They Were 11 Anime Review
There Are 11 [of Us]!
US Release By
Science Fiction Suspense
In the distant future, humans have colonized many new worlds around the galaxy, and encountered many new races. After years of wars between planetary governments, a peaceful agreement was finally reached, and among its benefits is the exclusive Cosmo Academy, a school where the best of the best among spacefarers are trained. Young, orphaned Tada hopes to be one of the few lucky ones to enter the academy, but the final test will be something he never expected. He and nine other applicants are left on an abandoned space ship to fend for themselves for 53 days, and if they can manage, they pass. These ten expect to have their abilities tested on this ship, but there is one problem... there are eleven of them. Out of contact with their instructors, the applicants must wait out the duration of the test while overcoming the trials that the wrecked ship throws at them and wondering just who the 11th member of their team is... and why he's there.
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They Were 11 is a thoroughly enjoyable old-school sci-fi yarn seasoned with a touch of psychological thriller and the faintest hint of shoujo flair. Don't let its age or shoujo roots turn you off--it has a variety of creative mechanical designs, a collection of interesting, believable characters, and offers an effective blend of suspense, mystery, and classic sci-fi teamwork. The briskly-paced plot kept me wondering what was going to happen next, and the whole production is solidly put together. Add in a capable voice cast and a cool, massive, derelict space ship as the 12th character to round out the picture. The only things to complain about are the occasionally dated visuals, cheap musical score, and the occasional failure of the "best and brightest" characters to properly use their heads.
If you like Star Trek-style science fiction, are a fan of classic anime movies, or just want to try a change of pace from spacewar and mecha, They Were 11 comes highly recommended.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
They Were 11 is a thoroughly enjoyable old-school sci-fi yarn seasoned with a touch of psychological thriller and the faintest hint of shoujo flair.
Don't let the "last man standing" sound of the plot, hyperbole on the box, or shoujo heritage fool you; despite ample opportunity for things going bump in dark hallways, long, overly tense scenes, cheesy heroism, overblown melodrama, and gender-bending romance, They Were 11 sticks to its sci-fi guns. The drama flows naturally from group interplay, and the focus is on people using their wits and technical skills to get themselves out of difficult situations.
The plot moves along at a comfortably brisk clip, never bogging down or rushing through things. The conclusion is a little weak in comparison to the gripping middle stretch, but it is still solid, satisfying, and makes sense. That's a real relief, given the penchant for sci-fi anime of this vintage to go haywire at the end.
The story is tinged with mystery and unease supplied by the palpable uncertainty of the situation and the huge, empty ship that Tada--our hero--has an inexplicable knowledge of. The tension is restrained enough that it doesn't overwhelm the cast, instead gradually building toward the film's climax.
In the interim, there's an appropriate amount of drama and some interesting interplay between a few of the characters (especially the gender-ambiguous Frol). The drama feels believable for a group of people with a variety of personalities stuck on a derelict space ship, doing their best to get the thing running and overcome a series of accidents and minor disasters that befall them. The characters also don't forget that it's just a test, albeit a very important and rather dangerous one.
The cast of characters is a reasonably interesting group; a diverse collection of humans and humanoid aliens, they represent a wide variety of personalities and cultural backgrounds. From the king of a country, to a stoic scaled alien from a world where fate is all-important, to the orphaned village boy the film focuses on, each of the eleven is distinctive and, for the most part, believable. About half of them get most of the attention, but the others aren't ignored--they're just not the sort who tend to take on leadership roles. There's a satisfying sense that everyone is involved in the effort--a couple of points where a straight vote is taken are a nice touch.
Another strength of the characters is that their distinctive cultural backgrounds aren't laid out in an info-dump, but they still reflect on their personalities and are occasionally relevant to the plot. Someone will occasionally explain what their culture is like in answer to a question, which seems quite natural, as do the periodic conflicts of style. Likewise, the camaraderie and hint of (appropriately odd) romance are never cheesy or forced.
I also like that the cast is given time to just talk, and even have a bit of fun. These less-serious moments aren't contrived, so they don't ruin the drama--just enough to keep you believing that these are regular folks who lighten up occasionally.
There's also a 12th character: The ship itself, which serves as both the characters' temporary home and enemy. I personally love stories involving huge, old space ships, and They Were 11 has a marvelous one. A massive derelict, it is eerily empty (although more could have been done with that) and only semi-functional, yet is still a working piece of machinery. Its slightly creepy character is enhanced by the mystery of exactly how the ship came to be abandoned and floating dead in space.
The movie's only significant weaknesses are a few spots where the characters don't seem to act as intelligently as they should, and its age.
Tada, for example, doesn't seem to be as forthcoming with information as you'd expect him to be, and considering that they're supposed to be the best of the best, the group is a little quick to jump to conclusions or avoid the use of a little logic. At least their decisions seem to be backed up (after the fact) by events, and I'm willing to write their hastiness off as inexperience outside of book learning. Most of the science in the fiction works, but there are some questionable things that come up about the whole situation once you've seen the end if you pick at it.
In terms of feeling dated, the issue is mostly visual, but apparently gender equality hasn't fared too well in the distant future--they're downright shocked when one of their number initially appears to be a woman.
Visually, They Were 11 is a product of the mid-'80s, but don't let that turn you off--it isn't nearly as weak as it looks at first. It does suffer from some of the anemic coloring endemic to that era, and the animation is fairly choppy at times, but that's the worst of it. The old-school character designs are the only part of the production where its shoujo roots are visible, but are reasonably good-looking and feature a distinctive, slightly blocky look. The art is decent, and the character animation is surprisingly good in several scenes--Frol's expressive antics, for example. The appropriately dark background art is good as well, and the mechanical designs--entirely within the ship after the opening sequence--are also surprisingly good. Aside from some (not unrealistically) bland rooms, there are plenty of cool locations--the huge, dark engine room overgrown with plants used for wiring (neat imagery), the old-school bridge, and the hulking, boxy exterior.
The acting in Japanese is solid but unremarkable, and while the casting is a little broad (especially some of the minor characters) it is believable enough. Two of the better performances are Hideyuki Tanaka as the King, whose strong but somewhat abrasive personality comes through well, and Akira Kamiya as Tada, who is likable without being goofy. Michiko Kawai's Frol is the only real standout, though--her relatively feminine voice but entirely unfeminine dialect and abrasive attitude feel natural and go well with the juxtaposition of Frol's appearance and personality. Unfortunately, USM's subtitles, though literally accurate, don't effectively capture just how rough Frol's dialogue is--when one character comments that he "swears like a stormtrooper" it's accurate, but doesn't really agree with what you've been reading.
Hirohiko Fukuda's background music is unremarkable. A bit cheap sounding and cheesy on occasion, but at least it doesn't seem out of place (with the exception of one slightly overblown scene at the end). The end theme song is pleasantly generic, and there is another brief vocal piece in the middle that's similar.
They Were 11 has a few small flaws and is a tad dated, but when it comes down to it is thoroughly enjoyable science fiction. The characters are interesting, it offers an effective blend of suspense, mystery, and classic sci-fi teamwork, the briskly-paced plot keeps you guessing, and the whole production is solidly put together. If you like Star Trek-style science fiction, are a fan of classic anime movies, or just want to try a slight change of pace, They Were 11 comes highly recommended.
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Odin immediately comes to mind as a similar movie; it's about the same age, has a similar style, and also features a crew of people stuck on a ship out in space, but it's actually somewhat different in theme and story. The most similar in general theme would probably be Mighty Space Miners, though that series is considerably cuter and more action-oriented than this movie. Planetes is another hard sci-fi series with character-driven drama, but is quite different in mood and theme. More in the horror direction, Lilly CAT and the weird Roots Search have some similarities.
Notes and Trivia
Based on an award-winning, single-volume 1975 manga story of the same title by Moto Hagio. It was released in English by VIZ in the late '90s as four traditional US comic books, which are very difficult to find now. There was also a sequel manga story published from 1976 to 1977.
This movie is not the only adaptation. NHK had previously aired a live-action TV drama in 1977, and in 2004 the theater troupe Axle put on a stage adaptation.
As far as the story goes, the plaque on the statue toward the beginning of the movie is, surprisingly enough, in perfect English, and a rather cool dedication for a space ship. It was also a nice touch that nobody could read it (guess Star Trek was wrong--everybody won't speak English in a few hundred years).
A note on the temperatures: Since they are accurately translated as Celsius, some US viewers might not have a good feel for just how hot it gets. 40 degrees C is 104 Fahrenheit (brutally hot), and the 30-35 degree range that they spend much of the movie at is somewhere around a still-miserable 90 degrees F.
I love to pick apart the science part of science fiction movies, and although this one is solid enough by sci-fi standards, it does have a few subtle but significant flaws. For one thing, in the scenes without gravity in the intro, it's a bit too easy for the characters to get around; it's good that they're shown pushing off of things to get moving, and drifting down hallways is realistic, but it wouldn't be nearly that easy to stop yourself (for example, to get in the elevator). Similarly, when going up the elevator they would have been able to stand, but as it slowed and stopped, they would be slammed into the ceiling. (Unless one assumes that the elevator has its own gravity system to allow it to start and stop rapidly, in which case it still doesn't make sense that they were floating.)
Some of the orbital stuff is also questionable (this is a bit of a spoiler--skip if you haven't seen it yet). It probably wouldn't be that easy to drift out of orbit of a planet (even one that small) on account of a couple of explosions, and even if the major explosion was big enough to turn them around, it certainly wouldn't have put them back into orbit, and it also wouldn't have caused the ship to cool that quickly (since the cooling system wasn't working at that point). It would have made more sense had they just been stuck in a slower orbit so they would be on the bright side of the planet for too long. On the same topic, they also looked too close to the planet to be in a 52-day orbit, though it could be possible if the planet were very small.
By the way (this is definitely a spoiler), although it sounds questionable at first, the virus thing more or less makes sense. It wouldn't have re-emerged on the ship since the accident, since the ship's orbit was (apparently) short/low enough that the temperature wouldn't have gotten that high unless something changed--the orbital shift due to the explosions. That's backed up by what they're told at the very end (that the virus wasn't expected).
US DVD Review
USM's DVD has two things going for it: It exists (pleasing for a less-known older movie like this) and after a re-release it was priced very attractively. Otherwise, it's functional but little more. It includes a slightly harsh-sounding Japanese stereo soundtrack and slightly better stereo English track, and a passable but somewhat soft-looking video transfer. The movie wasn't widescreen to begin with, so neither is the DVD, but the video is also unfortunately interlaced. The timing on the subtitles is a tad off, and while the translation isn't bad it takes some slight liberties. Since they apparently used the dub master, the credits only cover the English actors, but at least the song subtitles aren't hardcoded and the Japanese cast is listed on the package. Extras are limited to a short image gallery set to music and USM's trailers.
Very brief nudity, some violence, and a lot of emotional conflict justify USM's 13-up rating.
Violence: 2 - Not much overt violence, but some strong content in flashbacks.
Nudity: 2 - One very brief shot from behind in a shower scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Some unusual themes, but little more than implied romance.
Language: 1 - Relatively mild, more so than it should have been were the subtitles completely accurate.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Tada (Tadatos Lane): Akira Kamiya
Frol (Frolbericheri Frol): Michiko Kawai
King (King Mayan Baceska): Hideyuki Tanaka
Fourth (Doricas Soldam, IV): Toshio Furukawa
Ganga (Ganigas Gagtos): Tetsuaki Genda
Amazon (Amazon Carnals): Hirotaka Suzuki
Knu (Vidmenir Knume): Noriaki Wakamoto
Thickhead (Glenn Groff): Michiro Ikemizu
Rednose (Dolph Tasta): Kozo Shioya
Toto (Toto Ni): Tarako
Chako (Chako Kacka): Tsutomu Kashiwakura
Original Story and Characters: Moto Hagio (based on manga)
Producer: Minoru Kotoku
Directors: Tetsu Dezaki, Tsuneo Tominaga
Script: Toshiaki Imaizumi, Katsumi Koide
Character Design: Akio Sugino, Keizo Shimizu
Animation Director: Keizo Shimizu
Art Director: Junichi Azuma
Director of Photography: Nobuo Koyama
Music Director: Dan Oikawa
Most recently available in the US on a budget-priced bilingual DVD from the late US Manga Corps. There were two versions, the first release and a price-reduced re-release. Prior to that, USM had a subtitled VHS version way back in 1991, and a dubbed VHS version a little later, both of which remained in print for quite a while.
Amazon had plenty of new and used copies listed at reasonable prices at last check: They Were Eleven