For anyone who’s ever wished to vanish from the face of the Earth (and boy, have we all been there because being a teen sucks) there’s an essential, relatable thread to grab hold of in Wish Upon the Pleiades. I say essential, because otherwise we’d be floating around in the stratosphere with Subaru, Aoi, Itsuki, Hikaru and Nanako without a clue where to look for meaning in its story. But as it reminisces on old friends growing apart, the anxiety on the edge of adulthood and the loneliness they bring, this magical girl slice-of-life with a difference, if not always for the better, grounds itself in diary-like snapshots bound in emotional flux. Or maybe more vlog-like, considering it started out as a studio Gainax YouTube series.
Wandering the halls of her school after hours and wondering what she’s supposed to do with her pathetic self, Subaru stumbles across a room hiding four enchanting girls. One of them she recognises; her childhood friend Aoi, who went to a different school when they moved up to junior high. Another, Nanako, has a special connection with an alien, known to the girls as a Pleiadian. Through her, the Pleiadian explains that his spaceship has been damaged, pieces of its engine scattered across the solar system. Subaru becomes their unlikely heroine, a fifth point in their star, who makes it possible for them to find and capture the tricky missing pieces, even as a dark caped boy is stealing them for his own inscrutable purposes.
Like dreams held together by stardust, each episode’s mission to find the next piece acts as a framework for revelations concerning the girls. They create lunar satellites held in place by the story’s main route, all of them hopeless, abandoned or adrift in their lives outside each other, but always happy when they can be together. The pattern creates a slow repetition that sometimes does credit to its unfurling mysteries, but most of the time comes off predictable. Still, on its high notes, there’s a delicious conspiratorial unease in why the girls feel so much dread, and how they’ve wound up together. It’s an undertone reflected in the shadowed scenes of their home lives, contrasted in the rainbow lights of the sky in which they fly.
As you explore space, the planets and constellations with them, you’re treated to stunning backdrops of photorealistic whipped cream clouds and the stars above, even if the CG layers create a weird flattish depth at times. Watching them zoom through it all on their drive shafts – something like a minimalist motorbike-broomstick hybrid, a clear product of Gainax’s collaboration with automakers Subaru – it becomes a tour with enough fun facts to keep things interesting. Did you know Saturn’s rings are five Earths wide? Or that Subaru is, in fact, the Japanese name for the Pleiades constellation?
Blurring the lines between science and fantasy, Pleiades plays with that most well-known of Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws: “Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet”. The powers of human will and love act as physical forces that can pull people together. The romance of friendship and first love take a leap to the fantastic in later episodes, coming to full strength amongst the stars that stretch beyond our solar system and into the endless unknown. There, the insignificance of the loneliness of one turns into a heartwarming feeling, something Nanako calls “po-warm”. If there was any one word to describe this oddly endearing series, that would be it.
Extras: Clean opening/closing animation; also available from Sentai Filmworks