What would any good sitcom be without a spin-off series or two? I Love Lucy had The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Mary Tyler Moore Show had Lou Grant, Rhoda, and Phyllis, Full House had Fuller House, Roseanne has The Conners, and so on. It’s only right that Marvel’s WandaVision, a quirky twist on classic sitcoms with macabre undertones, should live on through a spin-off focused on a fan-favorite supporting character, seeing as everybody behind-the-scenes seems pretty adamant that the original series won’t and was never planned to get a second season.
And it would be hard to name a WandaVision character more deserving of their own spin-off series than “Agnes”, a.k.a. immortal evil sorceress Agatha Harkness. Wanda herself is already going to be a major part of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, and it’s high time she got her own movie anyway; White Vision might return in Armor Wars, and he’s frankly not interesting enough to carry his own series; Monica Rambeau will co-star in The Marvels and she’ll probably be in Secret Invasion. But until today, Marvel’s future plans for Agatha Harkness were rather unclear.
Now, Variety and other Hollywood trades are reporting that Kathryn Hahn will return to reprise the role in a Disney+ series. WandaVision head writer Jac Schaeffer will write and executive produce the series, which is being tentatively described as a “dark comedy” – befitting of Hahn’s high camp performance, and the character’s flair for extravagance. What’s more, Hahn has finalized a deal to appear in other MCU movies and series’ as Agatha Harkness. Although there’s no word on where and when exactly that would happen, the decision to give her a spin-off series suggests that Agatha will play a pivotal role going forward.
The main question on everyone’s minds is whether the spin-off will be set before or after the events of WandaVision. A historical prequel could help fill in the gaps in our knowledge regarding Agatha Harkness’ long and presumably eventful backstory, and would be a perfect opportunity to introduce more characters from the mystic side of Marvel Comics. The one flashback to Agatha’s dark past in WandaVision could be the show’s starting-point – on the run from Salem in 1693 after massacring her entire coven of witches in her quest to accumulate more power, we could see her form the community of New Salem in modern-day Colorado as a haven for other maverick sorcerers like her.
Alternatively, the series could take place after WandaVision. Agatha Harkness failed in her attempt to steal Wanda’s chaos magic, and Wanda trapped her in Westview, laying a curse on her so that Agatha alone of all the town’s residents is still stuck in a sitcom-inspired fantasy, being remotely brainwashed by Wanda to think and act like the 1950’s-era comedic relief character she first pretended to be. That being said, we know that the curse isn’t foolproof – Vision realized that he was living in a simulation, and a witch of Agatha’s power and prestige shouldn’t take too long to figure it out either.
Personally, I think it will be a bit of both. Trapped in Westview all by herself (Agatha All Alone?) but painfully self-aware, Agatha will have plenty of time to reminisce on better days, allowing us to transition seamlessly into flashbacks before the series becomes too much like a rip-off of WandaVision‘s unique premise. By the end of the series, something – or someone – from her past will pop up in Westview, giving Agatha the means to escape. What happens then is anyone’s guess, but personally I think the sorceress would make a great fit with whatever team of Dark Avengers or Thunderbolts is being assembled by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, as the evil version of Scarlet Witch that Agatha so desperately wants to be.
There’s also a Fantastic Four connection in Agatha Harkness’ comics history that can’t be ignored, given that the superhero team will be entering the MCU soon(ish). Agatha was employed by Reed Richards and Sue Storm to be a nanny for their son Franklin, a decision which went about as well as you’d expect. Long story short, the Fantastic Four persuade her to help them out on multiple occasions, usually when Franklin’s reality-warping powers are involved. She never stops being an antihero, but her desire to meld Franklin into a more powerful hero gives her an accidental emotional conflict that could be very interesting onscreen.
And of course, the Fantastic Four are still in Agatha’s near-but-not-quite-near-enough-to-worry-about-yet future. For the moment, she’s still bad to the bone, and that’s the Agatha Harkness we all want to see front and center in her spin-off series. Leaving aside Loki, because Loki has always been more of a trickster and a con-man than a straight-up villain, Agatha will be the first Marvel villain to star in a solo property, and I hope she’s not instantly redeemed because Disney needs her to be a lead now.
Before I finish, there’s one more thing we need to talk about – Mephisto. Now I know that all our theories about him were disproven in the WandaVision finale, but that’s because ultimately Mephisto had no place in Wanda’s story, and that made sense. An Agatha show, on the other hand, ought to have plenty of space to organically introduce the character without overshadowing anyone else, and with a really good veteran comedic actor in the role he’d be an excellent foil for Kathryn Hahn’s wicked sass and dark humor.
So what’s your reaction to this news, and which characters and actors do you want to fill out the cast alongside Hahn? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Marvel Studios has churned out three live-action series’ for Disney+ this year, and it didn’t take them long to match or frequently surpass the quality of many of their movies. What If…?, on the other hand, has had scattered moments and two full episodes that I’d rank right up there alongside the best of WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, and Loki, but if this series is going to be a multi-season commitment for Marvel’s fledgling animation department (and it’s intended to be), then it’s going to need a little more work.
Leaving aside the fact that some episodes could be better described as mashups of two or more Marvel movies than actual “what if…?” scenarios, or the occasionally awkward facial animations and voice acting, What If…?‘s most consistent issue is that almost every episode is trying to squeeze an entire movie’s worth of plot and character development into the span of about twenty-five minutes, a good amount of which is often credits. This problem doesn’t necessarily have to be solved by making every episode forty to fifty minutes long, either. More focused writing would do wonders for What If…?.
For instance, this season finale didn’t need to be almost entirely an action sequence pitting the newly-formed “Guardians of the Multiverse” against Ultron (voiced by Ross Marquand), for several reasons. Firstly and probably most importantly, because it’s largely pointless. The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright)’s plan to defeat Ultron doesn’t actually rely on fighting him for a prolonged period of time, so this sequence feels like a waste of screentime that could have been better spent formulating a more efficient plan; perhaps one that would have given The Watcher something to do in this episode after how active he was last week.
And the longer this pointless sequence drags on, the more it robs Ultron of all the fear and awe he commanded in last week’s episode. Wielding all six Infinity Stones and possessed of reflexes and mental capacities beyond human comprehension, Ultron was capable of devouring entire galaxies last week – the only opponent who should logically stand a chance against him in battle for very long, out of this line-up at least, is Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch). I love seeing underdog characters use their unique skills to bring down an enemy twice their size, like when Star-Lord (Chadwick Boseman) gracefully snatches an Infinity Stone from Ultron’s collection using his “sticky fingers” technique, but Ultron is already depowered even before that, and it makes the whole battle less interesting.
The stakes are also surprisingly low for a series that’s so far been almost sadistic when it comes to killing off our favorite characters. For a moment, I hoped that Party Thor (Chris Hemsworth) at least would get to go out in a blaze of glory, after having served his only real purpose – unwitting bait for Ultron. But in fact, nobody dies. Technically not even Ultron, although it’s hard to describe what really happens to him: his body, or rather Vision’s body, gets taken over by the mind of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), and his armor gets transferred to Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to use it to conquer the universe with the Infinity Stones, and both of them get locked up in a pocket dimension for all eternity, fighting over the Stones.
The Killmonger twist is one of many plot beats and character moments in this episode that required more time to develop organically. The entire build-up to Killmonger’s betrayal is one or two shots of him silently staring at an Ultron droid’s helmet. Similarly, Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) sees one photo of Steve Rogers and suddenly wants to leave her timeline to go back and live with him. She ultimately decides against it, which I’m choosing to interpret as a jab at Steve’s out-of-character ending in Avengers: Endgame, but the whole scene feels too rushed to make this conflict or its resolution particularly interesting.
This feeling that we’re racing against the clock is compounded by another problem: none of the Guardians of the Multiverse actually know each other prior to this episode, and we don’t know them all that well – heck, this is our first time even meeting Gamora (voiced by Cynthia McWilliams), Destroyer of Thanos, because for some reason her individual episode got moved to season two – so they’re building relationships entirely from scratch, and without even so much as a common understanding of the universe to unite them.
The episode could have played on the radical differences between them to build bonds or create rifts and divisions, but this is an idea we only see realized through Captain Carter’s relationships with the two Black Widows (both voiced by Lake Bell). In her own timeline, their flirty banter is identical to that of Steve Rogers and Black Widow – which would be a lot more surprising and refreshing if it didn’t feel like What If…?‘s Captain Carter is literally just a reskin of Captain America. When she meets the haggard Black Widow of last week’s episode, she tells her things about herself that this timeline’s Widow wouldn’t have told a soul, proving her trustworthiness and unintentionally revealing that she and Widow are closer than Steve and Widow.
But that’s it. Other interactions, which could have been just as emotional if not more so, are ignored completely. Killmonger seeing T’Challa alive after murdering him in episode six should have been a humbling moment for him. Gamora talking about killing her timeline’s Thanos could have caused a clash with T’Challa, who successfully persuaded his timeline’s Thanos to see the error of his ways. And although zombie Wanda Maximoff shows up to fight Ultron and seems briefly confused by something, it would have been nice – and even more heartbreaking – to have explicit confirmation that she recognized her beloved Vision’s face on the android’s body.
Nonetheless, What If…? aims for an unearned heartfelt tone in its final minutes, as the Guardians go their separate ways. Obviously, the two endings that most fans will be talking about for weeks to come are Captain Carter’s and Doctor Strange Supreme’s: in a mid-credits scene, the former discovers the derelict HYDRA Stomper suit from episode one and is informed that someone is inside, setting up a Winter Soldier-type storyline for season two, while the latter is put in charge of protecting the pocket dimension where Zola and Killmonger are being kept, establishing him as The Watcher’s right-hand man and a being of infinitely more power than he could ever have obtained on his own. But neither ending really moved me.
What did tug at my heartstrings was Black Widow being given a second chance by The Watcher, being dropped into the timeline that lost its Black Widow back in episode three, and helping Captain America and Captain Marvel take down Loki (Tom Hiddleston), even though I thought somebody ought to have warned her that Hawkeye, Thor, and Bruce Banner had also died in that timeline. What did break my heart was seeing T’Challa fly off to save the galaxy once again, this time with Peter Quill (voiced by Brian T. Delaney) by his side, and knowing now that Marvel wanted to give the character his own spin-off series.
These characters, even their alternate versions, are what we fall in love with, they’re why we watch, and my only hope for season two of What If…? is that Marvel gives them the space and time to really shine.
Marvel’s What If…? has been working overtime to try and rectify the faults of some not-so-great or downright bad MCU films, from Thor to The Incredible Hulk to Ant-Man And The Wasp, and in today’s episode they’re tackling Age Of Ultron. Even when they’ve succeeded at doing so, I can’t say I’ve been strongly tempted to go back and rewatch any of these movies, but I’ve always been especially conflicted about Age Of Ultron because it’s a movie that has no right to be as bad as it was, and yet in hindsight it’s so obvious why it failed.
On the one hand, there’s a lot to like about it. As the only Avengers movie taking place between the team’s formation and their disintegration, Age Of Ultron gave us some much-needed insight into the Avengers’ family dynamic, and the relationships at play within the group. It introduced us to Wanda Maximoff and Vision, both enduring fan-favorites. It brought us that epic opening action sequence that spun directly out of events on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and which is still the closest the MCU ever came to linking up with Marvel TV.
But…for every great character moment came a cringeworthy interaction between Black Widow and The Hulk, laced with misogyny. Despite introducing us to Wanda, she was burdened with terrible writing and a ridiculously bad Eastern European accent, while her character’s Romani heritage from the comics was erased and has yet to be restored in the MCU. And apart from that one opening action sequence, the battles were largely unmemorable, and the villain Ultron was a comical caricature with no depth or nuance to his motivations.
Unsurprisingly, most of these problems can be traced back to director Joss Whedon. The extent of Whedon’s reprehensible behavior on multiple sets throughout his career is still just being brought to light, thanks to people like Ray Fisher and Charisma Carpenter speaking up about his abuses of power. Whedon’s tyrannical arrogance is how we ended up with a theatrical cut of Justice League so bad that Warner Brothers had to release a better version of the same movie earlier this year, and it’s how we ended up with an Age Of Ultron movie so bad that What If…? had to at least try and fix it.
So of course today’s episode of What If…? is perfectly suited for me, or anybody who’s ever wished that the best elements of Age Of Ultron could be isolated and transplanted into another, better, movie (or in this case, a thirty-minute long animated episode of streaming television), discarding everything that didn’t work…which is most of Whedon’s movie, to be honest. The first and foremost change is that in this new timeline, Ultron (voiced by Ross Marquand) is actually a legitimate threat.
Within the first couple of minutes, we’re treated to an unhappy alternate ending to Age Of Ultron that’s arguably – no, definitely better than the actual third act of that movie. Ultron gets his hands on Vision and downloads his consciousness into the android’s body, before shortcutting his plan to exterminate the human race by simply cracking the world’s nuclear codes and raining fire from the skies. It’s a lot easier and less melodramatic than building giant propeller engines beneath a random Eastern European city, and trying to use said city as a meteor to cause global extinction.
But what do you know, it’s also less effective. Because while almost everyone on earth dies in the nuclear firestorm, two Avengers survive – Natasha Romanoff (voiced by Lake Bell) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Not exactly useless now, are they? How they survived the initial apocalypse is left a mystery, but it’s very clear when we pick up with them again that they’ve been on their own for quite some time, using their wits to scrape by. On their own, neither of them is strong enough to take on Ultron, but Romanoff comes up with a classic Black Widow plan to save the day, which involves breaking into the apocalypse-proof KGB archives in Moscow – and finding the key to resurrecting HYDRA’s own villainous AI, Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).
Even though I’m pretty much indifferent towards MCU Hawkeye, there is something inspiring about watching these two characters in particular as they struggle to overcome an opponent they know is far too strong at this point to be dispatched with an arrow or a kick. Neither of them has a superpower (beyond Hawkeye’s precision), neither has a great weapon (Natasha finds her father’s shield from his days as Red Guardian, but that’s later), and neither should logically have survived a catastrophe of this scale in the first place. But they did, so they’ll be the ones to stop Ultron or they’ll die trying.
And rest assured that both heroes get to prove themselves in battle against Ultron’s hordes of sentry bots. Their fast-paced fight scenes make good use of What If…?‘s sleek animation style and fluid character movements, and Natasha in particular has some very cool moments, while Hawkeye makes the sacrifice play to save his friend (and Zola’s delightfully chatty consciousness in a robot body) in a scene evocative of Natasha’s self-sacrifice in Endgame. But in this universe at least, only another computer program like Zola has a chance of combating Ultron.
That’s something that becomes abundantly clear as Ultron leaves earth and sweeps through the universe, seeking out life in every corner of the cosmos and eradicating it as part of his objective to protect existence from itself. He obliterates Asgard, Xandar, Ego, and The Sovereign, killing the Guardians of the Galaxy in the process. He cuts Thanos in half with his laser-beam like a slice of salami meat, and takes the Infinity Stones from his corpse, adding them to his already impressive arsenal of weaponry. Captain Marvel (voiced by Alexandra Daniels) puts up a good fight, but Ultron kills her too, releasing a shock-wave that annihilates an entire string of nearby planets. He is without equal in the universe.
But the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a Marvel Cinematic Multiverse now, and Ultron becomes aware of that fact when he overhears What If…?‘s narrator, The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), talking about him from outside the boundary of his own universe. Something similar happened in episode four when Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch) reached a level of power where he became capable of communicating with The Watcher through the boundary, but the difference – and what ultimately makes Strange Supreme slightly less of a villain than Ultron – is that he didn’t literally break the fourth wall to try and attack The Watcher. Strange Supreme’s greatest flaw was his humanity, but humans are capable of feeling regret and guilt, and even in rare cases of admitting wrongdoing.
Ultron is not human, however, and he has no conscience, which means there’s nothing to prevent him from trying what Strange Supreme would not. What follows is a clash of titans unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU up until this point, and we just saw Captain Marvel go up against Thor last week. The Watcher is a cosmic entity of indescribable power and intellect, and Ultron is a mercilessly destructive computer program clothed in the synthetic flesh of Vision and spangled with Infinity Stones – when they throw punches, they break holes in the very fabric of reality. At one point, Ultron even goes full Galactus and swallows a star-system whole (but since he’s using Vision’s body, and Vision canonically doesn’t have a digestive system, that should have been the end of him).
The Watcher is a surprisingly good fighter, and Jeffrey Wright finally gets something to do in this show (not that the little motivational speeches weren’t cute and all), but even he is no match for Ultron and must ultimately run and hide. It’s only then that The Watcher realizes it’s up to him to stop Ultron, even if it means breaking his ancient oath to never intervene with the natural course of history. The countless tragedies that The Watcher watched and never did anything to avert apparently weren’t enough to make him question his oath, but losing a fight with a computer is the last straw.
To add insult to injury, the only place where The Watcher can hide is in the remains of Doctor Strange Supreme’s former universe. But in a lucky twist of fate, Strange Supreme might just be The Watcher’s best bet at defeating Ultron. We also know of several other characters who will join the unofficial Guardians of the Multiverse team in next week’s episode, including Party Thor (not sure how much help he’s gonna be, but okay), Killmonger, T’Challa as Star-Lord, and Captain Carter, not to mention survivor Black Widow and AI Arnim Zola. That’s a weird line-up of characters right there, the kind that could only come about via the Multiverse, and frankly I can’t wait to see how they interact.
I’m also scared, because the stakes are unusually high going into the finale, and we don’t have any assurance that all of these characters will survive the confrontation with Ultron. The Watcher will presumably live to narrate another season of What If…?, and Captain Carter’s apparently headed for the movies, but everybody else is in serious danger. That’s a testament to the fact that What If…? is largely unafraid to kill off beloved heroes, and to the fact that Ultron is more threatening now than he ever was in Age Of Ultron. It’s never too late for redemption in the MCU.
Every live-action franchise should consider experimenting with the medium of animation. It’s worked out extremely well for DC Comics (one of their most popular characters, Harley Quinn, originated in Batman: The Animated Series), and the MCU is starting to get into the business too, with What If…?, but Star Wars really redefined the ways in which animation could support and enrich a live-action franchise. And with the release of all nine episodes of Star Wars: Visions, Star Wars displays a willingness to think outside the box that shows why the franchise is still at the forefront when it comes to bridging that gap between live-action and animation.
Star Wars: Visions is an anthology series like Marvel’s What If…?, but whereas the various storylines in What If…? will eventually converge, the stories told in Star Wars: Visions are wholly unconnected – there’s no overarching plot, no framing device like What If…?‘s narrator, and no single animation style. Visions is also not intended to be viewed as canon, and most of the stories seem to exist outside of the Star Wars timeline, either unimaginably far into the franchise’s past or even further into its future. That’s not to say they couldn’t be integrated into canon, and there are several characters I’d love to see more of, but it’s not constantly in the back of your mind the way it is with What If…?
Because all of the episodes have been released already (robbing me of the chance to review them weekly), and they are all so different, I’ve decided to structure this review as a kind of episode ranking – moving from my least-favorites to my favorites.
The only episode of Visions that I found myself tempted to fast-forward through at multiple points, Studio Colorido’s Tatooine Rhapsody is a bland and uninspiring genre mash-up that feels like it was originally intended to be the pilot of an Apple TV original sci-fi series, and then got awkwardly reworked into a Star Wars story at the last minute. It’s the only episode that goes a little too heavy on the callbacks and nostalgia, with cameos from Boba Fett (voiced by Temuera Morrison), Jabba the Hutt, and Bib Fortuna, as if the writers realized that their main storyline about a garage band looking for work on Tatooine felt nothing like Star Wars, so they tried to force in a whole bunch of iconic characters to make it more natural.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like the writing, and I didn’t like the animation style here either. Some of the character designs were pretty cute, like tiny little Boba Fett with his big bobble-head helmet and even Bib Fortuna, but not enough to save the episode from looking like a low-budget Cartoon Network show devoid of charm or whimsy.
Episode Rating: 1/10
There’s so many words to describe this episode…the most flattering of which is perhaps “quaint”. A vaguely disturbing twist on the story of Pinocchio, seemingly styled after that and other Disney cartoons from the 1940’s, T0-B1 plays out like the plot of the 1993 video game Putt-Putt Goes To The Moon…which is to say, there really isn’t all that much of a plot. T0-B1 (voiced by Jaden Waldman), a clumsy little droid who wants to be a Jedi, searches around his home planet for a hidden kyber crystal, and at any moment you expect him to turn to the audience and ask for you to click on objects on the screen. Occasionally he’ll report back to a zany old professor who teaches him valuable life-lessons about the Force.
If this were supposed to act as a lighthearted diversion from some of the heavier episodes, it would be one thing. But that’s very much not the case, as the zany old professor ends up being killed by a Sith Inquisitor and T0-B1 gets impaled (he’s a droid so he survives, but it’s still quite brutal). The hauntingly beautiful animation by Science SARU makes this an interesting watch, I suppose, but not a particularly fulfilling or even exciting one.
Episode Rating: 3.9/10
I’m still sorting out my thoughts on this macabre tale of horror and suspense, which plays with some very intriguing concepts about fate and destiny while also reusing the whole story (down to some awfully specific plot-beats) of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side. Tsubaki (voiced by Henry Golding) is our Anakin stand-in, a rugged young Jedi knight who falls in love with a princess in a political crisis and becomes her guardian, all while suffering from visions of her death (although in this case, he doesn’t realize it’s her in the visions, or that he’s the one killing her). He ultimately joins the Sith in a desperate effort to save her life, after accidentally killing her in a rage.
Regardless of the episode’s quality, I would not have chosen it to close out the first season of Visions. It’s a deeply morbid and depressing story of people stripped of their agency by invisible forces, and the eerie (yet strikingly beautiful) animation by Science SARU only heightens the feelings of dread that the episode inspires. I enjoyed it, and this episode had some of the best voice-acting in Visions (particularly Golding, Jamie Chung channeling Padmé Amidala in her character Misa, Lorraine Toussaint as Sith warlord Masago, and George Takei as a much-needed comedic relief character), but it’s not a fun watch.
Episode Rating: 4.9/10
Fast-paced, well-acted, and stunningly animated by Studio Trigger with a clean-cut futuristic aesthetic, this lean and mean story was right on the edge of greatness. With its tale of twin siblings bred and birthed by the dark side of the Force, one breaking free from their appointed destiny and the other bound to it, The Twins acts as good counter-programming to the hopeless messages of Akakiri, but it’s weighed down by a lot of exposition, and the action isn’t as thrilling as you’d probably expect, possibly because it’s so heavily stylized that it sometimes feels like a lightshow instead of an actual fight.
That said, there are some very cool elements here too: Karre (Neil Patrick Harris)’s multi-colored lightsaber gave me serious She-Ra vibes, and Am (Alison Brie)’s six robot appendages and lightsaber-whips make for some striking visuals. I also enjoyed seeing Karre employ the controversial Holdo maneuver from The Last Jedi, although seeing it recreated in a series of almost identical shots felt a tad unimaginative. And the ending lends itself to continuation, whether in animation or in live-action.
Episode Rating: 5.9/10
Of all the Visions episodes, each beautiful in their own right (except for Tatooine Rhapsody), Kamikaze Douga’s The Duel is surely the most striking from an artistic standpoint. Designed to resemble grainy black-and-white film, the animation style pays homage to Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese director whose work inspired George Lucas’ original vision for Star Wars. The story is a sci-fi twist on a classic scenario from the samurai genre: a war-weary sword-fighter, usually a rogue samurai (rōnin) comes to town and helps the local people in a conflict with another great sword-fighter, typically the leader of a band of raiders who’ve been pillaging the area’s natural resources.
Because it features such an archetypal setting and cast of characters, the outcome of the titular lightsaber duel between the subtly-named Ronin (Brian Tee) and the umbrella-wielding Sith Bandit Leader (Lucy Liu) is never in question, but there’s something comforting about that, as well as the gracefulness with which Ronin conducts himself in battle. The real subversion of expectations is that Ronin isn’t a former Jedi as you’re initially led to believe, but a former Sith repenting for his evil deeds, which is ten times cooler. In short I loved this, and I hope to see more of Ronin in the future.
Episode Rating: 8/10
Lop And Ochō
This episode would likely have cracked into my top three if the story hadn’t ended quite so abruptly. Even more so than the beautiful and richly-detailed animation by Geno Studio or the incredible score by Yoshiaka Dewa, what really stands out to me about this story is the character work. Set sometime during the reign of the Galactic Empire, we follow the disintegration of an ancient clan as its patriarch, Yasaburo (Paul Nakauchi), and his biological daughter Ochō (Hiromi Dames) fall to fighting over whether to side with the Empire in the best interests of their family, or fight back and try to protect their planet. Standing between them is Yasaburo’s adopted daughter, Lop (Anna Cathcart), a leporine alien who feels like an outsider in her own house.
The episode delivers a great message about found family as Lop emerges as the true successor of the Yasaburo clan, and even inherits their most precious heirloom: a green-bladed lightsaber that is probably one of the most beautiful in all of Star Wars history. I was perfectly prepared for this to become my favorite episode – and then it just ends, having not only not resolved the conflict at hand, but with the situation even more dire than before. If this story ever continues, I think the relatively small scope of the story, the beautiful backgrounds, and Lop’s ability to leap long distances and glide around via umbrella are all good reasons to make a Lop And Ochō video game.
Episode Rating: 8.5/10
The Ninth Jedi
Coming in at third place, I have The Ninth Jedi – which, of all the Visions stories, screams out for some kind of continuation. This gripping tale of mystery, suspense, and political intrigue, filled with extraordinary action and instantly endearing characters, comes to us from the mind of writer/director Kenji Kamiyama at Production I.G, who will also direct War Of The Rohirrim, an upcoming anime film based on The Lord Of The Rings. I was already excited for that, but now I can’t wait to see what Kamiyama will do with characters and stories I know like the back of my hand.
In this story, set hundreds of years after The Rise Of Skywalker during a new conflict between the Jedi and an emboldened faction of Sith, Kamiyama devises a whole new set of rules regarding lightsabers (specifically their colors) that honestly makes more sense than the established canon. Here, a lightsaber’s color is a visual indicator of the wielder’s personality as well as their strength in the Force, which is why as the heroine Kara (Kimiko Glenn)’s confidence increases, her blade goes from transparent to green. And the color can change even after that, based on the wielder’s actions. These changes have made some fans mad (of course), but this is the kind of expansive creativity I hope Kamiyama brings to Middle-earth.
Episode Rating: 9/10
Visions is quite a scary series, and Studio Trigger’s The Elder is a perfect example of how the most effective horror is almost always subtle, shocking our senses but more importantly affecting us on a psychological level. We can close our eyes to avoid a jump-scare, but there are things that lurk in the corners of our minds that are much harder to shake. Good horror plays on that, and gets into our heads. With a powerful message about accepting the inevitability of death, The Elder is able to do just that.
The episode is anchored by three characters at different stages in their lives – The Elder (James Hong), a mysterious Sith lord clinging to his frail mortal body, Tajin (David Harbour), a world-weary middle-aged Jedi knight, and Dan (Jordan Fisher), Tajin’s reckless young padawan who tries to defeat The Elder in combat and is soundly defeated, just barely escaping with his life. It’s Tajin who must ultimately defeat The Elder, and conquer his own fear that his best days are behind him. Their duel is appropriately mythic in proportions, and the episode ends with a tantalizing mystery about The Elder’s true identity that could easily support future chapters of this story.
Episode Rating: 9.5/10
The Village Bride
I had a hard time deciding my favorite between The Elder and The Village Bride, but there’s just so much to love about this story, from the way it masterfully interweaves elements of Shinto philosophy with Star Wars’ concept of the Force, to the ethereal score by Kevin Penkin, and the fascinating new character of F (Karen Fukuhara), all wrapped up in a vibrant, colorful package courtesy of the delightfully named Kinema Citrus. The Village Bride is the episode I would have chosen to close out Visions: it sums up everything the series is, and everything that Star Wars can be in good hands.
The story is similar to that of The Duel, with the crucial difference being that the cynical former Jedi F is inspired and her faith in the Force restored by the local townspeople when she learns how the titular village bride Haru (Nichole Sakura) is actively trying to save her people from their enemies. It acts as a wake-up call for her, reminding her that a Jedi’s first and foremost duty must always be to help those in need. And when she joins the townspeople in their fight, it made me respect the Jedi again in a way I haven’t felt as a viewer for a while now.
The episode has something for everybody, from amazing action (let’s just say, you do not want to get on F’s bad side while she’s wearing heels) to a genuinely happy ending that feels so rare for Star Wars sometimes that I had to mention it. This is my favorite Visions episode, and it’s the kind of hopeful story that I need to see more of from the franchise.