A visual masterpiece with a strong story and amiable characters: an anime that fits all these descriptions is rare, and that’s why I count Sword of the Stranger amongst the few anime that have truly stunned me. One would almost regret that this is a movie, and not a full anime series. But maybe this is for the best: it’s sometimes better to present a story in a brief, condensed way, rather than to endlessly go on and on and on and on (yes Bleach, I am looking at you).

Kotaro, a child, and his dog Tobimaru flee from a Chinese organisation with obscure intentions. They find shelter in an abandoned house, and there they meet a nameless rounin*. Kotaro hires the samurai as his bodyguard in exchange for an object he calls ‘a treasure’ that is worth 10 golden coins. The young man agrees, and together they try to escape the Chinese men that are after Kotaro.

Action, historical

This is one of those stories where you haven’t got a clue in the beginning, but gradually things are explained, and, in the end, you understand it all. It was interesting to see how all the pieces fell into place, and here and there we even get to see a glimpse of the past of some characters. A lot of the elements in this film have a deeper meaning and are sometimes so subtle they are hard to find. It’s beautiful to see the growing friendship between Kotari and his samurai bodyguard. Even though they don’t always agree with each other, they would go far in order to save the other. I think that’s an important message in this film: how two people, from different backgrounds, can become true friends.

The art is very nice. I especially liked the colours they used: a lot of brown and grey tones that suited the mood of the anime. The animation is simply stunning: the makers paid attention to every detail to make sure the movements are smooth, especially during the fighting scenes.
The characters are drawn in a realistic way. By this I mean that they were not made to look any prettier than they were. Some are unshaven, some have scars and others are just old and wrinkled. And yet, even with all these imperfections, the characters were interesting to look at. The characters’ facial expressions are beautifully drawn.

The characters were all given a unique personality, which I could appreciate very much. I was amazed by the character development, which seemed very natural to me. The young boy Kotaro is cautious and doesn’t trust people too easily. Tobimaru, his dog, is his best friend. The other main character, the nameless rounin, is asked by Kotaro to help him avoid the men that are chasing him. He agrees after being promised by Kotaro that he will be paid for his work.

The music is in one word: amazing. If this could be the soundtrack of my life, I’d gladly sign for it. The instruments used for this soundtrack give such an emotional vibe that it is almost impossible not to be moved by the scenes. For an example of this I specifically refer to the ending scene. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but the music is so powerful that there’s almost no need for words: all feelings can be expressed through the music. The soundtrack has a very recognizable tune that works well in both slower and faster themes. Naoki Sato is a genius, and he has my deepest respect.

I loved this film. Even though it was probably aimed at a male audience, and therefore packed with action and fast-paced, I enjoyed the fact that there were also slower moments in the story, where the main focus was the bond between Kotaro and the nameless samurai. This mix is what makes this movie so special. Add in a few good-natured characters and a blood-thirsty villain, and you get a result that is top-notch. This is definitely a high-quality film, and the effort pays off. A must-watch for everyone, in my opinion.