Anime of the Past: Sword for Truth

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

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Sword for Truth

Sword for Truth is a 1990 OVA production from Promise and Toei Animation that its North American distributor marketed with the tagline “The best sword fighting action since Ninja Scroll.”  An odd statement, if only because Sword for Truth predates Ninja Scroll by several years, but the comparison is at least somewhat apt.  Both productions take place in the era of feudal samurai and feature intense graphic violence and sexual content.  But does Sword for Truth live up to its billing?

Sword for Truth

Those are some pretty violent shoes to fill.

In some ways, yes.  Sword for Truth follows the story of Shuranosuke Sakaki, a swordsman of unrivaled skill whom the OVA quickly establishes as the stoic-yet-charismatic loner hero; almost the samurai equivalent of James Bond.  In the opening minutes, after numerous soldiers are felled while trying to bring down a wild tiger, Shuranosuke crosses its path and disposes it with only marginal effort and without a hint of fear.  Shortly thereafter, he demonstrates the sort of seductive pull and sexual prowess that only exists in fiction; after cutting away the clothes of a beautiful female pickpocket (leaving her stark naked in the middle of a busy street), he’s later visited that evening by the same woman, Oren.  After a brief exchange, Oren swoons for him and they engage in passionate sex.  The carnality is only briefly interrupted as she prepares to stab him, but she’s immediately disarmed and the love-making continues.

Sword for Truth

Shuranosuke likes dangerous relationships.

These character-establishing moments aside, the main plot sees Shuranosuke take on a mission to rescue Princess Mayu, who was kidnapped by the Seki ninja clan while everyone else was distracted by the rampaging tiger.  Shuranosuke is required because the hostage-takers demand that a lone person come to deliver the ransom, or Mayu will be raped and murdered; none of the samurai in her service have the skill to see the mission through.  It’s a simple, straight-forward tale of the hero rescuing the princess.

Sword for Truth

Princess Mayu, prior to her kidnapping.

Well, sort of.  After the initial set-up, things quickly go off the rails.  Shuranosuke arrives at the Seki hideout and delivers the ransom; a treasured sword.  As is often the case in stories of this type, despite delivering the ransom, Shuranosuke is still forced to cut a swath of bloody, limb-severing murder to rescue Mayu.  However, at that exact moment, a second ninja clan, one comprised entirely of female ninjas, or kunoichi, attacks the Seki with the intent to take the sword for themselves.  Shuranosuke and Mayu hightail it out of there before the ninja battle is resolved.

Sword for Truth

Shuranosuke, slicing some Seki.

Prior to this all-out melee, the kunoichi are only barely introduced.  Their leader Okuni uses drugs and seductive techniques to get her followers to follow her orders, as is demonstrated in a scene in which she does exactly that.  Then she’s never seen or mentioned again.

Sword for Truth

The kunoichi clan’s leader, Okuni, doing naughty things. (This is about as safe for work as I can get for this scene.)

In fact, the remainder of the story feels rushed and incomplete.  On the way back to the castle, Shuranosuke and Mayu cross a lake and are attacked by yet another ninja that quickly dispatches men that had arrived at the opposite shore to escort Mayu home.  This enemy is quickly killed by Shuranosuke’s effortless skill.  Shuranosuke and Mayu then take refuge at an inn, where Shuranosuke and Mayu share a tender moment. And then Shuranosuke reveals his dark past as the murderer of his own family.

Sword for Truth

I don’t know which is uglier. His face, or the slashed gut.

But before the watery escape and the dark revelations, the story takes a side-trip into a subplot featuring characters completely separate from the main event.  A samurai is walking the streets at night when he realizes that his guide is in fact an assassin.  After a brief exchange of words, the assassin reveals himself as a master of jujitsu.  The samurai draws his blade and the two briefly duel, and in the end the jujitsu master kills his target.

Sword for Truth

This man’s body is an instrument of death, but he seems to have stumbled in from another anime.

Absolutely nothing in the above paragraph matters in the context of the main narrative.  In reality, Sword for Truth as a whole feels very much like what was meant to be the first episode in a series of OVA productions.  I’d wager that’s very likely what it is, though in my time searching online, I have yet to find any evidence to suggest that a second episode was ever planned.

Regardless of whether or not Sword for Truth was meant to be a standalone, the story ends with dangling plot threads galore.  In addition to the incomplete history of Shuranosuke’s past and the introduction of the jujitsu assassin (who also briefly appears at the very end, crossing paths with Shuranosuke in a non-confrontational manner),  as well as the unsettled results of the ninja/kunoichi battle, there’s the sequence of events that occurs after Mayu is safely returned home.  Shuranosuke is set-up, and the soldiers are prepared to assassinate him in a hail of gunfire for seemingly no reason despite the fact that he had just brought back their princess.  He’s only spared when Mayu rushes in and orders them to stand down or be forced to shoot her as well.  She then suffers an attack of illness that causes her to cough up blood.  Shuranosuke leaves, naturally nonplussed at his employer’s attempt to murder him, while Mayu returns to bed looking seriously ill.

Sword for Truth

Things only get more awkward in the end without resolution.

And that’s it.

What?  Keep in mind that this OVA is an hour long; a lot transpires within those sixty minutes, but the only major action that sees resolution is Mayu’s safe return to the castle.  Almost every other major plot point is left either unresolved or given an ambiguous ending.  Action aside, Sword for Truth is very unsatisfying.

Ignoring the plot for a moment, the fights are indeed entertaining, with fast-paced action and flashy, violent choreography.  To return to the Ninja Scroll comparison, it’s certainly bloody and tinged with sex; all traits found in the later theatrical work.  But to say that it’s reminiscent of Ninja Scroll is not the same as saying that it’s as good or as worthwhile as Ninja Scroll.

For that reason, it’s difficult to recommend Sword for Truth.  It’s not terrible.  It’s just that, like productions such as Fire Emblem and Bubblegum Crisis, it’s incomplete.  The North American marketing attempted to paint it as a worthwhile companion to Ninja Scroll as a means to compensate, but it’s simply not in the same league.

Sword for Truth was released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.  The release features both the original Japanese with English subtitles and an English dub.  It is not rated, but is for mature audiences only, with scenes of graphic sex and violence.

About Justin Graham

Justin joined Oprainfall through…belligerence. (Note to others: This is not a good way to get noticed. This sort of thing only works once.) When he’s not writing about games or waxing nostalgic about anime older than a large portion of the site’s audience, he can be found playing JRPGs or beating up lots of dudes in Dynasty Warriors.