Disney’s ownership of the Star Wars franchise has been a rocky relationship with the fanbase, and while it wasn’t an issue for me, many long-time fans of the Star Wars brand had a problem with Disney’s decision to make all Star Wars content under them canon (meaning all books, tv shows, and other media, other than Lego, would all be in the same storyline with the three trilogies). Last year, during the massive Disney investor call, they announced a new project that would considered outside of canon, and a lot of long time fans got very excited. While the idea of creators having complete free-reign on what kind of Star Wars stories they could tell, what was most exciting to me was who those creators were going to be: seven of Japan’s best anime studios. I absolutely love anime and I really love some of the work these studios have put out. So, out of all of the Star Wars content that has been announced, Visions was by far the one I was most ecstatic for, but did the anthology series live up to my expectations?
Star Wars: Visions is a nine-episode anthology series, with seven of Japan’s best studios working on the different episodes (Trigger, Production I.G., Kamikaze Douga, Studio Colorido, Geno Studio, Kinema Citrus, and Science SARU). From stories of wandering Jedi Ronin to a disgraced Hutt who must hide from Jabba to be in a rock band, Star Wars: Visions follows a variety of stories across the galaxy far, far away, with each episode highlighting a specific style of art and storytelling in the Japanese anime genre.
With the series being an anthology, it is hard to paint any praises or critiques with a broad brush—especially considering that every episode is a completely different style than the other eight. That said, I can confidently say that the series, as a whole, did not quite live up to my hopes for the show. There are multiple episodes (Kamikaze Douga’s “The Duel” (Ep.1), Kinema Citrus’ “The Village Bride” (Ep.4), and Production I.G.’s “The Ninth Jedi” (Ep.5) in particular) that left me desperately craving for more in both their characters, story, and art style. That said, there are quite a few episodes where I was left asking, “Why?” So, as a big Star Wars fan and, honestly, a bigger anime fan, I was left feeling so-so about more episodes than I would have cared for.
For people who are unfamiliar with anime, especially anime dubbed in English, there are many storytelling devices and dialogue decisions that are going to make you cringe in several of these episodes. Japanese to English is a translation that, in my experience watching content that is translated between the two, often comes off as super corny or redundant. So, if you are watching Visions in English, there is a significantly higher chance that you are not going to enjoy several of the episodes despite the incredible voice talent attached (Neil Patrick Harris and Alison Brie both did decently well in episode 3, “The Twins”, but the English dialogue made that episode hard to sit through and the Japanese version did enhance the episode as a whole). So, if the English version of a particular episode is hard to sit through, I would recommend switching to the Japanese voices with subtitles. That said, even the swap to Japanese will not save certain episodes for Star Wars fans. There are several creative decisions in a handful of episodes that don’t feel anything like Star Wars outside of the fact that they have a lightsaber. Expanding on that, I felt like that the studios involved missed an opportunity with not telling stories in the universe other than that of Jedi.
Obviously, Japanese samurai movies and feudal Japan are two of George Lucas’ inspirations when he created Star Wars, so, it is amazing that Disney and Lucasfilm teamed up with some of Japan’s leading anime studios for this ambitious project. Despite the criticisms I listed above, I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the episodes, with the three I listed above being some of the greatest animated Star Wars content we’ve ever gotten. I do worry that some of the animation styles and the need to watch some in Japanese for them to be enjoyable will alienate audiences and keep us from getting a season two or possible continuations of some of the stories this season. Overall, the fantastic episodes far outweigh the mediocre ones, and Star Wars: Visions was an incredibly enjoyable watch for me despite the lulls in between the great episodes. If every episode was like episode one, four, and five, this series would’ve been an easy 10/10. Unfortunately, several episodes do bring down the overall score for the season as a whole.
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