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Anime / Sword of the Stranger

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A young boy named Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru are on the run from assassins from the Ming Dynasty, who follow a prophecy that calls for the child's blood as the main ingredient to the secret to immortality. Along the way they meet a skilled Rōnin known only as Nanashi (literally, nameless), who keeps his blade tightly bound to its sheath and unable to be drawn. Kotaro offers to hire Nanashi for protection on the way to the nearest temple, but the Ming aren't so easily deterred.

This anime provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The gist of it is that Kotaro and Nanashi are riding away, victorious. Kotaro seems happy, but his final smile is nervous, Nanashi is hunched over and half asleep, and the final shot shows blood dropping from the horse's back.
    • On the one hand, this is enough evidence to suggest Nanashi could die from his wounds.
    • On the other hand, Nanashi took no explicitly fatal wounds, his worst ones being an impaled forearm and a gutshot that was deflected mostly by his jade stone—both serious, but rather underwhelming for a death in fiction. He also ran several miles before he got those wounds, which would mean he would be asleep on his feet from exhaustion anyway.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted most of the time, but played straight with the Chinese soldiers. Justified as they were taking drugs that caused them to Feel No Pain.
  • The Archer: Jyuurouta is able to out-snipe and kill one of the supernaturally strong Ming warriors and is praised by Shogen, his superior and mentor, as being skilled with a bow. Mu-Mao as well.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Byakuran.
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  • Arrow Catch: Fuugo. Not so much a catch as letting it slam into his forearm.
  • Art Evolution: A minor case when comparing the pilot to the finished film.
  • Automaton Horses: Averted. Nanashi discusses the importance of proper horse care early in the movie, and a distinction is made between draft horses and horses meant for long-distance riding. Later on, a messenger rides his horse full-tilt to deliver an urgent message, whereupon the poor thing collapses. And finally, horses get targeted for attacks. A lot.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Badass Nanashi and child Kotaro.
  • Badass Baritone: Luo-Lang has a very deep voice in both the original and the English dub, and is one of the two best fighters in the movie.
  • Barehanded Blade Block: Used twice, both by Luo-Lang.
  • Big Heroic Run: Nanashi spends a good chunk of the third act doing one.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Not only do they not have to read the subtitles, native Mandarin Chinese speakers are left with the distinct impression that Luo-Lang sounds really distinctly offputting and alien due to the very non-Chinese accent. For the most part he's not saying very nice things when he does.
    • Judging from No-name's past and similar skills and lifestyle, it's likely that Luo-Lang's first language is Mandarin. His accent is very good (though only for a foreigner); it's his perfect delivery and his awesome bass voice that's about as far from "Asian" as a voice can reasonably be said to get that's off-putting.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Depending on whom you ask, Nanashi's fate is left open, though the blood drops and Kotaro's face seem to be subtle hints of Nanashi's future; but, like most open-ended films, there's also enough supporting the fact that he lived.
  • Bishounen: Fuugo and Jyuurouta.
  • Black Speech: Actually just Mandarin with a heavy Japanese accent, but it has the same effect. In the English Dub, the Mandarin is actually well done and natural sounding, so the effect is somewhat mitigated.
  • Blade Lock: Played straight once and then deconstructed. While Nanashi and Luo-Lang do get into a blade lock twice during their duel in the finale, the second time leads to No-Name's sword in Luo-Lang's hands breaking, leaving them both with broken weapons.
  • Blood Knight: Luo-Lang loves the thrill of the fight and lives for the moment where he can clash swords with a Worthy Opponent. He pointedly doesn't take the drugs his comrades do because he does not shy away from pain.
  • Bound and Gagged: Kotaro, at the end when being prepared for a sacrifice.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Kotaro.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Involving the ropes binding Nanashi's sword together. Also known as a Peace Knot. The cause is to let people know you're not planning to kill anyone today, as it renders you unable to draw your sword in a hurry. Obviously, breaking it has rather...dramatic implications.
  • Call-Back: The final fight features both Luo-Long and No-Name repeating some of their moves seen throughout the movie, especially Luo-Long's sword throw and blade catch. There's also a moment that harkens back to their fight on the bridge, where their blades are locked against each other and the larger Luo-Long is leaning down on No-Name to force him down and back. This time, though, No-Name has a counter for it.
  • Canine Companion: Tobimaru to Kotaro.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Luo-Lang manages to overpower Nanashi in their fight leading to what was almost a Mutual Kill, but the jade trinket saves Nanashi and allows him to fatally stab Luo-Lang. Nanashi's dye nuts also find an application in the final battle.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Luo-Lang's Barehanded Blade Block.
  • Chinese People: Only distinguished by red cloaks and a different language. And funny hats. And a slightly different skin tone. And mildly stereotypical fashion sense. And amazing fighting prowess. And drugs.
  • Clean Cut: Luo-Lang does this to Byakuran's arm when he aims his gun at Nanashi and Kotaro, because Luo-Lang wants to fight, and he was on bad terms with Byakuran before he shot Itadori during his duel with Luo-Lang.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Every combatant when you get down to it, Nanashi in particular. Arguably the one who is the least Combat Pragmatist would have to be Luo-Lang. But when you're a foot taller than everyone else, and hopping around like Yoda on crack, you don't really HAVE to fight dirty. The dirtiest he gets is using a corpse as a shield to rush a bunch of archers, and trying to kill No-Name with his own sword and only because he lost his own own lodging it in No-Name's arm who uses it himself once he rips it out. He notably betrays his commander Byakuran when Byakuran wanted to shoot No-Name while blinded and trying to climb up a platform, because he thought it wouldn't be sporting.
  • Covered with Scars: Nanashi. Being a ronin is a tough life.
  • Culture Clash: Comes up periodically between the Ming and the Japanese. The locals are uneasy about the Chinese presence, especially the distractingly alien Luo-Lang, and the samurai are distrustful and condescending to the Ming. The Ming are too busy with their mission to particularly care.
    • Bai-Luan is shocked and disgusted the Japanese would kill their own liege, bitterly denouncing the loyalty of samurai as they charge the gates. For context, Ming China was a relatively stable world power with an empire based on divine mandate, while Sengoku Japan was an isolated realm locked in constant civil war and turmoil, where coups and uprisings were commonplace.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Nanashi has his sword bound for a reason.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Kotaro after he's turned over to the Ming. He's been betrayed by the people he trusted, he thinks Nanashi is gone, and he's going to be killed. The expression on his face is pure despair.
  • Determined Expression: Nanashi. When he gets that I-will-kill-you expression on his face, you know you're fucked.
  • Does This Remind Youof Anything: Luo-Long's first encounter with No-Name is on a bridge. He attacks No-Name purely because he has a sword, albeit a sheathed one. On the bank of the river near the bridge, a fisherman gets a bite and begins trying to land the fish, there's a lot of splashing. When the duel is interrupted at a sword-lock (a move that's repeated in their duel later) by Luo-Long being told he's being called back to base, the fisherman's line snaps and the fish escapes—making No-Name the one that got away.
  • Dramatic Wind: Comes with the territory when snow is in play.
  • Driven to Suicide: Shouan after betraying Kotaro.
  • Dual Wield: Fuugo with swords.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Itadori, the backstabbing, power-hungry warlord, is shown to genuinely care for his family during their brief scenes together.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Lord Byakuran is surprised when Itadori kills his own master after Byakuran tried to use him as a hostage. Byakuran values loyalty to one's own lord fairly high and such a display angers him.
  • Every Japanese Sword Is a Katana: Averted; only one main character uses an actual katana. He's also the only main character from Japan that uses a sword. Most of the main combatants are from China. Luo Lang's sword is a dao, as are Fuugo's twin swords. Extra points to the Chinese man using a tri-section staff with scythe blades on it though.
  • Exotic Weapon Supremacy: Averted, but not inverted. Exotic weapons are shown to be just as effective as more mundane weapons, being more effective in some situations, less effective in others. The difference is the strength of the character. On the one hand, a musket is more or less a Game-Breaker; on the other hand, a Japanese spear-man has every advantage except speed, which he doesn't need.
  • A Father to His Men: Jyuurouta notes that Itadori practically raised most of his soldiers and they eagerly follow him to glory employer or no.
  • Feel No Pain: Caused by a drug taken by the Chinese People, allowing them to fight through normally debilitating wounds. Example: Fuu gets up and wanders around looking for his sword with a broken arm. And said sword blade STICKING CLEAN THROUGH HIS NECK. One of the rare examples where coughing blood is actually justified. He gets about 5 steps before he collapses.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Nanashi gets several of these.
  • The Ghost: The Chinese Emperor's desire for immortality is what sets the entire plot of the film in motion; but he never makes an on-screen appearance, he's only mentioned in passing by the Chinese warriors. There's also the eunuch who started the whole thing by making the prediction.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Two to four times in the finale alone, usually played for shock value.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Subverted. While the gun in question is a smooth-bore matchlock musket, it's a complete Game-Breaker, allowing to kill anyone without effort and with considerable anti-climax.
  • Heroic Dog: Tobimaru.
  • Hero of Another Story: Itadori and Jyuurouta seem to have their own plot in the background, which we only see a few scenes of. If you watch closely, it appears that Itadori and Nanashi were a part of the plot that raised up the lord that Itadori eventually betrays with Jyuurouta's help. Itadori does say that he's only met one person who was at a level of skill on par with Luo Lang...
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Fuugo seems to be attracted to Luo-Lang; this is lampshaded by another character at one point while the latter is on a mission.
    Mu-Mao: You almost look like a wife who has lost their husband.
  • Human Shield: Luo-Lang uses an unfortunate soldier's corpse to block arrows.
  • Immortality Seeker: The Ming Emperor. Lord Byakuran admits to Fuugo that he hopes to gain some of the immortality elixir as a reward.
  • Implausible Hair Color:
    • Nanashi is red-haired in an anime without Anime Hair. This can happen even among native Japanese, but is extremely rare. This makes his origin very ambiguous, mostly because with his hair dyed black, he can pass as a local. He says that he was the only survivor from a shipwreck, but he doesn't say that it was a foreign ship.
    • Averted with Luo-Lang, who is quickly revealed as a white guy, hence the blond hair. What makes him stand out is his full cultural naturalisation as a Chinese.
  • Instant Death Bullet: To be fair, it left a grapefruit-sized hole in the guy's chest. Lead bullets aren't too subtle.
  • Invulnerable Horses: Completely averted. Plenty of fighters are willing to kill and maim horses to bring down their riders, including stabbing their throats with throwing weapons and slicing off their legs mid-run during a battle.
  • Jerk With A Heartof Gold: Nanashi, at first, due to Kotaro being the same way out of suspicion. Soon enough, no one bothers continuing it and they're mostly affectionate towards each other.
  • Just Following Orders: Shouan claims this after he helps hand Kotaro over to the Chinese soldiers, and insists Nanashi would have done the same in his position, which he has.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Averted; only one main character uses an actual katana, and the weapon itself isn't that much better. Also a case of Shown Their Work as a Katana isn't meant to be used to hit other blades, doing this destroys Nanashi's sword in the final fight as it snaps in half and is shown to be seriously chipped.
    • The vast majority of the Japanese soldiers wield katana, but are easily mowed down on various occasions by Ming Assassins with their Exotic Weapon Supremacy and No-Named with his sheathed sword. No-Name himself is shown to be exceptionally dangerous with a katana, whether drawn or sheathed, but that's his own skill, not the sword itself.
  • Kill 'Em All: The ending is rather vague, so you can interpret it as the only survivors being Kotaru and the dog. Nanashi survives the final battle but is heavily wounded, barely conscious by the end and blood can be seen in the snow behind him as he and Kotaru ride into the sunrise. The argument against it being that we only see one really bad wound (an impaled forearm) and a bunch of cuts, and the marathon he ran before he got those would mean he would be barely conscious in any case. Regardless, it all comes down to perception.
  • Licked by the Dog: Tobimaru is instantly fond of the shady vagrant who's shown up in his young master's shack.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Luo-Lang, a towering, powerfully-built Westerner who also happens to be a snake-fast Master Swordsman.
  • Lodged-Blade Recycling: During the final battle between Nanashi and Luo-Long, Nanashi loses his sword and gets Luo-Long's blade lodged into his arm. As Luo-Long grabs Nanashi's blade and charges him, Nanashi yanks Luo-Long's blade out of his arm to use it for the final clash.
  • Made of Iron: Nanashi survives a building collapsing on him (which gives him a restorative nap) and an impaled forearm without really flinching. He accumulates about a dozen cuts along with those, in addition to taking multiple multi-story drops onto scaffolding.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Standard for the Chinese due to their drugs, but the elderly, frail Lord Byakuran probably sets the record. Cutting off his arm only makes him annoyed at you. Even worse is Fuu walking around after fighting Nanashi, trying to find his sword, which is currently sticking out the back of his neck.
  • Master Swordsman: Most notably Luo-Lang and Nanashi, though there are a few more like Fuugo who are also definitely skilled.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The immortality elixir. Several characters express skepticism about it, but on the other hand, the Ming are shown to have advanced technology and medicine.
  • Mighty Whitey:
    • Luo-Lang, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed European; Bai-Luan calls him a "Western barbarian" at one point. One of the best fighters in the movie.
    • Possibly the other best fighter, Nanashi. He is likely mixed, given the fact he's got red hair in an anime without Anime Hair, though through the use of dye he does perfectly pass for Japanese. However, red hair is possible for a completely Japanese person, just incredibly rare.
    • You could even call this "Mighty Foreigner, the movie"; in terms of fighting skill, any and all Japanese from the bandits to the soldier mooks and up to a Shogen's personal followers are all outclassed by the Chinese, requiring them to Zerg Rush for any measure of success. And in turn the Chinese People are outclassed by Luo-Lang and Nanashi, which as said above both may have non-Chinese/Japanese ancestry in their blood.
    • This is also a Deconstructed Trope, as despite their prodigious skill, Luo-Lang and Nanashi are not welcomed in Japan, with the townsfolk thinking Luo-Lang is literally a monster and Nameless hides his red hair to fit in, as others didn't accept him.
  • Mutual Kill: Subverted. It looks like No-Name and Luo-Long inflicted this on each other, with each other's own broken blade, no less, but it turns out through stroke of luck No-Name's jade trinket took the hit for him, making it a survivable wound.
  • The Nameless: The titular stranger has no name, adopting different titles depending on the warlord he served at the time. He is usually referred to as "Nameless" ("Nanashi" in the Japanese).
  • Noble Demon: Luo-Lang. He isn't really interested in achieving immortality, aiding the Ming only in the hopes of finding a Worthy Opponent. He doesn't appear to be pleased with Lord Byakuran interrupting his fight with Itadori by shooting the Shogen. It leads him to kill Byakuran before the old man can shoot Nanashi. He also offers Nanashi the pain-removing drug to make their final duel more fair. Nanashi's refusal of fighting without pain raises Luo-Lang's esteem for him further.
  • Not So Different:
  • Only in It for the Money: Nanashi claims that this is the reason why he becomes Kotaro's unofficial bodyguard. Though it's apparent that Nanashi starts to develop feelings for Kotaro and a sense of responsibility.
  • Pocket Protector: The jade trinket, which is the only thing that saves Nanashi from a Mutual Kill with Luo-Long in the final battle since his broken sword couldn't pierce all the way through with it in the way.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The main ingredient of immortality elixir is a sacrificed child.
  • Punch-Clock Villains: Most of the Chinese warriors don't revel in fighting, violence, or pain, but they do what they're told, for the most part.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Ming warriors. There are at least a dozen of them though, some of which we barely ever see.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Ming warriors are rather eclectic for a miniboss squad.
  • Rain of Arrows: The Japanese soldiers fire dozens of arrows at a time, at first on fire (to burn down the wooden defences), then unlit (to kill the Nigh-Invulnerable Chinese soldiers).
  • Rōnin: Nanashi.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Byakuran fires a 16th-century matchlock rifle at Nanashi, who is right next to Kotaro, who they need to sacrifice to get the immortality pill. A gun that primitive could very easily have accidentally killed Kotaro and rendered the bad guys' quest entirely fruitless.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Nanashi completely refuses to unsheathe his sword due to having killed children in the past Until he needs to rescue Kotaro in the finale.
  • Shown Their Work: A Katana isn't meant to be used to hit other blades since they're actually fragile, doing this destroys Nanashi's sword in the final fight as it snaps in half and is shown to be seriously chipped besides that.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Luo-Lang cuts off Lord Byakuran's hands and is about to abandon him, the old jerk starts ranting at him. Luo-Lang puts a stop to it by throwing a knife between his eyes.
  • Single-Stroke Battle:
    • Somewhat justified, as in every case the single stroke nature comes from disproportion between fighter's skill and one side greatly outclassing the other.
    • Almost all Red Shirts take a hit and die in fountain of blood.
    • When Nanashi starts his Roofhopping in the climax, he doesn't even slow down when a Chinese with nasty scythes stands on his way - he simply cuts through him.
  • Slippery Skid: With walnuts, though it is snowing at the time, and the slip is comparatively small to what is normally seen in this trope.
  • Snow Means Death: The ending fight scene takes place during what seems to be the first snowfall of the year.
  • The Starscream: Shogen Itadori has no interest in saving his liege but only advancing his position. He reveals this by having his top pupil shoot the Daimyo, who was a hostage at the time.
  • Stock Wushu Weapons: The Ming warriors uses a variety of wushu weapons, including twin scythes, hooks, halberd and of course the classic jian.
  • Storming the Castle: What initially starts out as a plot to save the Japanese liege-lord turns into an all-out war between the races.
  • Super Soldier: Only because the Chinese People Feel No Pain. Right up until they run out of drugs and end up in withdrawal, though whether or not that was withdrawal or just the individual in question finally reacting to the massive amount of torture he's experienced, but couldn't feel earlier, is up to debate.
  • Sword Fight: The final sequence of fights are excellent examples of more realistic Wuxia style examples in animation.
  • Sword Sparks: In Nanashi and Luo-Lang's final battle.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Luo Lang MURDERS HIS BOSS so he can fight Nanashi man-to-man.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: Played straight, then subverted once Itadori is shot to death. Though at that point, it's up in the air who normally should have gotten the power-up.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Used early on by Luo-Lang, and later half subverted when Nanashi does this then realizes he's weaponless afterward, and has to fight off several opponents without it. Though the second one defies the laws of physics with its effectiveness; at least Luo-Lang put some arc on his. Later still, Luo-Lang throws his broken sword at Nanashi, knocking him off the platform they were fighting on. It's fair to say that the the film loves this trope.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: That poster you see up there? It gives away the climax, where Nanashi rips open his katana's peace knot.
  • Translation Convention: There are several scenes in which the Chinese characters find themselves alone and they seem to speak Japanese instead of Chinese (or, in the case of the dub, English).
  • Two Girls to a Team: The siblings Mu-Mao and Mu-You for the Ming warriors.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Kotaro is not immune to being attacked or slapped across the face by the Chinese. Or to being a Human Sacrifice.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Because of his backstory where Nanashi was forced to kill two to serve his lord (an act he considered abhorrent then), he would never do the same again (and in fact refused to draw his sword because of it).
  • Worthy Opponent: Luo-Lang views Nanashi as one, killing his superior for the chance to fight him.


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