Sword of the Stranger (2007)
By: Paul Ryan on June 27, 2011  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Japanese DD 5.1 | 102 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Masahiro Ando
Starring: Tomoya Nagase, Yuri Chinen, Koichi Yamadera
Screenplay: Fumihiko Takayama
Country: Japan
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In feudal-era Japan, the country is under siege from Ming Chinese invaders. Fleeing a monastery, orphan lad Kotaro and his loyal dog Tobimaru encounter a wandering ronin, known only as No Name. No Name carries a sword, but haunted by traumatic memories, refuses to draw it under any circumstances. Nonetheless, he agrees to transport Kotaro and Tobimaru to the nearest town when the dog is poisoned during a Ming attack. Despite the boy's mistrust, he successfully bargains with the Ronin to get help for his beloved pet. However, the boy is also the target of Ming cultists who plan to sacrifice him as part of an ancient ritual. Brutal Ming warrior Luo-Lang longs to find an opponent who is his equal, and sets his sights on No Name. All the while, a final clash is looming between Ming forces and those of a feudal lord, and Kotaro and No Name look set to be caught in the middle...

Recalling the live-action Lone Wolf and Cub films of the 1970s (and inevitably, Ninja Scroll), Sword of the Stranger is a hugely exciting martial arts anime and one that is both intelligent and action-packed. The action scenes are stunningly visceral and kinetic, imaginatively and thrillingly choreographed. The animation in these sequences is incredible in its detail, even in shots that last mere seconds. But the furious action would be rendered empty without the strong relationships at the core of the story. The connection that gradually forms between Kotaro and No Name is credible and resonant, while the boy's relationship with the dog, while hoary in its filmic origins, proves emotive without being mawkish.

The directorial debut of animator Masahiro Ando (Fullmetal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell), Sword of the Stranger was shortlisted for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Animated Film, and augurs well for future films from this talented director.
Video is touch below standard for a recent Madman anime title. While colours are good and film artefacts are non-existent, there's an interlaced appearance to this transfer that suggests an NTSC to PAL conversion with a resulting softness to the image. Subtitling in the Japanese version is well-timed and readable throughout.
There's a choice of Japanese and English Dolby 5.1 on offer. Audio sync is fine in both tracks, though the Japanese option is punchier in terms of volume.
Extra Features
Seventeen-and-a-half minutes of interviews (partially shot at a special fan preview screening) with pop star Tomoya Nagase (No Name) and Yuri Chinen (Kotaro), with both actors reading a lot (possibly a bit too much) into the film and their characters. A four-minute pilot film (made to drum up investment in the feature) makes an interesting contrast to the finished film in terms of character design and tone. Three theatrical trailers and five TV spots, plus a shed load (seven in total) of bonus Madman anime previews finishes things off. By comparison, Madman's Blu-Ray release adds a fifty-minute production report, which (along with a hi-def transfer) will probably tip the scales for anime purists.
The Verdict
Full of visceral, exhilarating – and very gory – battle scenes, Sword of the Stranger combines superb action with strong characterisation to produce a memorable anime experience. Madman's DVD is a little disappointing in the video stakes, but the audio – in either language – is first-rate.
Movie Score
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Overall Score

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