#SundayReview: Sword of the Stranger (or, the Most Badass Dog in Film)

Sam av

I can’t overstate this: Sword of the Stranger is an incredible film. It may be in my top ten of all time, Japanese and English alike. However, be forewarned…there’s a little bit of cartoon violence and blood spray. It’s a war-esque film.

How I Learned This Existed

When I went to ACEN in May 2016, I attended a panel on ‘Most Violent Japanese Anime.” I’d have to say that, of the list, this one is pretty tame. If you took any good live action war movie with shocking violent deaths and translated it into animation, that’s about the level you’re looking at with this one. So I wouldn’t say it transcends the line of ‘gore,’ but it’s probably not suitable for anyone under thirteen, I suppose.

But there were several things that landed it on my list of things I needed to watch:

  • Violence
  • A redemption story that gives you chills
  • This fucking dog:

The Plot

From Wikipedia:

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 “No Name”, 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 No Name.

So, this kid is on the run with his dog from some people who want to capture him. Without spoiling too much, basically there are some bad people who want him to assist with some kind of immortality ritual. He takes refuge in an abandoned temple, where he happens across a wandering former samurai who also needs a quiet place to rest. The kid pays the samurai for help getting him to a village, and along the way they create a bond that’s something like friendship.

Why I Loved This


The scenery is beautifully drawn. My roommate and I couldn’t stop commenting on how lovely all the artistry was. The action scenes were also not choppy, well choreographed, and exciting.

And this was one of the first fights! First impression: awesome fighting, beautiful scenery, and intriguing, mysterious characters.

Also, The Dog.

Tobimaru follows Kotaro around, and he’s everything you want in a companion hound. He’s loyal, smart, courageous, and adorable. He won’t back down from a fight, shares his food with strangers, and will stop at nothing to protect his boy. Seriously…the movie is worth watching for the dog alone.

The mystery behind the peace tie on Nanashi’s sword was also interesting. There are plenty of plots that use the “I’ll never do violence again” theme, and they’re usually pretty predictable, but they never get old. You still always want to know the breaking point that brought about the vow.

This is slightly (SLIGHTLY) spoilery, but since it’s the scene that nailed it down that THIS was something I absolutely had to see, I figured I should share it with you, too.

It’s a spectacular film. It really is. I think there’s actually a dub for it (English voiceover), but the subtitles are excellent already and the dubs are rarely quite as powerful. I hope you will give this movie a shot. If you’ve seen it, or end up watching it, let me know!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).


About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on July 31, 2016, in #SundayReview and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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