All the Anime Intel You Need to Fully Appreciate the Splendor of 'Star Wars: Visions'
If you're a fan of Disney+'s new 'Star Wars' anthology and want to get into more anime, this guide should help you discover what to watch next.
The pairing of Star Wars with anime production is both long-awaited and inevitable (indeed, you can even hear some famous Lucasfilm sound effects in anime productions like Naruto). George Lucas' space opera was built on the director’s love of Japanese myth and chanbara films—and so in a sense, by being handed off to Japanese artists, Disney+'s new series of animated shorts Star Wars: Visions feels like the completion of a circle.
At the same time, it represents a break from tradition. Veering away from the drama of the Skywalker family, Visions feels imaginative and completely unbound, and is all the better for it, every short perfectly representative of their respective studio’s thematic and stylistic interests while expanding the, well, vision of the Star Wars universe. Vision’s freedom from canon is the best thing about it, making it a visual playground that Star Wars hasn’t seen in years.
It exists outside the typical constraints of lore continuity, each creator putting their own spin on the thematic interests of the series, spinning out of different eras of its vast history with mostly brand-new characters, only connected to the main story by a broad interpretation of what “Star Wars” means.
For many, this’ll be the first exposure to the works of animation houses like Studio Trigger, Science Saru, or Studio Colorido, so we’re breaking down all that you need to know about the studios and its directors contributing to Visions, and, if you're drawn to a particular film, recommending titles to queue up next.
The Duel – Kamikaze Douga
Directed by: Takunobo Mizuno
Best-known for: Opening credits of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (studio)
Where Star Wars deliberately recalled chanbara films like Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress in its initial installment and later Rashomon in The Last Jedi, Takunobo Mizuno’s The Duel places Star Wars directly into the context of the films that Lucas was inspired by, its story unfolding in a replication of a feudal Japan. It’s immediately visually striking and familiar, from its lone warrior (think Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo) stepping in to save the village, right down to the dust blowing across the town square, with a from-the-hip camera shot of the two warriors about to draw their blades.
But there are some outlandish visual twists too: The short’s antagonist is a Sith warrior with an appearance strikingly designed by Takashi Okazaki, that feels at home with their striking work on Afro Samurai or even Lady Snowblood, if not for the fact that she carries a lightsaber umbrella. It’s a striking opening statement for Visions—a collision of Kurosawa films, manga, Westerns, and Star Wars full of stormtrooper remnants and alien bodyguard squads—the main character only known as Ronin, his sidekick a killer droid in a straw hat. Better still is its considerations of the relationship between the dark side and the light: no wonder a spinoff book featuring Ronin is on the way.
CG animation in anime is quickly written off for not feeling as textured or as natural as hand-drawn or digitally-drawn 2D, but the production on The Duel proves otherwise. Gorgeous cross-hatched shading that constantly shifts across its characters and surfaces gives an earthy but foreboding feel to the story. A particular shout-out is deserved for the compositing; every sequence is realized with lovely, heavily contrasting black and white with sparse bursts of color, and then textured with faux-film grain in a delightfully reverent touch. It’s not just an exciting visual style in the context of Star Wars, but in CG animation in general. The Duel is simply an astonishing start to the anthology, and one that settles in the memory as a wondrous revisitation of the very roots of the franchise.
If you liked The Duel, check out: While the studio’s most widely seen famous work—the opening credits of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure—is small scale by comparison to the likes of their television and film production, it’s also some of their most stylish (plus the shows attached to them: pretty great). For another alt-history, feudal Japanese spin on Western pop culture ephemera, Batman Ninja, directed by The Duel’s producer Junpei Mizusaki, isn’t half bad either.
Tatooine Rhapsody – Studio Colorido
Directed by: Taku Kimura
Best-known for: Penguin Highway, A Whisker Away, Burn The Witch (studio)
Directed by Taku Kimura, a newcomer at Studio Colorido, Tatooine Rhapsody is more directly connected to familiar characters from the Star Wars oeuvre, but nonetheless approaches the setting from a completely fresh angle: from that of a rock opera. The story is from the perspective of a young Jedi boy who fled Order 66, a moment we see in brief as the film smash cuts to untold time later, the boy now leading a scrappy underground band. They’re struggling to make ends meet, something made worse when Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett are found to be in pursuit of one of the members.
The animation production from Colorido is as bright and charming as ever, one early highlight being a raucous bar fight scene where a drummer with three torsos and three pairs of arms beats up a stormtrooper simply by rotating. But this particular short stands apart from other Star Wars pieces sonically as much as it does visually, as the band’s music and the genre they love scores the piece. The in-world music of Star Wars has always been confusing at best, embarrassing at worst (the digitally added Return of the Jedi musical sequence), so Kimura and Colorido’s decision to supplant J-rock and metal into this context is particularly delightful. (This is the one Visions short where you’ll get to see Boba Fett grooving.) That doesn’t mean it’s not without its own wonderful visual quirks, such as the band’s spaceship that doubles as the stage that they play on, like a portable, interplanetary garage band.
If you liked Tatooine Rhapsody, check out: Penguin Highway. While it doesn’t bear all that much in relation to Kimura’s short, Penguin Highway, an adaptation of a fantastical coming-of-age story by Takehide Mori, is probably the best work by the relatively young Studio Colorido. Their recent Burn The Witch is perhaps more in line with Rhapsody’s anarchic sensibilities, if a little bit unfocused in telling its story.
The Twins and The Elder – Studio Trigger
Directed by: Hiroyuki Imaishi, Masahiko Otsuka
Best-known for: Kill la Kill, Promare
The energetic and brightly colored works of Studio Trigger are beloved among many anime fans for their playfulness as well as their equally stylish and outrageous characters, who either flaunt their denial of the laws of physics or pose dramatically. With The Twins and The Elder, studio co-founders Masahiko Otsuka and Hiroyuki Imaishi seek out contrast and opposition—their styles opt for realism and outlandish excess, respectively, their two shorts bookending "The Skywalker Saga," with Otsuka’s The Elder set sometime before Episode I and Imaishi’s The Twins after the events of Episode IX, after the Resistance has finally beaten the Empire.
What, then, remains in The Twins is the Imperial Army, having raised a pair of twins—Karre and Am—on the Dark Side of the Force, but one finds themselves drawn to the light, and tries to save the other. It has immediately recognizable Imaishi flair, the director having reunited with much of the team behind his recent feature film Promare, including character designer Shigeto Koyama. The exaggerated posing and in-your-face layouts, the streaks of neon accenting every character and surface, and even the silhouettes of the characters’s outfits recall central character Kamina’s sunglasses from Imaishi’s series Gurren Lagann, to the character designs themselves lifted straight from Promare (he basically copy/pasted Lio Fotia, the movie's antagonist). But the indulgent referencing just feels like another part of the fun.
Along with Imaishi’s usual quirks, The Twins is a remix of Star Wars action and family drama, new and old. The sibling dynamic is obviously a play on Luke and Leia, the delightfully overblown dialogue full of tribute to famous catchphrases from the series’s past. But Imaishi also places more specific visual reference within his own template, such as a recollection of the lightspeed crash sequence from The Last Jedi. The Twins is full of love between its characters and for the heightened melodrama of Star Wars, a perfect fit for Imaishi’s penchant for sibling love and a rapidly escalating scale of action.
The other short produced by Trigger, Otsuka’s The Elder, is a story told in a much lower key. It starts quietly, with a Jedi master and his apprentice seeking out a potential disturbance in the force, heralding the return of the Sith. They have an odd couple relationship—the master, with their battle scars evident, is quiet and sparing with words, while the apprentice is chatty and jovial, poking fun at their elder with a fresh-eyed, optimistic perspective. Their clash with the titular Elder builds on one pet theme of the Star Wars prequels, warning against complacency and the infinite pursuit of power. Where The Twins takes a familial conflict and expands it to galaxy-shaking scale, The Elder looks inward again, opting for a more realistic style than Imaishi, its colors more muted, its pace more deliberate.
If you liked The Twins, check out:Gurren Lagann, Promare. Two of Imaishi’s most popular works, ones that bear a striking sibling resemblance with each other as well as The Twins: Lagann's main character Kamina is born again in Promare’s loudmouth lead Galo Thymos, while Promare’s Lio Fotia is also reincarnated as Karre. If it ain’t broke…
If you liked The Elder, check out: SSSS. Gridman. While not from Imaishi or Otsuka, this adaptation of the Tsubaraya tokusatsu series matches Trigger’s trademark kineticism and kick-ass robot action with some genuinely soulful contemplation on isolation. A lot of the show is much quieter than you might expect (and its follow up SSSS. Dynazenon currently tops our Best Anime of the year list).
The Village Bride – Kinema Citrus
Directed by: Hitoshi Haga
Best-known for: Made in Abyss
Where the films frequently take detours into the cultures of less technologically dependent peoples, The Village Bride is fully immersed in this setting, and frames the “Wars” part from the perspective of indigenous peoples, their lands stripped for resources as a result of the cross fire. It’s so intently focused on these livelihoods that these observations feel anthropological, the world feels alive, independent of the struggle between Republic and Separatist (this short is set during the early conflict of the prequel series, Episodes I-III).
In this calm and pastoral take on Star Wars, Hitoshi Haga set out to show a different culture through their approach to a familiar tradition, the wedding. It’s a lovely framing device, a simple human bond serving as the jumping-off point for a history of this fictional planet and its people’s customs and how pastoral life and domesticity looks in this secluded corner of the galaxy (droids quietly serve up dishes of curry at a wedding feast, it’s pleasant).
Most of all, it looks at their connection with the natural world and the life it houses, the gorgeous mountains towering about them. It’s firmly connected to the earth rather than out among the stars, the villagers all reflecting on their symbiosis with their planet, stating “we are the sky, we are the forest, we are the river.” And so, their small-scale rebellion has an environmentalist twist, reconnecting the power of the Force to spirituality and a sense of connection to the natural world. There is of course an injection of the tragedy and heartache of the main series, and it feels genuinely poetic. Speaking frankly, The Village Bride might be my favorite in Visions.
If you liked The Village Bride, check out: Made in Abyss. A series that Hitoshi Haga also worked on, Made in Abyss is also fascinated with a connection to the natural world, though as the title suggests it’s built around a descent rather than the climbing of a mountain. Literally and figuratively it goes to darker places than The Village Bride, but pays just as much attention to our relationship with the environment.
The Ninth Jedi – Production I.G.
Directed by: Kenji Kamiyama
Best-known for: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden of the East, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
The Ninth Jedi is another short set after the Skywalker Saga, eons separate from the stories we know, but the opening narrative is in complete cadence with the familiar narrative beats of Star Wars: front-loaded exposition over a vague background of stars, before moving to a ship hanging over a planet in orbit.
Set untold years after the events of Episode IX, the Jedi order is once again scattered and on the brink, masterless warriors all drawn to the Outer Rim after receiving a promise of being gifted lightsabers, the familiar Jedi weapons long since thought lost. A young prodigy, parents and a destroyed home, a longing for greatness and a lost history, all familiar—The Ninth Jedi feels like a sort of buffer between the more outlandish entries, as more of a traditional Star Wars story than the others, right down to the wipes transitioning each sequence of animation. But it also carries fascinating twists on existing lore, particularly around lightsabers: changing it so that the color reflects the personality of the user, making their construction feel more mythic in the process, all while looking into the lives of the swordsmiths themselves.
This particular short is produced by a prestigious studio—Production I.G., a house that has titles like Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell to its name. Speaking of which: This particular production is directed by Kenji Kamiyama, director of the beloved TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Kamiyama’s name has been attached to a number of anime adaptations of Hollywood titles recently—Blade Runner: Black Lotus and the upcoming Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim—which makes his take into Star Wars an interesting feather in his cap as well an interesting indication of the vision that Kamiyama has for these famous franchises.
Most exciting is that it marks a return to traditional, hand-drawn animation for Kamiyama, who has been working alongside Shinji Aramaki in 3DCG for some time now (to, admittedly, mixed results). It feels like a more classical work for Kamiyama, and it’s gorgeously composed—the fight scenes are fast-paced and intricately choreographed, and the story is told with a light element of mystery, leading to some fun twists. Extra points for the laconic, tea-drinking droid sighing, “I’m on my break.”
If you liked The Ninth Jedi, check out:Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is something of an obvious choice, but it’s popular for a reason. If you want to see Kamiyama’s directorial work in a more traditional style of animation, it should be your first stop. The incredible soundtrack from Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop) is icing on the cake. For more of Kamiyama’s approach to mystery, Eden of the East is a worthy follow-up.
T0-B1 and Akakiri – Science SARU
Directed by: Abel Góngora, Eunyoung Choi
Best-known for: Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Devilman crybaby
The (relatively) young studio Science SARU might be one of the most exciting names involved with Visions. Co-founded by Masaaki Yuasa (Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and many others) and Eunyoung Choi, Saru’s mix of hand-drawn and digital animation, and flexible, adaptable visual style is something sorely needed for Star Wars at this point, the franchise’s aforementioned insularity of narrative matched by J.J. Abram’s recent entries choosing simply to ape the original Lucas films.
The first Visions short from the studio, T0-B1 (read: “Toby”), directed by Abel Góngora (the studio’s lead on digital animation), delivers style and a childlike wonder in its imagining of Star Wars from the perspective of a child, a smart reflection of the audience’s nostalgia for this franchise, or an impressionable young audience finding these stories for the first time. The twist is that the child is a robot—hence, the numbers in their name—and that creation at a human’s hands does leave some doubt as to whether they can tap into the natural, spiritual powers of the Force. T0-B1 connects to Star Wars through the eponymous robot boy’s emulation of Luke’s wanderlust and desire to travel.
It’s simultaneously an homage to Astro Boy, the series by foundational manga artist and anime creator Osamu Tezuka. The Tezuka-esque robot design, charming and idiosyncratic with its round friendliness and versatility, shape-changing and boy-like, but different enough to remind us of his artificiality, to introduce some doubt whether they truly can connect with a natural Force. It emphasizes lively, non-realistic movement as T0-B1 imagines a life as a heroic Jedi Warrior—and Saru is a perfect choice for such a concept in that the studio’s output, known for their slippery, freeform style. One standout sequence sees the background melt away into black, as though a child was drawing their thoughts on a chalkboard. The sense of wonder feels like a mirror for young viewers who, like T0B1, might dream of becoming Jedi themselves.
Akakiri, on the other hand—marking a return to directing by longtime SARU animation producer and now head of the studio, Eunyoung Choi—takes almost the opposite tone, a discordant and perhaps even unsettling short that encapsulates some of the romantic tragedy of Star Wars, her short looking at the story of a princess and a Jedi, the latter returning to the former as a Sith has supplanted the area’s daimyō, her lord father.
It’s characterized by an intentionally scrappy art style, and strange arrhythmic percussion, the score by U-zhaan is built with electronic tones that disturb and set the short apart from its roots—after decades of John Williams or people emulating him, it’d be the most idiosyncratic soundtrack a Star Wars story has had in years, if not for T0-B1.
It’s one of the more brisk shorts but conducted with a lot of breathing room, following up chaotic sequences with layouts with plenty of negative space. Choi’s work also blurs the line of the series’ traditional light/dark binary, working on building a genuine allure around the dark side (in the dub of the short—subs weren’t available—this is thanks in no small part to Louraine Toussaint’s seductive voice work). It’s a surprising final note for the anthology, but one that speaks to both the creative variety of Science SARU as well as Visions itself.
If you liked T0-B1, check out: The “Food Chain” episode of Adventure Time is also a great reference point—it’s SARU’s first production, its ever-changing shape used to look at a child learning about the world, and features a lot of animation from Góngora. The 2020 anime Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!! also contains much of the imaginative flights of fancy that T0-B1 has (also, Góngora created those amazing opening credits). While not a SARU production, Kaiba also feels like a clear predecessor to T0-B1.
If you liked Akakiri, check out:The Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong. Two of Masaaki Yuasa’s best series had pivotal episodes directed by Eunyoung Choi—and the mind-bending existential crisis of Akakiri has its roots in her work on such, though they held a much more irreverent tone.
Lop and Ochō – Geno Studio
Directed by: Yuki Igarashi
Best-known for: Golden Kamuy (studio)
Nature and machine have clashed many times in Star Wars—the industrial terror of the Empire famously thwarted by the tribalistic teddy bear Ewoks in Return of the Jedi—and Lop and Ochō is another short in Visions that's interested in that conflict. This short is produced by Geno Studio, an extremely young subsidiary of Twin Engine founded in 2015, perhaps best known for their series adaptation of Golden Kamuy. The director (and character designer) of Lop and Ochō, Yuki Igarashi, who has worked as animation director on the likes of Jujutsu Kaisen and Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!!, is also a newcomer, this being their first work in the director's chair. All of this is no indication of the quality of the work here; Igarishi builds a world that feels just as, if not more, lived-in than any of the other Visions shorts. Perhaps the most exciting pattern of Visions is seeing new people step forward into a leading creative role, and Lop and Ochō is testament to that.
Like The Village Bride, Igarashi ties together environmentalism with its story of rebellion, but this time from the angle of found family. The rabbit-like humanoid Lop (apparently inspired by Jaxxon from the classic Star Wars comics) is found and adopted into a wealthy, almost yakuza-like family, with a new father and a sister named Ochō. Seven years later, a schism has grown between Ochō and the two’s father, the latter bombing Imperial refineries to try and dissuade their occupation, the former joining the Imperials in the name of "progress." While much of the central plot of Star Wars is built around family drama, Lop and Ochō has a unique focus on it, the Empire foundries spoiling crystal clear water as well as the bond of blood as they promise prosperity and redevelopment.
Though the story is set between Episode III and IV, Igarashi and screenwriter Sayawaka present an enticing mix of traditional Star Wars iconography with elements from Japanese period film (complete with straw hats). Stormtroopers are killed by sai knives and giant shuriken, Lop fights with a katana-shaped lightsaber. It looks incredible—every drawing is gorgeous, every action animated with realistic but expressive detail in every moment of character acting, and uses that in service of a story of intense interpersonal drama. Not to mention that, in a welcome subversion of the broken parental relationships and obsession with bloodlines that define the main story, it emphasizes chosen family over bonds of blood.
If you like Lop and Ocho, try:Golden Kamuy. Since Geno Studio is relatively new and this is Igarashi’s first work as director, there’s just not anything else to pull from. But Golden Kamuy, adapted from Satoru Noda’s outstanding manga series, is just as interested in found family and anthropology, focusing in on the Ainu people indigenous to Hokkaido and Russia and depicting a fictionalized history with great respect and detail.