The elite Cosmo Academy attracts applicants from every stellar nation in the galaxy. One young hopeful is Tadatos Lane, an orphan esper from Terra. The final stage of the academy's entrance exam is a perilous mission simulation aboard an actual derelict starship. The applicants depart for the ships in groups of ten, but when Tada's crew arrives on the Esperanza, they are horrified to discover that they now number eleven. As the test progresses, things go awry and the atmosphere grows increasingly tense. The crew members begin to suspect sabotage, and Tada appears to be the likely culprit.
They Were 11 takes place in the far future where the united races of space have constructed an academy that trains the future leaders of the galaxy. Only the creme de la creme even stand a chance at passing the entrance exam. Those that do must face a final test before admission, and that's where this particular work takes us. Ten applicants must survive on a decrepit spaceship for a giving amount of time. Upon arriving, they find their are eleven rather than the prescribed ten.
The concept for this story--as near as I can tell--is one
of the most original I have found coming out of the Sci-Fi-mad 80s (note I speak here of anime originality, as certainly 11--like so many other 80s Sci-Fi works--takes the Lost in Space que as its foundation). And within the story there are enough plot twists to keep anyone from being bored. I have to say, at least one of them seemed just a little too convenient for the story to progress, but it added an interesting dynamic and allowed for a satisfactory conflict. Short of this, I can only say this is one of the best stories I've ever had the privilege to watch in a Sci-Fi anime.
The music and sound effects aren't anything particularly special. I have had a separate opportunity to watch the English dub of 11 (only the sub was released on VHS), and so I'm including it in my review since the DVD is the likely copy you will find. The dub is fair. Fewer awkward moments and statements than many other dubs of 80s anime I have seen. However, I have to fall-back on saying I prefer the Japanese version. This is mostly my own feeling that one or two character's voices aren't fitting (though all the others are a nice match). Also, the American-equivalency of an Osakan accent was, frankly, overdone here. I therefore recommend sticking to the Japanese version.
The artwork for 11 is nice. It's not as pretty or shiny as some other works, but it gets the job done. The character design suits the portrayal of each character. And while the players in this flick do seem to be inspired by stock character types, there's enough interesting back story to give the important characters presence.
My enjoyment of 11 ranks right up there with Space Adventure Cobra and LOGH. I might watch the movie about twice a year on my own, but take any given opportunity to introduce it to an unfamiliar audience. 11 has several qualities that seem to have inspired later anime (such as Infinite Ryvius), so if you're a more recent fan of the Sci-Fi genre, They Were 11 is an absolute NECESSITY to watch. You may call it Lost in Space, but by this point I think we're beyond forcing connections between anime and early live action movies/shows. 11 stands up for itself without having to be supported by inspiration from 60s television. It's a movie you don't want to pass-up.
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In the distant future, warp technology has allowed humanity to explore the vast expanses of space, meeting strange races and populating other planets far away from our humble earth. They Were 11 follows Tada, a man who aspires to join the prestigious Cosmo Academy. As part of the final entrance test, all of the remaining applicants are split into groups of ten and put into actual starships to work together and survive for 53 days without outside assistance.
However, as soon as Tada and his group are safely aboard the starship, they notice something is amiss. There are 11 people aboard.
Who's the odd man out? How did he get there, and what is he after? This is the premise of They Were 11, and I have to admit, that alone compelled me to watch this movie.
For fear of spoilers, I shan't venture too deep into the actual plot, which is definitely the main attraction. Seeing the group, riddled with suspicion and paranoia, make their way through day after day, all while facing different challenges and hardships will keep you on your toes. I wanted to find out who the 11th man was just as much as they did, and that's a sign of solid storytelling. Naturally, there are twists and revelations along the way, as well as a conclusive ending. (Which I suspect could be controversial, but I was more than satisfied.)
Let's talk a little bit about the characters. They're great. A varied bunch of personalities, some of them with alien appearances, customs and physiologies. Some get more time to shine than others do, but with eleven characters and only an hour and a half to work with, that's perfectly understandable. What we do learn about the characters in terms of background helps to not only flesh them out, but also flesh out the setting, as each character's tale lets us learn something about his homeworld, and its struggles and conditions.
Again, I find myself limited as to what I can discuss for fear of spoiling anything. I'll just say this; the movie has a lot of heart. There's a sweet charm to much of the character interaction, and a few humorous moments you wouldn't expect a movie like this to have to be found throughout. I appreciated them a lot; they provided both the characters and the viewers with a little break from the suspense.
While some viewers might be put off by the art-style, I find it delightful. It holds up well, and just looks damn good period. There's a lot of personality in every character design, and the setting is brought to life with nice backgrounds and subdued colors. The animation doesn't hold up quite as well, but it was never to the extent that my enjoyment was hampered at all.
Overall, "They Were 11" tells a unique, suspenseful and well crafted tale of survival and cooperation in dire and uncertain circumstances. It has heart, charm, an interesting setting, and will keep you guessing and smiling. It gets a strong recommendation from me; they rarely make'em like this, either now or back then!
They Were Eleven is a movie with an incredibly interesting premise. Genius candidates from across the galaxy are taking the most important exam of their lives to get into the elite Cosmo Academy. Ten of these candidates are grouped to take the final portion of the exam: survive living on a space station for 45 days. However, once aboard, the candidates realize there are not ten, but eleven members on the ship. With dangerous situations abound including hidden bombs and dangerous viruses, these crew members must work together to survive
and find the culprit.
That sounds absolutely fantastic in summary. Unfortunately, in practice, They Were Eleven is not really about any of that. It is not a traditional thriller nor mystery but more of an exploration of the characters' personalities and motivations to get into Cosmo Academy. The fact that the story originally ran under a shoujo magazine should give you some indication of what to expect in terms of content.
The specific reasons as to why this movie fails as a thriller or mystery title primarily lies in the antagonist. From the title, the movie postulates that our story revolves around an unknown eleventh member on the space station who lurks beneath the surface ready to cause harm...except throughout the movie, it doesn't feel like this person is particularly dangerous.
You'll find that all of the major problems on the space station are caused by outside events, and the mysterious eleventh person comes to play only twice in the movie by hindering the crew from implementing their solutions to these challenges. All of this comes out to make the antagonist a passive figure. In my head, I kept thinking throughout the movie, so what if there's an eleventh member on board, just keep on doing what you're doing, because it's abundantly clear that this eleventh member really isn't actively trying to hurt any of you.
While this eleventh member is eventually revealed with a complete explanation of the backstory, it is here that the story fails as a mystery as well. No real clues are present throughout the story to help you figure out who it is so when the reveal comes it comes as a little bit of a let down. Red herrings are thrown around to make you suspect characters, but that's all they come out to be, red herrings. In addition, deus ex machina is involved in the solution as the reason to why the suspect was able to hide himself and cause problems on the ship is because he is a "telepath" and doesn't need to actually be at the site where accidents and where the people get hurt are.
What is made even more annoying is how the movie throws in your face how dangerous this eleventh person is to the crew. There are constant accusations, arguing, and conflict among the candidates. This part is fun to watch but again let down by the weak resolution.
What the movie excels in is creating strong impressions of the candidates within the time limitations of the film. In particular, the character Frol who has issues with her sex identity warrants a nod. This comes as no shock as the this is supposed to be a shoujo title, and I'm inclined to think that this movie is meant for people who enjoy light romance, strong-willed girls, and a generally more enigmatic rather than scary sci-fi atmosphere.
In the end, I would not recommend watching this movie if you already have a backlog of things to watch. Outside of the strong character work, the story just isn't all that interesting. That being said, I will admit that I had some fun at moments and agree that it's a watchable title if you're in the mood. The animation still holds up relatively well today, and the fact that the story tries something different from the mass-produced magical high school love romcom titles currently airing means that it deserves a moment of consideration before you move on to another anime to evaluate for your viewing pleasure.
One of the problems a series may find itself being bogged down with is having that unique thing which draws people in, and regarding this movie, it has that unique thing. The problem is, I struggled a bit with believing what made this one unique – the premise. In truth, this may be why I’ve yet to see another movie with this premise since this 1980s film. There are only so many ways one can go with said premise, but one is also dealing with some very bizarre extremes.
And while the piece tries to be ahead of its time with characters like Frol, who at
first seems to represent females starting to take on the roles ascribed to men, it’s really not. The reason doesn’t lie with the fact thirty years later we are unable to conceptualize a time of space exploration where women would not be allowed, when so many jobs once thought barred are now open, but the 80s was a much different time.
No, Frol’s character falls flat because of Frol looking down on men to the point of wanting to be male, only to have said character forgo gender choice for the sake of romance because there was no way her love interest would be okay with her being a guy. Yes, there is again the issue of the time period, but Frol’s character constantly knocks down on females instead of building them up as such a character should.
Some of the decisions made by characters didn’t make sense, yet I must admit during this time frame they did for the genre, but were common tropes of the time period. The characters also weren’t very relatable, falling flat and having no real dimensions to them, possibly meaning the movie should have been a series. This said, I’ve got to admit I wouldn’t mind seeing this particular movie get a modern remake with what we know now, but with a more modern understanding on how to construct a story which works.
In other words, the bones and meat of a good story are there, although a bit misshapen at times. And despite the lack of memorable traits for the characters, the film still finds a way of standing out, so why not take it to the next level.