links and if you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a commission payment.

5 Comments
  1. If I was still 14 I probably would have liked it. Maybe since I’m 23 I’m getting too old for anime.
    Rating: 2 / 5

  2. NOTE: This review has major spoilers for this movie. If you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read the review until after you have seen the movie.

    Sword of the Stranger, which was conceived, written, produced, and animated by BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, etc.), is largely an action anime that takes place during the period of the Ming Dynasty. It takes place in Japan itself but there is also a large Chinese influence on parts of the plot, complete with Mandarin being mixed with Japanese.

    Directed by Masahiro Ando, Sword of the Stranger has garnered tons of praise in various anime communities and with professional movie critics. Does it live up to the hype? Not in the slightest. Read on.

    Story

    —–

    There’s a story? Ok, ok. To be fair, this movie does have a story, albeit a rather inconsequential, uninteresting, and cliche-ridden one.

    Sword of the Stranger starts with a young boy named Kotaro, his dog Tobimaru, and his master running away from a burning temple. Kotaro and Tobimaru get separated from Kotaro’s master and are forced to fend for themselves.

    The two of them end up in a small town and meet a mysterious stranger with a katana. The katana has a special knot on it to prevent this stranger from drawing the sword. After trading lots of “cute” jabs with the stranger, Kotaro and Tobimaru get attacked. Tobimaru gets poisoned and Kotaro is almost captured (the reasons for this are unexplained at this point in the story).

    Enter No Name, the mysterious stranger with a katana. He jumps into action to defend Kotaro and Tobimaru, all without drawing his sword. However, he still kills using other weapons. So while there’s definitely symbolism to him not drawing his sword, he doesn’t really adhere to what it eventually stands for. Unlike Balsa in Moribito: Guardian of The Spirit, who quite simply does not kill (ever), No Name is more than willing to cut off limbs, heads, and cut people in half whenever the script tells him its time for more bloodshed.

    Anyway, after yet MORE jabs with No Name, Kotaro demands that No Name work for him to help save his dog. After some reluctance, No Name agrees (take note of this!) and they’re off to a nearby town to get Tobimaru some help.

    Inter-cut throughout all of this are numerous scenes of a Big Bad Unnamed Westerner(tm), who is good with a sword, killing people, acting tough, and working toward some evil agenda for the Ming Dynasty in China. All he cares about is killing others and finally meeting a worthy opponent. He has absolutely no backstory at all and is never developed beyond loving violence. I’ll let others fill in the gaps when it comes to who his worthy opponent is…

    Apparently, the Japanese have allowed the Chinese to build some sort of tower on their land to create some sort of superhuman drug simply known as xian. This drug is shown to drastically increase response time, a user’s ability to fight, severely decrease pain sensitivity, and makes people incredibly bloodthirsty (naturally, whenever the script demands more blood). The downside is its users get addicted. The secret ingredient that makes this special drug work? The blood of a child every one hundred years. The blood is fed into some sort of time device and a ritual is performed. Kotaro is the chosen sacrifice this time around. Why they can’t simply get another kid is never explained. It just has to be Kotaro because he’s the protagonist that No Name needs to save. Why? Because the story says so!

    In typical anime cliche fashion, both No Name and Kotaro have a Mysterious Past(tm) that doesn’t get revealed until the climax of the movie. While patiently sitting through the confusing editing, unclear plot, and boring characterization, I was hoping that these backstories would at least hold up enough to justify all the senseless/random violence, Kotaro’s constant bitching and whining, and No Name’s almost non-existent dialog. Unfortunately, they do not.

    Kotaro’s story is simple: he was taken to China when he was really young. His parents both died. He was brought back to Japan and was raised in the temple that burned at the beginning of the movie. No Name’s story is ripped right out of almost any samurai movie/JRPG you can think of. He was an exceptional soldier in some unnamed war at an undisclosed period of time in the past. For some reason, he needed to execute a mother and child in cold blood. So now he refuses to draw his sword. And he dyes his hair black (it’s normally red). That’s it. Those are the backstories that were kept under wraps for most of the movie.

    The movie more or less ends with an incredibly contrived battle at the Chinese tower, while a clock ticks down to the right moment for Kotaro to be killed. This battle is interspersed with numerous scenes of No Name and Tobimaru running around searching for Kotaro (oh yeah, I forgot to mention he was captured earlier). They somehow manage to get led to the Chinese temple and No Name springs into action to save Kotaro. Yes, he finally draws his sword to save a kid, and thus allows him to atone for his previous murder.

    After saving Kotaro and spilling lots of blood in the process, No Name and Big Bad Blond Westerner, duke it out in a long, draw out battle that exists simply because the movie needed a big battle between the two. At this point, Big Bad Blond Westerner and No Name are the only two survivors of this whole affair, not counting Kotaro and Tobimaru. The two fight and Big Bad Westerner is defeated, complete with a short scene of him violently coughing up and choking on his own blood. (Thanks, I really needed to see and hear that.) Kotaro, Tobimaru, and No Name ride off into the sunset (seriously), having defeated the Big Bad Westerner. Roll credits.

    I’ve already devoted far more time to the story section than this movie deserves but it really is as simplistic, contrived, and incoherent as I’ve described it. The characters are all underdeveloped, all of the villains are nothing more than mustache twirling, walking cliches, the protagonists are boring, and the editing makes following what little plot there is incredibly confusing. The story lacks emotion and depth, and there are so many large plot holes/unexplained story elements that you can probably fly the Battlestar Galactica through them. Just awful. You’re better off beating yourself over the head with a baseball bat. I guarantee that would be more fun, and kill fewer brain cells than this movie.

    Animation

    ———

    One place where Sword of the Stranger really shines is in the animation. The movie was animated by BONES, and as usual, they don’t disappoint. Animation is fluid and fast paced. The fight sequences are very well-animated.

    And while the fights are clearly not done in a realistic manner like in Moribito: Guardian of The Spirit, which has some of the best martial arts choreography I’ve ever seen in an anime, they fit the movie well enough. Sadly, due to the lack of depth in the story, the fights aren’t very fulfilling and are simply something to watch to help pass the time. Hopefully you don’t mind blood spilling constantly though. This movie has tons of it.

    The colors are dark and are generally vibrant, but overall I found them to be somewhat lacking. They do a decent enough job conveying the world and the characters, but like the story, they ultimately kind of fall flat.

    That said, the character design is quite good. It isn’t anything all that groundbreaking but the characters are all well-designed.

    Music & Sound

    ————-

    (Note: I have not seen this movie in English. Only Japanese. And there’s no way I’m going through it again to sample the English version.)

    For the most part, the sound in this movie is quite good. The voice acting is also top notch. Even Kotaro, who is insanely annoying all the way through the movie, is generally well acted. Interestingly, many of the characters switch between Mandarin and Japanese at various points in the movie. This definitely adds some authenticity to the characters’ dealings with the Chinese. It isn’t enough to save the movie but it’s a good choice stylistically.

    The sound effects are adequate but nothing to really write home about. Standard martial arts screaming, sword clashing, etc. If you like hearing people bleed to death while choking on their own blood (Big Bad Westerner gets a special scene where all he does is cough up blood), then this movie definitely excels there. That really isn’t my cup of tea though and the excessive blood gushing isn’t even justified by a strong plot and characterization. It just exists.

    The music is actually kind of tricky. If you take the music on its own, it’s actually quite good. Much of it is very beautiful and relaxing. Lots of drumming too.

    However, if you take this music and match it up with the action in the movie in the way that was done here, it just doesn’t fit in most cases. It fits in some scenes (some of the early action sequences) but there are countless other scenes where people were killing each other left and right, all set to relaxing traditional Japanese music. It just didn’t fit. At all.

    Conclusion

    ———-

    I’m having a really difficult time seeing why this movie is so loved. I really am. From start to finish it’s nothing but one giant anime cliche. Yes, the animation is good and so is the voice acting, but the story is incredibly unoriginal and predictable, the characters are bland and undeveloped, and the action is excessively gory, uninteresting, predictable, and downright boring without a decent story to support it. The music is decent and actually quite beautiful, but it usually doesn’t fit the action.

    The bottom line: this movie is a contrived, incoherent mess of a production. It starts out with a lot of promise but falls short with everything but animation. Ignore the hype and ignore the raving critics. Good anime this is NOT. In fact, it was downright painful for me to watch it to the end. If you want a good story with great action that’s set in a fantasy world mirroring feudal Japan with highly developed characters and beautiful animation, I strongly recommend checking out Moribito: Guardian of The Spirit instead. It’s a much larger time investment but it’s worth it. Or check out the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs. Or even the Rurouni Kenshin anime series. If you must see Sword of the Stranger, get a free NetFlix trial and see it that way. Don’t pay for it.
    Rating: 2 / 5

  3. I watched this movie almost a year ago. Ever sense then I have been waiting for it to be released on Blu ray and DVD. The story is fairly decent, but the animation and action put this movie over the top. The action sequences are fast paced high impact and will make you want to watch them several times over just so you can catch all of it. The final battle in the movie is the best sword fight scene I have ever seen. I highly recommend this movie for sword fighting anime enthusiast.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. THE ANIMATION IS FREAKING AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!!, FIGHT SCENES ARE PERFECT, LOTS OF BLOOD, ONE OF MY FAVOTITES OF ALL TIME, MY WIFE HATES ANIME BUT SHE LOOOVED THIS ONE!!
    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. Sword of the Stranger is a FANTASTIC anime movie. The story is a little cliche (it’s sort of a Japanese vs. Chinese story, with the old Kenshin-style fallen samurai searching for redemption thrown in), but the story works with the artwork and action sequences and everything else as a whole to make something that seems more novel than the story alone would suggest.

    The characters are all well-formed and well-acted, and seem much more substantial than the traditional Ninja Scroll-style villain. The little kid, Kotaro, and his dog could have been sickly sweet and too cute for their own good, but they are instead depicted realistically, so they don’t derail the entire movie. The fallen samurai with no name is a bit of a Kenshin ripoff, but his interactions with Kotaro and the other characters seem genuine enough and his character arc seems complete and real, so it’s forgivable. The main villain, the foreigner working for the Chinese, is suitably terrifying and believably monstrous.

    The pacing of the story is just perfect, with an awesome swordplay demonstration by the foreign tough guy to start things off, little tastes of action here and there throughout the middle, and an explosive finale that literally leaves entire armies in piles of bloody chunks. The Chinese influence is definitely there, and if you’ve seen movies like Once Upon a Time in China or Iron Monkey, the finale especially will seem familiar. It looks and feels like a Hong Kong wuxia film cranked up to 11.

    For anyone who likes anime movies like Ninja Scroll or the Samurai X OVA, or Hong Kong wuxia films like Hero or House of Flying Daggers, I can’t recommend Sword of the Stranger enough. I haven’t seen an example of this genre that’s this good in YEARS.
    Rating: 5 / 5

Leave a reply

Login/Register access is temporary disabled