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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Sword of the Stranger (Blu-ray)
Sword of the Stranger (Blu-ray)
Bandai // Unrated // June 16, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted June 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

All a movie needs to do to succeed is tell a simple story well.  That's what Sword of the Stranger does.  While it is set in ancient Japan during a time of war and strife, the movie's focus on a boy, his dog, and the wandering ronin that decides to protect them is straight forward and heartfelt.  Everything else is just dressing and this film has a lot of that too.  Released by Bandai, the Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds great and has a good number of bonus featurettes, something that anime often lacks.
 
During the Sengoku period, also known as the "era of Warring States" Japan was torn by civil wars.  The only thing an ambitious military officer had to do to take command of a region was kill his lord.  And then look out for all of his subordinates who have a hungry look in their eye. 
 


During this time a monastery is destroyed and burnt to the ground.  A very young boy, Kotaro, and his dog Tobimaru manage to escape with their master.  The master gives the boy a piece of jade, telling him to sell it if he needs the money, and orders him to make his way across the country to their sister temple, a long way away.  The master then returns to his destroyed home to see if he can find any survivors.
 
Life is hard for Kotaro because not only does he have to survive on his own in a violent time, but he's being sought after by Chinese soldiers.  The Chinese have invaded a small portion of Japan and set about building an odd monument.  It has something to do with Kotaro, but he's not sure what.
 


Returning to the hovel he had been living in after his daily ritual of stealing food, Kotaro and Tobimaru discovers an odd man sleeping where they've been living.  He's a nameless ronin, a warrior who decided stop fighting after seeing too much bloodshed and death.  He ties the hilt of his sword to his scabbard so that it's impossible to draw the weapon, but that doesn't mean he's not a formidable opponent.  When some thugs, and a Chinese assassin, try to kidnap the boy the old warrior defeats them with ease, though Tobimaru is severely wounded.  Offering the jade as a reward (and greatly inflating its value) Kotaro convinces the man to help nurse Tobimaru back to health and get him to the temple that he's been traveling to.  It seems like a simple task, but it turns out to be anything but.
 
This is a nice simple story told with grace.  The characters are interesting and though we've seen them before (the wise-ass kid who's really scared, and the Kenshin-like warrior (who even has a scar across his face) who, though a magnificent fighter, turns his back on war) they click together nicely in this film.  It's basically a road show, with the young boy and too-old for his age warrior bonding as the travel across the country. 
 


If the movie has a flaw, it's the rather silly excuse they come up with for having Kotaro chased by the Chinese.  The whole subplot of the emperor searching for immortality through the blood of a young man is a bit silly and takes away, just slightly, from the reality based rest of the story.  The strange subplot about the Chinese taking drugs to make them better fighters is rather odd to and never explored, so it was a mistake to include it.
 
This is a bloody movie, with lots of severed arms, legs, and heads, but the animation is very fluid and the movements lifelike.  Being a theatrical release they didn't cut corners like many anime TV shows do.  Here everything is animated with great care taken to make sure both the character designs and the actual movements are believable and realistic.  The battle at the end was particularly impressive with the fighters running, jumping, and dodging attacks while snow was falling and blood was flying.  An impressive looking piece of animation.
 
The Blu-ray Disc:
          

Video:
 
The 1.78:1 1080p/AVC encoded image looks great, even for an animated movie.  The lines are very tight, even in the fine details, and the colors look solid and bright.  Usually the big explosions and spectacular special effects make a film exciting to watch.  The opposite is true with this movie.  Here it's the small things that make this film look so good.  The faint, circular, rainbow the briefly appears around a sword as the tapered edge reflects the light for example, or the way a drop of blood soaks into the snow.  This Blu-ray disc reproduces all of that with a high amount of clarity and that really helps to bring the movie to life.  I was on the lookout for digital defects, but did not notice any aliasing, blocking, or banding.  All around a good liking movie.
 
Audio:
 
Like the video, the audio is top notch.  This disc offers the viewers a choice between the original Japanese soundtrack and an English bud.  I screened the film with the Japanese track and spot-checked the English one.  From the first scenes where the young boy and his master are running through the forest viewers know that they're in for a sonic treat.  The full soundstage is used, with the sound of Kotaro running coming from the front speakers and the harsh panting of his master coming from the rears.  The audio engineer wasn't afraid to pan voices as they were talking either, as is the case when someone gets up from a table and exits stage right, his voice follows him across the room.   The rain in the woods was another impressive aural effect, filling the room with the sounds of a storm with directionalized sound effect too. 
 
Extras:
 
I usually don't expect too much in the way of extras on Japanese animation movies or TV shows, but this disc has a fair amount of bonus items.  First off is a 18 minute talk with the Japanese voice actors who played the two lead roles.  It was pretty standard; they talk about their character and his personality as well as giving their thought on the film.  It's not that exciting but at least it is presented in HD.  The longest supplement is also the best.  The "Production Report" runs close to 50 minutes and it talks with the main players who discuss how the idea come about and how the movie finally got on to the big screen.
 
One of the most interesting bits is a short (3 minute) "Pilot Film" that was made to sell the idea to a studio.  It's a short look at the style and feel that the movie has and its quite nice to watch.
 
Finally there are 5 TV spots and three theatrical trailers.  Overall this disc sports a fine assortment of bonus features.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
This isn't a deep show about the nature of right and wrong or what makes a person human, it's a simple tale of two people thrust together during difficult times.  With interesting characters, excellent animation, and a wonderful Blu-ray presentation this disc comes Highly Recommended.
 
 
 
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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