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(They Were 11)
Copyright: © 1986 Shogakukan / Kitty © 1992 US Manga Corps.
Genre: SF / Mystery / Suspense
Length: 92 minutes
Rating: NR, Suitable for Family Viewing
Format: Original Japanese Dialog, Subtitled (VHS), English Dubbed (VHS)
Screenplay / Director: Imaizumi Toshiaki
Parental Guidance Advised - Great flick for teens, but in the subbed version Frol curses like a stormtrooper. Dubbed version could be classified as 'Suitable for Family Viewing.'
In a far future where mankind has spread to the stars, the Cosmo Acadamy was established to train the leaders of the future. The Acadamy is enormously selective, only accepting one in every 10,000 applicants, and graduation virtually guarantees a successful career of the candidate's choice.
The main character is Tadatos Lane, a young man from a small agricultural colony who applied at the advice of this mentor, the Elder of his village. After passing all the initial tests (we can assume these exhaustively cover academic and possibly even physical accomplishments) he is ushered into the final entrance exam: a test of their real life survival abilities. Ten students are placed on an old ship orbiting an unknown planet and told that they must survive for 53 days. They can signal for help (and thus end the test) at any time, but other than that they have no contact with the outside world and must rely on their skills and the materials at hand. The proctors repeat several times that they pass or fail as a group, not individuals. No sooner do they enter the airlock than they discover that there are 11 people in their group, and no one can tell who the extra person is. Even Tadatos's minor telepathic ability cannot determine who is number eleven.
The exam is rigorous. Within minutes upon entering the ship, bombs begin exploding. After defusing the bombs, other problems crop up: an accident during repairs critically injures one of the crew, a decaying orbit, and a mystery plague. Ultimately, the greatest test is seeing if the crew can overcome its mutual suspicion long enough to save themselves before tension turns to violence. Tados must try to decipher the conflicting personalities of the crew, the many layers of peril facing them all, his mysterious connection to the ship, and figure out just who this number 11 is, and why he or she is on the ship.
This is in many ways a classic "who dunnit," and most of the pleasure of this movie is in discovering everyone's secrets, most especially the identity of the mysterious "number 11." The movie is quite involved with a complex, but not overly confusing, plot and surprisingly well developed characters. The pace is well chosen, frenetic when necessary and yet quite thoughtful when appropriate. My only concern was a few blatant translation errors. Two characters are referred to as "Hermaphrodites" because they have not become either sex yet. The proper term is "Androgonite." Similarly, one of the characters calls himself a "cyborg," despite having no technological parts whatsoever. Other than that, "They Were 11" is a very solid film with consistently clean and fluid animation. Even the voices are well chosen for the parts, and the dubbing is very high quality.
A constant problem with these kinds of movies is that in theory, the "odd man out" could be anyone, you can generally eliminate everyone from suspicion except for one or two people within the first ten minutes. While I was able to quickly dismiss several of the characters, I was genuinely in the dark until the final revelation. While I did find the end somewhat trite, with everyone getting a happy ending, I still enjoyed the movie immensely.
The largest flaw in the movie was the characterization of Frol. I can see where the director was trying to create a highly contradictory character to prepare for the revelation about her true nature, but to me the character just came off as aggressive and naïve, almost stupid. Some of the other characters were also weak (you have to wonder how people with such passive personalies can make it into such an exclusive university) but in general, I enjoyed the diversity of the characters. The characters greatly add to the replay value of the movie, which is also unusual for a mystery.
- DB, 98.11.20