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March 07 2006

A Serenity question on Ask MeFi. Can we answer it?

"What type and manufacturer of sword did River use in the movie Serenity?"

She used a sword?

I thought that it was just an axe and a big ol' blade. Perhaps I am wrong.
I was told by someone who might know these things that it was a Japanese sword - he was pleased that she sliced and diced with it instead of stabbing as you would with a Western sword.
How accurate this is, I don't know.
Not an expert by any means but to me The Operative's sword looked Japanese (the smaller wakizashi which a Samurai carried everywhere, sort of like a cowboy's six-gun) and the sword River used in 'River vs Reavers' at the end looked more like a kind of scimitar (i.e. middle eastern in origin) tho' I wouldn't be surprised if it was a purely made up design that was only 'inspired by' real swords.

Incidentally, Samurai (which I felt The Operative styled himself after to some extent) believed that their swords were their souls and I thought at the end Mal might break his sword, figuratively destroying his soul, while showing him the Miranda hologram. But no. I guess, though he's read a poem, Mal is still just too practical for that kind of symbolic nonsense ;).
To be a little clearer, the Operative's sword was definitely Japanese in style, but was not a wakizashi. The wakizashi, and the katana (the longer samurai sword), are quite curved. The Operative's sword was quite straight, and he used it in that manner (poking and stabbing as well as slicing). At the risk of sounding dorky, I'll add that straight swords like that were more associated with ninja than with samurai, although the Operative was definitely a samurai-style character.

A VERY similar sword has been found for sale online by the fine folks over at, but I don't know where.

River DOES grab a scimitar/machete-type blade in addition to the big axe at the end, but it wasn't all that distinctive (to me), and I can't imagine why anyone would want to know about it.
Didn't I read somewhere that River's weapon was a hunga-munga? A small shout-out to Buffy?
Yeah, Willowy I think the axe she had was pretty similar to the Buffy hunga-munga but she also had a sword both during the fight and when the doors open for her final 'knee deep in the dead' reveal.

OK, Septimus you've inspired me to dig out a book on Japanese swords I bought two years ago and still haven't opened (my to-be-read pile is the height of a small child if they were, say, standing on top of a big pile of books - i'm just waiting for Amazon to cut me off 'for my own good'). In there it mentions a blade style called kiriha-zukuri which is straight with a fairly square profile until it bevels towards the edge and seems to have been used for wakizashi and katana up until about the 10th century (the curved blades came in due to advances in smithing techniques and new combat requirements based around mounted warriors). Now that's dorky. In comparison you sound like a paragon of normality ;).

So I was only off by approximately (by Serenity's time) 1500 years. Pfft. A mere 15 centuries ? Talk about quibbling over details ;).
The sword is easier to see on the OZ poster for the movie. It looks like an original design to mix a homemade wakisashi with a Kris sword. Although there has been some close looking swords in european history, I'm pretty sure they created their own look. As for the Operative's sword, that's actually pretty cheap and modern, you can walk into any sword shop and they'll have a dozen interpretations of the same kind of sword in different colors for less than 20 bucks. The blade of it is traditional Ninja with a nylon wrap instead of the traditional tsuba and handle. The holes in the blade are to keep the sword light weight without loosing sturdiness and to balance the weight of the blade since there is no regular handle and tsuba to counterbalance a full blade.

[ edited by GimpyD on 2006-03-08 02:32 ]
Saje - glad to know I'm not the only one with a big unread pile. I have an entire book shelf for mine.
The Oz poster shows both weapons well. It looks like a bitser weapon, I think the person asking the question's going to have a hard time tracking down an exact type or manufacturer.
An entire book shelf of unread books? pfffft. That's nothing. I have bookshelves in every room of my house filled with as yet unread books. One day. I keep telling myself that. Once I stop re-reading old favourites.But Saje, nothing so immediately useful as your pile so I think redfern and I have to give way to your pile of unread books.
Sometimes a sword is just a sword.

This is one of those times when it'd be nice if JossBot himselvis stepped in to give The Definitive Answer. I'm not a betting man, but if'n I were, I'd say he's gonna be predictably silent. I'd enjoy being wrong on this one, but it's a real burden being right so often.
ZachsMind, I'm reminded of how Trekkies would get up and ask Shatner if he could please clarify what double-ot-six Feinberger part that Scotty used to save the Enterprise in episode 12, season 2.

Shatner didn't fucking know. He was Kirk! Not the prop guy! Not to mention, 56 catrillion years had passed. If he ever did know, it was all gone by then.

Just trying to ease your burden, oh sage one.

Just feel like throwing in a quick link to some information about "ninja swords" outside of cheesy ninja flicks. While there is still no guarantee that it's perfectly correct, it seems to be more in line with the info you get from other sources than Hollywood.

And as mentioned, you should be able to get the exact same sword (Operative, not River) for about $20. Don't waste hundreds or even thousands on ordering a "replica" (probably even cast from lousy material) from some site.
Maybe this should be referred to the guys at the London Prop Shop who have been selling Serenity props and costumes?
I find the question odd - surely a sword in a movie is manufactured by the prop department and while based on a certain type, isn't necessarily of any type, except as it pertains to the film.

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