Posted by psgels on 18 April 2008 with categories: Anime Reviews


Sword of the Stranger is Bones’ first attempt at an original movie (as in not based on an already existing series). Masahiro Ando, who had no prior experience with directing an entire anime and instead seems to specialize in animation and character-designs, was given the director’s seat and the screenplay was done by the director of the third Patlabor Movie. That’s not really the best cast you’d expect from Bones’ repertoire, but still, Sword of the Stranger is a worthy movie.

Don’t expect too much from the story, though. It features an uberpowerful ex-samurai with a sad past who got tired of killing who meets up with a young boy with an equally sad past. The main villain is another uberpowerful guy who’s looking for a challenge that only this ex-samurai can give him. Yawn, yawn, nothing we haven’t seen before. The reasons why you want to watch this movie is because of the animation, the cultural reference, and most importantly the bond that develops between said ex-samurai and boy.

Most of the time in this movie is not actually spent on the fights, but on showing how these two, with totally different personalities come to understand each other amidst their arguing. The two of them are dynamic and a joy to watch throughout the movie. The plot basically only serves to get and keep the two of them together, and even though it’s nothing special, it knows how to not get in the way of the development of these two for a large part of the movie.

I think that the big problem with this movie is that it would have made a great family-movie if it wasn’t for the huge amounts of gore in it. Gore can be a tricky thing. It’s great to intensify your scenes (Shigurui, anyone?), but at the same time you do alienate those who can’t stand it. I can really imagine that kids would have loved the innocent moments of this series, if it weren’t for the umpth guy who got an arrow blown through his entire face, with all the graphic details of a movie-budget.

Still, if you don’t mind the gore, I can’t really think of a reason not to watch this movie. It’s the genuine moments that really were the most enjoyable, plus some pretty impressive sword-fights. Bones could have done a lot worse (just take a look at Gonzo’s first attempt at a movie). The music is also really solid. You wouldn’t guess that it comes from the same composer who did Eureka7 and Heroic Age, and yet it complements the movie perfectly.

23 Responses

  1. Avatar Hunter-Wolf says:

    Well … nice to that hear the movie turned out to be good .. i was thrilled when i watched the trailer and knew it was made by Bones ^_^

    About the story … well it is a fact that it gets harder and harder everyday to create something that hasn’t been done before … people really have to understand that .. what really matters now is how well you execute the story and characters …. and from what i read they seems well executed ;)

    Thanks for the review

  2. Avatar aya says:

    It reminded me of Seirei no Moribito a lot. Same beautiful autmn nature. Same accent on relationship of an ex-samurai and a kid. Same excellent fights choreography, but here there’re more of them.

  3. Avatar Bodom says:

    I really enjoyed this movie! Ok, because of the gore it’s “only” for a mature target, but I’m not 13 years old anymore, and I loved the genuine moments as much as the violent ones. I agree about the music, it really complements the movie perfectly (and sometimes it reminds me of the LOTR soundtrack… XD). My score: 90/100

  4. Avatar Little One says:

    thank you for your review on this movie! i never heard of it & immediately downloaded it after i read your review! it was superb & i’m super grateful to u!!!

  5. Avatar Denizen says:

    I really enjoyed this movie. It’s definitely worth watching.

    Damn good.

  6. Avatar xiaohu says:

    Just finished watching the movie and it was well worth that 1hr48mins! Gore-concerns aside, the balance between the quiet and fight scenes was particularly good, and the music was pretty epic. My only 2 gripes would be not enough background story development for the 2 main characters, and the dodgy Jap-accented Chinese which was obviously phonetically memorised ^^ Overall, happily satisfied.

  7. Avatar leongsh says:

    … the dodgy Jap-accented Chinese which was obviously phonetically memorised ^^

    Yeah, it definitely is dodgy and in my opinion, more dodgy than hearing the usual Engrish.

    But we’re here to enjoy the movie and enjoy it I did – very much so. Rewatched it when I saw this blog entry put up. Beautiful art and wonderful animation with great action sequences, a stirring and evocative soundtrack, a straightforward story – the strengths of this movie.

  8. Avatar dowamaru says:

    You are right, the subject matter had been done and watched before. Still, I honestly watched it for the action and ended up liking the movie thanks to the bond between the protagonists. It was heart warming and quite an enjoyable movie. It didn’t take itself seriously (nor as gory) as Shigurui but nothing wrong with a change of pace when it comes to period pieces.
    Good story pace and well drawn out characters…What else can you ask Bones for?

    ~Shivers at Gonzo~

  9. Avatar Ganaesh D. says:

    Amazing. It was really freakin’ amazing. The detail of the animation is simply astounding, and the music is powerful. Amazing what taiko drums can do to a film score. Rock-solid action, and the crazy amount of gore was a welcome surprise, as I never expected this from Bones. Straight-forward no-nonsense actioner… and boy, could they do it!

    It was a pleasant surprise to watch Mukoh Hadan, to say the least. Makes me wonder what the hell Gonzo was thinking when they produced Agito.

  10. Avatar Archer says:

    i just watched this movie yesterday and i enjoyed every moment of it,true the plot is quite silly and i can’t say the characters have that much depth and yet it was very good

    the animation was beautiful,i know it is a movie but few anime are capable of bringing such a visually wonderful art at this moment(seirei no moribito is the last one i can remember) so such movies are always welcome and i had nothing against the gore,they did not exaggerate with it and in the end it turned into a very enjoyable movie

  11. Avatar adam says:

    Hey I loved this movie! Does anyone have any suggestions for anime movies I can watch like this?

  12. Avatar Will says:

    �the dodgy Jap-accented Chinese which was obviously phonetically memorised ^^

    Yeah, it definitely is dodgy and in my opinion, more dodgy than hearing the usual Engrish.

    the chinese ming soldiers were speaking perfect chinese. the western ming soldier and the japanese boy were, imo, purposely made to speak poor chinese.

  13. Avatar centzon totochtin says:

    I agree; Dodgy plot but the character interactions rang true, and the kid actually behaved like a kid and still wasn’t annoying, which is pretty rare. Beautiful looking too, grainy film-effects, muted colours, rain and mud and mountains and falling-down houses and snowy woods, great character designs with emotion obviously considered over prettiness, which is always good to see. I loved it. Bit confused as to how this is licensed but the similar but much more accessible-to-all-ages Seirei No Moribito isn’t, also confused as to what was so special about his blood to start with, but meh :).

    For people bored by prettiness, it was worth it just for the fights in my opinion :) they are getting so damn good at animating the things these days… it is a massive pity the violence will stop young kids from getting to watch it, but any toning-down of these set pieces would have been a crime, plus half of the comedy moments wouldve been lost.. I also liked how they didnt make it clear at the end whether the main character was going to live or die.

    but yep, even I who do not speak either japanese or chinese could tell the chinese was bad :D the guy who suggested it was intentional could well be right, but it just looked like bad acting, and ruined the blond guys character every time he spoke chinese :)

  14. Avatar tobumaru says:

    actually that was a different dialect spoken in china…there is no language called ‘chinese’ they have different languages there and none of them is called ‘chinese’. The dialect they spoke is an old one I think cuz I’ve heard it in some chinese movies before…so it wasn’t ‘bad chinese’.

  15. Avatar Danny Chen says:

    I just watch the movie and it was great! Excellent plot and pacing, good character development, stupendous fight scenes… yeah its a little gory but its campy gory… reminds me of a lot of old samurai movies where blood shoots out of everyone! :) After all, people nowadays are fed on a diet of Saw and Hostel…

    I must agree that the mandarin spoken was quite accurate actually… just right for each character… actual chinese spoke fluent mandarin while the foreigners spoke accented mandarin.

    Moreover, its hard to find anime that has no fantasy/sci-fi/horror/psycho/environmental themes in it… well there was the elixir of life thing but even that was handled in a down-to-earth manner.

    Oh yeah, one more thing… do you think the movie ends with possibilities of a sequel or series in it.

  16. Avatar Gabe from Indiana says:

    What interested me was that it was an anime where hair color and eye color other than the ethnic norm for Japanese was treated as a scary and freakish thing. The percentage of anime with all Japanese charachteristics is less than one percent acording to a study conducted last year by TV Asahi.

    Also interesting was the play on cultures and cultural barriers such as language. The Ming considered the inhabitants of Akiake to be brutal warriors and are horrified by the execution of the lord they kidnapped

    The Japanese feel the Ming are the brutes and that thier culture is the violent one and secrecy and feelings of supperiority to boot. But the Japanese utelize betrayal and torture and show no fielty to thier own lord where the Ming show undying allegience to the Emperor.

    The two westerners are each tied to one of these cultures. One with the Ming simply fights for the sport. The other was made to kill because he was ordered and takes no joy in it and wants to never kill again.

    It was very interesting to see the two cultures at odds and to see that in the end they were equaly brutal and equally matched.

  17. Avatar headachebaby says:

    Just watched this yesterday and it’s a good anime movie. I say it deserves more than 80/100 rating. Of course the subject of 2 super fighters has been done numerous times, but the animation, soundtrack, the culture differences, and the relationship between the hero and boy were good.

    I’m glad that they had the Ming speak chinese. Even if others consider the chinese dialogs as doggy, hey, it was good that it was used. In other animes, the creators introduce other ethnic groups but never attempt to introduce the language. It’s odd…like all the other ethnic groups speak and understand Japanese.

    I definitely like the soundtrack and it made the movie epic-like. I’ll definitely buy this movie on DVD. My rating 90/100 ^_^

  18. Avatar Patrick says:

    I’m with headachebaby. Long time I didn’t see such awesome fight scenes. And the soundtrack did a wonderful job in enhancing the epic moments.
    Really great movie.

  19. Avatar cpt says:

    This movie is completely UNRATED, this is one of the best anime movies I have ever seen. The story was great, the action was incredible, and the music even better. If you cant stand violence and gore, don’t watch a samurai movie. I expected to see this movie pop onto, “best anime movie of all time” lists all over the place, but people are just to scared to not pick already exisiting fan favourites. This movie is AMAZING.

  20. Avatar cpt says:

    This movie is completely UNDER RATED, this is one of the best anime movies I have ever seen. The story was great, the action was incredible, and the music even better. If you cant stand violence and gore, don’t watch a samurai movie. I expected to see this movie pop onto, “best anime movie of all time” lists all over the place, but people are just to scared to not pick already exisiting fan favourites. This movie is AMAZING.

  21. Avatar LovedThisMovie says:

    People often ask what was so special about the kid’s blood…
    Probably nothing! The whole mission is based and superstition and wishful thinking, not something uncommon in the past or even today. The Chinese Emperor believes the blood of a child drawn at a certain time can grant immortality and has the power to send his minions to go and try to fulfill this crazy mission… so he does!
    I read reviews of people picking this movie apart – the plot, the story etc. but… it’s damn good and I even felt like it gave the characters depth using very little screen time. I can understand their motivations, whether it’s seeking eternal life, power, excitement or redemption (the nameless hero DID NOT do the right thing in his own past, slaughtered children and seeks redemption)..

    Perhaps it has flaws but this movie got to me..

  22. Avatar Soaringhawk says:

    @aya, I never realized the similarities with Serei no Moribito before (except for the well animated fight scenes), but I agree with you. It reminds me of how Balsa and Chagum are forced together, and then they each learn something new. Sword of the Stranger’s charm lays not in the action scenes (although they are some of the best that I’ve seen) but in the realtionship between Nanshi and Kotarou. Individually, the parts of Sword of the Stranger may be weak (here I mean story, characters, music, ect…) but combined together, they are greater than the sum. This is an amazing film, and I was sort of disappointed that psgels gave it an 80/100. Even though I know that 80 is actually a really good score.

  23. Avatar CharanJ says:

    Not much to add other than I always get a nice little tingle of joy when I read a review of ‘Sword of the Stranger’ that matches how I felt…but I do want to clarify that anyone who has seen the TV series ‘X’ (CLAMP/Kawajiri) would certainly not be surprised by the music Sato Naoki put in here — it has an equally incredible soundtrack. Check it out if you dug the tunes of Stranger.

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