Sword of the Stranger (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Bryce Coulter
Review Date: Friday, January 15, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can the sword of a samurai with no name sworn to never use his sword save a young boy from the clutches of the Ming assasins?

What They Say
What qualifies a man as good or evil? Is it the amount of political power one attains, the quality of his swordsmanship or how well he serves his lord? With the fall of the second shogunate Japan has sunk into a state of disarray historians now call the Sengoku period, or the era of Warring States. Civil wars rage on throughout the many feudal holdings, where a man may raise his station in life simply by killing his superior.

Whilst wandering this war torn country side a nameless ronin stumbles upon a young boy by the name of Kotaro, his dog and the many Chinese assassins dispatched to claim the boy in some strange ritual for immortality. Seeing something of his own past within the child, the nameless swordsman chooses to act as his bodyguard but can he truly keep Kotaro from the clutches of the Ming and their bloodthirsty blonde mercenary, Luo-Lang?

The Review!
Audio:
The audio for this release is solid and immersive.  The musical score for this movie is outstanding as the orchestral score sets the emotion for what is to come.  Both the English and Japanese mixes are done in the standard 5.1 format.  There were no noticeable flaws in the audio.  A very superb usage of sound, this movie uses a lot of low tones and stills where the background noise tends to make you focus more on audio and visual details.  That’s not to say that the big action sequences are that way.  In fact, the big action sequences are anything but, as they will impress with sword clangs, explosions, and sound reverb.  Probably not as immersive as its Blu-ray counterpart, this release does a decent job with sound directionality about the entire soundstage, both forward and rear.

Video:
Originally in theaters in 2007, the transfer for this theatrical feature is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format.  While I am sure that this version is not nearly as impressive as the Blu-ray version, you can see that BONES really put a lot of effort into this series.  Using the PS3’s upsampling capabilities with my LED set really made this show look spectacular.  The level of detail in the background scenery is awesome to behold.   The color selections throughout the dark and bright scenes were very vivid.  The animation was very fluid and natural looking.  Sometimes it felt as if I were watching a live action movie as the characters are as equally detailed as the background.  You can tell that there is a lot of design detail in this movie.  Overall, I was very impressed with this standard release.  However, the Blu-ray junkie in me is very curious to watch it in Blu-ray as I am sure that the detail that Chris describes in his Blu-ray review is very enticing.  Overall, this is a rock-solid release for standard definition DVD release.

Packaging:
Using a standard DVD case, the artwork seems a bit too dark.  It is understandable, but this would not be a selection that I would immediately grab off of the shelf at Best Buy.  The artwork is looks great, but there is not much color other than the title (in red) and the flesh tones of the characters.   Everything seems too muted as you really have to study the artwork on the front page to discern what is being portrayed.  The back cover keeps to the same dark tones.  However, it works with well with the white text that is used for the descriptions.    On the back, you will find quite a few screen shots for the series along with a lengthy description of the movie.  The technical information is a the bottom of the case while the extras are listed near the bottom, offset to the right.  Interestingly enough, the extras list is colored red. No show related inserts are included nor is there artwork on the reverse side.  This is a wonderful movie that deserves a bit more in its packaging.  Simply, the package does not accompany the greatness that is found within the movie itself.

Menus:
The top menu design resembles the packaging design as it uses a dark and drab color palette.   The main menu has full clips from the movie playing with a haze of red around the edges.  The center portion of the main menu displays short clips of from the movie while a snippet of the theatrical score plays.  The bottom portion of the main menu contains the navigation strip. The submenus are quick and easy to navigate, but do not contain any music. 

Extras:
You will find quite a few extras in this collection.  However, it is a bit overdone as most of them are comprised of TV commercials and theatrical trailers.  You will also find a translated credits section and the original pilot film.  The pilot runs a few minutes and is kind of neat to watch.   The Cast Interview runs just under twenty minutes.  Interestingly, this cast interview is done in a cosplay format where the cast members are walking around on stage talking to a live audience. 

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers). 
Sword of the Stranger is a movie produced by BONES who is known for turning out some high quality content.  This movie has been out for a while and received some pretty high marks in both the Japanese and American markets.  I had hoped to catch this at the local theater during its very brief stint, but anime movies, in the theater, are a rarity in the Midwest when it comes to these kinds of releases. 

This movie is as exciting as the title is mysterious.  You won’t find a more action packed movie that is as ultimately satisfying as Sword of the Stranger.  It’s too bad that this movie wasn’t marked more heavily as it deserves every bit as much.  It contains awesomeness of epic proportions that many an anime fan or even action movie fan would find appealing.  If this movie had been released prior to the downturn in the anime market, this title would have made a bigger impact than it has already.  It would have created a huge buzz and would have become a household name for anime lovers. 

The movie takes place in the feudal past where a young boy, Kotaro, is being hunted by the Ming from China.  The Ming Chinese have come to Japan to use Kotaro as a sacrifice to gain immortality.  The Ming has brought a group of assassins led by Luo-Lang, a blonde haired warrior.  Luo-Lang is brutal, yet methodical in his approach to pursuing Kotaro.  His mission seems to bore him as his only desire is to find a worthy opponent to fight.

Kotaro and his dog, Tobimaru, have successfully evaded the Ming Chinese so far and found refuge in an abandoned shrine.  They happen upon a nameless ronin, or "Nanashi", who is haunted by memories of his past.  No-Name has sworn to never draw his sword again.  Neither Kotaro nor No-Name appear to be too excited about their current circumstances nor are they too excited about being in one another’s company.   That soon changes as the Ming assassins find them.  A relationship is soon formed as Kotaro, Tobimaru, and No-Name are in a fight for survival.  Things don’t get any easier as both groups clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord, a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival. 

The plot is predictable, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this is just a cookie cutter film.  The time proven format of strong narratives, solid character archetypes, and style makes this film shine. This type of approach is not necessarily a bad thing at all, as many successful Hollywood ventures can attest.  Masahiro Ando avoids the pitfalls of cramming too much plot, too much background detail, large casts, etc.. that often trip up large anime films.  When the dust settles at the end of this movie, you will find that it ends in a very satisfying conclusion.  The showdown with No-Name and Luo-Lang is fantastic and will keep you on the edge of your seat.  How it will end is too much of a spoiler to reveal.  As the credits rolled I couldn’t think of more satisfying ending for a film such as this.

Summary
Sword of the Stranger blends the correctly uses the right amount of action and storytelling.  The wonderfully designed animation and background scenery just makes it even better.  The action scenes in the movie appear to be more intricately played out than the plot as you will see some of the best sword clashing fight scenes in all of anime.  The carnage factor is amped up in this movie as you will see plenty of blood, limbs, heads and other body parts.  The higher the kill count, the higher the action and the excitement.  You won’t any better sword play in an anime film than this.  A must-have collection for any anime fan and a great film to introduce someone who is new to anime.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making Of Featurette, Pilot Film, Commercials, Trailers

Review Equipment

Samsung  UN46B6000VF 120Hz  LED HDTV, Samsung HT-WS1R/XAA  2.1 Channel Soundbar Speaker System with Wireless Subwoofer, and Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 102
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sword of the Stranger