In keeping with a recent moral choice to purchase interesting-looking animes and movies before viewing them, I present to you Sword of the Stranger. This new tack has served me well here and badly there - let's see how I fared this time...
Sword of the Stranger kicks off like a good swordfightin' period-piece anime should - with some jaw-dropping action. A handful of warriors from China are in Japan searching for something, and they are set upon by forest-dwelling bandits.
One of them dashes forward, with a confident nod from his master. He proceeds to massacre the enemy force with elegant, looping and acrobatic Wushu swordplay - very different from the efficient, familiar Japanese Kendo we so often see in animes set in the same period.
Good! Very good! A warrior who has perfected his art, with no one left in the world to challenge him - a cliche if there ever was one - and we have something that feels just a touch different: he's a giant, he uses Chinese sword style, and it turns out he's actually a white dude.
The familiar and the surprising - this is comfortable entertainment.
Perhaps more comfortable than we're used to with high-quality animes, really. The story isn't an ultra-high-brow affair that will leave you scratching your head at all the plot points left unsaid, or all the heavy-handed symbolism.
It's very straightforward. A boy is on the run, a ronin comes to his defense.
You already know how it's going to end, right? Right.
It's not challenging, but it is fun and I daresay much more wholesome than similar action fare. Personal favorite Ninja Scroll boasts similarly fabulous combat sequences, but it's also peppered with rather mature content (see: rape).
Sword of the Stranger doesn't need to go to such dark places. It's a simple story of a man desperate for redemption and a kid who needs to believe in something.
There's a saccharine sweetness to it that is, at times, too much - but that just lets it sit in a slightly separate category from other action-heavy fare.
Sword of the Stranger may not be required reading for anime fans, but it's still a high-quality entertainment product. One immediately identifies with its archtypical characters, nods with understanding as they establish relationships and grins gleefully when a few master warriors finally throw down.
This is one of those action movies where you'll frantically grab for the remote to rewind, because (a) what the hell just happened? (b) what just happened was frickin' awesome, and (c) I have got to see that again.
It's one of those action movies where the action is spectacular, and you don't have to feel guilty about all the in-between stuff it takes to get there. Definitely check it out.