Sword of the Stranger Review

Sword of the Stranger Review

Sword of the Stranger anime movie cover art
Sword of the Stranger

The Boy, the Dog, and the Samurai

Sword of the Stranger (Stranger: Mukou Hadan / ストレンヂア -無皇刃譚-) is an action-adventure anime movie from 2007. We watched it for September’s anime movie night in the DoubleSama Discord server. So, I’m a bit late to this review.

I’m also late to watching this movie in general. Not because it came out in 2007. But, because I really like samurai anime. Samurai are awesome. And yet, I hadn’t watched Sword of the Stranger until now despite knowing about it for years. I had seen the final fight of the movie before, though.

Anyway, the movie follows Kotarou and his dog, Tobimaru, as they try to make their way to a certain temple. One of the priests there used to be Kotarou’s guardian back in their homeland before they had to flee due to war.

Nanashi the samurai from the anime movie Sword of the Stranger
Nanashi the samurai

But, of course, Kotarou’s trip to the temple isn’t going to be simple. Soldiers from his homeland, Ming China, are tracking him down. Why? You’ll have to watch the movie (or read the next section) to find out. Regardless of the reason, Kotarou needs a bodyguard, and that’s where the samurai comes in.

When they first meet, Nanashi saves Kotarou and Tobimaru from the first group of soldiers. And, after that, he plans to continue traveling alone, leaving the boy behind. But, Kotarou offers to pay Nanashi for his services if they can reach the temple safely. So, as a broke ronin samurai, Nanashi agrees.

Along the way, Nanashi fights off some soldiers trying to capture Kotarou. But, more importantly, he becomes a sort of father figure for the boy. Nanashi teaches Kotarou to protect himself, ride a horse, and more. I wanted to point this out because I’ve seen people claim there was no character development. That’s false.

Child Sacrifice and Immortality

There was only one thing I didn’t like about Sword of the Stranger, the reason behind the conflict. Why does the Ming Dynasty of China want to capture Kotarou? He’s some kind of special child whose blood is needed to perform an immortality ritual.

Specifically, this ritual will turn Kotarou’s blood into the elixir of life. The Emperor can then drink this elixir and become immortal. Or, at least, that’s according to the astrologers employed by the Emperor. I don’t remember if this turned out to be real or not. But, everyone’s operating under the assumption that it is.

Also, the ritual killing of Kotarou has to be performed in a specific way at a specific time. The Ming soldiers construct a giant thing to use in the sacrifice. It’s a large, wooden structure that drains Kotarou’s blood in the proper way, somehow.

Kotarou and Tobimaru from the anime movie Sword of the Stranger
Kotarou and Tobimaru

The way the sacrifice needs to happen isn’t as important as the time of the sacrifice, though. There’s one night of the year on which the sacrifice can be made. And, if they miss this night, they’ll have to keep Kotarou captive until the following year. Again, according to the astrologers.

Now, I understand that people believed in stuff like immortality and the elixir of life in the past. But, that doesn’t make it any less of a dumb plot driver. There are so many other reasons for which the Ming could have been after Kotarou.

One reason could have to do with the gem Kotarou promised to give Nanashi in return for his services. This gem could have belonged to the Emperor. And, maybe the Emperor told his men to bring the thief (or whoever had the gem) back alive. You know, because simply killing them would be too lenient of a punishment.

Nanashi vs. Luo Lang

In case there was any doubt, the best thing about Sword of the Stranger is the action. There are plenty of fights and they all have great choreography. And, on top of that, we get more character development for Nanashi through these fights.

For the majority of the movie, Nanashi doesn’t unsheath his sword. In fact, he can’t. He has a rope tied around the sheath and hand guard of his sword preventing it from being drawn. But, why is this? Does his sword have some dark power that he doesn’t want to unleash? No.

Nanashi doesn’t draw his sword by choice. At one point, he was a samurai working under the shogun or someone else important. And, in the line of duty, he had to do things he wasn’t proud of, including executing women and children. So, when Nanashi left his employer, he vowed not to draw his sword again.

Luo Lang from the anime movie Sword of the Stranger
Luo Lang

Luo Lang is the strongest soldier of the Ming Dynasty. But, something you may notice is that he doesn’t look Chinese. He looks European. And, from what I remember, that’s because he is. But, he’s working as a soldier for the Ming because he wants to be able to fight other strong swordsmen.

Fairly early on in the movie, Luo Lang identifies Nanashi as a strong swordsman due to how he has his blade tied. He recognizes that someone who does that is probably pretty skilled. A less-skilled swordsman would be too eager to draw their sword.

I had to explain all that just so I could get to the final fight of the movie. Luo Lang and Nanashi finally get to have their fight, with Nanashi unsheathing his sword. And, the resulting fight is one of the best swordfights in anime. Everyone should watch it.

Final Thoughts

Sword of the Stranger is a 9/10. As I mentioned, the only thing holding it back is the whole elixir of life thing. If the plot had less to do with that supernatural stuff, I would have enjoyed it more. Why force me to suspend my disbelief in an otherwise realistic movie?

If you enjoyed this review, remember to share it with everyone you know. Also, follow me on your social media of choice so you don’t miss out on any future articles — links are in the footer.

Finally, I’d like to thank Roman and JasonHK for supporting DoubleSama.com at the Heika tier this month. To learn more about supporting this blog, check out DoubleSama.com/support.

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