The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide Wish Upon The Pleiades
How would you rate episode 1 of
Wish Upon the Pleiades ?
Some commercials are stranger than others. Looking at Wish Upon the Pleiades synopsis, the only things that would seem to separate it from any other magical girl show would be the celestial theme and the fact that it's sponsored by Subaru. How does a magical girl show function as an advertisement for Subaru, you ask? Well, by actually naming the main character Subaru, and having the magical girl's brooms rev and screech like car engines, and setting them on a quest to recover their mascot's magical car parts so he can rebuild his spaceship.
I hope you find the base idea of a Subaru-themed magical girl show entertaining, because this first episode doesn't do much else to recommend itself. The plot is sketched thinly enough that it's barely there - stargazing fan Subaru is just entering a new school when she finds herself first confronted by a mysterious figure in an ornate garden, then tripping over the mascot Pleiadian in her school's hallways, then activating a strange rune and running into four witch-themed magical girls, who include her old friend Aoi. The rest of the episode is a whirlwind of Subaru being drafted into their world through the course of their first task, as the girls try to capture a star-shaped engine fragment and are almost thwarted by the same character Subaru met in the garden.
The main thing that marked this episode, aside from the Subaru gimmick (which has already succeeded, see how many times they've compelled me to say Subaru in this review, now it's already stuck in your head), was that the show itself didn't really seem to know what was going on. It adhered to a basic premier structure and tossed out some basic genre beats, but the world and Subaru herself aren't really established before they're suddenly caught up in a generic magical adventure. The characters themselves question what's going on and why they're magical girls at all throughout the course of the episode, and though obviously first episodes don't have to actually explain everything that's happening, this one just doesn't give you enough hook or grounding in character to make you feel invested in what's going on. It feels like an outline for a more fully-constructed show, hitting beats like establishing the conflict and the girls becoming fast friends without providing any unique texture to make any of that more than pure plot.
The execution is reasonable enough, though don't let the Gainax logo fool you - the studio that created works like Evangelion, FLCL, and Gurren Lagann has essentially been stripped for parts at this point, with very few of the studio's most renowned creators remaining within its shell. The character designs are crisp and animation reasonable, though the CG characters used for the flying scenes are overused for too-close scenes and really clash with the traditional animation. The music is similarly unremarkable, and the dialogue only sticks out through its sometimes awkwardly ornate phrasing. Overall, there's just not much to recommend this show - it doesn't stick out within its genre, it brings little to the table.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
I really want to like Wish Upon the Pleiades much more than I do. It has so many good, or at least favorite elements: doors that magically lead to someplace unexpected, transformations, magical girls, a sidekick who actually barfs a rainbow...and yet, in practice, I found myself mentally cataloguing all of the ways that this show should have worked and yet didn't.
The protagonist of the piece is Subaru, a salmon-haired astronomy fan who can't quite drum up any interest in her passtime at school. She stops at home to get her telescope before heading back to the school “observatory” (really more like an attic room), but when she gets there, sparkly magic circles instead make the door open to a paradise of a conservatory, where Mysterious Sickly Beautiful Boy© is sitting by a fountain. They have a vague conversation during which he strongly implies that he cannot leave the garden before she dashes out to see her meteor shower...only to realize that she's been in the observatory all along, or at least gone through its door. Sadly it is raining, so she wanders off only to stumble upon a group of four magical girls hanging out in a classroom. They've been complaining about not having a “savior,” so lo and behold, when Subaru can see them, and when their “president,” a gelatinous octopus thing, says that she has “great power,” decide that she must be it. Next thing you know, Subaru's got a “drive shaft” (a motorized broom/wand thing) and she's a full-fledged magical girl trying to get pieces of an engine before a demon boy from the dark side of the moon who looks like Mysterious Sickly Beautiful Boy shows up, calls her clumsy, and...yeah. A lot happens here, which is in large part the problem. The story element that suffers the most from this rushed presentation is really Subaru's past friendship with Aoi, one of the magical girls. Clearly they were once friends and now aren't but still want to be, and basically their interactions in the episode are almost as confusing as this sentence. More importantly, it's clear that the show wants us to care about them and their friendship, something which is impossible with the frantic presentation of story elements.
Animation and art-wise, there's some obvious CG when the girls are flying on their drive shafts, but otherwise smaller details look quite nice. The expansion of fabric during Subaru's transformation is very nice, as is the motion of her hair in most scenes. The sparkling butterflies in the garden look like every eight year old's dream, and the bright colors help to give this a feel like girls' cartoons in the 1980s – happy, magical, and for sale at your local toy store.
Really, all of the elements of Wish Upon the Pleiades should produce a fun, if not good, first episode, especially for a fan of the magical girl genre. But instead I find myself trying more to assemble the pieces into a coherent whole, wondering how much they're going to take from Puella Magi Madoka Magica (even the girls' hair colors are the same as that show), and just wishing that this had been as good an episode as it could have been.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: Wish upon the Pleiades has a bit of an interesting history. It was originally made in 2011 through a collaboration between GAINAX and Japanese auto manufacturer Subaru, which uses the six-star cluster of the Pleiades stars as its logo. (Subaru is the Japanese name for that cluster.) It original form was a series of four six-minute ONAs, the first two of which were expanded and revamped to make the first episode of this series; in fact, several of the scenes here are direct line-for-line carry-overs, albeit shot from different perspectives. Now we get a full-length series version, also made through a GAINAX/Subaru collaboration.
The central character is (naturally!) named Subaru, a shy and clumsy girl who is also an astronomy nut and thus philosophically likens human relationships to stars. Several years ago she saw something special in the sky, which will probably eventually prove to be connected to why she can now unwittingly use magic. Through it she is able to access an extradimensional arboretum where she gets to talk to a mysterious boy, and later it allows her to stumbles into a gathering of magical girls, one of which is her former friend Aoi. (The two seemed to have had a bit of a falling out at some past point.) They had just been lamenting that their quartet needed a fifth to be successful, and Subaru seems to be it. She is certainly able to manifest her “drive shaft” (read: staff) and fly off with the others when they head out to try to retrieve a star-like object which is actually a remnant of a ruined spaceship belonging to the magical girls’ president, an alien from Pleiades who looks like a blob of water. With her help they are able to succeed for the first time, until a demonic but also familiar-looking boy appears and tries to take it.
So yeah, this is the season's entry in the magical girl realm, and it stays purer in spirit than most recent magical girl fare. It gives off not a hint of sexualization and goes full-bore for the cute factor, but atypically manages to do it without going overboard. It has everything else you'd want in a traditional magical girl series, too: stylish costume, chipper and likable girls, active interpersonal reactions, a mascot character, and of course a fair amount of magic. The strained relationship between Subaru and Aoi (they have a habit of literally getting in each other's faces) is a nice touch, as is the somewhat more philosophical attitude it takes in its astronomy equivalencies. Perhaps most importantly, it never loses its sense of wonder. On the downside, calling their magical staves “drive shafts” and having them rev like (presumably) a Subaru's engine while in flight is a monumentally dumb gimmick. At least the production values are pretty good.
If you have lamented the darker direction that magical girl series have commonly gone in over the last few years then you should appreciate this one. It's not especially ambitious-looking but looks and feels like it should be sweet and enjoyable to watch without getting too saccharine.
What's this? A magical girl anime? Played completely straight with no darkness or tragedy lurking in the corners? What is this witchcraft?!
Yes, Wish Upon the Pleiades is exactly what it says on the tin: a magical girl anime brought to you by Subaru, makers of fine automotive vehicles. No, really. I thought there was something odd about our heroine (named Subaru)'s new weapon, an item that can only be described as a "magical motorcycle star broom," and this sponsorship explains everything. Car commercial or no, Pleiades is at worst simple and benign, rather than cynical and hollow. It feels way less like an advertisement than Show By Rock!! does, although that doesn't make it a better show, either. Whereas Show By Rock!! was bursting with creativity and insanity that felt a little too shallow and clean to be trusted, Pleiades is a painfully sincere by-the-numbers mahou shojo series, with its only unique element being that motorized witch broom, which is neat even if it's subtle product placement. I would ride one!
Seriously, if I didn't know the little stars on the girl's outfits were supposed to be the stars from the Subaru logo ahead of time, I wouldn't have known at all. Both Gainax and the sponsor seem to be aware that the best way to promote a product is to not make it so obvious that you are promoting a product, and to instead make people want a thing because they associate it with good emotions. The girls don't want to hock Subaru product, they are Subaru product in both name and appearance, and the show's efforts to make you like them are fairly successful! Their relationships and personalities haven't been explored too deeply yet, but there's enough there that works to latch onto. (Subaru's love of astronomy and tempestuous relationship with friend Aoi are both good starts for making all the cuteness feel sincere.) The production values here are also respectable. The show does the KanColle thing where it switches awkwardly to cel-CG models of the girls once they start floating in the sky on their way to a mission, but it doesn't ever do it in closeup, so it's not as jarring as it could have been.
The only other notable thing about Pleiades is how unassuming the big Magical Girl Quest is. These girls aren't protecting the world from the evil of rival car companies or alien car-destroyers from space or anything. They must instead use their magical motor-star-brooms to find shattered pieces of a spaceship engine, so they can send the cute little blob alien who gave them their powers back to his home planet. There's a bad space guy trying to take the engine pieces for himself first, but he's a cute boy that Subaru already likes, so I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding.
This is harmless sparkly fun, and it feels much less like a commercial than it could have. Check it out if you're jonesing for a new cutesy entry in the magical girl genre played completely straight. If you want something with a little more bite or a new angle on the mahou shojo world, it's probably not going to happen in Pleiades though.
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