I don’t write much about anime here, simply because I don’t watch that much of it nowadays. However, back in the 90s, when it was seeing its first real American boom thanks to a home video market that was desperate for all kinds of content, I did watch quite a bit and found a lot to like about the genre.
Recently, in a conversation with a younger co-worker, the topic came up, and I got to thinking about some of the various titles that I enjoyed from back then, and one of those was They Were 11, known in Japan as Jūichinin Iru!, so when I found that it was actually available on YouTube I decided to give it a shot and see how well it held up against my reminiscences.
I suppose the easiest way to describe the plot to an American audience is to suggest thinking of it as a movie focused on a group of cadets facing an entrance exam to Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy. We get a mixed-bag group of characters from different planets/races who are put together on a spaceship to test their abilities to survive an work together as a team. However, upon arriving on the ship, instead of the expected ten team members, they fin that there are eleven on them. This, of course, sets up the first mystery: who is the unexpected 11th crew member? Since none of them knew each other before, an they were assigned seemingly at random, there is really no way to tell.
To make matters worse, the team soon discoverers that the derelict ship to which they have been assigned is filled with a poisonous plant which, at a certain temperature will release poisonous spores, an after an act of sabotage throws the ship out of orbit causing it to rift nearer to the sun it is currently orbiting, the team must find a way to work together to save all of of their lives.
Of course, there is a way out. On the ship there is a red “panic button” which will sen out an S.O.S. message, calling in a recovery team to rescue them. However, pressing the button means that the entire team will fail the exam, which they cannot then take again for three years, a choice most of them are reluctant to make.
The movie is a nicely plotted sci-fi mystery/action adventure. The animation is on par for the time, an while I really can’t speak for the translation of the script, the dubbing in the version I watched was very well done, with one exception. While I can understand the decision to use a strong southern American accent to emphasize the backwoods/planet on the outskirts origin of one of the characters, it is nonetheless quite jarring against the other character voices, an really the kind of thing that can draw one out of the film.
Beyond being just an adventure film, however, the movie also tackles some interesting questions about race, genre identity, group dynamics, and class issues. At the same time, it never loses sight of the fact that above all else, a movie like this is meant to be entertaining, and at times, such as as during a food fight which breaks out and serves as a tension reliever not just for the crew but for the audience as well, breaks down into almost outright slapstick.
I’ll also admit that there is one aspect of the ending that may irk some viewers considering the way attitudes toward genre representation have change in the ensuing years, but for myself, I think it’s handled quite well.
Overall, I’d say if you’re a sci-fi or anime fan, They Were 11 stands up well to the test of time. Or, if you’re not familiar with the gene an ae looking for a way in, it makes a good choice, as an entryway, as it has just enough familiar elements to make it easily accessible, while still showcasing what makes a good anime movie.
Since the movie may prove difficult to find (I’m not sure that it’s had a proper disk release in years), I’ve posted the entire film in its dubbed version below and encourage you to give it a look.