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 (Japanese: ストレンヂア 無皇刃譚? Hepburn: Sutorenjia Mukōhadan, Stranger 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.
During the Sengoku-era in Japan, a young boy named Kotaro flees from mysterious pursuers with his dog, Tobimaru. The monk who had been watching over Kotaro, Shouan, tells him to seek help from Master Zekkai at the Mangaku temple in Akaike Province. Meanwhile, a group of Ming foreigners under the command of the elderly Lord Bai-Luan are escorted through Akaike by local liaisons. They are ambushed by bandits, but the bandits are slaughtered by the Ming's expert swordsman, Luo-Lang.
Kotaro and Tobimaru make their way across the land, briefly hiding out in a rundown temple where they meet Nanashi, a wandering swordsman. As Kotaro cooks a meal, smoke from his fire alerts his pursuers, who turn out to be the Ming foreigners accompanied by Akaike soldiers. Nanashi unintentionally gets involved in the fight and is able to kill the men, but Tobimaru is struck by a venomous dagger. Before Nanashi decides to leave, 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 an apothecary who is able to help Tobimaru recover over a few days. While shopping in town, Nanashi encounters the other Ming warriors and Luo-Lang begins to pick a fight with him for fun, but is interrupted by news of his comrades' deaths. Upon investigation, the Ming begin to suspect the Akaike soldiers are responsible because one of the corpses was staged to appear as Tu-Si, one of the Ming warriors who previously went missing.
The Lord Akaike, who is hosting the Ming, is helping them build a large altar in exchange for large amounts of gold. It is revealed that he kidnapped the missing Ming in order to discover their true purpose for being in Japan. Under torture Tu-Si reveals that they are on a mission for the Emperor of China 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 the child first and hold him for a high ransom.
Nanashi successfully reaches the temple with Kotaro and leaves him in the care of the monks. However, it is revealed that they have already betrayed Kotaro to the Ming in order to save their own lives. A fight ensues when the Akaike also arrive to take the boy. With Lord Akaike's treachery uncovered, the Ming take him prisoner and fortify themselves at the altar to await the prophesied time. Realizing that something went wrong, Nanashi goes back and frees Tobimaru, they track Kotaro and his captors. The sole remaining commander of the Akaike, Itadori, is given command of their forces by the princess and charged with rescuing the captured Lord. However, when they arrive at the fortress, Itadori seeing Lord Akaike in a compromising position, kills him and uses the opportunity to fulfill his own ambitions. The troops, now under his command, begin an assault and storm the fortress.
During the ensuing battle many of the Ming and Akaike soldiers are killed. Nanashi finally arrives to save Kotaro and successfully interrupts the ritual before it can be completed. Lord Bai-Luan orders the remaining Ming to capture the boy so that they may try the ritual again the next year. Nanashi kills two of the Ming fighters without his sword and wins the admiration of Luo-Lang, who has been searching for a worthy opponent. Luo-Lang cuts down his own benefactor, Bai-Luan, in order to save Nanashi from being shot. With the other Ming and Akaike forces entirely wiped out, Luo-Lang and Nanashi have a final duel. After sustaining many injuries Nanashi wins and Luo-Lang dies with shock and peace.
Nanashi, Kotaro, and Tobimaru ride away on a horse to a town to treat Nanashi's injuries. They talk about gathering enough money to go overseas and start a new life. As the movie ends the camera pans down on the tracks they leave in the snow and drops of fresh blood.
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?)
- 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?)
- 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?)
- 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 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.
- Shouan (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: "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.