Review: Wish Upon the Pleiades (Hokago no Pleiades)
Official Sites: Japanese
Additional Links: ANN Entry, HD's Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month (Feb. 2011)
Video [Free]: YouTube
In one of the more unlikely pairings you'll find on the scene, automaker SUBARU and GAINAX collaborated to make the YouTube exclusive (well, until the inevitable BD/DVD release) magical girl show Hokago no Pleiades (or Wish Upon the Pleiades, in English). At first glance, one can easily detect the monetary input of the production with its Shinkai-esque starry skies, vibrant lighting and coloring, and beautifully-rendered backgrounds. And with its genre trappings, the series is certainly not bereft of lovely character designs or animation work, not to mention a top-notch music production.
But…that's all I can really say about the show.
The fatal flaw of Wish Upon the Pleiades/Hokago no Pleiades is that there is not much that can be said of the actual meat of the show--the story. Comprised of four episodes at about five to seven minutes apiece--roughly equivalent, in whole, to the length of a normal anime episode--the inherent issue lays bare twofold.
|Sorry, Subaru, but all is not well with your anime.|
(By the way, this is her default "surprise" face…)
As other works have shown, it is possible to tell a reasonably good story from start to finish within the confines of a single, one-shot episode. Where HnP makes its mistake is not quite in its choice of length, but in literally treating its four episodes like four full-length ones, rather than four parts of a single tale. As a result, this makes for a very compressed story that tries to accomplish too much within its given time frame and doesn't allow for things to settle in or give you a chance to become emotionally invested in it. This, in turn, can lead to some unintentionally comedic moments, such as when the story tries to rapidly move into sentimental territory with character relationships that have barely been covered. With proper time to build, a scene involving one character crying could have worked, but with the abruptness of the scene and its lack of weight, I found myself chuckling at it, instead.
Not doing favors, either, is the generic undercurrent to the story, which its pretty surface cannot cover up. It's nothing you haven't seen before in every other magical girl anime, but the good execution you need to make the familiar work is absent here. Considering director Shouji Saeki also helmed and helped create GAINAX's underwhelming 20th anniversary piece This Ugly Yet Beautiful World (and apparently had a sizable role here, as well), perhaps this is not too surprising.
|A pic so nice, I'm posting it twice…|
(And honestly, it's one of the few good things about the show…)
Even though SUBARU--an automaker, of all people--helped produced this magical girl anime, the elements related to the company and its business are more subtle than one might expect. The magical girl group that the main character Subaru (Get it? And it's the Japanese equivalent of the Pleiades star cluster's name, too! Oh, hahaha… alright, not that subtle…) stumbles upon at school all have Japanese-equivalent names to different car models. Additionally, the keys that are used to unlock doors look like car keys and even the weapons the girls use make motor sounds (perhaps the oddest-fitting of the nods), but overall, the references to autos are kept to a relative minimum and prove not to be too much of a distraction.
But is this just an infomercial to get people, including young girls and otaku, interested in SUBARU and their vehicles as future buyers, or is it merely an honest-to-goodness attempt to make an anime for people to enjoy? Honestly, it's a bit of both. I doubt SUBARU would be putting their name out there and doing this just for the heck of it or as a new venture into animation without trying to garner some attention to itself and new fans (and teaming with GAINAX is certainly one way of doing it). At the same time, however, there is a genuine feeling of independence and lack of self-promotion to it, where they truly seem intent on just making something fun and that people would enjoy.
Too bad that the gorgeous animation and music accompanying Wish Upon the Pleiades/Hokago no Pleiades are nullified by its highly-condensed story and inherent pacing issues. So much effort was placed in its sensory presentation, yet little consideration was paid in how to competently tell its story within its four short-length episodes. It could have worked if they did not try so hard to cover so much ground across them and kept HnP's objectives simple and within their given confines, including treating its episodes as four parts and not four separate episodes, and omitting some of the extraneous drama from the third. Perhaps the best part of HnP was the ending, which showcased a parade of conceptual art and promotional pictures to the beat of its catchy and well-written theme song, which would easily make for a wonderful artbook tie-in to a disc release.
But, I'm not quite sure that saying that the best of anything was "the ending" is necessarily a good thing…