Star Wars: Visions

5 out of 5

Created by: Kanako Shirasaki (produced by)

covers season 1

Coded within Star Wars are however many pop culture and media influences that firstly crafted George Lucas’ original vision, and have then been ceded into the franchise’s iterations and expansions along the way. Being a cross-generational property, we’ve also gotten the intermingling effect: Star Wars has inspired other creations, which have then go on to feed the creativities of creators who’ve later worked on Star Wars; similarly, in that starting point, there’s surely a melting pot of cultural concepts, if we just want to walk the blurry line between Westerns and samurai tales, and trace how many of those generalisms are in the original trilogy.

And yet, oddly, Star Wars hasn’t changed that much. If we want to prop it up next to another (as of 2021) Disney property – Marvel Comics – its remained pretty static. Its grown, absolutely, but has maintained a very identifiable look and feel over the decades. Marvel, meanwhile, has splashed on crazy different coats of paint that are either ‘the style of the time’ – e.g. the gritty 90s – or the many one-off experiments of a manga line, or a noir line, and etc. Some of this stuff can be engaging, but it’s also static in its own way, coming back around to just be, like, Spider-Man in a trenchcoat. And this is likely personal perception, but some of this feels like it owes itself to the core heroes of Marvel (and DC) being very American, localized things: sticking with Spider-Man, for example, he’s bound to Queens and New York. Superman’s Metropolis is modeled after any given large US city – some NY, some Chicago – but the hero himself is the stuff of American flags and apple pie.

Star Wars being sci-fi lite – more fantasy – and having that more mishy-mashy sense of influences, is perhaps what lends it to something like Visions so effectively, where Marvel’s / DC’s alternate universe spins lack some impact. Visions gives the property over to (in its first season, with more to hopefully follow) seven anime animation studios, and it’s pretty carte blanche: while I imagine if someone wanted to work with a Skywalker or a Darth Vader that might not’ve been the case, but the SW universe is a huge playground of jedis and aliens and so the remit here seemed as wide as imagination allowed: you can rewrite the rules and presentation however you want. And these studios did just that.

But, amazingly, because of that melting pot nature of the franchise, even when something is animated in a hand-sketched, black and white look, with jedis and light sabers recast as gravity-defying samurais with robo assistants and blazing swords, it still wholly fits within the universe. And the soapy nature of character interplay in SW vibes quite well with stereotypical anime over-the-top proclamations and square-offs: good vs. evil showdowns between twins; a battle of the bands turned into a covert scuffle. Not that this precludes solid writing, with tense dynamics and inventive plot concepts and fun twists (spinning out of some general Star Wars events) consistent whether the tone is adventure or drama or comedy, and every studio also brings their absolute A-game in animation and designs.

As a comparison point, Disney+, on which this aired, was running Marvel’s animated ‘What If’ series at the same time, which was enjoyable but maintained that aforementioned staticness: despite being “reimagined” versions of events, there’s the sense of playing in a rather confined sandbox. I watched each episode with distracted interest. Visions, though, gave me a goofy thrill each time I started a new one, and I say that as a casual Star Wars fan – I never knew what to expect, and so it was a kind of stream of first getting a kick out of whatever animation style is applied, then getting a feel for how grounded in the universe we’re going to be, and then just enjoying the ride for the 15 or 20 minutes whichever studio provides.

You could say, “okay, let’s do this for Marvel now,” but I don’t think it would really be the same. So many things in Star Wars translate rather well directly to anime without it feeling like a shtick, allowing these talented creators to pick up that ball and run with it in any given direction. A great idea, and a wonderfully entertaining series result.