Subaru is a junior high girl who loves the stars. However, when she opens the door to the observatory to watch a meteor shower, she gets more than she’d bargained for. Instead of the usual room, she is greeted by a lavish garden and a mysterious long-haired boy. The garden soon disappears, and all that remains in an odd, bouncing blob which leads her through another magical door to a room occupied by magical girls. She soon discovers that the blob is a Pleiadian, one of a species of aliens who are trying to get back home. Subaru joins the group, which includes her childhood friend Aoi, as she and the others attempt to collect the pieces of the Pleiadian spacecraft engine and return the being to its home. However, they’re not the only ones after the engine pieces…
When it comes to Magical Girl anime as a genre, I’d still consider myself a relative newcomer. Barring shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fate/Kaleid liner Prisma Illya, I haven’t really seen that many of them, however, I think I know enough about the genre trappings to know when a Magical Girl show is trying to do something a bit different, and Wish Upon the Pleiades does just that. Originally starting life as an Original Net Animation back in 2011, this full length anime is based on the 2014 manga spin off Wish Upon the Pleiades: Prism Palette, and offers a more character- centric take on the Magical Girl genre.
Make no mistake, if you’ve come to Wish Upon the Pleiades expecting the usual Magical Girl shtick of long transformation sequences and villain-of- the-week battles, you’re going to be disappointed, because it’s a very different show. I’ll admit, before I watched it, I was also expecting something in that vein, but Pleiades managed to beat my expectations by a significant margin, largely due to the quality of its characters. The best of the bunch is undoubtedly the main protagonist Subaru, who undergoes a significant amount of character development over the course of the show, both in herself and through her relationships with her childhood friend Aoi and the mysterious long-haired boy Minato. These relationships are very well done, with Subaru and Aoi’s relationship in particular resonating quite well with me, as it deals with growing apart and how people can change. This is a subject that I think a lot of people can probably find relatable; I know I certainly could. As for the other characters, they also each get their own episode to give them greater depth, however, I would have liked to have seen a bit more done to develop them. There is so much focus on Subaru, Aoi and Minato, I can’t help but feel everyone else is somewhat neglected after the one episode that has them in the spotlight.
Despite the fact that Pleiades is largely character-focused, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else to it. While it doesn’t feature in every episode, there is still a decent amount of Magical Girl fun to be had in a lot of episodes. It doesn’t really take the form of traditional action, per se, there aren’t really any fights, but the sequences of the girls trying to obtain the engine pieces are great, and the fact that there’s more to getting the pieces than just battling keeps it from getting stale, with the group having to think up different solutions as to how to lay their hands on the increasingly hard-to-get engine pieces.
I did find the story had some stumbling blocks though, particularly towards the end. The whole revelation about Minato was kind-of muddy, and not very well explained, which was a shame, because I feel they were really building to something great, but it just wasn’t executed well. Another sloppy execution of a good idea comes in the broad theme of change. This is something that is hammered home in almost each and every episode, yet it feels so vague and nebulous, I’m not entirely sure I could ever pin down exactly what they were going for with it, and the characters seem to go back and forth on if they have changed or if they haven’t or if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, and the whole thing just left me mildly confused. I also had this issue with some of the dialogue in the Garden scenes, where Minato almost always speaks in confusing terms, and this is done very deliberately, as even Subaru says she’s confused in the scenes themselves.
After the characters, I’d have to say that the highlight of Wish Upon the Pleiades has to be its animation. I might be a little bit biased because Pleiades does pander to exactly what I love in an anime’s art style, being full of bright colours and adopting moe character designs courtesy of Mai Otsuka, who also did the character designs for Non Non Biyori, a Slice of Life favourite of mine. Still, I don’t think that anyone could deny Pleiades is quite the looker, and it shouldn’t be surprising coming from Gainax, who also brought us classics such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gurren Lagann and Gunbuster. As far as visuals go, I also have to praise the use of CGI here. In most anime, the CGI always looks poor, not matching with the traditionally animated visuals, however in Pleiades, the CG is barely noticeable, only being used in long shots and never close up. To me, this is the best way to utilise CGI in anime, using it when the viewers are barely going to be able to tell it’s there at all. Although it isn’t strictly animation, I also adored the eyecatch art in this show, provided by the author of the manga, Anmi.
Animatsu’s release of Wish Upon the Pleiades is Japanese audio only with English subtitles. The whole cast are pretty great, with not a weak performance among them. Natsumi Takamori as Subaru (Mei Misaki from Another, Azusa from Orange) and Houko Kuwashima as Minato (Kagura from Azumanga Daioh, Tomoyo from Clannad) give the best performances, but then they have the most emotional scenes. The soundtrack by Shiro Hamaguchi (notable for providing the music for One Piece and Shirobako) delivers a range of music that complements the visuals nicely. The OP and ED are decent enough, but neither really stands out as anything more than okay.
Extras on Wish Upon the Pleiades include a Clean OP and ED, as well as trailers.
Wish Upon the Pleiades may stumble in its story in places, but the excellent characters and beautiful animation make this an easy recommendation for anyone seeking an out-of-the-ordinary Magical Girl anime.