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 persuers with his dog, Tobimaru, and the monk, Shouan. Shouan leaves the group almost immediately giving Kotarou a gem, which he tells him to use if he gets into any trouble.
Meanwhile, in the providence of Akaike, a group of Ming foreigners, under the command of Lord Byakuran, are led through a mountain passage, where they are ambushed by rogue Akaike swordsmen.
Kotarou and Tobimaru make an adorable thieving team, stealing food to survive and hiding out in a run down temple in the mountains. It is here they meet a stranger. A samurai who is also sheltering in the temple. Kotarou treats him with deep suspicion but Tobimaru warms to him instantly. And they wind up sharing a meal. The smoke from the fire however alert Kotarou's pursuers to his location and a group of skilled warriors arrive to take him captive. The stranger steps in to help and when a whip bearer has him caught Tobimaru protects him from a dagger, which later turns out to have been poisoned. Kotarou, desperate to save Tobimaru's life tries to guilt trip the stranger and failing that offers up his gem as payment for taking Tobimaru to an apothecary and him to the temple where he is meant to reunite with Shouan.
As Tobimaru is healing and Kotaru comes to realise that the stranger is not going to sell him off to his pursuers the stranger, "Nanashi"-meaning no name- and he start to become friends. The back story of the the two characters and his pursuers - The Ming - (name for Chinese under The Ming Dynasty's rule) gets fleshed out. Among them, a blonde westerner (Luo Lang), a demon among the Ming army who has never been wounded in battle and wants nothing more than to fight a worthy opponent. A greedy lord (Daimyo Akaike), who is housing the Ming and helping them to build a grand cedar monument for them to extract the elixir of life from Kotarous blood. An ambitious warlord (Itadori) under the lords employ, whom we discover fought together with Nanashi in the war when he was known as the Red demon because of his red hair, which he keeps dyed. The war let Itadori attain the title of Shogun but left Nanashi with the moral scars of having taken lives under orders. In response to this Nanashi keeps his sword sealed with the hilt bound to the sheath with a charm and only unsheathes it at the very end of the movie.
It is also revealed that the head monk of the temple has entered into a deal under duress with the Ming to hand over the boy when he arrives and his trusted friend Shouan has also agreed to the deal for the sake of the temple despite having originally saved Kotarou from being sold as a slave in Ming after his father brought him there and passed away, leaving him orphaned.
The greedy lord Akaike has captured Ming's Doshi after his survival of the first encounter with Nanshi and tries to torture him into telling the Ming's mission but he finds that Doshi is impervious to pain after constantly doping himself with 'medicine' however when they withhold the medicine he tells them everything and Akaike decided to also track down Kotarou.
However when Kotarou is deliverd to the temple and both parties attempt to take him, lord Akaike's treachery is discovered and the Ming take him prisoner. While Kotarou is taken to the cedar monument Nanashi becomes aware that the monks hove double crossed Kotaru and decides to save him whilst Shogun Itadori assembles his forces to attack the Ming under the pretence of rescuing lord Akaike. When they arrive at the fortress however Itadori gets Jurota to shoot Akaike down and takes over control of the troops as a new lord, promising Jurota the princess' hand for his help as second in command.
The battle with the Ming is essentially a slaughter though Jurota is able to take down a Ming warrior before he himself is killed and Itadori takes down a Ming warrior before calling out Luo Lang in challenge. Itadori is a spear wielder and the fight is close, though Itadori is clearly outmatched by Luo Lang's swordsmanship. The fight ends abruptly with Itadori being shot by Byakuran. Meanwhile Nanshi and Tobimaru go to rescue Kotarou. Tobimaru attack the man then Nanashi throws his sword from the rooftop, allowing Tobimaru to rescue Kotarou. They attempt to escape down the stairs but are stopped by 2 Ming warriors. Nanashi wins the fight though blinded by the first enemies blood and almost thrown from the monument and Kotarou helps him out.
The final battle is between Luo Lang and Nanashi. With Luo Lang killing the apothecary to prevent him from shooting Nanashi while he is hanging over the edge of the monument. They are both very evenly matched and when In a climactic battle, Nanashi and Lou Lang fight until both of their swords have shattered before simlutaneously striking the final blow. The survivor is Nanashi with Luo Lang's blow cutting through the gem given to him by Kotarou and missing his body.
The movie ends with Kotarou riding away with the injured Nanashi with plans for a fresh start in a new country in a scene which is a beautiful mirror of Kotarou and Nanashi's first ride with the injured Tabimaru.
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.
- Luo-Lang (羅狼?)
- The blonde-haired, blue-eyed, European second-in-command of the Ming group and an extremely skilled swordsman. Luo-Lang 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 Bai-Luan (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 Luo-Lang 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