The Big Picture
- Galactic Patrol Lensman, an anime series inspired by Star Wars, takes the right lessons from the franchise, creating a similar but unique story.
- Despite its influence, Lensman never gained popularity in the US due to rights issues and the disapproval of the author’s daughter.
- Star Wars eventually ventured into anime with Star Wars: Visions, showcasing different anime studios’ takes on the Star Wars universe, including a short reminiscent of Lensman‘s style.
The Star Wars universe has served as a major inspiration for various sci-fi & fantasy works over the years. From Firefly to The Last Starfighter, there have been plenty of films & TV shows that pay homage to a galaxy far, far away. Even Disney, the studio that currently owns Star Wars, is aiming to give a similar treatment to other film franchises under its umbrella. This treatment has been going on ever since Star Wars: A New Hope first premiered in theaters, even spreading to the world of anime. One series proudly wears its influences on its sleeve: Galactic Patrol Lensman. Based on the Lensman novels by E.E. “Doc” Smith, Galactic Patrol Lensman follows Kimball Kinnison (Ryan O’Flannigan), a young farm boy who gains control of a tool called the Lens that allows him to manipulate the universe to his will. Kinnison then becomes embroiled in an intergalactic war between two alien races. Sound familiar? Despite having a lengthy run of episodes as well as an actual animated film, the Lensman series never really took off in the United States due to a number of reasons. But it’s still worth a look due to how it managed to take all the right lessons from Star Wars.
The ‘Lensman’ Anime Remixed Its Source Material & Took The Right Lessons From Star Wars
Lensman mostly took the broad strokes of the novels it was based on, using the characters & settings but not much else. While Smith went into depth with the worldbuilding of his novels – even going so far as to detail the machinery of his fictional world – the anime chose to take a more simple approach. The movie, especially, feels like prime Star Wars. It turns out that Kinnison’s father was a Lensman himself, who gave his life battling the Boskone Empire. Like Luke Skywalker, Kinnison is inspired by the legacy of his father (only without the dark revelation that he was really the villain.) He has a companion named Peter Van Buskirk (Jeremy Platt), whose thick hair and horns are meant to be more in line with Han Solo’s longtime companion Chewbacca. The Boskone Empire and their enforcer Lord Helmuth (Abe Lasser) are parallels to the Galactic Empire and Darth Vader. Kinnison even learns how to harness the power of the Lens from a massive green dragon named Worsel (Philboyd Studge)- much like how Luke learned how to be a Jedi from Yoda.
Yet the film managed to carve out its own identity. Part of that is due to animation studio Madhouse, who managed to turn in some great work. A key example comes when Kinnison takes up the Lens from his father; there’s a massive light display that would put any fireworks show to shame. Madhouse would go on to provide animation services for popular anime including Death Note and Ninja Scroll, but Lensman was an early glimpse into how their animation process worked. Ironically, for all of its Star Wars references, Lensman may have inspired another popular property in Green Lantern. The idea of a space police force wielding weapons that generate immense light? Even if Julius Schwartz denied it, it’s not hard to see the parallels between Lensman and Green Lantern – and just how influential these novels were.
‘Lensman’ Never Made It Big Due To Rights Issues
Despite being a majorly influential book series as well as a decent adaptation, Lensman never made the impact that series like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z did in the United States. A large part of that is due to the rights to the Lensman franchise being held by E.E. Smith’s estate, but the biggest reason lies with his daughter. She felt that the Lensman anime was not only made illegally, but that it was a disgrace to her father’s work. In fact, the anime led to Smith’s family rejecting any adaptations of the novels, with a proposed film adaptation written by J. Michael Straczynski failing to materialize.
The anime series, as well as the movie, did eventually receive an English dub courtesy of Harmony Gold USA. Harmony Gold had previously struck…well, gold with its dub of the Robotech anime so clearly another sci-fi anime was bound to work. But despite Robotech‘s success, Harmony Gold was only able to adapt two compilations of episodes into movie-length form. None of these films are available on home media, and as long as the Smith Estate remains resolute in its desire not to release any adaptations that may be the case for a long while.
Star Wars Eventually Did Its Own Take On Anime
Though the Star Wars franchise was heavily inspired by Japanese films – particularly the work of Akira Kurosawa – it never really dipped into the realm of anime. That changed in 2021 with the release of Star Wars: Visions. In the vein of anime anthologies like The Animatrix, both seasons of Visions feature different anime studios putting their own take on concepts from the Star Wars universe. In fact, the first short, “The Duel”, brings things full circle as it features a setup right out of a Kurosawa film, right down to the stoic protagonist & action-packed swordfights.
But it’s the short “The Twins” that bears the biggest resemblance to Lensman. Twin Force users Karre (Neil Patrick Harris) and Ahm (Alison Brie) utilize lightsabers that move less like swords and more like the pure beams of light Kennison utilizes with his Lens. Also, the entire fight takes place on a massive Star Destroyer, which is reminiscent of how the ships move in Lensman. Recently, rips of the Lensman anime have become available on YouTube. The novels are also available to read, and they paint a fictional world that’s just as compelling as anything that happens in the world of Star Wars. You may not be able to see this show legally, but Lensman is one of the most underrated stories in science fiction.
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