2007's Sword of the Stranger, from Bones, sees first time director Masahiro Andô helm an action-packed sword and samurai epic. You can't go wrong watching Sword of the Stranger, especially on Blu-ray, as you will struggle to find a better choreographed and executed action film, anime or otherwise.
The story for this 102-minute film is interesting enough. It sees the mysterious foreigner No-Name, a skilled swordsman, hired by the young Kotaru and his dog to ensure their safe passage to a Buddhist temple. It is quickly evident that No-Name’s considerable skills will be necessary as the boy is being pursued by representatives of the Ming Dynasty who have come to Japan to build a mysterious monument for their Emperor.
The fusing of elements from China and Japan is quite interesting due to the history of the two nations and the focus it puts on "other" and foreignness within the story. The Japanese don’t trust the Chinese, the Chinese feel superior to the Japanese, while Westerners are regarded as freaks or demons due to their drastically different appearance. No-Name even colors his hair to avoid the prejudice it brings. It’s also interesting, and kind of amusing, that in a film which highlights the skill of the samurai and Chinese martial arts, two Westerners are the most skillful fighters in the two fields.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t really advance past interesting. I wouldn’t really call it deep or engaging. It seems to throw elements and explanations at you, like crazy Chinese science/magic mixed with ancient prophecies, which are enough to make you go "oh okay, that’s why that happened" but not fully immerse you in the story and the journey that’s taking place.
The characterization is okay but at times it is predictable. You know from the word go No-Name is going to be a flawed hero who sees helping this kid as a way to help himself while the Ming elite Luo-Lang (another Westerner) is the type of guy looking for the next meaningful fight and that’s it. Some of his actions actually reminded me of Dragonball Z’s Vegeta. The thing is they don't delve all that deeply into their motivations here (apart from one flashback scene) and I would have been especially interested in finding out a bit more about Luo-Lang.