There is something about this film that drew me to it originally. Was it the fact that it was from the 80s? Partly. Was it the fact that it was licensed by Central Park Media? Maybe. Was it the fact that it was probably going to be bad? Yeah. There is something about older anime films that can be a bit, off-putting with how bad some of the line delivery or random moments that leave you baffled. This can create some of the most beautiful moments of watching bad films, especially from an era built upon anime that many consider a mistake. I mean I’m looking at Fake from the 90s for a great example of that. So how much is 11 Nin Iru (They Were 11) watchable, or is it something a tad bit too competent to deserve much of a watch?
11 Nin Iru is a film that for lack of a better term, is as slow as a snail. Yet the film itself is about an hour and thirty one minutes long. Keep that time and pacing in my mind as we go forward as it may creep back into prominence a few times. This is a sci-fi film, and one that attempts to be a thinking person’s sci-fi with its set up. The story boils down to, there are ten cadets of a prestigious space academy for different races and they need to finish their final test together. This test can only be completed if everyone is alive by the end of it and the big problem is that they are stuck on a ship with a ticking time bomb of viral proportions with 11 people instead of ten. This is an interesting set up for a television show, but instead we get a rushed movie that feels bland.
The reason why I say it is rushed is because the team is given a timer. The timer states that in a certain amount of days they need to complete this mission. Unfortunately this is a movie, and we will not be seeing everything that will happen to this crew of eleven. The only characters we should be caring about is the main leads, Frolbericheri and Tadatos. Yes those are the names of our leads, and yes they are a bit weird but not as weird as some of the others like Chako Kacka. I digress, as the two main leads are the only two that get more development to them as characters. While some other crew members are aggressive in the beginning, the obvious arc for them would be to get over the hurdle of trust and act as a crew. These two are the ones with any time dedicated to delving into their reasoning effectively beyond a small blurb we get about each person in the beginning.
11-nin Iru believes that if it gets the exposition out of the way in the beginning that it won’t have any problems later on. That is completely wrong as thirty minutes of this film is all about explaining who the people are and what is going on dragging this film to a dead stop. Frolbericheri and Tadatos have more to talk about after the fact with Frol being a species that can either become a male or female and Tadatos has a strange connection to the ship they are on. Frolbericheri explains the sexist culture that their culture has. Where the first born child is the only one who becomes a man and the rest of the children are forced to be women and the men have more power and take on multiple wives. Frol wants to become a man to have the freedom in their society and thinks that by joining this academy Frol would be allowed to become a man. That in and of itself is an interesting concept that might have made for an interesting sci-fi plot, but instead is relegated to one or two scenes and the only motive for Frol. This is merely the beginning of why I think this movie is just a waste of potential.
The two main leads have interesting ideas that if there wasn’t so many characters to focus on, they could have written a tighter story centering around them. Instead we have nine other people to give lines and screentime to who all boil down to simplistic characteristics like “prince”. They all have weird names that most will not be committed to memory and it’s more about the events that transpire than creating memorable characters. Randomly a character may pull a guitar out of nowhere, start a food fight, but for random reasons that may seem more like character depth but rather it is the illusion of depth known as character quirks. That is the greatest problem with this movie, it is more about the group setting and seeing how people react in a scenario. That is all fine and dandy, but just giving us short expositive introductions doesn’t okay the fact to allow some characters to just do what they want. What part of “I live in a hunting world” immediately invites the character to also be a passionate musician?
The blueprints are seemingly here for at the very least a solid science fiction tale of understanding. Yet the rushed nature of being a movie halts everything from taking flight. It is noticeable in the first little bit about the beauty these animators can create, with large scaling shots of space at different angles. This isn’t people who don’t know how to draw or how to animate, but the story demands so much in so little time there is no freedom as a movie unless they cut it down immensely. That is what they did and the movie suffers for it. It pulls weird moves like having telepaths be a thing, explain the gist of what they could do but without explaining much of anything just have him be completely useless because the intruder is also a telepath and they are stronger. I mean what constitutes a telepath? How do various species get the ability? Why is the other one stronger? All of these questions will never be answered and the telepath thing will only show up when most convenient since there isn’t much purpose to it. This movie has cool ideas like this, but can’t explore them because they are all side ideas to the main idea of being trapped in a spaceship of impending doom. They can’t focus on smaller aspects that would be interesting and thus they become some of the biggest narrative problems in the film.
I came in expecting to have potentially a laugh at something that for all extents in purposes should have been bad, yet I find myself a bit confused at how I wanted more from this film. I could have watched a television series about this, watching people go mad overtime and learning about each species. Some characters don’t even get quirks and just are there to make up eleven people. That is where 11 Nin Iru falls short, run time. Run time is the main problem because there are ideas there that just weren’t allowed to flourish due to time constraints. We are missing moments of jovial jest and tension built up over learning to care for the characters in this predicament. There are characters here to be discovered yet most are relegated to singular descriptors. There are interesting ideas, characters and plot locked into a film that couldn’t allow it time to breathe properly. That is why some films, like The Watchmen, are getting a television series after being made into movies. To allow their ideas to be fleshed out more with the time they deserve, to see if there is a chance to create something great. Instead of skipping days, we could see the brunt of their time living together in a tense environment and see them struggle with conversing with strangers. There is so much there in this film yet we only see small pieces of it.
To be honest I don’t know if a longer television series would have smoothed over some of the characterization and growth, but it would have been a better shot than this. So instead there is this interesting time capsule of anime gone by, of good and potentially great ideas left floating around and a movie that just misses the mark of being one of the hidden classics. Lost in time with other almost good films of a bygone era of anime, to be forgotten until people dredge them up yet again to see their blueprints and wonder what could have been. To me that is a far better tale than the movie itself.
Well that was certainly a trip back to the boom of science fiction in anime. The 80s do still hold some interesting ideas I wish would be remade or given more life to nowadays. Maybe in a different time or place this film could have been something well remembered as solid science fiction by many, yet now I wonder if many know about its name at all.
So have you heard or watched They Were 11? What forgotten animated film do you think needs more recognition? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a fantastic day!