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They Were Eleven

Entry updated 14 February 2022. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (1986; original title Jūichinin Iru!; vt We Were Eleven). Magic Bus. Based on the Manga by Moto Hagio. Directed by Satoshi Dezaki and Tsuneo Tominaga. Written by Toshiaki Imaizumi and Kazumi Koide. Voice cast includes Akira Kamiya and Michiko Kawai. 91 minutes. Colour.

Over several centuries humanity has achieved Colonization of Other Worlds and met Alien civilizations. Though there were periods of war, a lasting peace was eventually established and, 120 years ago, the Cosmo Academy was set up to educate the leaders of the future. The final stage of the Academy's entrance exam involves ten applicants manning an old Spaceship for 53 days without help, dealing with any problems that arise. They are told that either all will pass or all will fail; should it prove too much, they can end the test at any time. On boarding the ship, the students notice they are eleven in number. They are human or humanoid aliens; all male, save for Frol (Kawai). A hermaphrodite, Frol explains they will be given hormones to become male if they enter the Academy: usually only their planet's firstborn become men, with women second-class citizens (see Feminism; Transgender SF). Our viewpoint character, the orphan Tada (Kamiya), develops a crush on Frol. He is also mildly Telepathic but cannot identify the student who should not be there.

As a succession of problems – such as explosions and accidents – raises the tension (see Paranoia), Tada experiences flashbacks of being a child on the ship when a virus killed most of its inhabitants: there had been only enough vaccine to save the children. The ship's orbit decays, taking them closer to a sun – and the students realize the virus will revive and spread when the temperature reaches forty degrees. Most of them become hysterical, believing Tada to be the sinister eleventh student and becoming murderous when they think his blood could be a vaccine; fortunately another student catches the fever early and Tada realizes their exotic body chemistry means they will survive and be a vaccine source ... if they had more time. Fortunately Tada has an idea – create an explosion to shift them further from the sun. It works.

But Frol still catches the virus: the crew agree to abort the exam, even though all will fail. Only Frol dissents, wanting to risk it and carry on – desperate to avoid having to be female. Tada now asks Frol to marry him, who accepts, though pointing out it will be a while before they become a woman. The rescue ship arrives and it is revealed that the eleventh person was an instructor (a stronger telepath than Tada) who had sabotaged and monitored them, though the virus itself was unplanned; he tells them they have all passed. Though their society will now allow them to be a man, Frol decides to become a woman and marry Tada.

Though the "all will fail or pass" rule proves only a conceit for the test, the fact that all ten do pass raises an eyebrow, considering the mob hysteria and bad judgement displayed by several students. An entertaining, character-driven Anime, They Were Eleven had previously been a 1977 live action Television film and subsequently (in the twenty-first century) a stage play and audio drama. The most interesting aspect of the story is Frol, who is discussed in the Moto Hagio entry. [SP]


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