Writing this now is probably a bit old hat, but I finally got around to watching Sword of the Stranger at the weekend!
Why the delay? I’ve developed a strained relationship with anime movies; having become so used to watching anime in the 20-min TV format, the mere suggestion of watching anything even slightly longer than normal isn’t attractive at all! I might have been institutionalized by TV!
As such, I’ve avoided many of the most important releases of recent years. I still haven’t seen Mind Game, The Sky Crawlers and Howl’s Moving Castle, and I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t seen Paprika, either.
The irony is that I’m often frustrated by the lack of creativity in TV anime, yet there are still so many highly-rated, recent films I need to check out.
After all, film is the anime auteur’s truest medium. Every now and then, there will be a TV series (like the currently airing Trapeze) that can provide relief from the down-pour of tried and tested, but if one truly wants to experience anime in the broader sense, culturally and artistically, there’s simply no avoiding the fact that films (and, to an extent, OVAs) are still where it’s at.
Fans are more likely to be familiar with Hayao Miyazaki than with the director of their favourite TV series, simply because Miyazaki‘s work is that much more personal and stylised. Other popular directors include Makoto Shinkai, Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosada; their work is distinctive, unmistakably their own, and markedly more refined than the typical TV series.
That refinement is really what I’m trying to get at here. I’d forgotten just how lively and exciting anime can be; Sword of the Stranger is one hell of an action movie, but more than that, it’s visually so evocative. Reading subtitled anime can tend towards an over-emphasis on plot and dialogue, yet for this I could hardly pull my eyeballs from the animation.
I’ve read so much praise for Sword of the Stranger‘s action choreography, yet every word of it was true. It’s as cool as Samurai Champloo, but that’s a bad comparison; a better one would be the violent Rurouni Kenshin OVA, Trust & Betrayal. Remember how, towards the end of Betrayal, Kenshin is forced to come out from hiding and follow into the forest after his beloved Tomoe, knowing full well that many deadly traps lay in wait? That those traps are ultra-specialist, blood-thirsty ninja with iron claws and face masks? Sword of the Stranger has scenes just like that! It’s serious stuff; there are poisoned knives, spear fights and shooting arrows! (And the day I grow bored of watching spear fights and shooting arrows is the day this blog closes!)