Star Wars: Visions Review – When Anime Embraces Star Wars

"STAR WARS: VISIONS” short, “THE TWINS”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2021 Lucasfilm Ltd. ™

Star Wars: Visions is a reimagining of George Lucas’s beloved franchise in the form of an anime anthology series. Featuring 9 episodes, Visions calls upon talent from 7 Japanese studios: Kamikaze Dōga, Geno Studio, Studio Colorido, Studio TRIGGER, Kinema Citrus, Science SARU, and Production I.G. 

Each short film pulls from a well of anime tropes and Star Wars lore and even draws inspiration from the samurai films that inspired the original trilogy. Visions gives us the opportunity to dive into the expansive Star Wars universe, with each creative team bringing their own flair and inspiration. Star Wars: Visions releases on September 23 on Disney+. Check out our writers’ thoughts on each episode in the reviews below.

The Duel

Ronin in a scene from “STAR WARS: VISIONS” short, “THE DUEL”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2021 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

I love Kamikaze Dōga’s “The Duel” so much. The original Star Wars trilogy takes inspiration from Jidaigeki, or period dramas and samurai films, particularly works of Akira Kurosawa like Yojimbo, The Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon. Knowing that about the origins of a series beloved by so many, it’s incredibly satisfying to see everything come full circle, and have a Star Wars: Visions short done in the visual style of the old samurai films that the film series paid homage to over 40 years ago.  

Art style and film history aside, “The Duel is great for viewers on all parts of the audience spectrum. A wide variety of alien races make cameos for deeply entrenched fans to point at and validate their encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe, and, for the more casual fans, a sick lightsaber fight and a very creative weapon take center stage. Okay, I know we’ve all seen it by now — it’s a lightsaber umbrella, and it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in Star Wars.

In addition to being an absolute visual treat, “The Duel is a very efficient short. There aren’t any banters or long, emotional diatribes during the fight, and the camera lingers on shots that it wants to emphasize, like a close up of a tea kettle or the expression of the unnamed main character. This deliberation commands the viewer’s attention and makes it nearly impossible to look away from the screen. The delivery of this vignette makes it a powerful palette cleanser, forcing the audience to reset their assumptions of what the rest of the Star Wars: Visions shorts may hold.  

By James

Tatooine Rapsody

When I first heard of “Tatooine Rhapsody,” I felt like Finn from the sequel trilogy when he screamed in exasperation, “Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?!” Tatooine is a beloved planet in the Star Wars universe because it’s the starting point of the originals as well as Sith Lord Maul’s final destination in Star Wars: Rebels. However, I find Tatooine incredibly overused as an Outer Rim planet while so many other cool planets like Felucia exist. After hearing that Studio Colorido was revisiting Tatooine, I could only think that the short was going to be pure fanservice with cameos that mattered little in the grand scheme of things.  

And yet, here I was, clapping and singing along to the rock music in “Tatooine Rhapsody” and discovering the small uniqueness in Colorido’s vision by having the backdrop in Tatooine. The planet has a history of being incredibly charged with Jabba the Hutt’s despotic influence, but still has the flair of being an open-space for podracing and cantina-singing.  “Tatooine Rhapsody” fits right in to tell a story about how simple camaraderie and music can easily change people’s hearts. It sounds incredibly cliché, yet the theme is paired with cute character visuals and punk rock tracks that make you just love the originality of it all. In fact, “Tatooine Rhapsody” is my second favorite Visions episode..

I want to especially highlight the charm I found in Jay, a displaced Padawan who initially joined the band to hide from Order 66. He is quite a likeable character who embodies the shounen values found in Japanese animation, but carries the grit to push forward like a true protagonist in a Star Wars story. Oh, and did I mention he’s voiced by the incredibly smart and handsome Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Well, now you know about my tastes in men.

By Agnes

The Twins

“The Twins” brings us the quintessential Studio TRIGGER experience in Star Wars form. Created by the heart and soul of Promare, Hiroyuki Imaishi (Kill la Kill, Gurren Lagann) teams up with character designer Shigeto Koyama once again to deliver the exhilarating experience we know and love. It’s no wonder our lead character looks suspiciously a lot like Lio Fiota!

A Star Wars project has been a long time coming for Studio TRIGGER, with the team’s lineage tracing back to Studio Gainax and their debut with the fan animation, Daikon 4. Much like Star Wars: Visions, Daikon 4 was a love letter to Star Wars and other popular culture from a team of dedicated fans. 

“The Twins” is as youthful, fun, and high-octane as we have come to expect from Koyama and Imaishi. Combining the saturated palette and uniquely sleek designs of Koyama with the rapid-fire pace of Imaishi’s directorial style and his love for limited animation, Studio TRIGGER delivered a version of Star Wars that is distinctly its own. 

The short follows two dark side twins as they battle out their sibling rivalry in a rapidly escalating and over-the-top space catfight. Beginning with an unassuming Am wondering where her brother Karre has wandered off to, action strikes and quickly rises to the most out-of-control officially sanctioned Star Wars fighting that the collective series has ever seen. With some of the craziest lightsabers and spaceship combat to ever be conceived, the sheer wackiness could only be the brainchild of Hiroyuki Imashi. And, of course, as the fighting crescendos, Studio TRIGGER weaves in a whole manner of iconic Star Wars references that you can only go and see for yourself! The pure adrenaline and fun had us hooked all the way through. This is one you don’t want to miss. 

By Guest author

The Village Bride

Produced by Kinema Citrus and directed by Hitoshi Haga, “The Village Bride” rewards viewers who have the most Star Wars knowledge and can catch the little details and references throughout the episode. That anticipation for what callbacks might come next makes the experience even more entertaining. Still, this short provides more than just its references — the smooth, crisp animation at the beginning paired with the methodical pacing ultimately creates a suspenseful and exciting experience towards the end of the episode. 

Story-wise, we follow a fallen Jedi that observes a local wedding tradition. The bride and groom travel through breathtaking forests and climb through sky-high mountains, showing off the fantastical background designs of Kinema Citrus. Kevin Penkin’s music complements the scene through a romantic track that gives off just the right amount of unease with its vocals and percussion. The track builds tension to set the stage for the climax of the episode when the bride makes a drastic decision to save her people. 

A lot of thought went into the details of the world designs to match the Star Wars universe, such as the type of lightsaber used by the fallen Jedi, and illustrates just how much care was taken to provide a familiar yet fresh take on the series. The episode does not hold back on using the Force in a spectacular way and showcases the power of the fallen Jedi as she rises to the occasion when duty calls. Though Star Wars fans can enjoy this episode at a deeper level by catching the little details, any newcomer can still catch and appreciate a glimpse of the struggles of planets drawn into the galactic conflict at large. 

By Kwok

The Ninth Jedi

Out of all the episodes in Star Wars: Visions, “The Ninth Jedi” is the one short that I yodeled and clapped to the most for its brilliant story writing, compelling premise, and the sheer amount of homework the creators had to retcon to pull it together. “The Ninth Jedi” features a story where Jedi are scattered across the galaxy in the aftermath of a particular war, and lightsabers are simply a myth. In an attempt to unite the Jedi together and restore justice to the galaxy, a masked individual known as the Margrave invites lost Jedi to a remote satellite and be gifted a collection of lightsabers crafted by a legendary sabersmith. But the delivery of the lightsabers go awry, and it’s up to the sabersmith’s daughter, Kara, to make the perilous journey.

To movie-watchers of the Star Wars franchise who’ve only seen lightsabers being passed down to individuals such as Luke Skywalker and Rey, the concept of a sabersmith sounds a bit far-fetched. However, sabersmiths do exist in Star Wars canon, as indicated in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008 TV series), where sabersmiths guide young Padawans crafting their first lightsabers, and then becoming their most trusted allies when designing replacements for lightsabers lost throughout battle. 

With this knowledge and other thematic tidbits, like the change in colors for kyber crystals, the stakes presented in “The Ninth Jedi” increase exponentially. You can feel the palpable excitement as the Jedi attempt to wait patiently for their lightsabers and how heavy the responsibility is on Kara’s shoulders as she tries to deliver the lightsabers to those she believes are saviors of the world.

There’s so much I can gush about “The Ninth Jedi” aside from how much effort Production I.G put into fleshing out the story and building the suspense. But that would tread too deeply into spoiler territory. All I can say is, “The Ninth Jedi” is totally enriching and should be watched by all Star Wars fans, regardless if you are a newcomer or an old-school movie lover. 

By Agnes

T0-B1

In this 14-minute short, Science SARU brings the droid T0-B1 to life in this delightful blend of Star Wars and Astro Boy. Abel Gongora’s directorial debut follows the droid T0-B1 and his creator, Professor Mitaka, in their endeavor to terraform their remote desert planet to support life. While T0-B1 is committed to Professor Mitaka’s life mission, the curious droid has dreams and aspirations beyond the stars. Inspired by the valorous stories of old, T0-B1 seeks to become a Jedi Knight. While Professor Mitaka supports T0-B1’s dream, he also wants him to understand what it means to be a Jedi, including the less glamorous aspects left out from the tales.

“T0-B1” captures the heart and soul of Star Wars and is a perfect blend with classic anime. Droids have always been at the forefront of Star Wars as observers, and seeing a droid’s dreams was a delightful experience as a fan. The pursuit of life is teeming throughout this episode with the professor’s mission, the cast of droids, and the Force itself, and the visual style and character design primarily carries this motif throughout the film.

T0-B1 and Professor Mitaka’s character designs are direct homages to Astro Boy and Professor Ochanomizu, and their dynamic also serves as a parallel to bridge the gap between an anime classic and the classic Star Wars themes. The visual style is drastically different from the other episodes, where the animators have elected to use a soft marshmallow character design. This clever decision not only connects the classic anime visuals with Astro Boy, but also awakens T0-B1’s warm, fluid motion that showcases the humanity contained within this droid. “T0-B1” features a story with a lot of heart and captures the idealism of the Jedi with a child-like wonder that is sure to satisfy.

By Nico

The Elder

If “The Twins” is invigorating with its wacky callbacks to the Star Wars trilogy, then Studio TRIGGER’s “The Elder” is the subdued version of the prequels with long mundane dialogue and minimal fight scenes. It doesn’t excel so much in its execution or its unique art style, but it does capitalize on the unique relationship between a Jedi Knight and his Padawan to talk about their mortality. At the same time, they are confronted by a Sith Lord hiding in the Outer Rim who yearns for power and prestige in his aging years.  

Despite this short having such a promising premise, I can’t help but feel conflicted about the premise. On one hand, the execution fell flat. I expected a bigger twist between the Sith Lord and the Jedi Knight to close the whole thematic loop of the Master, the Padawan, and the Rule of Two. Not to mention, the dialogue is incredibly cheesy with the Jedi Knight and his Padawan’s light banter. 

On the other hand, the final battle was absolutely raw without any kind of music, used excellent references of disarmament movements found in samurai movies/martial arts, and spent a good deal of camerawork to make the Sith Lord appear “creepy” in his stalking-like movements. It almost felt like watching something out of a horror movie, rather than a fantastical space opera. Perhaps that was the development team’s original intention when creating this short, but they ultimately chose a safer option to appeal to a wider audience.

Overall, Studio TRIGGER’s entry with “The Elder” may not resonate so much with Star Wars fans who love intricate plots and deep themes, but the short may hit differently for fans entering the series and want a glimpse of a simple exchange between mentors and their adversaries.

By Agnes

Lop & Ocho

Star Wars has always been big on the concept of “found family,” especially among alien species who have no ties to specific homeworlds or cultures. Studio Geno’s “Lop & Ocho” is no exception to that rule, as it follows the story of a former bunny-alien slave who runs away from her captors and is adopted into a traditional samurai family by Ocho and her father. Ten years later, the Empire invades their homeworld, and Lop is forced to choose sides as her family becomes divided in the conflict.

Despite the episode’s questionable premise with a bunny girl and obvious setup, I found the characters to be incredibly nuanced. I particularly liked Ocho the most, with her headstrong personality and desire to protect her ragtag family in her “own way,” even if it meant cutting ties with them and colluding with the enemy. She even goes so far as abandoning her native accent, which starts off sounding Asiatic in her flashback and progressively becomes American-sounding until it cracks at the very last scene. The subtle change in voice acting is such a great way to portray the effects of Imperial rule imposing itself onto its subjects without having to state the obvious. 

“Lop & Ocho” is by far not the most compelling nor intense Star Wars: Visions episode. However, it’s an enjoyable starter course for new Star Wars fans who want to have a taste of how devastating the Empire is on a community-level, how “found family” is not necessarily made out of flesh and blood, and that, even in the depths of despair and betrayal, redemption and forgiveness towards your loved ones is always an option instead of death by the blade. 

By Agnes

Akakiri

If the universe is guided by the Force, then is one’s fate inevitable through the Force? Directed by Eunyoung Choi, “Akakiri” finds the Jedi, Tsubaki, struggling with this thought after being plagued with visions of a horrifying vision of the future. While he does not understand what his visions mean, Tsubaki must press forward, for he is entangled in a journey to confront a foe connected to his past. Frightened by what he sees, Tsubaki seeks to confront and avert fate, but struggles to understand what his destiny has in store for him.

Science SARU once again delivers a masterclass in storytelling and animation with “Akakiri.” This episode encapsulates familiar themes of predestination that were featured in the prequels and gives it a shogun twist. I found myself constantly thinking about this episode and the prequel parallels makes “Akakiri” serve as an almost “What if?” twist on events with some variable adjustments. A slow, paranoid tension builds throughout the story, and the music composition, which primarily features percussion, hits it beat-by-beat. The music has different meanings to me — each strike could be a quickening heartbeat or the march of destiny’s approach. 

While destiny is a compelling element of “Akakiri,” the emotional payoff would not be complete without the journey. The companions were a necessary element to break the constant tension throughout the episode, and their willingness to face almost certain death for that sweet credit payout was a charming relief from the otherwise somber tone of the film. The final payoff is made more impactful from the rising tension that culminates into an unforgettable climax. It is clear that the minds behind “Akakiri” understand some of the more intricate themes within the prequels and apply them masterfully in this painful but enticing story.

By Nico

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