Sword of the Stranger
|Sword of the Stranger|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Masahiro Andō|
|Produced by||Masahiko Minami|
|Screenplay by||Fumihito Takayama|
|Music by||Naoki Satō|
|Edited by||Hiroaki Itabe|
Sword of the Stranger (Japanese: ストレンヂア 無皇刃譚 Hepburn: Sutorenjia Mukōhadan?, Stranja Mukōhadan) is a 2007 Japanese anime film directed by Masahiro Andō and produced by animation studio Bones. The film follows Kotaro, a young boy who is hunted by a group of swordsmen from Ming Dynasty China for mysterious reasons. Among the group is a fearsome Western fighter named Luo-Lang, whose only desire is to find a worthy opponent. Kotaro and his dog meet "Nanashi", a nameless ronin who is haunted by memories of his past which have led him to avoid drawing his sword ever again. When the Ming clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord, a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival, the reason behind the Ming group's pursuit tests the bond between Kotaro and Nanashi.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (March 2015)|
Set during the Sengoku-era in Japan, a young boy named Kotarou flees from mysterious pursuers with his dog, Tobimaru, and a monk, Shouan. Shouan tells the boy to seek help from Zekkai at the Mangaku temple in Akaike, handing him a gem in case he needs money. With that, Kotarou takes off as the temple he was staying at burns to the ground.
Shortly after, in the province of Akaike, a group of Ming foreigners under the command of the elderly Lord Byakuran are escorted by Akaike liaisons through a mountain passage. They are ambushed by bandits, but are slaughtered by the Ming's expert swordsman, Rarou.
Kotarou and Tobimaru make their way across the land, briefly hiding out in a rundown temple in the mountains. In the temple, they run into Nanashi, a wandering swordsman whose sword is bound to its sheath. As Kotarou cooks a meal, smoke from his damp firewood alerts his pursuers, who turn out to be a Ming foreigner with Akaike soldiers. Nanashi, unintentionally gets involved and in the ensuing fight, is able to kill the men, but Tobimaru is struck by a venomous dagger. Nanashi starts to wander off again but Kotarou offers his gem, worth 10 Ryō for Nanashi to save Tobimaru's life and take them to their destination.
The trio is able to find an apothecary who is able to help Tobimaru recover, but it gives them a couple days in town to waste. During this time Rarou and Nanashi have their first encounter; Rarou begins to pick a fight, but is interrupted by the news that the men that Nanashi killed earlier, have been found dead. The Ming find the Akaike suspicious, as one of their men, Doshi, had gone to investigate the death and has gone missing.
The Lord Akaike, who is housing the Ming, is helping them build a large altar inside an old fortress in exchange for large amounts of gold, is revealed to have been the one that kidnapped the missing Ming. Doshi doesn't respond to torture at first, but after a time of withdrawal from a medicine that the Ming use, he enters a pained frenzy and tells the Akaike their reason for being there: The Ming are on a mission for the Emperor of China to find a prophesied child, Kotarou, who's blood can be drained only at a certain time in order to create an elixir of immortality. Lord Akaike changes plans to capture the child first and hold him for a high ransom.
It is also revealed that the head monk of the temple entered into a deal under duress with the Ming to hand over the boy when he arrives. Kotarou's friend Shouan also agreed to the deal for the sake of the temple, despite having originally saved Kotarou.
When Kotarou is delivered to the temple, both parties attempt to take him. Lord Akaike's treachery is discovered and the Ming take him prisoner. Nanashi attempts to save Kotarou from being taken by the Ming, but is too late, so they begin to run to the altar. At the same time, Itadori is given command of Akaike forces by the Akaike princess and leads them to attack the Ming and rescue Lord Akaike. When they arrive at the fortress however, Itadori has Akaike killed with an arrow and takes over control of the troops as their new lord.
The troops, now under the leadership of Itadori, begin an assault and storm the fortress. Gradually, they push the Ming warriors back but take many losses, killing a few of them before Itadori challenges Rarou to a duel, but ends in Itadori's death by a gunshot from Byakuran. Meanwhile, Nanashi and Tobimaru attempt to rescue Kotarou, but are temporarily stopped when a wooden tower crashes onto Nanashi. While unconscious under the rubble, Nanashi has a flashback of his past, where he is involved in the execution of royal children when he was a soldier under the command of Itadori invading an opposing lord's kingdom. Shortly after, he recovers and finally draws his weapon, tearing the binding of his sword and killing two of the Ming while making his way to Kotarou.
After Nanashi successfully interrupts the ritual, Byakuran orders the remaining Ming to capture the child so that they may sacrifice him the next time that the ritual can take place. Nanashi kills two of the Ming fighters without his sword and wins the admiration of Rarou, prompting Rarou to cut down Byakuran before he can kill Nanashi with his musket. Rarou and Nanashi have a final fight, resulting in Rarou dead and Nanashi badly wounded.
The movie ends with Kotarou riding away with the injured Nanashi with plans for a fresh start in a new country. Whether Nanashi survives or succumbs to his injuries are left in ambiguity.
Nameless/Nanashi (名無し?) (means "No Name" or "Nameless", referring to warriors that were lost in battle)
- A ronin haunted by his terrible past, he has sworn to keep his sword sheathed. However, upon meeting Kotaro, he finds himself re-evaluating his life. While traveling with the young Kotaro, Nanashi finds himself acting as a bodyguard for the boy. This in turn leads to his prolonged struggle against the Ming warriors, particularly Luo-Lang.
- Kotaro (仔太郎?)
- Kotaro is a young orphan, seen in the opening scene being told by the priest Shoan to run far away from the monastery. He is pursued by the Ming swordsmen as well as the soldiers of Akaike. With no idea why he is being chased. He seeks protection from Nanashi, after encountering him. His sole traveling companion until meeting Nanashi is his Shiba Inu, Tobimaru.
- Rarou (羅狼?)
- The blonde-haired, blue-eyed, European second-in-command of the Ming group and an extremely skilled swordsman. Rarou is driven by a thirst for great power, and craves finding an equally strong opponent to fight so that he may improve his skills.
- Shogen Itadori (虎杖 将藍?)
- One of the chief vassals of Akaike. He is a warrior whose swordsmanship skills have helped him rise above the rank-and-file soldiers and into power. He is driven by the ambition of one day becoming the ruler of an independent territory.
- Master Byakuran (白鸞?)
- The leader of the Ming group. He is responsible for chasing Kotaro on the Emperor’s order. He is completely dedicated to the Emperor and is just using Rarou for his strength.
- Tobimaru (飛丸?)
- Kotaro's dog, and a principal character in the movie. Tobimaru is poisoned by a Ming warrior early in the film. Curing him provides the catalyst for Nanashi and Kotaro to work together. Nanashi helps Tobimaru by taking him, along with Kotaro, to an apothecary. After he is cured, Tobimaru worries about Kotaro, and after his master is captured, he helps Nanashi find the Sacrificial Altar before Kotaro is sacrificed.
- Shoan (祥庵?)
- Lord Akaike (金亥?)
Festivals and awards
- 24th Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival
- Asia Filmfest
- Asia Pacific Screen Awards 
- Camera Japan
- FANTASPOA  (International Fantastic Film Festival of Porto Alegre)
- Leeds International Film Festival 
- London Barbican's Japanimation
- Sci-Fi London's Oktoberfest
The film won the award for Best Animated Feature at FANTASPOA (International Fantastic Film Festival of Porto Alegre) in Brazil and was a nominee for Best Animated Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards
The film was also submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration as a nominee for Best Animated Feature at the 81st Academy Awards.  There were fourteen films vying for the three nomination spots, including Sword of the Stranger.
Sword of the Stranger has so far appeared on a select number of cinema screens in the United States and reception has been positive.
Anime News Network reviewer Justin Sevakis gave the film an overall A- and labeled it as: "Breath-taking action scenes wrapped around a compelling story that actually makes sense." In her Anime News Network column entitled Shelf Life, reviewer Bamboo Dong profiled the Blu-ray release as "a gorgeously animated, blood-soaked samurai romp that entertains for its full 102 minute run." Firefox News summarized their view on the dubbed and subbed versions of the film by saying:
The film was also positively received on its festival run in the European Union, receiving a rating of 4.07 out of 5 from viewers on average from Camera Japan and being well received at Oktoberfest, Sci-Fi London's anime all-nighter. The film has been ranked at #1 in JapanCinema.net's "Top 10 Anime Films of the Decade" list.
Sword of the Stranger was released to Japanese theaters on September 29, 2007. The DVD and Blu-ray were released in regular and limited editions on April 11, 2008. The film premiered in the United States on February 15, 2008. It was dubbed into English through Ocean Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia and released by Bandai Entertainment. The English-dub was released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 16, 2009.
- Sevakis, Justin (2008-07-07). "Anime News Network Review: Sword of the Stranger". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- Dong, Bamboo (2009-06-22). "Anime News Network: Shelf Life - Sword of the Stranger". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
- "Top 10 Anime Films of the Decade". JapanCinema.net. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Sword of the Stranger at the Internet Movie Database
- Sword of the Stranger (film) at Anime News Network's encyclopedia