Cut­ting Deep

Animation Magazine - - Anime -

Masahiro Ando’s Sword of the Stranger (2007) is an ex­cit­ing, vi­o­lent samu­rai ac­tion-ad­ven­ture in the Toshiro Mi­fune tra­di­tion; it just hap­pens to be an­i­mated.

The film opens with ado­les­cent or­phan Ko­taro (voice by Ai­dan Drum­mond) on the run. Ac­com­pa­nied by his faith­ful dog To­bi­maru, Ko­taro had to flee the tem­ple where he’d been liv­ing when the war­riors of the cor­rupt Lord Akaike and agents of the Ming Em­peror at­tacked. While hid­ing in an aban­doned shrine, Ko­taro meets a ronin who calls him­self No Name (Michael Adamth­waite).

Ko­taro is ini­tially up­set by the pres­ence of this mys­te­ri­ous stranger. But he needs a friend badly: Both the Ja­panese and Chi­nese war­riors are still hunt­ing for him. The head of the Chi­nese squadron plans to sac­ri­fice the boy in an elab­o­rate rit­ual: His blood will be used to pre­pare “Xian Medicine,” an elixir that is sup­posed to grant the Ming Em­peror eter­nal life. Af­ter a lot of fuss­ing and some un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts at bul­ly­ing, Ko­taro “hires” No Name to help him get to the tem­ple at Shi­rato, where he be­lieves he’ll be safe. The ronin dis­patches the first batch of at­tack­ers hand­ily: No Name may be sar­donic and se­cre­tive, but he’s a for­mi­da­ble fighter.

As the mis­matched pair sets off on the road, a pow­er­ful bond forms be­tween the des­ig­nated vic­tim and the war­rior who bears the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal scars of his bat­tles. Ko­taro has no idea why the Chi­nese want his blood, but he hides his fear be­hind sham bra-

a grandly swash­buck­ling — if vi­o­lent — an­i­mated take on the genre. By Charles Solomon.

vado; No Name suf­fers from night­mare-flash­backs of his past deeds.

Although he’s a re­doubtable samu­rai, No Name is ac­tu­ally the for­eign-born sur­vivor of a ship­wreck. He dyes his red­dish hair black to avoid attracting at­ten­tion. Like Ken­shin Himura in Rurouni Ken­shin, No Name has vowed not to use his sword again, in penance for the mur­ders he com­mit­ted in the past. The blade of his katana (long sword) is tied to its sheath with a knot­ted chord. Even sheathed, it’s a deadly weapon.

Af­ter a se­ries of ad­ven­tures, Ko­taro is be­trayed by the monk he trusted at Shi­rato, and handed over to his pur­suers, hours be­fore the rit­ual sac­ri­fice must take place. Led by To­bi­maru, No Name charges to the res­cue, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the clash be­tween Akaike’s samu­rai and the Chi­nese war­riors. A spec­tac­u­lar se­ries of fight scenes cli­maxes in the duel be­tween No Name and the leader of the Chi­nese troops, Luo-Lang (Scott McNeil), who, de­spite his name, is a blond, blue-eyed for­eigner. When No Name snaps the knot that binds his sword, the move­ment has the im­pact of a cavalry charge.

Duel­ing Gai­jin It’s sur­pris­ing that the cli­mac­tic samu­rai duel in an anime fea­ture is fought by two non-Ja­panese. No Name fights for a just cause — the need to pro­tect an in­no­cent vic­tim and a friend; Luo-Lang has been seek­ing an oppo- nent wor­thy of his skill as a swords­man. Ando and his artists chore­o­graph their fight with flam­boy­ant in­ten­sity.

The film­mak­ers use CG to give Sword of the Stranger a feel­ing of epic scale with­out de­tract­ing from the drawn an­i­ma­tion of the char­ac­ters. The tow­er­ing al­tar con­structed for the sac­ri­fice of Ko­taro and the flights of ar­rows from the Ja­panese archers en­hance the ex­cite­ment and con­trast ef­fec­tively with the hand­some wa­ter­color back­grounds. But Ando keeps the au­di­ence fo­cused on the bond be­tween Ko­taro and No Name, a bond that proves stronger than the ties be­tween lord and vas­sal or ally and ally. In a pair of win­ning per­for­mances, Drum­mond and Adamth­waite make the viewer be­lieve their char­ac­ters have gen­uinely grown to like and trust each other.

Dy­nam­i­cally staged and an­i­mated, Sword of the Stranger will ap­peal to both anime fans and devo­tees of clas­sic live-ac­tion samu­rai movies. An­i­ma­tors and au­di­ences of­ten com­plain that the medium has been rel­e­gated to harm­less fairy tales and fan­tasies in Amer­ica. Sword of the Stranger proves that an­i­ma­tion can be as ef­fec­tive as live ac­tion for swash­buck­ling pe­riod ad­ven­tures — in the hands of the right artists. [

Dig­i­tal combo pack ($22.97), the home re­lease fea­tures both English and French au­dio (English cast lead by Chloé Dunn as Sacha) and in­sight­ful bonus con­tent: con­cep­tual pi­lot, be­hind-the-scenes fea­turette, in­ter­view with Chayé and pro­ducer Henri Ma­ga­lon, gal­leries of char­ac­ter de­sign and con­cept art, and an­i­mat­ics.

[Re­lease date: Jan. 17] Jeremy Shada. DVD and Dig­i­tal ex­tras in­clude fea­turettes “Be­hind the Mic: Hang­ing with the Dream Team,” “Chicken Joe’s Ex­treme Slaugh­ter Is­land Tour,” “How to Draw Your Fa­vorite Char­ac­ters with Henry Yu” and “In­side the Mu­sic with Com­poser Toby Chu,” plus bloop­ers. An­i­mated sea birds may be the most re­al­is­tic char­ac­ters this gang’s ever played. [Re­lease date: Jan. 17] in­clude: “Walt’s Story Meet­ing: Plea­sure Is­land” with Pixar’s Pete Doc­ter and Dis­ney his­to­rian J.B Kauf­man, “In Walt’s Words - Pinoc­chio” archival record­ings, “The Pinoc­chio Project: ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’” with Dis­ney Maker Stu­dios mu­si­cians Alex G, Tan­ner Pa­trick and JR Aquino; and re­stored 1927 Oswald the Lucky Rab­bit short Poor Papa. Plus, hours more ma­te­rial from prior home re­leases. Who needs Plea­sure Is­land?

[Re­lease date: Jan. 31] Mirac­u­lous in­cludes seven episodes: “Lady­bug & Cat Noir (Origins, Part 1),” “Stone Heart (Origins, Part 2),” “An­i­man,” “Si­mon Says,” “Pix­e­la­tor,” “Gui­tar Vil­lain” and “Kung Food.” Eat your heart out, Hawk Moth. Bon ap­petit.

[Re­lease date: Jan. 10]

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