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. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
Are you searching for a bland movie with a paucity in character development, predictable plot points, and subpar-to-average animation, then you’re in luck — because Sword of the Stranger (Stranger: Mukou Hadan) exists for your substandard anime expectations. For anyone who does have a shred of self-respect, however, should eschew themselves from this tedious movie watching experience for something with, I don’t know, some modicum of originality. But I digress, on to the review.
Commencing on a positive note, or a non-negative one, is an ideal place to start, primarily because it’s going to be all downhill from here. But let’s not deliver inappropriate praise where it does not belong, because while the scenery is satisfactory, and the fight scenes are borderline splendid, there is much to be desired in terms of character aesthetics. So much so, that I am having a difficult time remembering what Kotarou and Nanashi look like, and I just finished watching this movie last night; whereas, the characters from Samurai Champloo (Mugen, Jin, and Foo) — a far superior samurai anime, by the way — remain vivid in the periphery of my mind, years after my initial watch. Considering that the main protagonists set the tone for the entire movie, it is crucial to provide identifying characteristics that allow the audience to, not only believe the characters are “real,” but mentally differentiate themselves from other anime characters.
Sadly. This does not occur.
The term one-dimensional gets thrown around a lot these days, yet, to my mind, this overly-used term best describes the characters in Sword of the Stranger. Kotarou is your typical mischievous child with ill-manners, and a bad attitude to match. His parents (SPOILER ALERT!) passed away during his infancy — god forbid an MC doesn’t have deceased parents, it’s damn near a requirement for anime nowadays — thus, he is unyielding to strangers, creating a social wall between himself and others. The other main character, Nanashi, a ronin, obscures his true identity by dyeing his hair black, to avoid people from recognizing him, or, perhaps, from acknowledging the events of his past. Although it was not expressly stated, I am willing to bet that Nanashi’s parents also kicked the bucket — because, why not? The only other character worth mentioning is Luo Lang, an antagonist who cares for nothing/no-one else but attaining a worthy foe (i mean, to be fair, its only the thousandth time I heard that one). All in all, its a pedestrian cast that lacks humanizing qualities due to insufficient effort, on the part of the writers, to create a situation that allows a deeper understanding of who these characters truly are. With that said, I would be remiss in not mentioning the flashback Nanashi has toward the end of the movie. It definitely had the potential of establishing an authentic internal conflict, but it was all ruined with one simple line: “Hurry up and do it — you goddamn coward.” What mother, what human would react in this way, when faced with their own death? It’s beyond cliched, its just straight up ignorant. And another thing, how come when Luo cut off that dude-with-the-gun’s arm, he barely reacted? He either loaded up on high doses of opium prior to entering the battle, or has no sensory symptom to detect pain, because he took those sword slices like a champ.
In lieu of neglecting character development and a competent plot, Sword of the Stranger elects to focus its attention on those “gorgeous” battle scenes. Everyone tells me, ad nauseam, that despite the deficiencies elsewhere, Sword of the Stranger distinguishes itself with superior animation and fight scenes. To counter this point, allow me to present exhibit “A:” Sword of the Stranger was released in 2009; Samurai Champloo was released in 2004 — I rest my case.
In regards to my final numbers, here they are:
I’ll round that down to a 2/10, mainly because I fell asleep two times while watching this movie. But one can hardly be at fault for increased melatonin levels (the chemical that helps you sleep) when observing tedious characters, formula driven plots, and garden-variety animation. In all honesty, I am offended that I didn’t fall asleep more often during this malarkey, it would have been a more productive use of my time. Just an FYI: somebody better let Sanofi Aventis know their sales are about to take a huge drop, because Ambien is no longer the best remedy for curing insomnia. Sweet dreams!