Writing this now is probably a bit old hat, but I finally got around to watching Sword of the Stranger at the weekend!
Why the delay? I’ve developed a strained relationship with anime movies; having become so used to watching anime in the 20-min TV format, the mere suggestion of watching anything even slightly longer than normal isn’t attractive at all! I might have been institutionalized by TV!
As such, I’ve avoided many of the most important releases of recent years. I still haven’t seen Mind Game, The Sky Crawlers and Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t seen Paprika, either.
The irony is that I’m often frustrated by the lack of creativity in TV anime, yet there are still so many highly-rated, recent films I need to check out.
After all, film is the anime auteur’s truest medium. Every now and then, there will be a TV series (like the currently airing Trapeze) that can provide relief from the down-pour of tried and tested, but if one truly wants to experience anime in the broader sense, culturally and artistically, there’s simply no avoiding the fact that films (and, to an extent, OVAs) are still where it’s at.
Fans are more likely to be familiar with Hayao Miyazaki than with the director of their favourite TV series, simply because Miyazaki‘s work is that much more personal and stylised. Other popular directors include Makoto Shinkai, Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosada; their work is distinctive, unmistakably their own, and markedly more refined than the typical TV series.
That refinement is really what I’m trying to get at here. I’d forgotten just how lively and exciting anime can be; Sword of the Stranger is one hell of an action movie, but more than that, it’s visually so evocative. Reading subtitled anime can tend towards an over-emphasis on plot and dialogue, yet for this I could hardly pull my eyeballs from the animation.
I’ve read so much praise for Sword of the Stranger‘s action choreography, yet every word of it was true. It’s as cool as Samurai Champloo, but that’s a bad comparison; a better one would be the violent Rurouni Kenshin OVA, Trust & Betrayal. Remember how, towards the end of Betrayal, Kenshin is forced to come out from hiding and follow into the forest after his beloved Tomoe, knowing full well that many deadly traps lay in wait? That those traps are ultra-specialist, blood-thirsty ninja with iron claws and face masks? Sword of the Stranger has scenes just like that! It’s serious stuff; there are poisoned knives, spear fights and shooting arrows! (And the day I grow bored of watching spear fights and shooting arrows is the day this blog closes!)
26 replies on “Trying to get back into anime movies / Sword of the Stranger”
This post reminds me that I have to watch my DVD of this. I remember when I watched it originally I really like the relationship between the boy & swordsman (I am a sucker for things like that). Oh and yeah the action was pretty nice too. 🙂
I was just thinking earlier about how much I’d love to own this movie on Bluray! Anime often feels like a token gesture in the higher quality video formats, but I’m sure this would be an absolute joy to behold.
The spike in production values is reason enough to go after OVAs and films, but really it’s the freedom from the TV format’s constraints that are really compelling (no I’m not talking about censorship and the like).
The action is Sword of the Stranger is superb: fluid and spectacularly choreographed while remaining well within the realms of plausibility. Rather, it doesn’t even stretch us much to see the verisimilitude in it, despite it being a fantasy.
What people don’t pay attention too much is on the quiet and tender scenes, not that I blame them. The action dominates the story that isn’t really remarkable. That said, let’s look at the onsen scene between man and boy. What makes this a very effective scene for me is not only that the man is talking about himself, his past… there’s a visual anchor: him dyeing his hair. We see how involved he is in it and locks us in the effort of both his dyeing in particular, and how important it is that he changed his identity.
To me, this adds so much more than just a monologue and flashback scene.
I think I’m probably doing an injustice to Sword of the Stranger by calling it just an action film. After all, it succeeds in making us care about the action, which is where our hearts will ultimately be won or lost. So, I’m glad that you mentioned ‘Nameless’ dyeing his hair (and also disappointed that I didn’t do it myself in the post!) because it’s a brilliant scene full of personality and emotion, and exactly the kind of subtle refinement that makes watching movies like this so engaging.
Usually I will watch like, 4 movies in a really short time, and then not watch movies again for a month or so. It’s like once I watch one movie, I have to watch more and more (I love anime movies). I also, usually watch movies dubbed as opposed to subbed, although occasionally I’ll watch it subbed (like Ponyo, which was awesome). If the movie is related to an anime series, like Bleach (which I haven’t watched in ages) then I obviously watch it subbed because I usually watch all series subbed.
Based on your review, I can tell that I would love this movie, and so I’m going to add it to The List. The way you described it kind of reminds me of Lone Wolf and Cub (awesome movies).
My favorite anime movie is surprisingly not done by Miyazaki, who is my favorite director of anything ever, but is The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, by Mamoru Hosoda. I freakin love that movie., But Miyazaki movies all end up awesome. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorites done by him, even though everyone seems to think it’s his worst (I think mainly for the English dubbing, which I liked).
This has inspired me to go watch a movie.
Cool 🙂 Based on what you’ve said above, I’m almost certain you’ll love Sword of the Stranger, and thank you for saying something nice about Howl’s Moving Castle too! Everyone seems to hate on it, but I’ve adored every Miyazaki film I’ve seen, so it’s nice to know that Howl’s might not be as disappointing as everyone makes it out to be.
my favourite movie ever
the last action scene was done by yutaka nakamura,seriously that guy out classes any other animator
come on Bones use him on FMA (he already did the 2nd half of the 2nd opening,the one with the swords fight)
-if there is any HxH fan here ,HxH is announced to be back on the 4th of january after a year hiatus (looks at Bateszi)
Looking at Yutaka Nakamura’s profile on ANN reads like a list of every action scene I’ve ever loved. OP4 was always my favourite from the original FMA too (certain scenes from that OP are still very clear in my mind, like Ed jumping into that waterfall and the battle that ensues!) No idea what he’s working on next, but his involvement in Ouran High School Host Club has just pushed that show up my ‘to watch’ list!
(btw, I know it’s not HxH, but I’ve started watching Slam Dunk!)
Yutaka Nakamura is a god among animators, a mozart with the pencil and paper (though I’m sure they’ve moved far beyond such arcane measures now in the digital era…somewhat regrettably, too, might I add). Seriously, where would BONES be without this guy? I don’t know how many other animators out there aside from Norio Matsumoto who can animate ridiculous action scenes as prolifically as they do. And with such a distinct style too.
Visual references for your viewing pleasure:
Thanks for linking those clips, MushroomSamba! I love how his work tends to be on the more serious/violent side of the things; he’s just a perfect match for BONES’ style (particularly this episode of Soul Eater).
BTW, any idea which anime the mecha/super robot clips were from? Like that weird ‘thing’ running on the clouds, it was the only one I couldn’t name and I’d love to watch it sometime. (Not RahXephon, rather the one with the slightly ‘cartoonier’ feel that looks a bit like Gurren Lagann)
That would be Overman King Gainer (created and directed by Tomino, btw). It’s actually quite a likeable mecha series, despite the typical whiny male pilot as the main protagonist. And as you can see, it’s obviously got some fun action scenes going for it, at least.
And btw, I loved that episode of Soul Eater you linked to. What a real gem that show turned out to be (and plenty more Yutaka Nakamura-goodness in the later episodes helped, too). As I said in a comment long ago in that blog post of yours — under a different name, but you can figure it out by the icon 😉 — the episode couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, as my interest in the series was just about faltering at that point. It never wavered much since.
Ah, so that’s who you are! 🙂
I’ll have to check out Overman King Gainer; totally didn’t expect something like this from Mr “Real Robots” Tomino!
I still need to finish Soul Eater, but you’re bang on, that arc was definitely the moment it transformed into something really great, the beauty and mood of the animation matched perfectly with the darker tone of story.
yutaka did a very minor scene for host club(as I remember 4 -5 seconds),but overall Host club is a very nice comedy show,I love it 🙂
I hope you’re enjoying SD
-anyway once you start HxH,it’s better to watch the tv series + the 1 st ova then go manga,the studio did a really bad jop with ova 2 and 3
-last recommendation is bakemonogatari=awesome
I’ll hopefully get the chance to check out Bakemonogatari before the year’s end.
I’ve been trying to watch Umineko no Naku Koro ni, but if truth be told, I’m not feeling it as much as I’d hoped after the impressive first five episodes or so. Maybe I should drop it in favour of Bakemonogatari? Hmm.
I think dropping it isn’t such a bad idea. I actually quite enjoyed earlier episodes of Umineko (despite its unpolished nature), but my interest in it has been declining and declining, I almost regret that I didn’t drop it. Maybe you can hold it for now and hear what other people have to say about it, before deciding whether it’s worthwhile to pick it up again. As for me, I’m already upto episode 20 so…
It’s decided then, Bakemonogatari it is!
Umineko was really impressive at first, but just seemed to lose something once the decidedly more ‘meta’ elements became prominent; it went from being an atmospheric horror/mystery to being this strange ‘meta-horror’ with no real tension or mystery.
Oh, and last night I finally watched “Springs, summer, fall, winter and spring.” I really liked, although certain things probably would have made more sense had I been slightly more familiar with Buddhism. I’ve a feeling I missed a lot of the symbolism.
Ah glad you liked it. I don’t think symbolisms are that necessary, since thankfully the film is not preachy and not trying to make any statements. Just as long as we get to feel for the guy’s innocent curiosity, wild indulgence, purging of desires, and acceptance and just being content at life, almost like changing seasons. Or that’s how I saw the film anyway.
I can’t wait for the Blu-Ray of this to be released. I understand your feelings completely – I rarely have the time to sit through an hour and a half or two hour feature on a weeknight, so have plenty of unwatched titles to work through if I get the time on weekends. I also agree that this is one of those ‘refreshing change’ titles – there’s also an honesty about Sword of the Stranger…a sense that it does exactly what it says on the tin, and is so much more satisfying for that.
Bakemonogatari? I loved it. It took a little while for me to warm to it but the payoff (in the twelfth episode especially) was worth the patience. I’m appreciating Trapeze, for similar reasons to yours too, I’ll wager…gotta love the NoitaminA slot!
Is it coming out on Bluray in the UK? I see it’s already out in the US, but when I had a look at Beez’s site I couldn’t see anything.
And I’m really looking forward to seeing Bakemonogatari, literally everyone seemed to love it and it looks a bit more ‘mature’ than Shinbo’s usual stuff, so yeah, I’m excited! 🙂
I think it was among the slew of Blu-Ray announcements at the London Expo recently so while it’s definitely happening soonish, the release date probably hasn’t been set yet. What with this, 5cm per Second and the Sky Crawlers getting the HD treatment next year, I can’t wait!
I’m very glad you have watched Sword of the Stranger. I liked it a lot from the characters to the very thrilling action scenes, to the tragic moments and the more peaceful conversations. It’s a good movie.
Just wanted to say I have liked your blog a lot and visit occasionally but don’t really have that much time to write here. Thank you for blogging.
I would very much suggest you would watch all of Natsume Yuujinchou when you can if you already haven’t and tell your thoughts about it.
Thanks for leaving that comment, Tuuli! You would be surprised to learn how much of a boost it gives me to know that there are people out there enjoying simply reading this blog.
I have seen the first season of Natsume Yuujinchou and enjoyed it greatly. My favourite was episode 8, the one with the fireflies. I just went and watched it again on YouTube ) and the last, like, 2 minutes of that link are so beautiful and evocative it still gets me even now.
Skip Howl and watch “Whisper of the Heart” by Kondo + Miyazaki instead. Most delightful anime movie I’ve ever seen.
saw this off your recommendation. Absolutely incredible. If the plot about blood and immortality wasnt so silly, this would be up for not greatest ova. the fight scenes were incredible. Saw phantom off your recommendation too, pretty good but not on gungraves level.
its November 2009, the first decade of the new millennium has come to an end. What are you top 5 anime of this decade? p.s. the anime MUST have been released between 2000-2009. can u do a post about it?
Top 5 Anime of the decade 2000-2009
1 Planet ES
2 Wolfs Rain
3 Eureka Seven
5 Samurai Champloo/Black lagoon
Movies (if you feel like it)
1. City of God, 2002
2. Oldboy, 2003
3. lord of the Rings, 2001-2003
4. Requiem for a Dream, 2000
5. Kill Bill I & II, 2003-2004
Yeah, I could do a post for the decade, but it won’t be easy! I’ll probably line it up for New Year’s Eve or something 🙂 I mean look at your list, and that’s still missing Monster, Mushishi, Gurren Lagann and FLCL! There are so many great shows to consider, but at least you’ve given me a head-start.
Phantom is a good second-tier anime if you get my meaning; it’s not particularly excellent in any area, but it’s solid entertainment regardless. I liked the emotional dynamic between Ein and Zwei.