When it comes to what kids watch, the biggest problem most parents face isn’t that there aren’t enough choices — it’s that a lot of the time, the choices seem oddly similar. And, once you’re kid is out of the Daniel Tiger toddler-to-preschool zone of only watching stuff for emotional lessons and basic coping mechanism, you’re wondering what your kids can watch “just for fun” that isn’t super-damaging, and also, might enrich their cultural outlook. Disney+ offers a huge backlog of great kids’ movies, with a catch. Most of this stuff is painfully white, or, at the very least, created by the very recognizable Disney brand.
But, the world doesn’t look like Disney, even if the world’s biggest kids’ brand makes kids think that way. And when it comes to kids picking what they want to watch, they’ll often gravitate towards what is popular, versus what is good or different. Parents are like this, too, mostly because they’re tired, or don’t know any better. Yes, there is a way to introduce your kids to your kids to Miyazaki movies, and just because Baby Shark exists, doesn’t mean you can’t play your kids the Rolling Stones.
That said, seeking out non-mainstream kids’ media is exhausting for obvious reasons. Disney and Netflix dominate everything, while those ultra-basic Paw Patrol pups are over on Paramount+. True, the Rugrats reboot is great, and we still are in awe that SpongeBob even exists, but the truth is, for American parents, there’s always going to be something predictably American even about the most transgressive kids’ shows. This is why the news about the next anime Star Wars series — Star Wars: Visions — is so exciting.
This new anthology series — set to debut September 22 on Disney+ — will feature anime takes on Star Wars, created by Japanese filmmakers. There will be two language options available for the actual series, one with English overdubs, and the other version, simply in Japanese with English subtitles. And, while it might not be reasonable for young English-speaking children to watch the subtitle version, there’s certainly a good reason to try.
When you watch the trailer for Visions that just uses subtitles, it’s clear that this show seems to be a purer piece of art with the characters speaking Japanese, rather than being dubbed over by English-speaking actors. This is nothing against voice actors like Neil Patrick Harris (he’s our favorite Count Olaf!) but this does seem like a great opportunity for western parents to use something mainstream (Disney, Star Wars) to broaden the viewpoint of their western children.
Star Wars owes its structural roots to Kurosawa films. George Lucas even wanted to cast Toshiro Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Eventually, of course, Star Wars got a much whiter, more western cast. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with that per se, Lucas was arguably appropriating a variety of influences in less than clear ways back in 1976. But, the idea that as a brand, Star Wars is now honoring part of its origins feels huge. Star Wars is uniquely an American invention, that somehow feels international, partly because of the influences Lucas borrowed from. While this is true of many fantasy and science fiction series — like Star Trek — Star Wars is odd because an American child, might not know about the Japanese influence on the saga without someone telling them. Star Trek wears this kind of multiculturalism on its sleeve, while Star Wars, up until 2015, has been populated by most white people.
Arguably, the newer films and The Mandalorian have taken steps to diversify Star Wars, but Visions feels like a more meaningful step. This is a Star Wars product that is not made by westerners. And so, for western children, it could serve as a gateway into better, and more diverse ways of approaching art. So much of Star Wars, even the newer animated shows, looks the same. Ditto, Disney. But with Star Wars: Visions, kids of all backgrounds can see something familiar, that also expands their view of the real world, too. Obi-Wan told Luke, in 1977, that ” you’ve just taken your first step into a larger world.” Now, it seems like Star Wars is delivering on that promise.
Star Wars: Visions hits Disney+ on September 22.