Star Wars “Leans In” to Anime with Visions

Star Wars and Anime. It’s like having two friends who you know would hit it off and have beautiful children if only they were willing to meet and get to know each other. Star Wars now is fully taking that step with Star Wars Visions, one of the projects announced last year for Disney Investor Day. Lucasfilm gave us the first look at the Japanese Studios, character designs, and stories of the shorts that will release on Disney+ in September:

Kamikaze Dōga: “The Duel”

Lucasfilm spent sometime discussing the influence that Japanese film and anime has had on the staff at Lucasfilm, and George Lucas (Akira Kurosawa was dropped as a main influence for George Lucas) and, apparently there were fans of Batman Ninja because Kamikaze Dōga is doing the short “The Duel.” Aside from a droid in a straw hat, the short will explore the core theme of Star Wars: someone who has to choose selflessness and do something that helps others instead of themselves. A main influence on this short is Seven Samurai so that gives you a sense of the beautiful animation tied with tense, complex story that could potentially be packed into this short. And droids with hats. “The Duel” is directed by Takanobu Mizuno with character design by Takashi Okazaki. And as Okazaki put it in the trailer when he got the call, “Finally.”

Images from “The Duel” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Kamikaze Dōga

Geno Studio: “Lop and Ochō”

Stills from “Lop and Ochō” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Gene Studio

Switching to another short where the design style is focused on the collision of natural beauty and encroaching industrialization, Gene Studio’s “Lop and Ocho” appears to feature a bunny character that will give Jaxxon and run for his rabbit money (at least as far as merchandise goes). This, and another Visions short, seems the most ripe for occupying space on retail shelves. You can just see that bunny character on your shelve next to your other favorite anime characters.

Studio Colorido/Twin Engine: “Tatooine Rhapsody”

Boba Fett, Chibi-style | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Studio Colorido/Twin Engine

James Waugh, Executive Producer at Lucasfilm, said when Tatooine Rhapsody was first pitched to them he wasn’t quite sure Rock Opera fit in with Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more but this is the positive that can come when a studio opens up to other creative voices and decisions are not just channeled through one person (namely George Lucas). Studio Colorido’s short is done in Chibi art style and will be one of the few shorts that will feature existing characters like Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt. And it is about a Rock Band that just wants to make music…in a Space Opera. Perfect match. “Tatooine Rhapsody” will be directed by Taku Kimura. Chibi Boba is also likely to come to retail shelves soon.

Studio Trigger: “The Twins” and “The Elder”

Stills from “The Twins” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Studio Trigger

Trigger will be doing two shorts for Visions called “The Twins” and “The Elder.” Hiroyuki Imaishi directed “The Twins,” which is a story of twins born to the dark side of the force (the anti-Luke and Leia). The images are visually stunning and Lucasfilm promises equally stunning action sequences…and a conjoined twin Star Destroyer.

“The Elder” will be about one generation of Jedi passing the baton to the next generation, which is also in the wheelhouse of Star Wars storytelling. Described by director Masahiko Otsuka as a period drama for Star Wars, the Master and Padawan are put to the test when they meet an unknown enemy. It will be Otsuka’s final project and doing one of the first Star Wars anime is not a bad way to go out.

Stills and character designs from “The Elder” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and StudioTrigger

Kinema Citrus: “The Village Bride”

“The Village Bride” character design | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Kinema Citrus

The story for “The Village Bride” peaks my interest the most out of all the shorts revealed. Directed by Hitoshi Haga, the short will include the concept of the traditional Japanese culture of mountains and will be a tone pivot from the other shorts. The story is about a fallen Jedi observing a local tradition in a far away village through the eyes of a bride on the eve of her wedding day and an expected choice she is planning on making to save her people. The music will be composed by renown anime composer, Kevin Penkin, and combine a Western orchestra with traditional Japanese instruments. This sounds like it will incorporate unique and traditional Japanese themes into Star Wars and possibly the most experimental.

Concept art for “The Village Bride” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Kinema Citrus

Science SARU: “Akakiri” and “T0-B1”

The little droid that could in “T0-B1” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Science SARU

Eunyoung Choi, director of Akakiri and co-founder of Science SARU, is living out her dream with this Star Wars project. Her short, described by Lucasfilm as a “beautiful, yet painful” story, certainly looks like a dream with stunning backdrops about a Jedi and a Princess (not Luke and Leia). “T0-B1” directed by Abel Gongora will follow a droid who dreams of being a Jedi and will have a retro style design similar to Astro Boy. Speaking of which, “T0-B1” will share the same sound designer, Matsuo Ohno. The main goal of watching these expressionistic tales unfold will be to not cry.

Concept art and stills from “Akakiri” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Science SARU

Production IG: “The Ninth Jedi”

Character designs from “The Ninth Jedi” | credit Lucasfilm ltd. and Production IG

And last, but not least, Production IG and “The Ninth Jedi.” The story from the studio that made Ghost in the Shell began as two separate ideas pitched to Lucasfilm that were connected and took place in the same world. Set during a time when Jedi are just legends who need to come back as darkness threatens the galaxy, the tale follows the daughter of a Jedi Lightsaber-smith who has to deliver lightsabers to a group of Jedi who may or may not be at the destination when she arrives. And may or may not even be Jedi.The other story was from the point of view of the eight warriors coming together and trying to figure out if they can trust each other. The scale of the music production was also stressed by Lucasfilm. The score is composed by Nobuko Toda and Kazuma Jinnouchi and was recording with an orchestra at the Muza Kawasaka Symphony Hall. Overall, this story, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, sounds like an epic journey to close out the nine Visions shorts. A perfect title.

It is refreshing that these will start from a place of pure creativity and not tied to Star Wars canon. After that…who knows? Lucasfilm can certainly take these characters wherever they see fit and bring them officially into canon. They will own them after all. There is already going to be an original novel by Emma Mieko Candon coming out this October based on the anthology series, called Star Wars Visions: Ronin. There are very few details but the term “Ronin” has deep roots in Japanese history and the rich history of Japan and Star Wars are coming together at last.

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