Star Wars: Visions is fantastically creative but may not be for everyone

Star Wars Visions: "The Twins." Photo: Disney+.
Star Wars Visions: "The Twins." Photo: Disney+. /

This week, Disney+ releases a new kind of Star Wars series that we’ve yet to see the likes of before. That’s Star Wars: Visions. And its nine shorts are all set to release on the streaming platform on Sept. 22.

The nine standalone episodes come from seven studios: Kamikaze Douga, Geno Studio, Studio Colorido, Trigger (two shorts produced), Kinema Citrus, Science SARU (two shorts produced) and Production I.G. And with that, they all bring their own, unique style to this creative endeavor that’s new to Star Wars as we know it.

Essentially, the pitch is that each studio has the chance to tell a story in the world of Star Wars using anime. The canon status of these shorts has not been 100 percent confirmed or denied, but at the moment, the show does not seem to be canon. But because of that, it gives the creators the chance to stretch the boundaries of their imagination without having to pay dues to complicated lore that they’d be building into. And that is certainly effective when it comes to this kind of series.

So, is Star Wars: Visions any good? Yes, absolutely. And it feels like one of the rare times that you view a series not just for its entertainment value, but for its artistic value as well. These are shorts, after all, so they have to pack a lot into just a tiny episode. Episodes can be about 15 minutes on average, though some stretch into the 20-minute mark (including credits).

One of the best parts about looking at this series from an artistic lens is the art style. Each entry brings its own color palette, animation style, and so forth. And it really makes you see that anime is not a monolith.

In one episode, called “T0-B1,” where a droid dreams of being a real Jedi, it ranges from giving off Astro Boy vibes, to Pinocchio, and even Avatar: The Last Airbender. Others, such as “The Twins,” look a little less refined, like an old Newgrounds cartoon — but it doesn’t detract from the story and tremendous effort that each of the creators took to make the short. They all give off the sense of old-school animation, where nothing is outsourced (at least, it feels that way), and everything is done in-house with your team and their unique style.

Star Wars: Visions will certainly appeal to all anime fans

Now, depending on the type of anime you like, you’ll probably have some strong favorites over others. If you enjoy the cute/kawaii/wholesome types of work, then “T0-B1” will likely satisfy you. Those who like Shōnen Jump-type anime (think Naruto, Bleach, etc.) may find “The Elder” or even “The Village Bride” to be up their alley. And if you’re looking for Studio Ghibli vibes, that’s present in a few episodes as well, including “The Ninth Jedi.”

That being said, if you are a fan of Star Wars but you’re not a fan of anime, this show may not appeal to you. I don’t consider myself a huge anime fan, but I have watched my fair share in the past. There are cheesy anime tropes throughout in this series. And if that kind of thing doesn’t resonate with you in the first place, then the fact that it’s a non-canon Star Wars anime might not help that. This may be especially true because each short features original characters. And so while it takes place in the Star Wars universe, it’s still overtly anime. Because of that unfamiliarity with the characters, it may just feel like a regular, non-Star Wars anime to some.

Now, that’s not to say a Star Wars-anime crossover wasn’t a great idea. Because I supremely enjoyed the talent that every studio displayed. Some stories were stronger than others. But at the end of the day, the studios took the concept of Star Wars and interpreted it through the eyes of an anime short in their own special ways. I particularly enjoyed seeing Star Wars from the angle of Eastern culture, especially through this Japanese-specific lens. Seeing elements like traditional Japanese villages, Samurai, and the many, many, katana-esque lightsabers filled my heart with joy.

As a whole, it’s quite difficult to judge Star Wars: Visions because each entry is completely unique. It’d be like going to an art class, and instead of grading each student, you give the class a collective grade. Overall, though, Star Wars: Visions is an idea that works. Some shorts could have benefitted from more time. Some, I would have loved to see as a series (“Lop and Ocho”), and others could have made great movies  (“The Ninth Jedi”).

And to be honest, the series didn’t need celebrity voice cameos to make the series great. Lucy Liu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Neil Patrick Harris, David Harbour and Henry Golding are just a few who take lead voice roles. That certainly adds to the appeal. But the true appeal comes from the artistry and the storytelling. And with such success, I wouldn’t mind a season 2 arriving on Disney+ filled with brand new shorts from brand new creators.

Addendum: I very much recommend not bingeing this series just so each episode has the chance to sit with you. Jumping from each short and switching genre, tone, etc. can be a bit much. Give the episodes a bit of time to breathe. With an artistic series like this, each short deserves to be savored and appreciated like a work of art before you move on to the next one!

Star Wars: Visions grade: A-

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