Star Wars: Visions Review: An Exciting Anime Anthology - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Star Wars: Visions Review: An Exciting Anime Anthology

Star Wars has always borrowed from Japanese cinema, whether it's Akira Kurosawa's movies influencing the original trilogy or Akira influencing Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars, or The Last Jedi and Star Wars: Resistance taking cues from Japanese animation. Now, the franchise comes full circle with Star Wars: Visions, an anime anthology that gets at the essence of what makes Star Wars special with bonkers, exciting, kinetic animation that celebrates the galaxy far, far away, comments on it, and reinterprets it with its own mythos and wildly different visual style. This is a show that feels long overdue, and ripe for many, many repeated viewings and future seasons.

The anthology show is made up of nine standalone stories that range from 13 to 22 minutes, taking place at different points in the story of the franchise from before The Phantom Menace to the start of the Empire, to long after The Rise of Skywalker. If you're worried about canon or continuity, don't fret because Visions shares no connection to the rest of the franchise, with the exception of one particularly rocking episode which brings back Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt for a story about a Jedi that decides to use the Force to bring rock music to the galaxy — it helps that the main song in the episode is a total banger. Without a need to tease the next Star Wars project or fill in the gaps in other movies' stories, the seven anime studios in charge of Visions are free to play with the imagery and the mythology of Star Wars and alter it to suit the story. What if you reimagined the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith as different samurai clans working for feudal lords? What if you remix the prequel trilogy but in the Edo period? Visions makes it a reality.

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Arguably the biggest selling point for Star Wars: Visions is its animation. After the dull art style and rigid animation of recent shows based on popular franchises like What If…? and Invincible, seeing actual Japanese studios with a track record of delivering stunning visuals bring their talents to this show is eye-opening. It's not just that any one short in Visions looks better than any single American TV cartoon of the past year (even the admittedly gorgeous and cinematic Bad Batch and the Clone Wars finale), but some of the episodes even stand out in the anime landscape of 2021. When you combine the Kurosawa-inspired black-and-white aesthetic of "The Duel," with the kaleidoscopic palette of "The Twins," Visions easily becomes one of the best-looking and most visually distinct anime of the past year, and that's saying something given how stacked 2021 has been. The many, many fight scenes have better staging than most of the Star Wars live-action movies, while the character designs and background art paint a beautiful and lively picture of a far away galaxy that feels both familiar and fresh.

This is especially true of Visions' treatment of lightsabers, which each of the seven studios reinterprets, reimagining what it means to be a Force-user, and how the ancient weapon is used. Indeed, the saber is treated not as a tool, but as a ceremonial and ancestral weapon to be honored and respected. The moment a Jedi or a Sith ignites their lightsaber is drawn out and shot like a grand moment of revelation, with the iconic ignition sound being a true moment of celebration. There are lightsabers like you've never seen before, with the studios introducing novel ideas as to how they work or look, whether it's like a classic samurai sword ("The Duel") or a weapon that reloads like a gun ("The Twins") or an incredibly umbrella-like weapon that spins around with multiple blades ("The Duel" again) that better becomes available for purchase on Galaxy's Edge or else what even is the point of that theme park?

Of course, Visions doesn't just stop at making cool lightsabers, but the whole concept of the Jedi and the Sith is subverted and reconstructed in each episode, resulting in fascinating questions about the nature of the Force and the icons of Star Wars that feel natural enough that you could imagine Lucas himself adding them into the margins of his first script.

Star Wars: Visions doesn't just look great, it also sounds fantastic. The score for the episodes may not be by John Williams, but they still feel both epic and intrinsically Star Wars, particularly Kevin Penkin's hauntingly beautiful score for "The Village Bride." Sadly, though the Japanese cast of the show is fantastic, the same cannot be said for the English dub. Even if Lucasfilm has mustered an impressive ensemble cast with known actors, most of them are not voice performers, and the result feels like a cheap '80s anime dub, not fitting the animation and even distracting from the story.

Disney has made and announced dozens of projects since they acquired Lucasfilm, but it is Star Wars: Visions that feels like the most essential. This is a show that is in constant conversation with Star Wars as a whole, reimagining the franchise through seven unique visions that celebrate what makes it special while delivering some of the most exciting stories we've ever seen in the galaxy far, far away. This better become an annual tradition.

Rating: A

Star Wars: Visions premieres September 22 on Disney+.

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