Sword of the Stranger
|Sword of the Stranger|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Masahiro Andō|
|Produced by||Masahiko Minami|
|Screenplay by||Fumihiko Takayama|
|Music by||Naoki Satō|
|Edited by||Hiroaki Itabe|
Sword of the Stranger (ストレンヂア 無皇刃譚, Sutorenjia Mukōhadan, Stranger Mukōhadan) is a 2007 Japanese anime film directed by Masahiro Andō and produced by the animation studio Bones.
The film follows Kotaro, a boy who is hunted by a group of Ming swordsmen due to 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 find "Nanashi", a nameless ronin who has a mysterious past that led him to forbid drawing his own sword again. When the Ming warriors clash with a feudal lord, a proud general, and monks divided between faith and survival, the reason behind the persecution of the Ming group tests the bond between Kotaro and Nanashi.
During the Sengoku period, a young boy named Kotaro escapes from mysterious pursuers with his dog, Tobimaru. The monk helping Kotaro, Shouan, asks him to seek help from Master Zekkai at the Mangaku Temple in the Akaike Province. Meanwhile, a group of Ming dynasty warriors under the command of the elderly Bai-Luan is escorted to Akaike by local soldiers. They are ambushed by bandits, but the bandits are slaughtered by the Ming's expert swordsman, Luo-Lang.
Kotaro and Tobimaru briefly hide in a decaying temple, where they find Nanashi, a wandering swordsman. While Kotaro cooks a meal, the smoke of his fire alerts a group of Akaike soldiers, who are accompanied by one of the Ming warriors. Nanashi involuntarily gets involved in the fight and is able to kill the Ming, but Tobimaru is struck by a poisonous dagger. Before Nanashi leaves, Kotaro offers to hire him as a bodyguard in order to save Tobimaru's life and take them to their destination safely.
The trio is able to find a doctor who is able to help Tobimaru recover. While going through a village, Nanashi encounters Luo-Lang, who quarrels with him for fun, but is interrupted by news of the deaths of his companions. Following the investigation, the Ming begin to suspect that Akaike's soldiers are responsible because one of the corpses was staged to appear as Tu-Si, one of the Ming warriors who had recently disappeared.
Lord Akaike, who hosts the Ming, is helping them build a large altar in exchange for large quantities of gold. It is revealed that he kidnapped Tu-Si to learn of the Ming's true purpose. Under torture, Tu-Si reveals that they are on a mission from the Ming Emperor to find a prophesied child, Kotaro, whose blood can be drained at a certain time once a year, in order to create an elixir of immortality known as the Xian Medicine. Lord Akaike changes his plans to capture Kotaro and hold him for a high ransom. Meanwhile, Nanashi reveals a few details about his past: He really has no name and has gone by different names when he served under different warlords. He also has red hair and knows nothing of his origins other than that he was the only survivor from a sinking ship. He also reveals that in order to avoid being recognized as a foreigner, he started dying his hair black, allowing him to blend in with the Japanese population.
Nanashi arrives at the temple with Kotaro and leaves him in the care of Shoaun and the monks. However, it is revealed that Shouan and the monks have already betrayed Kotaro to the Ming in order to save their own lives. A fight happens when the Akaike also arrive, in an attempt to take the boy. Realizing that something is wrong, Nanashi comes back and fails to rescue Kotaro. He interrogates Shouan and lets him live, only for Shouan to hang himself in shame. Nanashi and Tobimaru run together as they track down Kotaro and his captors. With Lord Akaike's betrayal discovered, the Ming capture him and use him to fortify the fortress to await the prophesied time. Itadori, an Akaike general, leads a small battalion of soldiers as they march to the fortress to rescue Lord Akaike. However, when they arrive, they see Lord Akaike in a compromising position. Itadori decides to kill him and seizes the opportunity to have the troops fight for him. The troops, now under his command, begin a siege and attack the fortress.
During the ensuing battle, many of the Ming and Akaike soldiers are killed, including Itadori. Nanashi finally arrives at the fortress and when he momentarily gets knocked out by a falling tower, a flashback reveals that years earlier, Nanashi executed two children, which traumatized him and made him swear to never unsheathe his sword again. To save Kotaro, Nanashi finally unsheathes his sword, fights his way to the altar and successfully interrupts the ritual before it can be completed. Bai-Luan orders the remaining Ming to capture the boy so they can complete the ritual again the following year. Nanashi manages to kill two of the Ming without his sword and gains the admiration of Luo-Lang, who has been searching for a worthy opponent. Luo-Lang kills Bai-Luan to stop him from killing Nanashi. With the Akaike forces and the Ming all dead, Luo-Lang and Nanashi have a final duel. They fight all around the altar and despite suffering many injuries, Nanashi wins and kills Luo-Lang, who is shocked by his defeat but dies in peace.
The next morning, Kotaro, along with Nanashi and Tobimaru, is riding on horseback. As they travel to places unknown to treat Nanashi's wounds, they talk about starting a new life together. The movie ends with the scene showing the horse tracks in the snow, with drops of blood trailing along with it.
- Nanashi (名無し) (means "No Name" or "Nameless", referring to warriors that were lost in battle)
- Voiced by: Tomoya Nagase (Japanese); Michael Adamthwaite (English)
- 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)
- Voiced by: Yuuri Chinen (Japanese); Aidan Drummond (English)
- Kotaro is a young orphan, seen in the opening scene being told by the priest Shouan 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)
- Voiced by: Kōichi Yamadera (Japanese); Scott McNeil (English)
- 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 an equally strong opponent to fight so that he may improve his skills.
- Shogen Itadori (虎杖 将藍)
- Voiced by: Akio Ōtsuka (Japanese); Brian Dobson (English)
- 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)
- Voiced by: Atsushi Ii (Japanese); Ken Kramer (English)
- 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 a temple to be safe. After he is cured, Tobimaru worries about Kotaro, and after his master is captured, he helps Nanashi save Kotaro before he's sacrificed.
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: "With either version, though, you’re not apt to go wrong if you’re an anime or jidaigeki fan, let alone both."
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 5, 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. At Otakon 2016, Funimation announced at their panel that they picked up the rights for the movie, and that it was going to be released on a DVD and Blu-ray Disc combo pack on November 8, 2016.
- 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.
- "Funimation Licenses Sword of the Stranger Anime Film, Omamori Himari & Good Luck! Ninomiya-kun TV Anime". Retrieved 2016-08-13.