In the Sengoku period of Japan, a young orphan named Kotarou and his dog Tobimaru steal from unsuspecting villagers in order to make ends meet. However, Kotarou is forced to remain on the run when he finds himself being hunted down by assassins sent by China's Ming Dynasty for mysterious reasons not involving his petty crimes.
Fortunately, the duo run into Nanashi, a ronin who has taken refuge in a small temple, when Kotarou is attacked and Tobimaru poisoned. Although the samurai saves the helpless pair from their pursuers, he feels that there is no need to help them further; but when offered a gem in exchange for his services as a bodyguard, he reluctantly accepts Kotarou's offer of employment—just until Tobimaru is healed and the two reach their destination. As the three set out on a perilous journey, it soon becomes evident that their path is riddled with danger, as the Ming Dynasty has now sent a terrifying swordsman after them to capture Kotarou and fulfill a certain prophecy.
Stranger: Mukou Hadan won the award for Best Animated Feature at Brazil's International Fantastic Film Festival and was nominated for the same categories at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and 81st Academy Awards. It also won the 2009 "Menzione Speciale" recognition at Italy's Future Film Festival.
Sword of the Stranger is both unusual and refreshing in the way that it seemed to come out of nowhere and prove to be a remarkable anime. It seems, lately, that anything warranting a large budget and a lot of effort from a studio is either a sequel, an adaptation based on a successful manga or novel, or the next dull addition to a creatively stagnant franchise. None of these things, Sword of the Stranger is an unexpected big-budget film, which leapt instantly to the forefront of my favoured anime movies with exhilarating action sequences, captivating visuals, raw, evocative music and simple but affective characterisation. The look and sound of the show will instantly grab you, and perhaps even carries the film over the insubstantial plot backbone.
Some people have already ordained this film as a classic of sorts, but I’d have to disagree with that, simply because, although it hits hard and fast with splendour, and resonates beyond mere eye-candy, it doesn’t have a crucial element to elevate it into that tier. The characters do have sufficient weight for the audience to empathise with them, and they are also very likeable, but I felt that my appreciation of the characterisation is due largely to the voice talent behind them. So, credit goes to the cast and not necessarily to the way the film was written, which perhaps had more featured characters than it should have. If the film had focused more on the central to characters, I feel it could have been a classic, or at the very least, deliver an even more powerful finale. Perhaps replacing some of the action scenes with more intimate, personal character moments could have helped. But that minor gripe aside, the big problem with the film was the gaping hole where the plot should be.
A plot should always be more than just a vague framework to drive a movie from one scene another all the way to the climax. It should give credence to the movie, so that the film has a certain importance or reason. As it was, the plot, both simple and relatively silly, told me that the film existed for the sake of great action scenes. It’s a valid premise for entertainment, but it means there’s no lasting impact on the audience because it doesn’t really have anything much to convey. There’s no story here I haven’t seen before in this genre, and for much of the time the plot is a little too confusing.
It seems I’d almost forgotten the potential for animation to be so visually compelling. On a technical level, the anime medium has frequent success, but transcending animation quality, it’s a very rare experience for an anime to be truly visually compelling, creating not just mood and detail, but also scenes of beauty. This film achieves that in a way that totally blew me away, and I don’t say that very often (I’m not one of those apt to calling every Kyoto Animation production flawlessly animated). The climax of the film, a roaring skirmish amidst snow and fire, is breathtaking and elegiac. More than just an impressive, visceral action sequence, it is tinged with emotion and dramatic tension, which drives the film up to its climactic pinnacle.
As I say time and time again, the concept of a conclusion is highly important to me. When anything ends I expect more than a bit of excitement, or an explanatory wrap-up, I want the climax to resonate and to pay-off the themes of the series/movie. This film does achieve that, and even though it is devoid of really challenging and engaging themes, it still manages to be moving with likeable characters and endearing score music. In my mind, an anime that can end on a powerful high note, with stunning production and consistent pacing, is a winner. Even though the film falls prey to a number of action film clichés, and at times feels like a rehash of bits of the samurai film genre, and even though its plot is undemanding and almost silly, it is irresistibly engaging. Beyond anything else, this should definitely be approached as an action film, and with that approach, I can safely say it is a great accomplishment in its genre. It is fast-paced and features fierce, clever battle sequences, but more importantly, overshadowing the violence (which any action film can claim on), it is rendered with artistry and beauty, and effortlessly tugs at your heart. Frankly put, the only flaw in this film is the slight lack of depth to the characters, and the completely unremarkable plot. But if, like me, you’ve grown tired of the relative mediocrity of most anime television and want something to renew your love for the anime medium as an art form, this would be a good bet. read more
When I decided to watch Sword of the Stranger my expectations were set pretty high and after watching the movie I can gladly say that they were completely fulfilled. I expected good story set in interesting period of Japanese history and great productions values that studio Bones are known for, all of this were there and even more.
The Story 8/10
I was always interested in asian culture and history, it fascinated me as a huge history nerd. It was something different from the European culture that I grew to know and I became interested in Japan's history and culture particularly when I started watching anime. Sword of the Stranger is set in Sengoku Shogunate period when Japan was greatly divided in lesser clans who constantly declared wars on each other to gain more power. The story's setting is wonderfully presented and characters that that range from Japanese Samurai Warriors to foreigners from China suit it very well. Despite some light mystery plot devices conflicts in the movie feel realistic and in place in this period of cruel politics and war making.
Sword of the Stranger is a story of a boy, a hound and a former Samurai getting to know each other as they are chased by mysterious warriors from China and Japanese government. The Story is mostly about bright themes such as trust and friendship but there are also some darker undertones such as greed for power and egoistic desires. When the story itself isn't especially original it is definitely very well presented. There is always something interesting going on and amazingly EPIC fight scenes thrown in to keep viewers entertain. Only sometimes it may feel that the movie is constantly slowing down to get from the one great part to another. The final climax definitely deserves mentioning, it is everything that action flick's final climax should be. Without spoiling much I can say that there's some awesome battle.
Sword of the Stranger is a type of movie that rewards you if you pay attention to the details, there are many things that are easily missed but matters to the plot. If your eyes did not caught everything, you can just rewatch the movie, it is really worth it.
The Animation 10/10
Let us start with one of things that make Sword of the Stranger one of my favorite anime films. Fights. Such words as EPIC are heavily overused on the internet but there is no better way of describing fight scenes in this movie. You can't call them very realistic but they still manage to suit medieval Japan's setting well enough to maintain the climate. Animations are extremely fluid and movements have real weigh to them. The facial expressions are also amazingly well done. Backgrounds are well done, in fact I would give 9 or 10 to this movie for animation if it would be aired this year and not almost seven years ago.
The Sound 10/10
I found movies soundtrack very emotional, actually I think that music contributes a lot to the feel of a whole movie. Both the amazingly animated fights scenes and what comes between would not have the same impact without this wonderful soundtrack.
I did not found anything wrong with voice acting. The only "problem" that I had was the chinese voice acting. Honestly I can't tell if it's bad voice acting or just chinese doesn't sound that good to me.
The Characters 8/10
For a two hours long movie Sword of the Strangers characters are well developed. There are few characters that goals are explained, there are some greedy characters, good guys or just common folk that just care for the weather and market prices. With good diversity and development of the main cast we already have a group of maybe not completely original but interesting characters. The way different characters behave is fairly realistic and suit Japans Sengoku period and historical accuracy is always a nice touch to any series.
The Enjoyment 9/10
I really liked excellent sword play that this film have to offer and realistic medieval Japan's setting. Story wasn't very original but definitely enjoyable one. Final climax was also excellent and show rewarded my attention to details. Overall extremely enjoyable movie.
Sword of the Stranger is definitely fine piece of art and I can easily recommend it to anyone. Even if your not a fan of Japanese culture you definitely find this movie enjoyable, thanks to its extremely high production values and simple story that everybody can enjoy, more or less.read more
Wow. This movie has left me nearly speechless. There are scenes in it that are shocking, jaw-dropping, amazing...if you haven't seen this movie yet, and you like action movies, with a good plot, solid characters, and the best action sequences I've ever seen in an anime, then beg, borrow, stea---er, do whatever you can to get your hands on it. You won't regret it. Take my word for it.
I guess I could just say that and be done, but if you're not convinced yet, I'll pimp it some more.
Story - typical action stuff, set in historical Japan, but has twists enough in the plot to make me unable to predict exactly what was going to happen next--and I've watched enough action movies and anime to know that this one stands firmly within its chosen genre, yet breaks out of it from time to time. This, I think, makes it interesting to watch (because who wants to be able to predict the whole story?).
Art - Quite good, detailed backgrounds, though there aren't that many grand, sweeping vistas in this movie. There's some CG that's done fairly well. The action scenes is where the animation makes you sit up and question whether what you've just seen is drawn or not. I've never seen sword fights done this well before: without excessive slow-motion, artsy camera angles, just straight up, flat out, swordsmanship. Of course, it's flashy, but much more realistic than many live action sword fights I've seen in other movies. The characters are drawn realistically as well.
Sound -There were distinctly Japanese themes and instruments in the soundtrack. Perhaps a bit over-dramatic at times, but I like dramatic music to set the scene, so though it may bother some people I liked it a lot.
Character -Some cliche/stereotypical stuff here, but for the most part, sympathetic characters. There's no annoying characters, and the main characters are developed/change throughout the course of the movie, which in my opinion is hard to do considering the time constraints.
Enjoyment -Well, if you don't like a lot of blood, then your enjoyment will be lower than mine. I don't particularly like loads of it, but in this movie, since the fight scenes are realistic, with swords and all, there's all the slicing and dicing of enemies you can possibly imagine that goes on.
Ok, enough of my raving about it. Just go watch it already!!
I happened to stumble upon a little hidden gem, a couple days back by the name "Sword of the Stranger". I was surprised by how few people were talking about the film. The only threads I found about the anime were very specific and spoiler heavy; no general discussions, no recommendation topics. Naturally this lead me to suspect the worst, but I figured I'd give SOTS a shot anyway. Besides, at only an hour and a half in length I wouldn't be wasting that much time. I'm quite glad I did, because this movie is the very definition of a hidden gem.
Sword of the Stranger takes place in Japan during its Sengoku period; I would estimate the year to be around 1550. It follows the journey of a vagabond rōnin, a young orphan and his pet dog; who are trying to reach the city of Shirato. Hot on their trail is a group of Chinese alchemists trying to capture the young boy for use in the creation of the elixir of life.
The story is well crafted and truly captures the environment of the Sengoku period. The tale starts out grim and holds its tone throughout the majority of the film. In many ways SOTS personifies the transition from the Sengoku period to the Edo period in Japanese history. The characters are made to suffer through great pain, just for the empowerment of others. There are no golden sun sets, just the cold grip of death at every turn. If I was too describe Sword of the Stranger with one word it would be consistent. The narrative flows at a steady rate, never leaving the viewer bored or overwhelmed. All of the action scenes are interspersed throughout the show to keep its audience constantly on edge. SOTS truly understands pacing and uses that to its full advantage.
As for the plot of SOTS I can't be as kind. The story is interesting enough, and definitely has some unique aspects; but turns into more of a back drop for the characters to develop on, than being an actual focus point. It could have been anyone chasing after our characters, and I would have enjoyed it just the same. The movie makes it clear from early on that it does not matter who is doing the chasing, or why; just that the characters need to be pursued so they can grow together from the experience. In addition, there are a couple side plots shoehorned in for no apparent reason. I won't spoil the movie, but these side plots could have easily never existed and the story wouldn't have changed in the slightest.
The art style and animation of Sword of the Stranger is easily its greatest strength. Talk about fluidity; the fight choreography is some of the best I have ever witnessed. The "camera angles" capture each masterfully crafted battle with speed and grace. Many times I was sent into an state of shock and awe from the gory intensity thrust upon me. It's been a while sense a movie has got me so excited that I've stood up, face glued to the scene without even noticing until after the fight subsided. Even the minor details that often get over looked are well taken care of. Horses gallop in a natural way, disabled people limp or hobble correctly, clothing reacts to movement and gravity as it should, etc. The addition of these little details really brings the world to life.
Speaking of the world, the art direction of SOTS is one of favorite in recent history. The weather and season (early winter) chosen for the backgrounds, brings out the harshness of the Sengoku period. The entire movie feels cold and wet; as if even the Earth itself is trying to kill the main characters. This was a refreshing change from the typical colorful, golden draped samurai series. The palate of SOTS is very grey and dreary; other than the color red, that is. Blood and gore is highly exaggerated, so each cut or stab unleashes a fountain of bright crimson. As subjective as the word is, I believe the "Art" of SOTS hits every mark perfectly.
The sound design of SOTS is good. There's nothing special about it, but it does everything it needs to. I never found myself turned off by the design, but it didn't make much of a lasting impression either. The only sections of note are the sounds of impact; be it sword on sword or sword on skin. The crack of bone or squelch of bodily fluids really intensifies the fight scenes. The English dub is quite similar in quality. Each actor fits the character he/she is playing and the emotional projection is spot on; but only a week after watching I'm already struggling to remember any moments worthy of note. Either way, it comes recommended; just keep in mind what I've said.
When it comes to the OST I give Sword of the Stranger a big ol' thumbs up. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of intense war drum solos and saddening flute melodies. My biggest complaint is the lack of variation between most of the pieces. While they are all good, the majority of the tracks reuse similar or the same melodies and rhythms.
As I started describing earlier SOTS is filled with many characters, most of which aren't memorable in the slightest. Beyond our main trio, there are only two other memorable characters. Both of which only make an impression, because of their design and amount of screen time they receive; neither develop over the entire movie. Don't get me wrong, I understand that not every character should have a purpose beyond cannon fodder for the battle scenes; but SOTS gave far too much screen time to side characters for there to not be any sort of explanation and development.
On the positive side the interaction and development between our main characters is quite good and a real treat to watch. This is where the heart of the film comes from. These three characters brought out the light in every dark situation and truly made the movie a whole lot better than it would could have been. It's not often that an hour and a half long movie can bring a tear to my eye; but these guys did it somehow.
All flaws aside, Sword of the Stranger was great fun to watch and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a entertaining and memorable film. As a side note I would highly recommend this as a starter anime for anyone new to the medium. The action is exciting, the atmosphere is tense and the animation is beautiful. I give it a rating of Must Watch on my scale of recommendation.
Try The First Couple Episodes
Run For Your Life-Worst
As usual I recommend you buy a copy, and help support our local dubbing companies and the anime industry as a whole. However, just taking the time to watch it is of greater importance.
As a final statement I recommend that you take my numerical scores with a grain of salt; as numerical scores are easily skewed and each person has their own understanding of the 1-10 scale.
You think you know anime movies? Have you seen all 30 of these movies on our best anime movie list? Our writer sets themselves a only-one-movie-per-director rule and comes up with 30 movies every anime fan must see.
Tons of good anime movies have been made over the years. But why settle for good? We present to you a list of not 5, not 10, but 20 of some of the best anime movies in existence! Dig in and find some new and interesting Japanese animated movies to watch this year!