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Star Wars Visions: Nine anime inspired stories from a galaxy far, far away

A hodge-podge of lightsaber-wielding action
Star wars
Posted at 10:51 AM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 22:01:21-04

Star Wars Visions has a simple enough premise: give seven anime studios the chance to make short films based on the iconic series offering a unique take on what has always been a very western franchise. As Star Wars was based on the films of Akira Kurosawa and specifically The Hidden Fortress, it's only natural that anime studios had an easy enough time translating Star Wars into the Japanese culture and offering the kind of short films you would only get from the medium.

And while Star Wars can trace its roots to Japanese films, anime can thank Star Wars for its massive popularity in the late 70s and early 80s as Gundam especially answered the cry of the public's need for more science fiction franchises in Japan.

So while Japanese popular culture and Star Wars have never intersected in the way that they do in Visions, the two have always had a symbiotic relationship.

Star Wars Visions is also not the first of its kind. The Animatrix predates this series by nearly twenty years and had much the same idea: give a smattering of animation studios free reign to interpret a popular franchise however they wish.

As with any anthology series, Visions has its big hits and big misses; but mostly misses.

It'd be unfair to review the series as a whole. As such, I will offer short assessments of all nine episodes rather than a score for Visions as a whole.

!. The Duel
Kamikaze Douga, the studio behind the entertainingly terrible Batman Ninja starts the collection with a black and white, cell-shaded samurai tale dripping with atmosphere. A ronin wanders into a village and defends the villagers from bandits who happen to also have a parasol-lightsaber wielding Sith among their ranks. The soundtrack, sounds very Ghost in the Shell, which I quite enjoyed. But the resolution is a little weak and aside from that parasol and the stylistic choice, there's not a lot about The Duel that shines. 3.5/5

2. Tatooine Rhapsody
Studio Colorido offers up a cute, chibi style in this, perhaps the most painfully trope-y anime of the bunch. Here a band with a Hutt among its members head to Tatooine to save him by impressing Jabba with their awful generic anime rock sound. Combine that with an awful dub where the main character can't sing at all (most dubs will switch to the Japanese version of the song specifically to get around not having a singer as the voice actor (yes I watched the dub as the vast majority of viewers will)) and you have an episode that offers nothing but the weird impetus for anime to need some form of pop idol or rock character or group in it. Very much one of the weakest episodes. 2/5

Related: The Big O: A Forgotten Anime Classic

3. The Twins
For those unfamiliar with Trigger, the studio that rose from the ashes of the legendary Gainax and made Kill la Kill, The Twins is pretty much exactly what to expect from the studio. A gorgeously animated little actioner involving conjoined Star Destroyers and genetically altered dark side twins, The Twins is quite possibly the best part of the anthology, and maybe the most anime of the bunch. The battle between the twins is an impressive bit of action compounded with hilarious over-the-top dialogue performed pitch-perfect by the dubs cast who obviously know how silly the whole thing is. If you watch one episode of Visions, this is the one you can't miss. 4/5

4. The Village Bride
Another more traditional take on Star Wars in which a mysterious foreign Jedi shows up in a village bound by customs and battles an evil threat. Kinema Citrus (the studio behind Made in Abyss) takes the reigns here and this is honestly the most mediocre and middle-of-the-road of the episodes. The animation is fine and the story is okay but nothing about it was interesting or fun. I took notes watching every episode and this one has one note, and that's the score. So here it is: 2.5/5

5. The Ninth Jedi

The best thing I can say for any episodes other than The Twins (because of that ones self-contained nature) is that if the episode were a teaser to a full series, I would watch that series. And despite The Ninth Jedi taking a while to gets its feet, the idea of a lightsaber blacksmith's daughter battling the enemies who killed her father and beginning her journey as a Jedi is intriguing. But it's here that I began to notice that Visions was already becoming tiring. With ample opportunity to investigate any facet of Star Wars, everything tends to be focused toward Jedi and Sith and Kyber Crystals and while, at its core, Star Wars is Jedi and Sith, I was expecting more variety. But nonetheless, this is still a beautifully animated and fun episode worth watching. 3.5/5

6. TO-B1
Science SARU have done Ping-Pong The Animation and Devilman Crybaby so I guess I went into this expecting really weird animation and a story that would be unconventional to fit. What I got was a play on Astro Boy or Megaman about a little robot boy who finds out his creator was a Jedi and battles some bad guys to avenge him and save his lab. It's an interesting premise but again the unnecessary push to include Jedi in everything hinders an episode with perhaps the most unique style of the bunch. Another exceedingly underwhelming episode. 2/5

7. The Elder
Trigger comes back for round two but offers a more grounded piece about a padawan and his master confronting an elderly Sith on a mysterious planet. Another well-animated but ultimately underwhelming episode that culminates in a decent lightsaber duel. This is another case where I didn't even write a note because it was so unremarkable. 2.5/5

8. Lop & Ocho
A very Japanese-inspired family adopts a thieving bunny girl. Years later her sister sides with the Empire while her father wants to fight the encroaching enemy. Lop, the bunny girl, ends up taking the family's lightsaber (passed from generation to generation) and confronts her sister, trying to make her see the Empire is evil. As with The Ninth Jedi, this is an episode where I was actively engaged enough to want to see where the story goes after. The characters are well defined for as short a runtime as the episode has and Geno Studio of Golden Kamuy fame does an excellent job animating what might be the most consistently lovely episode of the bunch. Honestly another highlight of the anthology that nearly on par with The Twins. 4/5

9. Akakiri
Science Saru's second helping is nearly as bad as the first and a huge downer of a finale. Though it does offer up the weird animation I was expecting, the story of a Jedi and his lover taking on a Sith is, by now, so tired and nothing about the episode popped. My only entertainment here was wondering if the creatures the characters ride were supposed to be the bird/camel things from Wizards. 2/5

Lucasfilm Ltd./Disney

Overall
While Star Wars Visions had a few really solid episodes and some fun concepts, I didn't think it was nearly as unique as it might have been. There were dozens of Easter eggs and lines recalling the classic trilogy which I am sure are fun for fans, but the majority of the shorts being focused on something Jedi related made it less interesting than it should have been.

Star Wars Visions is hopefully the start of something bigger because the successful moments of the series showed that with the right studio, Star Wars translates exceedingly well to anime. But please never again include a rock band, I think the Mos Eisley Cantina guys are good enough.

Star Wars Visions can be seen on Disney+

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