Story = B-
Video = A-
Audio = B
Hunted by the Mings from China, young Kotaro and his dog meet a nameless samurai ("Nanashi") who is constantly being haunted by dreams of the past which lead him to seal his sword. Among the Mings is a fearsome Western fighter named Rarou, who desires only to find a worthy opponent. When both groups clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord, a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival, the reason behind the Mings' pursuit tests the bond between Kotaro and Nanashi. (Source: ANN)
Sword of the Stranger is pretty standard in a lot of respects. It has a standard samurai story involving a ronin warrior trying to protect a kid from other warrior/bad guys who want to use him for some villainous plot. It has the tried-and-true character types of the guilt-ridden samurai with the tragic past, the tough kid, the arrogant and power-hungry leaders, and the fighter looking for a challenge. But standard or not, the movie does pull off all of these elements successfully: The characters are sympathetic and compelling and the plot has just enough detail to keep it interesting while allowing the action to flow at a brisk pace.
But what sets this movie apart from others in the genre are the visuals. I don't mean the animation -- which is smooth and fast-paced -- and I don't mean the art -- which is above even Studio Bones' typically high standards. What I mean is the details in the action itself. The fight scenes are not only well choreographed, but also go so far as so show, in unexpected detail, the physical consequences of the fight. For instance, near the beginning, Nanashi finishes off an opponent by jabbing the hilt of his sword into the foe's neck. It sinks in, breaking the guy's neck, but when he Nanashi pulls the sword back, the neck swells at the entrance point due to internal bleeding. There are also a few other creative details, like when the hawk guy (I don't remember his name) is looking for his sword when it is in fact sticking out the back of his neck. Now that's quality!
As for the music, it was good and fit in with movie and enhanced the drama. At least I'm pretty sure it did because I don't remember it too clearly.
So anyway, this was a great movie overall and is definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in cool samurai violence presented with high quality animation and with good story and characters. And being able to watch it on the big screen at Otakon made it all the better.