Wish Upon the Pleiades
Episodes 1-2

by Rose Bridges,

Wish Upon the Pleiades is a curious thing. It feels like the punchline to an "only in Japan!" joke: a magical-girl cartoon sponsored by Subaru. In spite of the main character sharing the company's name though, it doesn't feel like an advertisement. "Subaru" just happens to be the name for the Pleiades star cluster of the title, which the car company uses as its logo. Knowing that, it feels more like a typical magical girl show with an astronomy gimmick.

It's refreshing to see one of those again. Remember when magical girls meant positive female friendships, rainbows, and smiles? In the wake of Madoka Magica's success, we've suffered through countless imitators of its dark, cruel atmosphere. Such imitators often leave behind everything that was interesting about that show, only cranking up the despair to turn a once sweet, if vapid, genre into torture porn. Why can't happy and innocent just be happy and innocent? Why do we feel the need to corrupt these things and look for a hidden cruel twist?

Wish Upon the Pleiades clearly represents a desire to turn away from that, considering it's an adaptation of an ONA from 2011. The show must have been pretty popular to spawn a TV animation. Clearly, there's still demand for the sparkly and frilly kinds of magical girls. Of course, it's not like those are any less insidious either. They tend to be fanservice extravaganzas full of upskirt shots. Other than Precure, it doesn't feel like people are making magical girl shows for kids anymore.

This series is the exception to both those rules. It's clearly aimed at grown otaku (there's not much point in selling cars to little kids), but I could see kids watching and loving this. There's nothing indecent or excessively in-jokey about it. There are a few moments of self-awareness, especially when the girls discuss how they got their powers and they changed their lives. There is the occasional butt-shot. None of this is out of the ordinary for the genre, though; Sailor Moon lingered plenty on Sailor Mars' miniskirt. Winking references are all over popular American kids' cartoons today. It throws those in to keep adults entertained, but the point of the show is the sparkly, cute magical sequences. We're here to see Subaru and her old friend Aoi circle each other to catch a falling star while singing about it. That's stuff that would make the 6-year-old version of me cheer. The little tykes who love Precure would eat this up if they were awake for when it aired.

It has diminishing returns for me now. It's sweet to see an astronomy-loving girl grow to be a star-themed warrior and make new magical friends through it, but that's not enough to keep me engaged—or, I would imagine, most viewers old enough to drive Subaru's cars. Wish Upon the Pleiades tries to offer some substance in the second episode, but "tries" is the key word there. The aliens' abilities to manipulate the girls' "strings of fate" and memories just makes the show that much more confusing. Aoi and Subaru's tension over their past friendship is played for drama and tied into themes about being afraid of change. Yet it falls flat because we're not really sure how much of their past is true in the first place, and how much the aliens planted in their minds. It also resolves itself within less than half an episode, and they're cheerily spinning around on their drive shafts and singing by the end. There's material for strong character writing here, but the show doesn't seem interested in that other than as dressing.

Instead, the focus is on the fun fantasy mechanics, cute and colorful character designs, and other bells and whistles of a magic-themed show. The "drive shafts" they ride around on are like mechanized brooms, and episode 2 spends a lot of time on Subaru learning to ride. There are multiple references to her getting a "learner's permit" and engines that make them sound like cars, so there's your advertisement for Subaru, I guess. Overall, the evidence of corporate sponsorship is slim and easy to forget as you get drawn into the cutesy magical-girl fun. That's the least of the show's problems. I just wish it had other things to recommend in it. Even the colorful visuals could be better. The CG when the girls fly around is more than a little jarring.

Overall, Wish Upon the Pleiades is pleasant fluff. It's a paint-by-numbers magical girl show, and if that feels fresh, it's mostly because no one's done it in a while. If you read as much Tokyo Mew Mew and Wedding Peach as I did in middle school though, this will feel very familiar. There's nothing to distinguish it from that heap quite yet. It has signs of possible substance, like in Subaru's redheaded greenhouse confidante who could also be the villain. It could go there. But so far, it hasn't. That's fine if you're a child, but I don't think that's the audience this car commercial has in mind.

Rating: C+

Wish Upon the Pleiades is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a musicologist who studies film music. She writes about anime and many other topics on Autostraddle.com, her blog and her Twitter.
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