Japanese Title: Stranger: Mukou Hadan
Similar: Ninja Scroll
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 1 hr. 43 min. movie
- Beautiful, clean visuals.
- Great acting in either language.
- Fluid action in a solid story.
- Inconsistent tone.
- Vague beginning.
I feel like I am going to be repeating my Great Teacher Onizuka review – what are the chances that two anime I pick at random and finish in the same day suffer from the same problem. I have seen this story before. Sword of the Stranger, it holds nothing new, nothing surprising to me. I saw every twist, every development beforehand, and not because of poor quality, but because this is too similar to several other films. If I had seen Sword of the Stranger first, I know I would have found it more interesting.
We start with a small boy and his master on the run from a Chinese delegation. Boy and master are eventually separated and while taking refuge in an abandoned temple, the boy and his dog – a badass, even if small – meet a vagabond swordsman squatting there as well. He’s the Kenshin type with a shameful past he wishes to forget (his past should have played a bigger role, in my opinion). He joins them as a bodyguard of sorts.
While that is fine start, we don’t learn of the main objective for some time, which gives a sense of aimlessness that lasts too long. And it’s not as though it’s some great secret or twist. The Chinese want the boy’s blood to create a potion of immortality, as detailed in a prophecy. That’s it – nothing surprising, so I don’t know why they waited so long. However, once the aim is clear, the plot moves at a good pace and becomes far more engaging, though as mentioned at the start, the progression is quite standard. It has close calls, betrayal, tension, tough swordsmen, bridge showdowns, and a vicious animal sidekick.
Action plays a significant role in Sword of the Stranger, rather gory violence at that. The action is reminiscent of Naruto, just without the shounen gloves on or padding. Lots of sword fights. The gore creates an odd inconsistency in the tone, for you see, much of the comedy is the sort you find in children’s animation – funny faces, jumping when poked, etc. A henchman gives a comedic scream before a sword flies into his mouth and blood splatters the camera. The comedy is for children, but the action certainly isn’t.
I haven’t much else to say in the end. The characters develop well, the turns make sense, and the high production values are a pleasure. Sword of the Stranger is a good adventure that follows the likes of Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll a little too closely to bring any surprises. Still, if none of this plot sounds familiar to you, Sword of the Stranger will entertain.
Art – High
The art is nice and clean with beautiful environments, though not as dark as the likes of other ronin films. High animation renders the bloody action beautifully.
Sound – High
Pick your preference for language track, as both are equally great. I particularly liked the inclusion of Chinese speech for the Chinese characters in either track. Fast drums for the action, gentle flute for the moments of peace.
Story – Medium
A wandering swordsman with a haunted past protects a boy from a grim prophecy. Similar to other hired ronin stories, but an enjoyable tale nonetheless.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Those who haven’t seen something similar before will find the most enjoyment. Sword of the Stranger will be rather predictable to those familiar with the genre, yet great to those new to it.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)