This week will be a little different (not so different I guess since I’ve done it before, and recently) as I’ll be doing an anime movie. However, unlike the other movies I’e done, which were linked to an anime, this one is a pure original work for the big screen. And boy, is it awesome. One big difference between this kind of work and Macross Frontier, the other movie I covered, is that there’s no base material or background knowledge that you can utilize going in; it’s a totally fresh adventure. Of course, that’s pretty normal for a movie, but Sword of the Stranger is a pretty stellar example of the genre. Sword of the Stranger is animated by Bones, which has done a lot of other work, some of which I’ve reviewed (and some of which is quite good). And the music is done by Sato Naoki, who also did the music for Eureka 7 (curiously another Bones production) and if you read my Eureka 7 review, you’d know I was a big fan of his music there. And honestly, it’s the same here, but we’ll get to that in a little bit…
Let’s get this out of the way. This is primarily an action flick, so don’t come in expecting your mind blown by some sort of crazy plot with twists and turns coming at you so fast you’re left dizzy. Now, that being said, the plot for Sword of the Stranger is pretty simple. An orphan on the run with his loyal dog runs into a nameless man. The kid’s being chased for some unknown reason, and the man is roped into protecting the kid. Sounds simple enough, right? Of course, it’s a little bit deeper than that. The plot goes into the motivations of the nameless man (named Nanashi, which means no name) and why he doesn’t draw his sword. And why the bad guys (from China, though they hired a European) want this orphan kid. It doesn’t get much deeper than that, though, and that’s fine. The plot is simple, but it’s easy to follow and perfect for an action movie like this. When this movie wants its audience to feel something, the atmosphere caused by the characters and plot and music will combine and you will feel what the movie wants you to feel, and I think the plot’s good for that. Despite all of that, the movie did feel a little weak near the end in terms of motivations, but the ending scenes were still particularly powerful. Just don’t think too much about it and you’ll love it.
Moving on to the characters, there are only a few worth mentioning. Starting from the top, there’s this Nanashi guy. He’s really awesome, a sort of super swordsman. However, due to his tragic past, he’s vowed never to unsheathe his sword ever again. In the beginning of the movie, he doesn’t do much, considering he’s just a wanderer. However, he gets caught up with Kotaro and Kotaro’s dog, Tobimaru, who are being chased by some shady individuals. We find out those shady individuals are some Chinese guys under the order of the Emperor of China to grab Kotaro, though the why to that you’ll just have to work out yourself. Anyway, back to Nanashi. He has a pretty cool design. You can tell he’s been in battle before because of the wicked scar on his face. And while he does seem kind of lazy, it’s the anime lazy where he’ll bust out some totally badass moves when the situation calls for it. Of course, the situation calls for it pretty often in this movie, so you’re in for a treat.
I’ll cover Kotaro and Tobimaru together, since they’re pretty much inseparable. Kotaro is a young boy on the run from a monastery where one of the monks told him to run away. So he’s been running, with no idea why. He’s being chased by agents of the Chinese Emperor, and is in some pretty desperate need of help. Of course he happens to run into literally the most badass guy in the entire country of Japan, and winds up with him as a body guard. Lucky kid, huh? Anyway, Kotaro is just a kid, and has no idea why he’s being chased, so I guess he’s a little useless in the beginning. However, even he has some pretty neat moments near the end, developing into a more mature character as the movie goes on. It’s fun to watch. Tobimaru on the other hand is awesome from scene 1. He may be a dog, but he definitely pulls his weight, even in defending Kotaro. He gets poisoned early on, but manages some pretty impressive scenes later on. I’m not even a big dog guy but I remember getting pretty angry when they’d start beating up on Tobimaru. He doesn’t deserve that kinda treatment.
I don’t really remember the other characters as well, but there was Itadori Shogen, who’s some sorta important Japanese guy. He’s pretty ambitious and trying to carve a name out for himself, and his path crosses with some of the characters of the movie several times. Like the Chinese, he and his men are also chasing Kotaro though no one except the bad guys (and you, if you watch the movie!) know why. I didn’t really like him in the beginning, but he has some great scenes at the end that really brought my opinion of him up. Lastly of course there’s the Chinese assassins, sent by the emperor. They have a leader, who isn’t much of a fighter and is pretty much just the emperor’s lapdog. His name is Bai-Luan. He leads a band of pretty ferocious fighters, the strongest of which is a guy named Luo-Lang, who’s a Westerner over at the east pretty much just to find worthy opponents to fight. He’s a pretty vicious fighter himself. Of course, as this is an action flick, Nanashi’s gonna fight (and, with any luck, beat) these guys into submission, and boy, is it a treat to watch.
Since this is a movie, the art is pretty good. Great details, and some great atmospheres created via crossing the art, plot, characters, and music. The movie looks gorgeous, and the ending scenes with the snowfall makes it look particularly awesome. Of course it doesn’t look as good as maybe some of the more modern movies. For example, I preferred the character models and designs in the Macross Frontier movie to this, but those designs were more flashy and, well, anime-y. What with the green and pink and blue hair. Sword of the Stranger is a bit more grounded in reality, so the characters look a bit more human insofar as hair color goes (… kinda). Still, aside from the characters, I think the art is great.
Here’s where the movie really shines though. The animation is top-notch. They’re definitely the best reason to watch this movie. If I tried to watch the ending fight scenes in this movie again, I’m sure I’d get chills. It’s really that awesomely choreographed. Everything’s really fluid and just looks awesome. And it’s not some crazy beam or missile spam that is kind of hard to follow in some anime movies, but good old-fashioned swordplay that’s a treat to watch and a sight more believable. Honestly, if nothing else, watch Sword of the Stranger for the animation and fight choreography. It’s the best I’ve ever seen and I’d be hard-pressed to name anything that comes close. And I’ve watched a lot of anime.
Lastly, the music. The music is great, what can I say? It’s done by Sato Naoki, who did Eureka 7’s music, and while Eureka 7 is one of my favorite anime of all time, and has some of my favorite anime music, I think I’ll have to give Sword of the Stranger a pretty solid edge here. I think the way Sato Naoki manages to blend the music with the art and animation is nothing short of fantastic. The music is one of the driving forces to really push out an emotional response from the audience (at least, it did to me) at certain scenes that made you really excited to watch the movie. I know I’ve said this before, but that last scene gives me chills watching, and it’s not just because of the excellent animation. It was a culmination of the plot up ’till that point (I’d consider it the climax), the main theme of the movie kicking in (Ihojin no Yaiba, great stuff) and the great animation combined. Just watching it go down, you know something incredibly awesome happens, and boy, does it ever. So… Yeah. The music. Good stuff .
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