Back in August, we wrote about why everyone should be excited for Star Wars: Visions; an ambitious, cross-cultural anthology series, featuring nine short films from some insanely talented anime studios, set in the Star Wars universe, and even though we knew it would be great, we weren’t prepared for just how amazing this project would be! Visions easily cements its position as a great anime anthology, following the legacy of The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, and Halo Legends before it.
With our general thoughts out of the way, let’s go into each film individually, from least best, to best! And more importantly, discuss what we got right in our first article.
Two Jedi, a Master and a Padawan, venture into the Outer Rim, and discover an old surviving Sith hiding out on a mountainous planet. The elder Sith has some interesting nuggets of wisdom pertaining to the Sith philosophy, and their tendency to one-up and betray each other that always leads to their downfall. The last fight is cool, but this short doesn’t have much to offer beyond that. The first fifteen minutes are just talking, and not very exciting talking. While the other episodes show off how dynamic and visually stimulating they can make conversational moments, the uninspired “shot-reverse shot” direction of ‘The Elder’ really sticks out like a sore thumb. The grey mountain planet is also… not the most captivating.
It’s a shame that this may be Masahiko Otsuka’s very last directorial work, as I believe it doesn’t really demonstrate his greatest strengths as a creator. For an actual showcase of Otsuka’s work, we recommend watching Gurren Lagann, Panty and Stocking, FLCL, Kill la Kill– pretty much all the best Gainax and Trigger shows really; he has had a hand in directing all of them.
This is one that I hyped up quite a bit based on Studio Colorido’s exceptional work with the Pokémon shorts they’ve been putting out. Sadly, this is not on quite the same level as those. It follows a ragtag rock band trying to make it big, featuring a Jedi who escaped and went underground after Order 66 on vocals, and a relative of Jabba the Hutt on bass, who is hunted down by Boba Fett and taken back to Tattooine to be punished for abandoning the Hutt Clan.
The main issue with this one is that there is a huge emotional build-up to the big final performance, which they think will be the last time their friend gets to perform before being executed, and the payoff of the actual act is… not that satisfying. The visuals do not sell the passion, the emotion that we should be getting from a huge musical finale, even though the song itself is really good! Still, some great character ideas that we’d love to see explored further.
The Ninth Jedi
The mysterious Margrave Juro sends out a signal, “to all the surviving Jedi, come to the Aerial Temple.” Apparently, the Margrave has reforged the lost weapons of the Jedi, the lightsabers, to bring hope back to the galaxy. We open on seven Jedi, tentatively arriving at the temple to see if this Juro character is for real, and if his intentions are pure. On the planet below, Kara, the daughter of a sabersmith, instructs her to deliver the lightsabers to the waiting Jedi. It has a very strong start, there’s a solid element of mystery and intrigue, and a decent amount of questions that will leave you waiting, but the answers aren’t as exciting as we’d hoped.
Identifying the bottom three was easy, but ranking the remaining six is a lot harder, since they’re all fantastic from here. In our first article, we said that ‘The Twins’ would be a bonkers action-fest, and would rely on a lot of suspension-of-disbelief, because, in all of Hiroyuki Imaishi’s works, you have to throw logic out and just feel – and this is definitely an Imaishi work. His signature style is all over this, and is absolutely perfect for the Star Wars universe.
Unfortunately, the fact that this is in Imaishi’s wheelhouse is also ‘The Twins’ greatest weakness, because it is exactly in his wheelhouse. It’s basically just ticking off a checklist of his favourite stuff. That doesn’t mean it’s not good, it is very good, but it’s expected; his usual style. What you get is still an excellent sibling rivalry with some really dynamic action, and a really awesome homage to The Last Jedi (the best Star Wars movie)!
It was a very bold choice to end the series on this one, as it’s the only one with an overtly pessimistic ending, but I like that! Classic subversion of expectations. ‘Akakiri’ is about a lone Jedi who has fallen in love with a princess, Misa, and comes back to help her reclaim her kingdom from a Sith Lord, the Princess’ aunt, and the architect of a royal coup. All the while, the Jedi Tsubaki is haunted by visions of someone repeatedly dying. Are these visions prophetic?
This short is really neat for how much it calls back to Anakin and Padme from Revenge of the Sith, but with an even more depressing twist, that the Dark Side really is capable of resurrection, and by succumbing to it, Tsubaki can bring Misa back. Seeing her come back, only to watch Tsubaki have to turn his back on her and her people, is really sad, so, respect for choosing to end the whole series on such a depressing note.
The Village Bride
The beautiful mountain village aesthetic and cool colour palette make Village Bride a very relaxing watch. It’s very calm, while still managing to be entertaining with its romantic hook. It’s very vibe-y, slowly building up the tension to reveal that this sweet marriage is actually quite tragic due to the impending arrival of the raiders coming to kidnap the titular bride, Haru. Character dynamics are especially strong in this one; the friendship between the gruff explorer Valco and the Jedi F is fun to watch, and you really feel emotionally attached to Haru by the end, who has a solid relationship with F too, whose understanding of the Force is recontextualised through their conversations.
I enjoy this short and others in this anthology because, similar to The Last Jedi, a recurring theme of most of them is that we have to forget our pre-conceived notions about the Jedi and the Force. As Valco says, it’s not as if he cares about the Jedi code, so why should he pretend to? And why should we? Very Rian Johnson-esque. I especially love that the villagers have their own name for the Force, ‘Magina’, and that their way of using it connects them to their planet spiritually. In return, the planet shows them it’s ‘memories’ of Haru and her husband playing in a stream as children, using stones to make a path for fish. The Force isn’t about throwing objects around and shooting lightning, it’s always been about harmony with nature and yourself, and this episode really nails that. It also nails the fact that being a Jedi isn’t about following a Galactic Cop Code or suppressing your emotions, it’s just about balance, you know?
It’s no wonder Disney chose to start Visions with ‘The Duel’ – THIS IS HOW YOU OPEN AN ANIME ANTHOLOGY. It’s both incredibly innovative and truly classic, returning to the very roots of Star Wars; Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. In every detail, The Duel attempts to emulate that old-school “wandering ronin with no name” feel, to resounding success.
The artificial ‘film grain’ and film imperfections were really nice, and the greyscale look sold the whole thing; it’s certainly the most visually astonishing of the nine films, and that’s to say nothing of the amazing CG. Kamikaze Douga have proven themselves to be the masters of 3D anime, so once again I must say, if you liked this, please watch Batman Ninja. We said in our first article on Visions that character designer Takashi Okazaki was once again hitting it out of the park, and seeing it all in motion, yes, yes he was. The umbrella lightsaber is the coolest thing ever, the droid in the amigasa (straw hat) looks silly as hell but it’s great, and all the stormtroopers and bounty hunters with samurai flavour are awesome.
‘The Duel’ also has some incredibly cool moments of direction, the ronin unsheathing his katana-saber for the first time with that dramatic slow-motion, AND IT TURNS OUT TO BE RED, so cool. The parallel action of the fight, kettle boiling, and droid being fixed, added a whole other fun layer of tension to the duel, that really made this a standout part of Visions. Because of how small-scale and singularly focused this episode was, I would be very interested in seeing more of this particular universe, which seems to be in the works, as Ronin: A Visions Novel, is being written to expand on the world of this entry. Consider watching this and Sword of the Stranger back to back as a great “wandering ronin” double feature.
Lop & Ochō
Now here is an unexpected sleeper hit in this anthology, one of two films that I genuinely shed a tear for. ‘Lop & Ochō’ is an extremely emotional story about found family and “real” family, environmentalism and industrialisation, tradition, modernisation; there’s a lot going on, and despite how short it is, everything is juggled perfectly. The Hong Kong-inspired setting is really neat too, and makes this short stand out aesthetically from the other eight. Mountains and Edo period villages and all that are cool, but this feels a lot more contemporary, which is a nice touch. The final battle between the two siblings, representing their opposing ideologies, is really touching, and is elevated by amazing choreography and animation.
You must’ve figured out the real star of the show by now, baby… IT’S T0-B1, THE LITTLE DROID THAT COULD! This is everything Star Wars, it’s perfect. Abel Gongora knew, it was genius to make the main character a cute little droid, demonstrating exactly what this series was always about: The Force is everywhere, it’s within all of us, even an unassuming robot. The pure heart of this episode, coupled with its cutesy Astro Boy artstyle produces a perfect synergy of ideas. Being a Jedi isn’t just in the robes and which important family your related to; they’re heroes, they’re protectors. Very Last Jedi-esque. The expressive visuals add to the feeling of absolute hope and optimism this short brings, and it’s something that really can’t be described in words, you just have to see it for yourself.
Season one (hopefully) of Star Wars: Visions is an excellent first step for this idea, and I sincerely hope we get some more of these episodes in the future, because it’s got so much potential. We can get even weirder, even more non-canon, the sky is literally not even close to the limit with what can be achieved here, with even more idiosyncratic directors and wacky animators!
What about an Akiyuki Shinbo episode from SHAFT? Or Mamoru Hosoda? What about Naokatsu Tsuda or Toshiyuki Kato of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fame? Kazuya Tsurumaki, the genius behind some of the best episodes of Evangelion and FLCL! Gen Urobuchi, writer of Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica! Sayo Yamamoto, director of Yuri on Ice, and the absolute best Lupin the Third series; The Woman Called Fujiko Mine! Picture this: Shinichiro Watanabe, the legend behind Cowboy Bebop. Tell me that’s not a dream combination!
What figures from the anime world would you wanna see on the next season of Star Wars: Visions? And let us know which episode was your favourite!
All pics via StarWars.com