George Lucas cribbed directly from classic films like Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. But in recent years, anime has penetrated this galaxy far, far away. From Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars cartoon to The Last Jedi and The Mandalorian, the influence of Japanese animation is evident.
In recent years, however, anime has found itself ingrained in the franchise far, far away, from Genndy Tartakovsky's animated miniseries to The Last Jedi and The Mandalorian. Star Wars: Visions finally brings that influence full circle.
The new Star Wars anthology on Disney+ gives seven of the best anime studios around a chance to play in Lucasfilm’s sandbox with pretty much no rules or restrictions — aside from keeping things kid-friendly. And for many, this may be a first introduction to the world of anime.
If you’re looking for something else to watch based on your favorite episode of Star Wars: Visions, well, look no further. Here’s your guide to the anime studios behind each new story and what to watch next.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 1, “The Duel”
A mysterious wandering stranger steps up to defend a village besieged by a group of ragged bandits led by a deadly Sith. In taking them on, he reveals a stunning truth about the nature of his past.
Studio: Kamikaze Douga
Kamikaze Douga is the newest of the seven studios working on the show, but despite a shorter resume, it’s still managed to make a big imprint in the mind of anime fans, having worked on the openings for Jojo's Bizarre Adventure as well as Batman Ninja. Its focus is on using 3D CG as a tool to approach the style shading of cel animation. It’s mostly worked on anime openings, commercials and game cinematics like Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth.
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure (Netflix)
One of the most colorful, outrageous, and iconic anime ever made, this show has become as synonymous with anime as Akira or Naruto. Describing Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is almost as hard as describing its cultural outreach, but know it is a multigenerational, globetrotting adventure that is always reinventing itself, with each season following a different member of the superhuman Joestar family and their supernatural adventures against the entity known as Dio.
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure features a unique and instantly recognizable art style that inspired an exhibit at the Louvre. It also boasts an ‘80s inspired soundtrack full of bangers and an endless supply of memes and references that continue to make this long-running anime relevant and exciting for fans.
Batman Ninja (HBO Max)
Before Kamikaze Douga took the iconography and stories of the galaxy far far away and adapted it to Japanese sensitivities and history, the studio brought the Caped Crusader on a time-traveling adventure to the Sengoku period in Japan in the anime Batman Ninja. If you need to scratch a samurai itch after the thrilling action scenes and myth-making of "The Duel," this may be a good alternative. The movie is pure action spectacle, giving fans a side of The Dark Knight they've never seen before.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 2, “Tatooine Rhapsody”
A scrappy band with big dreams must rally to save one of their beloved bandmates from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett.
Studio Colorido was only established in 2011 but has quickly made a name for itself as a studio with a diverse and notable production output, particularly in film, making everything from fantasy movies to traditional dramas. It’s also worked with the Pokémon Company on several shorts in the past two years.
A Whisker Away (Netflix)
Though it doesn't have the rock bangers "Tatooine Rhapsody," A Whisker Away is a great entry into the works of Studio Colorido. The film follows a middle schooler who was abandoned by her mother as a young girl. One day, she buys a magical noh mask from a mysterious seller and finds herself transformed into a cat.
Pokémon: Twilight Wings (YouTube)
Officially released on The Pokémon Company’s YouTube page, this mini-series was made to celebrate the release of the Pokémon Sword and Shield games. It showcases Studio Colorido's ability to handle big animated spectacle, especially when it comes to huge Pokémon battles at sold-out stadiums. If you ever wanted to see Pokémon fight like actual warriors, this is the anime for you.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 3, “The Twins”
A secret set of twin clones born into the Dark Side clash on board a massive Star Destroyer when one steals a powerful weapon. During their epic battle, they will make choices that will forever alter their destinies.
Tigger is of the most exciting studios working today. It’s also one with a long history that includes some of the best anime of the past few decades.
The studio was founded by former Gainax employees following the success of Gurren Lagann, using that show's visual style and sense of humor to define their output. It’s also one of the best studios in terms of communicating with the fans, starting a Patreon and sharing behind-the-scenes material all throughout production.
Promare (HBO Max)
Sharing a similar technicolor aesthetic with over-the-stop designs and a lot of attitude — as well as incredibly similar-looking protagonists to the point that the producers themselves acknowledged it — Promare is one of the most bombastic, thrilling, over-the-top, nonsensical, awe-inspiring anime movies in years.
It takes place in a future where a portion of humanity has evolved into mutants that spontaneously combust and can manipulate fire (sort of like the X-Men). We follow a member of a special superpowered police that fights fire with fire that uncovers a huge conspiracy. The film features gorgeous animation, a roller-coaster of action and emotion, and a soundtrack full of bangers. Since Promare director Hiroyuki Imaishi also directed "The Twins," this is the perfect movie to watch if you liked that episode.
Gurren Lagann (Netflix)
Though technically not a Trigger anime, Gurren Lagann was made by most of the same staff back when they were part of Studio Gainax, and its success directly led to the foundation of Trigger. It’s also the directorial debut of Hiroyuki Imaishi, and its DNA can be seen all over "The Twins."
Gurren Lagann takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity lives in underground burrows. One day, a young boy named Simon discovers a tiny drill that powers up a mecha head. With the help of Kamino (one of the greatest anime characters even), they escape to the surface where he'll lead the fight against all kinds of monsters and intergalactic enemies. If the sheer spectacle and action of "The Twins" has you in the mood for more energetic sci-fi action, Gurren Lagann is the show for you.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 4, “The Village Bride”
A Jedi on the run is summoned by an old ally to observe the strange and beautiful customs of a remote village on the eve of a wedding. The Jedi must make a choice when she discovers their peace is threatened by a local warlord.
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Created by former employees of both Production I.G (more on them later) and Bones, Kinema Citrus was founded in 2008 and quickly made a name for itself with Eureka Seven and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, but it wasn't until its adaptation of Made in Abyss that the studio achieved wide success with fans. Kinema Citrus’ signature blend of innocent character designs with dark plots has made it one of the most exciting studios working today.
Made in Abyss (Amazon Prime)
This fantasy anime follows a young girl named Riko who lives in a town bordering a massive hole in the ground that gives the show its title. The abyss is a cavernous system full of the remains of past civilizations that treasure hunters from all over the world come to in spite of the many, many dangers that reside in the hole. Riko decides to embark on a quest to find her missing mother and, together with her robot friend Reg, she faces unspeakable horrors.
Don't let the cute aesthetic fool you, this show gets dark and emotionally devastating, not in small part thanks to the hauntingly beautiful score by Kevin Penkin, who also composes the music for "The Village Bride."
One of the best isekai in many years, this show follows the tropes of the genre: a young man is summoned from our world into a fantasy land where he will become a great hero. But The Rising of the Shield Hero is so much more, in part thanks to its unlikely protagonist, who only wields a shield and primarily acts as support for the actual heroes.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 5, “The Ninth Jedi”
The daughter of a legendary lightsaber-smith is pursued by dark forces as she travels across harsh terrain with a very important delivery: newly crafted lightsabers meant for a rag-tag group of warriors claiming to be Jedi.
Studio: Production I.G
Production I.G has its fingers in some of the most influential anime shows and films of the past three decades. The studio is also the only one on this list with a history of working with Lucasfilm, having contributed character designs to an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Encapsulating three decades' of anime into just a couple of recommendations is not easy, but here are some of the projects you should check out to understand why Production I.G is a perfect choice to tackle Star Wars.
Ghost in the Shell (Tubi)
A seminal work of cyberpunk, Ghost in the Shell needs no introduction. Mamoru Oshii's groundbreaking drama looks like no other anime either then or since, introducing a fully fleshed-out world where computers and machines have become so common that the meaning of being human becomes blurred. We follow a cyborg on the brink of an existential crisis while pursuing an elusive hacker who can control people's consciousnesses. The film features stunning animation and background art, but it also introduces complex philosophical ideas about humanity and identity. If you haven't already, check out the sequel TV series, Stand Alone Complex.
This show is sort of like Game of Thrones in space, but that's only part of it. Based on a series of sci-fi novels, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a remake of a legendary anime from the '80s that tells the story of two great military leaders on opposite ends of a huge interstellar conflict, one fighting for the monarchic Galactic Empire and the other a citizen of the democratic Free Planets Alliance. Both sides have been engaged in a centuries-long war, and there seems to be no end in sight.
What makes the show special is the incredible nuance given to characters on either side of the conflict. Despite being democratic, the Alliance is quickly revealed to be corrupt to its core, while the Empire's lack of individual freedom can give way to swift and benevolent progress in the hands of the right ruler. The show also places a lot of importance on the small minutiae of military strategy and chess games between commanders, with gargantuan spaceship battles with millions of soldiers, while giving enough time and focus to each of its hundreds of characters to make its world feel lived in. The result is one of the most complex and rewarding anime-viewing experiences ever created.
The End of Evangelion (Netflix)
Co-produced with Gainax, Evangelion is one of the most iconic anime franchises of all time, and End of Evangelion is one of the most controversial movies of the past few decades. Meant as a retcon of the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the movie tells the story of Shinji Ikari, a 14-year-old boy who pilots a giant organic robot called an EVA, and who accidentally triggers an apocalyptic event known as the Third Impact.
The movie proved controversial even before it was greenlit, as its creator Hideaki Anno faced death threats over the way he ended the Evangelion TV show. End of Evangelion is a direct response to that, holding a mirror to the audience and literally interjecting live-action shots to the anime movie to ask the audience whether it was all worth it. But even without the metatext, the movie features some of the best action ever animated for the big screen, an incredible soundtrack, and an ending that is still being copied today.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 6, “T0-B1”
A cybernetic boy who dreams to one day become a heroic Jedi discovers a secret about his creator’s past that threatens their once-peaceful existence.
Studio: Science SARU
The first thing to know about Science SARU is that no two anime it makes look alike. Founded by Animator Masaaki Yuasa and producer Eunyoung Choi, Science SARU never stops experimenting with different animation styles and techniques, being one of the only Japanese studios to use Flash animation. Whether it's an adaptation of Go Nagai's brutal, hyper-violent and hyper-sexual Devilman, a collaboration with Adventure Time, or an anime about table tennis, there is something for everyone at Science SARU.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (HBO Max)
One of the biggest surprises of the past few years, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a true love letter to the medium of animation, and to those who brave the difficulties and dedicate their lives to it. The show follows a group of high schoolers to form their own anime club at school with the purpose of making their own short films, and all the difficulties that come with it, both creative, practical, and even economical.
Eizouken references everything from Akira and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure to Hayao Miyazaki and his relatively obscure directorial debut Future Boy Conan. Masaaki Yuasa experiments with the animation, paying homage to wildly different styles and techniques that may seem a bit disjointed at first but results in a show like no other. It also features the best opening theme of 2020.
Astro Boy (Prime Video)
Though not made by Science Saru, Astro Boy is a clear influence on "T0-B1," and is credited as being the first anime series ever. The show has a simple premise: a grief-stricken scientist builds a young boy android with human emotions to cope with the death of his own son. The boy becomes a hero who fights against all kinds of villains.
Only the '80s reboot is available on streaming, but it’s still a fascinating show that started many of the tropes of the medium, including popularizing the big eyes, high-stakes drama and use of limited animation that would become staples of anime. Though a show aimed at kids, Astro Boy doesn't shy away from darker subjects and themes.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 7, “The Elder”
A pacifist Jedi and his restless Padawan pursue a dark presence to a small village on an outer rim planet. The Jedi and the Padawan uncover a terrifying truth and must face down an old man who is far more powerful than either imagined.
We’ve covered this studio already, but we’ve still got more streaming recs for this anime powerhouse.
SSSS. Gridman (Funimation)
A new spin on the relatively little-known Tokusatsu series Gridman the Hyper-Agent, this show follows an amnesiac high-schooler and two classmates as they find their town under constant attacks from giant kaiju that no one else seems to remember. Together with the spirit of the hero known as Gridman (think Ultraman), the kids will solve the mystery of where the kaiju come from, and fight monster after monster.
The show is a love letter to the Tokusatsu genre, featuring fantastic and air fist-bumping fights while also offering a poignant exploration of trauma. The spiritual successor, SSSS. Dynazenon ups the ante with what is essentially an anime version of Power Rangers, together with giant combining robots that form a Megazord-type mecha, teenagers with attitude, and more.
Kill la Kill (Netflix)
Trigger's first proper anime, and a show built on absurdity and a desire for pure entertainment. Kill la Kill takes place in a world ruled with an iron first by the student council of a high school, where your social and economic status depends on the clothes you wear, which have different powers. We follow a young girl fighting her way up the social ladder. The show is self-referential, with metatext that comments on anime tropes while offering kinetic action and broad, slapstick humor that makes this a crowd-pleaser.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 8, Lop & Ocho
A powerful patriarch clashes with his eldest daughter about confronting the encroaching Empire. An adopted little sister who is caught in the middle must choose sides.
Studio: Geno Studio
The newest of the studios invited to Star Wars: Visions, Geno was only founded in 2015, but it has quickly found a place among anime fans by adapting fan-favorite manga. Its work often employing vibrant visual styles and kinetic action that pairs well with the galaxy far, far away.
Golden Kamuy (Funimation and Crunchyroll)
Taking place after the Russo-Japanese War at the turn of the 20th century, we follow a young Japanese soldier on the hunt for a hidden fortune. The show's true heart lies with its exploration of the Ainu people of Japan and how the country is leaving them behind as it moves into the 20th century. Anime doesn't have the best tracking record when it comes to representing minorities, so Golden Kamuy is a special show that has proven popular enough that it's still going after four seasons.
The Animatrix (HBO Max)
What better way to prepare for Visions than by revisiting the anime spin-off of a sci-fi movie that started it all? In-between the two Matrix sequels, the Wachowski sisters invited a group of anime artists to completely reimagine the mythos, imagery, and world of The Matrix with nine anime shorts featuring wildly different styles. There's the canonical origin of the Matrix itself, a story of a track-runner breaking the simulation due to an injury, a neo-noir story, and more, animated by the likes of Mahiro Maeda, Cowboy Bebop's creator Shinichiro Watanabe, Redline director Takeshi Koike, and more.
Star Wars: Visions Episode 9, “Akakiri “
A Jedi returns to his old forbidden love to help defend her kingdom from a Sith-like Shogun. Plagued by haunting visions, the Jedi learns his destiny might not be what he thought it was.
Studio: Science SARU
Devilman Crybaby (Netflix)
This is the show that put Netflix on the map as a producer of anime, and threw Masaaki Yuasa into the mainstream, with a hyper-violent and hyper-sexual remake of Devilman. The story follows a teenage boy named Akira who is possessed by a demon after his friend convinces him it’s the only way to save humanity from the brink of destruction. While he now has the power of demons, Akira still has the soul of a human, and his war against evil will engulf the world in hate and violence, blurring the line between human and demon.
Yuasa expands the anti-war messages of the original manga and transforms it into an exploration of bigotry and paranoia, resulting in one hell of a nihilistic show about the end of the world, with gnarly yet visually striking violence, and one of the best and most pumping soundtracks fo the decade. Since Akakiri is all about the Sith, Devilman Crybaby is the perfect mood-setter for the angsty allure of the Dark Side of the Force.
Japan Sinks: 2020 (Netflix)
Continuing the trend of edgy and nihilistic shows, Japan Sinks: 2020 is a fascinating, thrilling, yet absolutely painful story of what happens when a major earthquake devastates Japan and causes it to start sinking. We follow a family as they endure loss after loss in their attempt to survive, with moments of joy being immediately followed by devastating, realistically gruesome moments of despair, violence, and death.
Still, the show isn't without its light moments, successfully injecting humor into the tragedy. The result is in an emotional rollercoaster with poignant commentary about Japanese xenophobia wrapped into a gripping disaster story.