It’s no secret that when George Lucas first imagined the Star Wars saga in the 1970s, he was inspired by noted Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, whose films centered around the samurai, warriors with a code of behaviour, and of the ronin or masterless samurai. Kurosawa’s 1958 classic, The Hidden Fortress, has been credited as influencing the sci-fi fantasy saga, so it’s no surprise that when it came time to pay homage to the franchise in an animated series, the producers looked East and drew inspiration from anime.
“We’re all really big fans of anime. It’s something that’s really influenced a lot of us and I don’t think it’s a secret. You kind of see it in a lot of the work that’s been done at Lucasfilm. The whole point of creating the Visions framework was to allow a framework for this type of fun celebratory storytelling to exist alongside any of our animation that’s tried and true,” explained Star Wars: Visions’ executive producer James Waugh in a roundtable interview with Geek Culture.
Featuring work from seven prominent Japanese studios, each episode, from the likes of Kamikaze Douga of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fame, and Production I.G of Ghost in the Shell, explores various elements of Star Wars lore and features a prominent cast of voice talents, including Temuera Morrison, Shelby Young, and George Takei, and Simu Liu, Lucy Liu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Neil Patrick Harris, Karen Fukuhara, Henry Golding and more.
In other words, this is not just an animated series – it’s Star Wars’ first anthology anime series.
While the franchise has seen considerable hits from the likes of Star Wars: Rebels, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the latest The Bad Batch, a universe as diverse as Star Wars makes for interesting side projects that show how other creators see the property and put their own spin on it.
And while many live-action franchises have been exploring animation as a new format to expand their reach and fanbase, including Marvel Studios with their latest What If…? series and Universal’s Fast and Furious: Spy Racers, Star Wars have been in the game for far much longer.
“Doing anthology shorts isn’t something we’ve done before and we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do it if it wasn’t for Disney+,” noted Waugh.
Anime, whilst an extremely popular style of animation in the East, is an entirely new concept to mainstream Western audiences so spearheading the project in bringing the Eastern flavour to Star Wars is producer Kanako Shirasaki.
Having co-produced Netflix’s Eden anime series at the earlier part of the year, Shirasaki is no stranger to bringing parts of her Japanese culture to mainstream media. With Visions, she is given an even bigger opportunity to explore how to seamlessly combine both cultures and worlds together, especially with such a diverse team on her back.
“You can see lots of different cultural aspects. One director is Japanese and one director, Eunyoung Choi, is Korean so these are their interpretations of Japanese culture, their backgrounds are all different,” shared Shirasaki in the same roundtable interview with Geek Culture.
“So you see something like The Duel, it’s a very Kurosawa film aesthetic samurai meets Star Wars short, and then other episodes like Akakiri is Eunyong Choi’s take on Japanese cinema, animation and Star Wars. Abel Góngora, he’s a Spanish director, making Japanese anime in Japan so you see a lot of different perspectives and I hope everyone enjoys that variety.”
Waugh adds, “We wanted to really select a diverse group of studios that show all the breadth of what was going on in anime as a medium. We selected these studios from a place of love because we really are fans of a lot of their work, but also the fact that they all did something a little differently. Different studios told quieter stories or more heartfelt stories or more romantic stories, and some are just bombastic action, and nobody does that better and, and we wanted all of it.”
In total, seven studios were involved in the making of Visions and the brief given by Waugh and Shirasaki was simple – celebrate and explore.
“So we approached Visions from a place that was very celebratory and very much was a framework to allow creators to explore all the elements of the galaxy, they love and tell their stories in their medium,” shared Waugh.
“What we did say in our initial brief, if I remember, was that we’re not really looking for deep lore stories that we’re trying to tell the origin of a specific character or tell a defining story about a known character. We wanted to hear original storytelling, and we wanted to hear what they could do if all bets were off, and they could just use whatever elements from Star Wars they wanted.”
Debuting on 22 September, Star Wars: Visions is an official Disney product, but the series is unlikely to be considered an official part of Star Wars canon, though Waugh hopes that Visions would find a way to creep into the hearts of the fandom and hopefully find an entrance into canon one day.
“Star Wars ultimately has the potential of expanding and finding itself in continued storytelling elsewhere. Could these stories, these characters, find themselves in future Star Wars live-action or ongoing anime animation? I mean, it’s very early,” said Waugh.
“I think that’s the beauty of Star Wars. When things become part of the tapestry, and the fandom loves them, other creators usually like to find ways to honour that fandom and find ways to bring elements of those things into the core storytelling, so only time will tell.”
Catch Star Wars: Visions on Disney+.