Star Wars: Visions Review: A New Hope
Star Wars is in dire need of freshness and some adventures that stray far, far away from the canon that’s only become more complicated in the new era, and Star Wars: Visions is the answer.
Vision is an anime anthology made by notable anime studios, like Trigger and Production I.G., that delves into different original stories set within the Star Wars universe. Now, Visions isn’t the first time that Star Wars has taken the anime route since Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 Clone Wars series holds that distinction. However, multiple talented studios coming together to create original stories is pretty remarkable given that the franchise has been so obsessed with spotlighting smaller canon characters lately and the result is absolutely masterful and imaginative.
Every episode of Visions is a visual masterpiece with how each studio utilizes their distinctive styles and artistry to showcase their unique, well, vision of the Star Wars universe. “The Twins” episode has Trigger’s art style all over it that immediately gives off Promare vibes and evokes some iconic imagery from the franchise within their parallel take on the Luke and Leia story with a pair of Sith-born twins. The stunning visual of a gigantic Empire fleet ship getting destroyed by hyperdrive from The Last Jedi returns in a more meaningful and breathtaking way and although it’s a little odd that the twins can fight in open outer space without helmets, their epic duel is such a visual marvel that it gets a lifetime pass.
The animation in “T0-B1”, about a young android wanting to become a jedi, made by Science Saru, who I ironically just realized is the studio behind some of my favorite Masaaki Yuasa anime films like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl and Ride Your Wave, is full of charming character designs that really make a case for Science Saru to make a Mega-Man or Astro Boy anime. Frankly, it’s just great that no episode looks the same and the different styles bring a multitude of tones that makes each story unique. The clean-colored art style of “Tatooine Rhapsody” works incredibly well in making the characters designs for new and notable franchise characters within its epic about a band traversing the galaxy visually charming and fitting. The shading for characters in “The Elder” works in bringing out darker, more serious tones of a Jedi and his padawan seeking out a powerful Sith Elder.
The distinctive art styles of Visions work wonders in giving their respective stories a unique look and there’s no episode where that’s more apparent than the first episode – Kamikaze Douga’s “The Duel.” Set within an alternate history, “The Deul” follows a lone wanderer only known as Ronin (voiced by Masaki Terasoma/Brian Tee) as he defends a small village from being besieged by a Sith brigade. It’s a classic Akira Kurosawa black and white samurai story brought to life and set in the Star Wars world. “The Duel” is such a perfectly ambitious story for Visions to start off on as the black and white animation is a new way to see the Star Wars world and emulates old film flawlessly. There’s great visual contrast with the colorful glow of tech radiating around the otherwise traditional Feudal Japan village. Once the action gets going, watching the lightsabers glow with their distinct colors adds some nice sci-fi tint and a stronger emphasis to the visual meaning of lightsaber colors. More importantly, “The Duel” represents a great strength of Visions in how it excellently blends Japanese visuals and culture with Star Wars mythology and imagery.
It’s actually crazy how well Japanese imagery and Star Wars visuals complement each other and share thematic qualities. Although Visions contains notable Star Wars character-types like Jedi, Sith, and droids, their designs are changed to fit traditional Japanese styles where Stormtroopers and Jedi can be seen wearing straw hats and the way their drawn makes them fit into the anime style. Honestly, watching Jedi Tajin (voiced by Takaya Hashi/David Harbour) and his padawan Dan (voiced by Yuichi Nakamura/Jordan Fisher) walk through open valleys in “The Elder” felt just like watching samurai walk though tall grass. It’s even awesome to see some Jedi/Sith wield lightsaber katanas and seeing B1 droids, better known as the “roger roger” droids in “The Village Bride’s” more nature-centric Japanese village was both fun as a fan and visually eye-catching. “The Duel easily shows this blending best since it emulates a more historically accurate Feudal Japan and watching giant ships roam through or Kouru (voiced by Akeno Watanabe/Lucy Liu) pull out that lightsaber umbrella is mind-blowing at times. The contrast between some of the sci-fi elements and Feudal Japan settings is constantly compelling visually and works well in bringing out some of the shared themes.
Themes of honor, fighting for hope and peace, and destined paths aren’t that unfamiliar to both Stars Wars and Japanese storytelling. Frankly, even the more philosophical dialogue of Star Wars has always given off anime vibes and Visions’ original stories really evoke the kind of stories and themes that fans love about Star Wars. T0-B1’s (voiced by Masako Nozawa/Jaden Waldman) desires to be a Jedi and finish his master’s journey feel right at home with Star Wars and although a little cheesy, it’s tough not to fall in love with the way friendship and music keep the band together in “Tatooine Rhapsody.” There are plenty of moments where your heart fills with glee in seeing Jedi stand up to Sith in order to protect those around them – reflecting the franchise’s beloved idea of hope. It’s especially great that these ideas and themes don’t have to come from big epic stories to be powerful and can be seen in the most civilian of Star Wars characters.
What’s great too is that these studios have created stories that pay homage or are truly inspired by the canon without completely ripping from it or using it as a crutch. “Tatooine Rhapsody” is a really fun way to bring Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett (voiced by Akio Kaneda/Temuera Morrison) back for a smaller story and “The Twins” is perfectly inspired by Luke and Leia’s sibling connection to create a parallel story centered on the dark side. One of Visions’ best storytelling qualities is actually what it does for the Sith and characters working with the dark side. A big failure for the new era of Star Wars movies was creating more ambiguity around where characters stand, and Visions totally knocks it out of the park with how you’re constantly left shocked with who really plays for what side.
Visions can overplay its hand a bit in revealing someone as a Jedi or Sith, but there are so many story opportunities opened up throughout this series riding the line between the light and the dark. The big reveals in episodes like “The Ninth Jedi,” “The Village Bride,” “T0-B1,” and especially “The Duel” are some of the strongest and most impactful of the entire franchise and the creation of Sith characters questioning their past is incredibly unique and special. Even the way that episodes like “The Ninth Jedi” flesh out the meaning of the lightsaber color is very meaningful as a fan and that transparent lightsaber is really awesome. Personally, some of these episodes should be made into full-blown movies or series themselves as they’re rich with potential. I’d especially love to see more of T0-B1’s adventures, the Ronin hunting down other Sith in order to redeem himself, or Karre (voiced by Junya Enoki/Neil Patrick Harris) attempting to save his sister Am (voiced by Ryoko Shiraishi/Alison Brie) from the dark side. Also, the voice acting is top-notch and even with having a lot of notable names, everyone hides their voices and make their characters really come through.
Most importantly for both Star Wars and anime fans alike, Visions brings top-notch, cinematic action that can’t be missed. The Star Wars franchise is known for delivering cinema caliber action like no other and somehow Visions creates eye-dazzling, edge of your seat action that’s just as good if not better than what the films have brought recently. The animation allows for the action to be unhinged in a way that creates faster movement and more ambitious visuals. What this series does with lightsaber designs alone, with things like the umbrella fan saber and Am’s multi-armed lightsaber suit that would make even Grievous go running, is just insane and reflects the freedom given to these creators that needs to happen more often in this franchise. Lightsaber duels are in top form and backed by incredible music. What more could fans ask for?
As someone who hasn’t been excited about Star Wars in quite some time, Visions rejuvenates that excitement with its endless ambition in storytelling, animation, and charting new possibilities for Star Wars. Visions makes the case for Star Wars to move past its tiresome canon and build upon new stories in its universe that could breathe new life into the franchise and give it a unique identity. It’s easily one of the best shows of the year and frankly, might be my favorite.