It's rare that I unequivocally praise things, but I loved this episode. The character designs were great. The strange, willowy Drifter moved more like a leaf than a person, not quite like anything I've seen before. The Duelist looked like a spiky king from a deck of cards, or maybe a Yu-Gi-Oh-inspired wizard. In this episode we first see a town completely devoid of cats-- Lion-O says he's only heard of such things in stories. They don't use the Thunderean money, but more importantly for me, that means we get to see all sorts of different animals-- wolves, pigs, rabbits, parrots, as well as what might be goblins and what might be elves. The sword contest shows off character designs that pay homage to Asian shows, styles, and traditions without devolving into stereotype or ripoff. There was a great Zen feeling to the whole episode, some of it coming from the Drifter's sage advice and his soothing, mellow voice.
The twist is a bit obvious but at least Lion-O gets it fast too. What I didn't see coming was Lion-O's apparent belief that even if he loses the Sword of Omens, he can always make another one. I can't help but comparing to "Lightsaber Lost", one of my favourite episodes of Clone Wars and one in which Our Young Hero also gets a Mellow, Unconventional Mentor. Lightsabers are about as mystic and personal as the family heirloom Sword of Omens. However, the actual method of loss is much more personal and complex in "Duelist", and Lion-O's first thought is to use his rookie blacksmithing skills to build a new weapon, even if his has had Important Mystical Item written all over it in ancient Thunderian since the 1980s. Ahsoka's sleuthing after the lightsaber she lost to a thief isn't a huge strike against Clone Wars, but it is a notably obvious point of divergence.
After Lion-O's out of body experience in "Legacy" I did expect a whole lot more reference to how strange it must have been for him, but it seems like that's going to be left to the fanficcers. This episode offers a lot to write about: I'm tempted to tell about the various heroes the Drifter has tried to counsel, or the story behind the goblin with the ruler tattooed on his arm, myself.
The Usagi Yojimbo influence is almost too obvious.
Some Ang Lee there; raindrops get cut in half. It's a beautiful scene too, with the golden sword.
Yep, new favorite episode.