Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the latest sci-fi epic from Luc Besson, had far more humble beginnings than the silver screen. It started out as a series of French comics called Valérian and Laureline that launched in 1967 and wrapped in 2010.
Besson has talked at length about his love for the series, especially its heroine Laureline, and it inspired some of his 1990s hit The Fifth Element. In the comics, Valerian and Laureline are “spatio-temporal” agents who travel through time and space solving problems, like the title character on Doctor Who. Unlike her Cara Delevingne live-action counterpart, the comic version of Laureline is a peasant from 11th century France who winds up becoming Valerian’s partner after saving him.
An anime version, dubbed Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline, premiered about 20 years ago. The French series features much of the pair’s original origin story, but adds a disappearing Earth into the mix. After Laureline saves Valerian, the two warp back to his era and find the planet is gone. They take jobs as mercenaries, completing odd jobs, while trying to solve the greater mystery of their disappearing home. Laureline and Valerian are initially reluctant partners, taking verbal shots at each other whenever they get the chance. But as the show progresses, they develop real feelings for each other — and get very, very good at saving each other from bad spots.
Time Jam is vastly different from Besson’s epic space drama. It’s a serialized affair, with most episodes contributing little to the overarching storyline. One episode focuses on Valerian being kidnapped for a marriage plot, for example; another sees the pair recovering an artifact that makes them hallucinate.
While Besson is more invested in bringing this fictional series of worlds to life, the anime takes more time to flesh out the characters. Little details make them more believable than their film counterparts. Laureline adapts quickly to her futuristic life, but she misses the pleasure of being outside, rather than in a big metal tube. Valerian’s parents mysteriously vanished, which seems to be why he became interested in time travel in the first place. Keen-eyed fans of the film will spot familiar characters, like the three little platypus-like information brokers who make a series of bargains with movie-Laureline.
Luc Besson’s Valerian isn’t exactly a good movie. Valerian, is as generic a protagonist as they come, full of smirks and peppy one-liners instead of an actual personality. Laureline, his ass-kicking companion, is more compelling to watch. The anime isn’t nearly as visually dynamic or inventive, and it feels much less like a technology showcase in the form of a movie. But the anime is an interesting supplement, with a different focus on long-term storytelling and character-building.
All 40 episodes of the show are available for streaming on Crunchyroll. It’s clear that the anime was released in 2007, and is angled toward kids, but it offers the chance to further explore the big, messy universe Besson fell in love with.