“Star Wars: Visions” Review
I have been waiting for this. Star Wars: Visions was announced in the winter of 2020, and I’ve been looking forward to it the second I heard the premise. It’s a series of animated shorts taking place in the Star Wars universe, each one made by a different anime studio. Given that these are all short films with no connection to each other, you’re probably wondering which ones are worth watching? Well, let me tell you.
The Duel is directed by Takanobu Mizuno, and animated by Kamikaze Douga, previously responsible for animating Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Pop Team Epic and Batman: Ninja. This short is a homage to black and white samurai movies, and is in black and white with a deliberate film grain effect over it. The only things with any color are the lightsaber blades, kyber crystals, and gunfire. The action is clean and simple, with little flair, but very exciting. The Duel’s story isn’t much to write home about, save for its main character. Taking place after Return of the Jedi, a sith and a small army of stormtroopers raid a small village, but come into conflict with a wandering Ronin. Except this Ronin is also a Sith, and he’s looking to hunt down other Sith. I’d watch a whole movie about this guy and his origins, since they’re not explained at all in the short. This was an intriguing start to the series, and definitely worth watching.
I wanted to like this short a lot more than I actually did. This one is animated by Studio Colordio, the makers of Burn the Witch, A Whisker Away and Penguin Highway. It’s a beautiful looking short; the character designs are very cute and convey a lot of personality, and I really like the story in concept. In terms of execution, this short needed to be around double the length. We don’t get a very good sense of why Jay joined the band, what his suragotte father did to incur the wrath of Jabba, or what the padawans Master did when he went missing. Did they just shrug and say “welp, I guess Grievous got another lightsaber for his collection?” The song that’s used for the climax of the story is pleasant, but isn’t good enough to have the impact it really needed. Despite all of my complaints, I still enjoyed this short, despite it being too ambitious for its own good.
The Twins is made by Studio Trigger, the animators behind Gurren Lagann, Little Witch Academia, and Promare. Trigger is known for its wild action and character designs, and this short is no slouch. Two artificially made twins move to use a gigantic ship with a laser to blow up planets for the First Order, but one of them takes the power source and turns to the light side. This is a good short, but it’s not the best work from Trigger. The CGI isn’t as polished as it is in Promare, the design of the ship is rather lazy, and the main character is just what happens when Lio Fotia raids Han Solo’s closet. But the action is still absolutely amazing, and the ending is beautiful. I like this better than Tatooine Rhapsody, but not as much as the Duel.
THE VILLAGE BRIDE:
Now we’re talking. The Village Bride is done by Kinema Citrus, the animators of Made in Abyss, Black Bullet, and Rising of the Shield Hero. The Village Bride dives much more into the mythical and mystical side of Star Wars, rather than the science fiction it usually goes into. Its world is fascinating, and the alternate use of the Force is something I’m surprised that no one has tried before with this series. This one takes place after Revenge of the Sith, where a Jedi in hiding observes and learns about a village’s customs. I absolutely loved this one. The music and designs are beautiful, its story is moving, and it gives me a sense of wonder about this universe that has been lacking for years. The fantastic score by Kevin Penkin elevates this short even further.
THE NINTH JEDI:
The Ninth Jedi is animated by Production IG, animators of Haikyu!, Psycho Pass, and the classic that inspired the Matrix, Ghost in the Shell. This is another really outstanding one. The story takes place hundreds of years after the movie, where the Jedi are all but extinct. A blacksmith builds several new lightsabers for the few scattered Jedi, but a group of Sith come to try and stop him. The fights are well animated, the designs are fun, and the twist near the end is a great surprise. This is a pretty simple short, the animation never gets too crazy unlike some of the others. Honestly, what bugs me most about the short is how lightsabers are treated. They don’t change color depending on who’s wielding them! But it does make for some cool visuals and a great twist, so I’ll let it slide.
Move over Baby Yoda, To-Bi has stolen your title of cutest thing in the Star Wars universe. Animated by Science Saru, the creators of Keep Your Hands Off Eizokun!, Lu Over the Wall, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, this short follows the titular To-Bi, a young droid boy who dreams of becoming a Jedi. The artstyle is adorable, and I like his arc of wanting to become a Jedi and realizing what that really means. Unfortunately, basically everything in this short that doesn’t involve him isn’t very good. The short takes place entirely on a desert planet, with not a lot of interesting things to see. The other robots are very basic Star Wars droids, and the villain of the story is a boring Darth Vader knock-off. The final fight between the two isn’t very good, both because I find it hard to believe that To-Bi could even provide a challenge to the Vader copy with zero training. It was also hard to follow, which is surprising for a studio that’s produced such vibrant and creative animation. TO-BI does end up on the lower end of these shorts, but it’s still far from bad.
I like the Elder in concept. This is the second episode animated by Studio Trigger, and it pales in comparison to the other episode.. A Jedi master and his padawan head down to investigate a dark presence in the force, which turns out to be a very old Sith Lord. I feel like there should have been more emphasis placed on the Elder himself. He only shows up towards the end and is taken down rather easily. Maybe it should have been a more horror oriented thing, with the Elder hunting down the two jedi for fun. But instead its copies of Qui-Gon-Jinn and young Obi Wan Kenobi traveling through a less visually interesting version of The Duel. The animation on this one is also completely lifeless, which is surprising for a studio that’s known for its visual insanity. This is the same studio who began their first movie with a firefighter in a mech fighting a group of terrorists that were on fire! This episode is a dud, especially compared to The Twins.
LOP & OCHO:
Another amazing one! Lop & Ocho is created by Geno Studio, who have only done a few films up to this point. They’ve made Genocidal Organ, Golden Kaummy, and Pet. Lop & Ocho is fantastic. The opening isn’t great though: the tone is awkward and the personalities of characters feel at odds with the rest of the short, but everything afterwards is stellar. Lop is a bunny-like alien who gets adopted into the royal family of a small planet. When Lop and Ocho become teenagers, the Empire begins occupying the planet and draining its resources. When Ocho sides with the empire, Lop’s father tasks her with saving the family. The design looks great, the way that the Star Wars universe is integrated with old Japanese architecture and outfits is the best in the series, and the action scenes are well done. But once again, the emotions and characters of the story are what make it so amazing. I’d love to see a continuation of this short. If it weren’t for the opening, I would mark this as my favorite.
Akakari is the other short by Science Saru, and it’s by far the least anime looking short of the bunch. Its art style resembles European animation like A Cat in Paris or Phantom Boy. It also looks pretty close to Keep Your Hands off Eizokun! This is the same studio, so it makes sense. I’m mixed on this one. A jedi goes down to a small planet in order to help save it and his old girlfriend from a sith lord. The story is flat and rather unoriginal, you’ll be able to see where it’s going about a minute in. It also ends in a way that feels like it’s missing a part of itself rather than feeling open ended. Akakari has the same problem that I had with the shorts from Studio Trigger. The visual madness that’s come out of the studio before is almost completely missing. The town and school from Eizokun is was more visually appealing than the boring mountains of this short. I don’t hate Akakari, but there just isn’t a lot to it.
- The Village Bride
- A calm and beautiful short that explores the more mystical side of Star Wars, with beautiful music elevating it to the top.
- Lop & Ocho
- A very strong tale of surrogate sisterhood with fantastic animation and a heartbreaking ending.
- The Duel
- The most stylishly animated episode of the bunch, The Duel offers a glimpse into a fascinating area of the Star Wars universe through a simple yet strong story.
- The Ninth Jedi
- The most expansive and ambitious of the episodes, Ninth Jedi feels more like the start to an original series. While it lacks memorable characters, its action and ending twist more than make up for it.
- The Twins
- Studio Trigger brings their brand of visual insanity to the Star Wars universe, making for an episode that doesn’t have the best writing, but does have the best action by miles.
- Tatooine Rhapsody
- A cute episode that feels like too much was left out. It’s enjoyable for its art and characters, but it’s let down by a runtime that’s too short, and a musical ending that doesn’t hit as hard as it should.
- Aside from its loveable protagonist and adorable art direction, there’s not much to find in this episode.
- Akakari doesn’t appeal to my tastes, but others may find it’s lowkey tone and European animation style compelling.
- The Elder
- While its premise is strong, the Elder lacks style, substance and a general reason for why this story had to be told.
That concludes the series. Not every episode knocked it out of the park, but they were all at least interesting ideas. That’s the key here. Ideas. It doesn’t all work, but Visions is constantly trying to do something different with the universe, and the best shorts like the Village Bride, Lop & Ocho and The Duel pull that off really well, while other that tell the kind of story we’ve seen before or copy and paste a samurai story into the short like Akakari and The Elder are the weakest ones. I’d love to see more of these in future, or maybe even a full Star Wars anime. Star Wars: Visions is definitely worth a watch, for both hardcore and casual fans of the series alike.