When I first heard the news about Star Wars: Visions, that they’d be doing a one-off anthology from top Japanese anime studios set in the Star Wars Universe, I was at the same time excited, and very worried. See, I’m not a fan of most anime, I’m not sure why, I just don’t like it. Which is strange because I’m interested in most things Japanese, been there several times, and even can speak and read some.
Here’s the deal though, I actually really liked Star Wars: Visions. Well, most of it. What I want to do here is NOT spoil the plots of each of the nine individual, and unrelated, episodes. Instead I want to talk about the style and nuance in each one. Why I liked and didn’t like it.
But first, we should probably do the overall stuff. So one thing I noticed straight off the bat, is that Visions is a hell of a tribute to Star Wars’ (as in 1977) legacy. I’ll touch more on this later, but so much of this reminded me of McQuarrie concept art, or Japanese movies and TV shows (especially samurai “Westerns”) that I’ve seen and that I know Lucas was influenced by.
Another thing to keep in mind when watching this, is that “Visions” I think is Star Wars through the lens of Japanese culture and tradition. We westerners see Star Wars as an extension of “classical” mythology and Campbell-ian story telling tradition. The tales of Knights and dragons, damsels in distress, and all that jazz, right?
Here though, you’ll see throughout, some subtle, some not so much, about many things that I think are uniquely Japanese. For one, there are underlying themes about respecting nature, the senpai/kouhai relationship (i.e. Jedi/Padawan), the portrayal of the Jedi as “ronin samurai” if you will, our responsibilities as human beings and so much more. Even keep watch for various Buddhist and Shinto imagery which is very strange to see in the Star Wars universe…. and then at the same time it isn’t.
You see, “The Force” is very very similar to the concepts of Shinto. How everything, living and not, has a “spirit” if you will. Some people conflate that “spirit” as a “God”, which I think is a gross over-statement of what it is. But you get the idea.
There are even a few throwbacks to old Kurosawa movies, most notably… well, just wait for it.
Episode 1, The Duel
This episode starts off with what I think is a tribute to Star Wars’ Kurosawa legacy, most notably, The Hidden Fortress. There’s a scene towards the beginning of that movie which (If I recall) shows the two protagonists, from which supposedly Artoo and Threepio were modeled after, and you’ll find a very similar scene here.
The plot also feels like a tribute to The Seven Samurai, which we all remember was done in The Mandalorian Season 1.
The style here is quite interesting, sort of a black and white ink drawing thing going on here. I won’t spoil the plot twist, but trust me, you wont’ see it coming.
Episode 2, Tatooine Rhapsody
Sigh. Yeah, this kind of stuff is a big reason why I don’t like anime. I mean, its cute and all, but this one… It’s about another (I think) Hutt teenager(?) who is in a band, and he’s called up to be executed(!) in front of Jabba at the pod racing track… Then they put on a big show and… Well, yeah, you can probably guess the rest. Being there for your friends and doing the right thing is a theme here. Oh, and watch out for the Boba Fett cartoon character. WTF indeed.
Episode 3, The Twins
Now, not sure what this was supposed to be, but it appears to have its origins in The Last Jedi. I mean, the whole way its won, a lot of the “twin” talk, and some of the minor plot events seem directly pulled from TLJ. Yeah, I mean, its basically OK, and the style of this one is really cool. So there’s that.
Episode 4, The Village Bride
This episode feels like a tribute to Princess Mononoke, just the style of the animation and the characters…. I honestly didn’t think too much about it. I mean it was also OK, but honestly wasn’t very compelling. Kind of just felt like a strange battle and then its over. IDK. I need to go back and watch this one again, bc I actually don’t remember a lot about it, now that I think about it. I may revise this paragraph, stay tuned.
Episode 5, The Ninth Jedi
Whooooooo boy. This one though, was pretty damned cool. An old man invites force-users from across the galaxy to come and be part of the new Jedi order. There’s a sabersmith and his daughter who are tasked with constructing and delivering the sabers to the would-be Jedi when they arrive. However, he discovers a terrible secret, and to continue would totally spoil the plot and I’m not doing it. Let’s just say it was a OMGWTF I see what you did there moment that I didn’t see coming.
Episode 6, T0-B1
Here again, T0-B1’s animation style reminded me of that whole “Heidi” thing, like 70’s and 80’s anime stuff… You’ll know what I mean when you see it. It’s about a droid, T0-B1 and his master Professor Mitaka (I have to wonder if this is a nod to Studio Ghibli, whose HQ and museum is in Mitaka)…. He tells T0 that to become a Jedi, you need to go on a quest for a Kyber Crystal™️ and use it to build a lightsaber.
I can’t say any more, really. But its cute and has a nice message to it. Star Wars purists may take issue with it, but I’m OK with how it turned out, just because of that message.
Episode 7, The Elder
OK, so honestly plot wise, this is pretty thin. But it makes up for it in paying great homage to all those great old Samurai “westerns” from Japan. The fights, the battles… and it does the Star Wars universe a great service by its message, “don’t be a POS and end up like that guy….”
Stylistically its quite dark and brooding, but I liked it. It was action packed, and had enough plot twists to keep you watching.
Episode 8, Lop and Ochō
OK, yeah, so Lop and Ocho did remind me a whole lot of the stereotypical anime stuff. The cute rabbit-like Lop is a bit of a distraction, you just have to remember she’s not a Pokemon, Yokai, or otherwise strange overly cute humanized Japanese animal. (Although I guess you could compare it to Ewoks, Porgs, etc.) The message here is about family, duty and honor, and its a good message, and actually turns out to be a pretty decent little short. Full of betrayal and drama….
Episode 9, Akakiri
The title, Akakiri (赤霧) means “red fog” and I think I get what it means. The film surrounds a padawan and master as they investigate a disturbance in the force, they find an old sith lord in hiding, who has gone rogue, and since its their duty to take care of business, the fight ensues. Can’t say much more than that, except to say the “Fog” comes in at the end, and I’m guessing it either has to do with the fog of battle, or more esoterically, the “fog” surrounding morality and doing what’s right, despite dire consequences. Be sure to keep an eye out in this one for tons of Japanese religious easter eggs.
After reading that, I think maybe I didn’t like it as much as I thought. Now, I did watch this in Japanese with English subtitles, just because for the most part I think dubs are terrible and you should never watch them. That and its always fun to go “THATS NOT WHAT THEY SAID” when the “intrepretation” in the subtitles is a little dubious.
All-in-all, I did like Star Wars: Visions. It was hella nice to see a new and fresh take on the Star Wars universe, that (for the most part) didn’t rely on previous characters, places, etc. to get the job done. This is the kind of thing I would liked to have seen in Abrams’ trilogy (an entire series of posts in itself) to be honest.
But like I said at the beginning, I think it definitely shows how differently the Japanese “see” Star Wars as a whole. Those cultural differences do shape how we see and interpret things.
You’ll also notice that the soundtrack, I think, is mostly rehashed pieces from the 9 films. I recognized some of them, and a bunch more sounded really familiar, like they were from 7-9 and I haven’t memorized them yet lol.
Final verdict? I’m going to go out on a limb, despite my anime prejudice, and give this a 3.9/5. I liked it overall, but some parts just left me head scratching, or rolling my eyes at some worn out anime trope that’s a huge reason I don’t like the stuff.
I really think they’re onto something here, and I think Disney would do the world a huge favor, and try to find a way to “open up” a world-wide cultural phenomenon that is essentially ingrained in said culture over the last 45 years…. At this point they need to acknowledge, at least in some part, that Star Wars “belongs” to all of us in some way. They may own the copyrights, but we’re the ones who have made it a part of our lives, whether we realize it or not.
and of course, much like sex and pizza, Star Wars is still pretty damn good, no matter how bad it is.
Oh, and just to be fair, these shorts were produced by the following animation studios in Japan. I honestly don’t know one from the next, but I have to give credit where its due.