However, if the viewer can get past the dated graphics, They Were 11 offers an experience that is pretty rare in anime. Although there's not enough time to define each character completely, we get to know several pretty well in the course of the 90-minute running time. The fact that each has a personal back story and reason for being there is important. And when the sparks fly, it's solid filmmaking. It's unusual for me to feel this way, but They Were 11 would work really well as a live-action film, as the "butting heads" that meet in the film would be great to see with some of today's best young stars. As events unfold and more mysteries present themselves, I became more and more drawn to this world. I wasn't expecting to find it as solidly entertaining (and gripping) as it was.
It may not be perfect--and it certainly doesn't look it--but They Were 11 is still a very good movie in a long-forgotten niche of a genre. I don't expect it to make any waves with its recent DVD release, but I'm glad to see it's available.
They Were 11 is a thoroughly enjoyable old-school sci-fi yarn seasoned with a touch of psychological thriller and the faintest hint of shoujo flair. Don't let its age or shoujo roots turn you off--it has a variety of creative mechanical designs, a collection of interesting, believable characters, and offers an effective blend of suspense, mystery, and classic sci-fi teamwork. The briskly-paced plot kept me wondering what was going to happen next, and the whole production is solidly put together. Add in a capable voice cast and a cool, massive, derelict space ship as the 12th character to round out the picture. The only things to complain about are the occasionally dated visuals, cheap musical score, and the occasional failure of the "best and brightest" characters to properly use their heads.
From a visual perspective, They Were 11 looks older than its pedigree. The computers have flashing lights and big buttons that would have been comfortable on Kirk's Enterprise, giving the production an unintentionally cheesy look. The character designs are mixed; some work well and some don't. In close-up, a few of them look great, but many long shots lack any real detail. In many ways, it reminds of a bigger-budget Votoms in terms of its cinematic approach. It takes some effort to put aside modern prejudices to watch this one.