I would like to start off this post to a big shout out to The Anime Nostalgia Podcast and the host Dawn for talking about this manga adaptation a couple episodes ago on their podcast. I doubt that Dawn will ever see this post, but she does a lot of great episodes about anime from yester year and what the anime community was like back in the day which are surprisingly powerful. This review is a result of their podcast getting me interested in seeing more nostalgic things. What is it that caught my attention with this one? A shoujo in space which isn’t that common in science fiction anime honestly. I knew I had to check it out myself because of this rare occurrence and so I did. Thank you so much for your hard work, Dawn! It’s always appreciated!
Far into the future after humanity has discovered faster then light travel, we explored and spread out our domains to the stars. On this journey, humanity has discovered a lot of planets and a lot of races. Some of them friendly and others that wanted to go to war. So galactic war happened leading to eventual peace all over the galaxy. With peace comes the elite Cosmo Academy that people from all races all across the galaxies are invited to. Yes, it’s very open ended in that sort of way. If and only if, the candidates in question passed all the difficult tests that the Cosmo Academy gave them. It’s an elite academy for a reason after all.
That leads to the beginning of this anime. Tada, a terran, has passed all of Cosmo Academies tests except for the last one. A test where he and nine other males are assigned to survive in a desolate ship for 63 days and that’s it. What ship they go to, what happens to that ship, who their crew members are, and who knows what else are beyond their control. Just survive in the ship and that’s all. The first major happens the second the crew makes their way on board the ship called the Esperenza. Why are there eleven people instead of ten? Something fishy is going on here. It’s from that situation that things get worse because it would be a boring movie if that was all that happened.
As the crew traveled through out outer space, the Esperanza slowly got caught in the orbit around the dying star. The ship only got warmer and warmer as they got closer and closer to the start. So what happens when a ship or anything in general gets warm in the face of horror? Usually, the first thing involves a deadly disease which will completely wipe out the crew if they don’t figure themselves out. As a result of the heat and the disease, the crew starts pointing fingers at each other and eventually finds a person to blame for all the trouble that is going on. Considering that there is one more person then expected in this crew, that’s easy to do. Unfortunately, that person who gets the finger pointed at is our Tada. WILL THE CREW SURVIVE? Maybe…
Tada is the main character of They Were Eleven because we follow him from the beginning, but he’s also just the framing device for all the conflict on the ship to provide more context into the situation. How does that happen? Because in Tada’s backstory of when he was four years old when he was on the Esperanza. Him slowly remembering the tragedy of that ship’s past is the context we need for this tragedy in motion for They Were Eleven. That’s the reason why he’s unaffected by the growing disease forming from the ship and also the reason why he seemingly knows all the functions and the locations of things on the ship itself. You know, besides finding themselves in the orbit of a star that is slowly killing them all. Those two things connect together very well. Because of all his understandings and immunities, I would peg him for the eleventh person too if I was apart of this ships cast. Then they would be twelve….hmmm….
I suppose there is the other members of the cast to talk about too and unfortunately there isn’t enough time for the film to explore all of them in it’s 90 minute run time. But there is enough time to at least get a semblance of their personalities and that’s workable. For instance, we have King who is up for royalty in his family and takes leadership over the group on the ship even if he’s doing the test for fun. Red Nose is a guy with a red nose who is scared, there is a lizard person who talks in wise phrases, and a lot of different people who joined for their own reasons.
The secondary character who gets the most development is Frol. A non gendered person whose culture respects men who gets all they want and women get married to men in droves. Frol wants to beat this test to become a male instead of getting married away to someone she doesn’t know. Beating this test will prove that Frol can be a male. Because of that aspect, Frol spends a lot of time comparing themselves to Tada. How long their arms arm, the softness of their hands, and other things. It’s kind of awkward and a little forced, but those are within Frol’s character because they are awkward. And yes, a little bit of a romance forms between Frol and Tada too in some ways. Another complicated thing that adds some intrigue even if how Frol is treated is very out dated. This film is from the 1980’s so you can’t have everything unfortunately. I really do like Frol though. They are a fantastic character.
They Were Eleven is an adaptation of a 1970’s shoujo space manga which means all the character designs and technological aspects in the film produced in the 1980’s which means all the mechanical design, from the space suits to the computers, to the character designs are pretty retro. I would say that most of the character designs are 1970’s bishonen with Frol being the most interesting character there despite the walking space lizard. I don’t think I really need to say this, but I love those art design decisions. How space aspects was drawn back then with all such of colors and innovative designs, even if inaccurate now, was always great to me.
Which leads to the animation. I love how everything moves in this film. There was a lot of effort put into how people walk, how the space suits move while in space, and the ship’s movement in space from when it’s captured by the star’s gravity and other things. Plus, the small interactions with characters and the Esperanza’s technology is wonderful meticulous and realistic somehow. There are so many instances of this happening which really adds to experience of watching They Were Eleven. It’s obvious that the crew spent a lot of time mapping out the ship’s corridors and all of it’s functions. So much effort and coolness. There are some questionably animated moments, but it doesn’t hurt the rest of the experience.
Once again not a surprise for anyone, but I can’t help but like this movie. It’s a simple ninety minute story with a lot of characters in a simple chaotic situation, but it’s really engaging and well directed. I wish They Were Eleven got attention then being a movie that only a few people remember. Maybe it didn’t break the mold enough to stand out? I mean this film has to be out of print even in Japan for a reason, right? That just doesn’t happen out of nowhere. For a nintey minute film, They Were Eleven is almost perfect in the story, execution, art, and animation with enough character to make it an engaging experience. Going to give They Were Eleven a solid rating here. This’ll be the first of maybe only a few times where I will say go out and pirate it. There is literally no other way to watch They Were Eleven otherwise which means you won’t hurt the anime industry in anyway for that reason. I watched it on youtube myself…