It’s been awhile since I talked about an old show, it does not mean that this section of the blog is forgotten, it is difficult to find some shows I want to talk about they never got a proper release or the ones that were available went down a long time ago. I was looking for this movie since I heard about it five years ago, it eluded me since then but now I finally got to see it. Prepare your long sleeve sweaters and curl your hair because we are going back to the 80s and the wonderful world of Sci-Fi anime films, this time, They Were Eleven.
About the show
They Were Eleven (11人いる!) is a film adaptation of an awarded manga written by Moto Hagio on 1976. The adaptation aired on November 1986 with a running time of 91 minutes.
Ten young space cadets aspire to enter the elite Cosmo Academy, if they pass the entrance exam, their lifelong dreams of being valued people in their respective societies will come true. As part of the final test they are put onto a decommissioned spaceship. Their orders are to survive as long as they can with what they have. However, once they arrive at the ship, they find that their crew has gained an eleventh member – and no one can remember the original lineup well enough to recognize which of them is the newcomer.
As time progresses, the situation on the ship worsens and the atmosphere grows tenser by the minute. The crew members begin to suspect each other of being the ones sabotaging the mission and they need to resolve the mystery along with the immediate task to survive in this increasingly difficult situation.
I found this show by mere accident, it’s something I have not talked about here but I enjoyed Hyouka and one of the main topics of the shows was mystery-solving and the majority of the characters had their favorite authors. There’s an episode where Mayaka dresses as one of the characters of the manga and causes a strife among the other members of the Manga society she belongs to because they think the reference is too obscure and pretentious. Long story short, I read the synopsis about it and immediately wanted to read or watch the story. Mystery and Sci-Fi are part of my favorite genres, I love detective and criminal stories and 80s Sci-Fi always brings a smile to my face. Combine them together and you got a winning formula. They Were Eleven is exactly that.
The main premise of the film unfolds as a locked-room mystery, taking advantage of the vacuous space as a way to trap our characters and forced them to get to know each other and try to deduce who is the eleventh member. Tada is our MC, his deduction skills will be the driven force that will allow us to know more about the crew, the ship and Tada himself. But this will also create a point of conflict with other characters who suspect Tada for knowing too much. I’ll try not to spoil the mystery but the film does a great job of explaining things out. Stories where people are trapped in a situation and have to work with others to survive are a good complement to the mystery genre. Trust is a valuable but limited resource when you are in a spaceship in the middle of nothing.
Another attractive aspect of the film is the portray of a positive Sci-Fi universe. At the beginning of the movie we are told this is a future where mankind has conquered worlds beyond our own and after pointless wars we have created a Federation with other species to live in peace and harmony. All the crew members are from different planets and systems, even a couple who are not aligned with the Federation and all of them are treated equal. We have members from royal families, simple minded Terrans and a member from a completely different humanoid species and yet when the suspicions arise none of them are funded from where they come or how do they look. It would be easy to write a scene where the majority of the crew suspected the one with reptilian skin for not being human but it does not fall for this cheap trick. Writing dystopian and pessimistic scenarios for humanity in space is attractive and there are great examples of that, but in this story where humanity has learned to pursuit a greater goal, a happy space opera suits best.
While Tada is our main character, the spotlight of this movie is Frol. We are led to believe Frol is the one that stands out among all the crew members because of the feminine looks but the personality does not match the looks. Frol is strong, determined and with a goal in mind and yet she learns to trust others and work with a team, that’s the whole point of the test. I really don’t want to spoil the character arc but Frol is much more than the pretty but tough “girl” of the film. Nowadays a character like Frol would be used as a mere gag, an exaggeration for the audience to laugh and while some people like them I think those types are not given the proper amount of development and most are just remembered as an “ambush” for the MC. I wish more shows could take a page from this movie and write characters like this.
The future no longer looks like 80s Sci-Fi stories told us and that is kind of sad. The art of the They Were Eleven is gorgeous, painting a technological but not depressing future. The design of the ship and the interiors resemble a lot of the aesthetic of 80s Sci-Fi: Long hallways, command centers filled with computers and vast columns of technical equipment. Even if the majority of the movie occurs inside the ship we will not be bored of the scenarios presented. There’s a chase scene in which one of the characters hide and crawls on different part of the spaceship but the direction of the scene makes it clear that even for a gigantic ship, it is still a closed space and the places to hide are limited. There is nothing much to say about the score, if you have ever watched any 80s anime, you know how this sounds. This is a not detriment for the show but simply does not stand out among others.
In space, no one can hear your wrongdoings, but here we can. While I like Frol’s arc, the way they concluded it felt cheap. It was not satisfactory and an open ending could have been miles better than the scenes we got. In the middle of the movie we are presented with a tense situation that needs to be resolved and it’s resolved in two seconds. I get it, the important part was working as a team but why bother with setting the bar so high just to end the conflict with an asspull. Some of the characters are completely forgettable and they are not shown as much in the film, I think the scenes of two or three of them amount to a total five minutes on screen max. The movie should have been called “they were eight” because those were the ones that actually mattered.
They Were Eleven was worth the wait, I enjoyed it and got much more than I expected. I wish we could get more stories like this on a modern setting. If you are fan of Agatha Christie, Star Trek or just Sci-Fi in general, I recommend this movie. Anime is available where you can find it.