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Star Wars: Visions

by David Heyman 2 months ago in review

A Starcanon Review - Spoilers Ahead!

Episode 1 - The Duel

So first off, I thought this was a really strong choice to open the series with. Its pretty much everything I imagined the series would be when I heard the words 'Star Wars' and 'Japanese Artists' in the same sentence.

The basic story is simple and stylised, based on the classic staple of a village being raided by bandits and calling upon an outsider for help. Due to the nature of this plot, the dialogue is also pretty simplistic, but it's really not the focus or the driving force behind this short. It's a classic good vs evil, one making the moral choice to defend the helpless against oppression. Except, hold up a second, maybe it's not?

I'm not going to get into that too much here because, oh boy, spoilers. But I will say there is a certain moment of revelation here and it is filled with glorious intrigue that spins the possibilities of the episode out in so many directions.

As the title rather heavily suggests, there is a fight between two force users and it is pretty great. There is so much samurai anime influence here that its not so unlike watching Samurai Champloo but with lightsabers, and that's really not a bad thing. The weapons themselves are wonderfully themed for the setting, and use of general force powers a well placed and make for a great overall fight. That opening strike and block though is a thing of beauty.

Watch it, then watch it again. Probably once more too so you can really take in the skill and beauty of how this episode was designed and set. I'm not an expert on Japanese animation, but it really doesn't take one to sit back and see how impressive this is.

Episode 2 - Tatooine Rhapsody

I should probably start this one off with the fact that I really dislike the type of anime this episode was based on. This means that for me, it kind of sucked. However, if you are a fan of music themed, somehow overcoming the odds with the power of friendship and music and convenient plot-holes, you will probably like this. Sorry if that description sounds derogatory of something you enjoy, I just really can't stand how pointlessly cheery it is.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, lets talk about the episode.

It's a good example of the genre it is based on, capturing the spirit of 'let's be friends and do the thing together so we can overcome any problem'. The art is cutesy, but again fitting for the theme and the actual drawing itself is much better in quality and design than some things I have seen. The story is fine, for what it's supposed to be, and much like episode 1, follows the classic outline as the band sticks together and then risks it all to save their bandmate.

Personally I don't think it really belongs here. Not because I don't like it, but because it is a really jarring shift from the first episode. It's cutesy and childish and uses characters from established series and movies in a way that is entirely outside of how they would realistically behave. Now, obviously, there is a big market for this stuff, so I would have probably looked to make two versions of Visions, or a different series entirely which was aimed more at kids.

Not bad for what it is, but really not for me.

Episode 3 - The Twins

Can't say I particularly enjoyed this one either. The opening was very cool and the twin star destroyer with the good old fashioned planet killing cannon was very 'Star Wars', but it sort of fell apart after that, story wise anyway.

It didn't really seem to know what it was trying to do, and the characters used were all wrong for their parts. Twins crafted from the dark side should have little care for if one of them dies, especially when one of them very clearly doesn't care. Why the brother has an x-wing is also pretty strange. It feels like this studio got a list of things that have been seen in previous movies and just tried to shove it all together. Six armed lightsaber fighter? Check. Planet killing weapon? Check. Weird sibling love story... um. Check, I guess.

Again it kind of falls to the flaws of the genre and the medium. There is only so much time to tell the story they are trying to, so there is a heavy info dump in the form of a clumsy exposition speech, and then we see a lot of the power ramp problems anime in particular suffers from with its characters. Both characters are insanely powerful Sith, who somehow become even stronger through this kind of large kyber crystal and we end up with this ridiculous level of power usage with very little form or focus in the key fight, which makes up the majority of the short.

The animation itself is very clean, with some comparable elements to the classic Akira. However, unlike Akira, there is no depth to the story and that ending blow is mind-bogglingly dumb. I really don't want to be all negative, so lets just say it looks pretty and has some funny moments, which are probably not supposed to be funny.

If anything, my biggest gripe is how two humans don't require any space suits to not die in space. I was willing to accept 'anime physics' until at the very end a droid turns up wearing a damn space helmet.

Episode 4 - The Village Bride

Okay, so we are back to the village needing saving from bandits theme again. Fair enough, considering it's a major staple of classic Japanese fiction, and since Star Wars was obviously heavily influenced by Japanese themes, why not. Aside from the fact that the main villain here is pretty flimsy, it's actually a pretty good episode, and he really isn't the focus of the story anyway, just the background of it.

This one really felt like it was getting back to the roots of the force, how it is a living thing that connects all beings together. Even though the people of this particular planet are unable to defend themselves, they are living a life which exemplifies aspects of the Jedi code, and their approach to the force.

Again there are some cool force power moments, but the fight here is more of a way to close the episode than the narrative focus, and honestly that's kind of nice in this case. After the last episode in particular, it was nice to get back to something which felt like it was really a part of the Star Wars universe.

Despite the general solemnity of the episode, the writers managed to include a bit of the humour found in the clone wars, which again helped to make it feel 'right'. The animation was again of very high quality, and in some ways reminded me of the original Ghost In the Shell series with its style and movement design. Overall, I really enjoyed how this one connected with the story matter and delivered something that was much more than just a flashy flight. Don't get me wrong, I like those as well, but substance and reason is important too!

Episode 5 - The Ninth Jedi

Yes! We are very much back into the good stuff here. All is forgiven for episode 3, as this was just spot on. Its a beautiful callback to the samurai hero collectives of old. You know the ones - where legendary heroes of the blade are called together before setting out on an epic quest to save everyone from the big bad thing. Well, this takes that classic foundation and twists and twists until we are left with this brilliant short.

I must admit it is a little bit fast and loose with how sabre crystals are supposed to work, but given how they first establish their own rules, and then bust out that little detail later on with wonderful effect, I am more than happy to let that slide.

All the classic character types for this story are present giving the story a homely feel, like you are welcoming home and old friend, should that old friend happen to be a lightsaber wielding nutter. With the nature of the setting, and the mention of Jedi hunters, I think there would actually be a lot of potential for it to tie into something like Rebels, were it not seemingly set in its own little bubble universe of Star Wars.

This one is quite difficult to talk about when not wanting to give too much away, so I will leave it at the fact that it is very very good.

Episode 6 - T0-B1

This episode is a delightful combination of Astro Boy style animation with Adventure Time whimsy. The opening scene feels a little bit like something from Howl's Moving Castle, and it is a beautiful piece of animation from start to finish. I was particularly impressed with the cut to the dream sequence and the shift in design that came with it.

Despite the events of the episode, it is generally a very hopeful and endearing little story, which despite feeling a little alien to the Star Wars universe, is a very Star Wars theme. I think it is something about how the droids don't quite match up with the general design seen in the other material that makes it feel just a little bit 'off'. That said, while not one of my personal favourites from this series, it is technically excellent in presentation and design and I do like the idea that someone in the Star Wars universe is out there going to all of these desert planets and trying to bring a bit of life to them (sorry to all the previously existing life-forms that had adapted to the sand).

This is another one that is quite difficult to actually talk about without giving too much away, as the plot is incredibly simplistic and most of what is good about this episode comes from the design elements of the show. There are some great reference points from other classic moments in Star Wars, from the tiny Lambda looking shuttle to the iconic moisture farm towers, it's fun to spot the familiar in a rather alien looking landscape.

If you enjoy studying design elements and animation, this is probably one you will particularly enjoy.

Episode 7 - The Elder

This was a very mixed one for me. Overall I enjoyed it, but there were a few weird time jumps towards the end of the episode when someone who was nearly dead was suddenly fine, and while they talk about there being a recovery time other things in the scene suggest that actually no time has passed at all.

The script is surprisingly bland, considering that this is another TRIGER production and they have some absolutely fantastic, if not a little unhinged, writers on their team. Again it kind of feels like they had a rough idea of what Star Wars is supposed to sound like, and then used sound bite lines to build a working script.

There are some interesting moments between the master and his apprentice, and some of them feel very similar to the early days of Obi-Wan trying to train a very impetuous Anakin, only being forced to watch him run off and do something dangerous. Unfortunately for this apprentice, he isn't the chosen one and doesn't have all that plot armour.

What is rather good about this episode, however, are the fights between the apprentice, the master and the not quite but basically a Sith guy. There is some great sabre technique worked into these scenes, and since the whole story is basically focused around this Elders' desire to find strong opponents, the episode delivers on that aim. You can really see just how influenced Lucas was by Kendo and Bushido, since what we see here looks like classic Jedi fighting forms, but are also standard Samurai techniques and stances.

Episode 8 - Lop And Ocho

For me, this was the most 'anime' feeling of all the episodes for the simple fact that there is a bunny person and she is immediately labelled as being super cute and adopted by some random kid. While Star Wars certainly has a fair mix of anthropomorphised races, bunny girls (of a literal kind) and cat girls are very much the domain of Japanese animation.

Luckily things don't get any weirder than that, which really is fortunate considering some of the things that get animated these days! That small tangent aside, it's a great episode that really blends the strengths of anime with the themes of Star Wars. Much like The Duel, there is a very strong Japanese cultural undertone to the episode, focusing on the importance of family and the tradition of leading the house and having a strong successor.

It is a little predictable in its story, with the adopted daughter fighting to keep her family together while her sister turns her back on them all, believing and alliance with the Empire will make her family stronger. Naturally, they fight and the power of family and love prevails. Despite all this, it's a pretty great short with some beautifully animated set pieces and the overall quality of the production is possibly the highest in the series. I like that this episode really embraced the tropes of anime, from the random animal girl to the imperial officer who has a super weird hairstyle compared to everyone else around him.

Even when her sister takes a full on slash across the chest (which is kind of weird considering her sister is trying to save her family, not disembowel it) she bounces right back and leaves the fight with an angry glare, and the marks of two light sabre slashes across her chest. Again, this is all very anime, and given that these episodes are supposed to be a display of culture while showing of the abilities of the studio, I think it works well.

Episode 9 - Akakiri (Red Fog)

The last of the season, if such a term can really be applied to a collection of shorts, and it was a mixed one for me. Overall, I think it claims my previously given title of best produced as it has some spectacular set pieces as well as blending a highly thematic soundtrack into the story. My favourite part of the animation style here was the way the lightsabers left an afterglow when moving and striking, which made for dynamic and entrancing fights.

It has a very Samurai Jack feel to it, both in the dystopian feel of the world setting and the very Japanese 'samurai punk' style of the whole episode. Of all the characters seen in Visions, the Jedi Tsubaki and the events that happen after this episode are what I would most like to see continued in another series, with the Ronin from episode 1 coming in a very close second. It's actually the only episode where expectations are really subverted, and they do it with a Jedi who appears to be suffering from some sort of vision induced trauma. It's a really interesting character point, with similarities to Anakin in Attack Of The Clones.

Red Fog draws on a lot of Star Wars staples, and mixes in a delightful dose of traditional Japanese philosophy - namely that of destiny and how fate is unavoidable once the first steps of a path have been taken. Both Star Wars and Japanese culture make heavy use of the concept of destiny in their storytelling, with the latter obviously being a heavy influencer of the former. Again, there is a lot about this episode that really feels like it is delivering on the outline promised for this series, bringing a very Japanese feeling slice of Star Wars that would also fit very nicely into the main canon, aside from one moment where an arrow gets deflected back, much in the way lightsabers are used to deflect blaster fire.

From the general demeanour of the guides, to the taking of a path considered too dangerous and cursed by the gods, it's an epic tale of the struggling hero and a classic example of this story.

review

David Heyman

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David Heyman
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