Thursday, October 22, 2009

DVD Look: They Were Eleven

Today I will be reviewing a favorite mystery anime of mine. In fact the best mystery movie I've seen in a awhile, anime or otherise. Besides being a mystery, it's also set far in the future. Who new mystery and science fiction went so well together? The movie is called They Were Eleven.

This movie was originally released in movie theaters in Japan in 1986. Central Park Media released a subtitle VHS in the early 90's, and later dubbed it and re-released it on VHS in 1996. Luckily for us, they also re-released it on DVD in 2004. Anyway, the movie opens to the main character, Tadatos Lane, taking a test to get into one of the best schools (uh... wait it's a "Space Academy" this is set in the future after all) in the galaxy. He passes the computerized portion of the exam, and is now lead to the next section. The next part of the test brakes the students who passed, into groups of 10. They must all work together to pilot an older spaceship, that is not in the best condition ever. They have to fix it up, and solve any challenges along the way. And they have get the ship working, and fast because it is slowly spiraling towards the sun! If the group feels like quiting (or feels they are in danger), they can push the emergency button and wait to be rescued, but then they can't apply for the school again for another three years! But when Tadatos, now nickamed Tada , get's on the ship, his group realizes that (*gasp!*) They Are Eleven!

There are only supposed to be ten members of the group, but for some reason they have an extra guy. So all sorts of questions pop up. Like Is he a spy? Is this part of the test? Or is it just a mistake? But the most important question to ask is, does he pose a threat? So now they ask, who is number 11?Being a sci-fi show there are a number of aliens among the group, besides the humans, and they all have their own quirks and whatnot. But even the humans have something interesting going for them, for example Tada has a form of ESP and can tell if people are lying or not. He goes over ever single person, and comes to the conclusion that no one on the ship is lying. No one is number 11! But what does that mean then? Would the best academy in the galaxy make a mistake like this? Perhaps Tada's ESP isn't all it's cracked up to be? Or is it something else? As the story plays out, the characters start suspecting this person, and that person, of being number 11, and your susptions will be raised once or twice for them as well. And as the story progresses things keep getting worse and worse for the characters. It's all played out very well, and you can be sure there's quite a few twists in there to get you. Anyway I don't think I should go on, because being a mystery title like this is, it's best to go into it cold. Just be sure the premise is unique and very interesting. And most importantly the mystery is really good too. Your never quite sure what's going on, who's number 11 or if there is even one to begin with. And the conclusion to the film answers all the questions and is very sasitfying. But before you get there it is a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions.

The characters in the film are a real diverse bunch. Some people dislike others for their own reasons, and a click or two forms, but they are still forced to help each other out, and stick together. And part of the strenght of the movie is how they work together (or fight against each other) in order to fix the ship, and the many problems that keep popping up. The way the characters interect is just great. And it helps that despite the short running time they develop most of the cast quite well. It's really something else to note how well you know each of these guys by the end of the story, and how some of them have changed. While most anime TV series devolp their cast of characters very well most of the time, it's actually quite rare for a movie to do so. But this somehow finds the time to do it, even with it's large cast and short lenght. That's a real feat if you ask me.

The artwork for this anime is full of light colors, and silly looking characters. The color palatte used is quite cheery and colorful, and the character designs are quite cartoony looking, with a bit of shojo thrown in there for the hell of it. At first it will look very odd, and unapealing, but it does grow on you a little bit. And for it's time period it is actually pretty well animated too. Everything looks very good, if you can get past the cartoony style of it all. It may not appeal to newer fans used to digital paint and CGI in their anime, but the story is so good I think they could forget about the artwork for 90 minutes.

Music in They Were Eleven is actually quite good. The music is largely synthetic, in futureistic (well 80's futureistic) vein. Some of the background music gave off a big "space opera" feeling to it all. Although a few themes made it felt very much like a mystery. I liked the main theme that keeps coming up very much. Although it's not exactly a song most would listen to or anything, as it's just background music, I thought it was quite well done, and made everything feel very grand, space like, and just cool. The ending theme really impressed me as well. It had a great sound, and the singer was really good. I tend to enjoy it when a movie ends to a great song like this! The dub for this title was produced in 1996, as I said. And it is also quite good, although I can imagine it won't fly for everyone. It's a little cartoony and very lighthearted at times, but it knows when to tone that down, and does so very nicely. And after a short period of time it falls into a more drama-like sound, which honestly fits the tone of the movie much better. Curtis Jones plays the main character, Tada, and he easily gives the best performance. While none of the other actors are bad or anything, he just sounds very authentic and natural. He won me over very fast. Steve Blum plays one of the characters, and he really did not impress me with this one. He was well cast, but he just does not feel right all the time. It's not that bad, but he just felt a little off to me. Wendee Lee plays an important character, and she puts on an anoying southern accent. Now I'm all for accents, and arguably that type of accent fits the character, but the way she does it just is anoying. I would rather not hear her do that ever again, although despite the accent she acts quite well. She was very believable, just grating. Now I feel like I'm being way to critical of this dub, as it's very old. I really did like it very much, in fact it's very well cast and acted overall. But some things just came off a little bit wrong to me, and I felt like pointing them out. And like I said this may not float with other dub fans, as it's a little different then most dubs. But give it a try, you might find you like it. I bought into it all.

They Were Eleven is a really good movie. It's intellgent, unique, and riveting. I highly suggest it to all anime fans. When I first saw it really impressed me, and left a strong impression on me. I was not expecting something so well done. It has very strong writing, and all of the characters are relatable, realistic and sympathetic. It's a real oddball of a movie, a bit strange, but very enjoyable. I found out about the movie from Justin Sevakis's Buried Treasure review, and bought the DVD from Rightstuf on a whim. I got it for less then ten dollors and it was more then worth the price. This is such a good movie but it's a little sad it's never talked about. Although being so old, looking like it does, and being as odd as it is, it's really no surprise.

You can buy the DVD from Rightstuf if you like, It's well worth the price.

Prede's Raiting
4.5/5 Stars


  1. Well, since I enjoy sci fi and mysteries, your review really makes me want to see this movie. I am adding it to my list!

  2. Indeed, the characters were superb for a movie format, and even I was left guessing the entire time just who the 11th person was supposed to be. The directing, visual approach, and soundtrack were all very suitable to the subject matter at hand to say the least. Nice review by the way, I only have the subtitled VHS version of the movie, but I'd like to get it on DVD sometime in the future.