Sword of the Stranger
I've always been more of a series watcher as opposed to movies, mainly down to the fact that I prefer to get to know the characters and the world more, and often feel that in films it is rushed moreso to the point that I won't really care for the characters as much. However, Sword of the Stranger is pretty much a prime example of why I shouldn't limit myself, as ultimately I found it brilliant, engaging and a brilliant work of animation.
On a whole I found the story very engaging, which was partly down to the characters and their involvement and backstory, but I'll delve more into that later. The main plot revolves around a small boy and his dog being escorted by a stranger with a mysterious past. Despite what it may initially seem, it isn't quite as generic as your typical dark brooding and mysterious stranger, and the movie allows lots of time to flesh out their backstories and reasons for travelling throughout.
The latter half of the film also gets very intense and everything comes together for a brilliant climax to the story. My complaint is that I feel some of the plot had came out of nowhere, or rather there wasn't as much fleshing out of certain plot elements as I would have liked, although this didn't have a big impact on my enjoyment and engrossment of the story.
One thing that anyone would notice from this film is that the animation studio behind it (Bones) have done an absolutely fantastic job on the animation. The battle scenes in particular are engaging and fluid, and will leave you wanting to rewatch them over and over again.
This has been managed carefully whilst still making the scenery look beautiful. Some of the backdrops and areas will look like they've been done with watercolours, and the areas never feel dull or bland which really helps in setting up the feel and immersing you in the world. There are no wonky frames or out-of-place scenes, and it is without a doubt that this is one of the greatest strengths of Sword of the Stranger.
Ah the soundtrack, where do I begin? In particular, I have to give massive credit to the composer Naoki Satō for creating a masterpiece of a soundtrack which not only captures the feel of the environment and times that it is set in to an outstanding degree, but also build up a range of emotions as it comes on throughout.
In particular, the stand-out track is Ihojin no Yaiba, which you'll no doubt notice uses a motif commonly seen throughout the film. I did notice the melody appearing quite a lot throughout the film which would be my only complaint, but I never got tired of hearing it as every scene it accompanied only emphasised the emotions and importance of the scenes themself. If there's one thing you'll take away and remember from watching this, it is likely to be the soundtrack.
With the film being mainly focused upon the child (Kotarou) and the stranger (Nanashi), it is needless to say that these two characters are fleshed out the most and give the biggest insight as to their backstory and their purpose for doing what they are doing. We come to sympathise with the past of Nanashi and his reasons for now wandering the lands, as well as watch the bond between the two characters grow as the film progresses.
Despite this, I was a little sad there wasn't slightly more screentime for the secondary
characters. Whilst some of them stood out in particular and are very memorable indeed such as the foreigner who has a passion for fighting (Luo-Lang) and the samurai leader (Shougen Itadori), there are other characters who whilst they did have their scenes and times to shine, it wasn't quite as much as I'd have liked. However, I do not feel there are any unnecessary characters, and nearly all of them drive the plot forward and make for an entertaining watch.
Sword of the Stranger is overall a brilliant film. It excels in animation, the soundtrack is very memorable and fitting, the characters are intriguing throughout as we yearn to discover more about them and the story should keep you interested all the through. I couldn't recommend this enough to anyone looking for something with an emotional and serious story with well thought out characters and a brilliant soundtrack. I urge you if you haven't yet seen it to dive in and give it a try!