Anime Review: Wish Upon the Pleiades

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My words alone cannot do this series justice. It is among my highest recommendations for anime this year. It is a show for all ages, yet its themes are surprisingly complex. It is a cute show, but still contains the maturity of a magical girl series. And while it was originally made in collaboration with the automobile company Subaru in 2011, this extension of the short feature delivers a powerful message for us to always dream big, never let others define our selves, and no matter where we go, we will always be connected to those that matter on this journey we call Life.

It never really caught on as a catch phrase, but watching this series always made me feel “po-warm.”

Po-warm

Thanks, Nanako.

Wish Upon the Pleiades (Hōkago no Pleiades, or “Afterschool Pleiades”) is set in the life of Subaru and her friends in middle school. Together they belong to the school’s Cosplay Research Club, but that’s just a cover for what they really do.

When school is finished, they transform into in magical girls, on a mission to find their alien President Pleiadian’s engine fragments across the universe! Sounds impossible, right? Well, not for them!

Pleiadian

Indeed, Pleiadian.

But the girls aren’t alone in trying to find these fragments. While they fly around high above the Earth and even into space in their white uniforms, a boy in black seeks to do the same thing, and he’s not going to share them either!

Minato

Oh no he didn’t!

But even though the series has a very clear antagonist, there is more to this boy than meets the eye. And he has a very striking resemblance to Minato, the boy that Subaru meets in a garden world that appears magically beyond the doors of the school’s planetarium.

Garden world

Did I mention this is also a romance anime yet?

The girls seem to be united in their cause to find the engine fragments for Pleiadian, but they have a potpourri of personalities and interests that never seem to fit together. We’re all unique in our own strange ways, yet somehow, Pleiadian had chosen each of these girls for such a monumental task. So what connects them?

It turns out that on the night that Pleiadian’s space ship crashed, the resulting explosion created a bright phenomenon in the sky, and the engine fragments scattered. Each girl made a wish on that light. And just as their wishes were scattered along with the fragments, so too were they scattered on separate journeys, until now.

Some people naively think that all girls desire the same kind of things, often resulting in the collective of stuff we might call “feminine.” But the truth is, they are just as capable of different thoughts and interests as boys are. And as we get to know each one of Subaru’s friends, their dreams are just as big and just as various.

AoiAoi is Subaru’s childhood friend who moved away when they were still in elementary school, but reunites with her in middle school. She may look and act like a boy sometimes, but she always hopes for a fairy tale ending.

HikaruHikaru isn’t one to express her true feelings so easily, but she is a free-spirited girl with plenty of attitude. As her musician father’s pride and joy, she wishes to one day compose her feelings for her family and friends in song.

ItsukiItsuki is a kind girl who seems to have matured in a lot of ways at the middle school age. However, she always liked doing “boyish” activities like climbing trees, until she got injured from one such incident. Struggling to get past that harmful experience, she wishes to play like the boys, and to reconnect with her big brother in doing so.

pleiades-nanakoNanako is the Cosplay Research Club’s president (on paper), but often acts as a recluse. Well-versed in multiple languages, she is also Pleiadian’s liaison. When her parents divorced, she stayed in Japan with her father, while her mother and brother traveled the world, only sending postcards from their travels to her. Nanako wishes to one day reunite with the other half of her family.

pleiades-subaruSubaru is a klutzy girl with a very strong interest in the sciences, particularly in astronomy. Her father is a mechanic for an automobile company, and she gets most of her personality from him. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life yet (and that’s okay), but she’s always ready to support her friends in their endeavors.

Subaru the automobile manufacturer makes a subtle appearance in the series, as the girls’ flying contraptions have car bumpers attached to the end of them, and make engine sounds that are similar to one of Subaru’s models. However, our titular character’s name serves as a double (or perhaps triple) entendre in that regard.

Pleiades

Subaru and Minato journey to the Pleiades cluster.

The Pleiades cluster is one of the closest star clusters to our solar system, and you can bet that all six of our principle characters’ names serve as allegories to it. While the West refers to the cluster in homage to the Seven sisters of Pleiades, Japanese culture refers to it as the Six stars of Subaru, which means “to unite.”

Just as it is the Cosplay Research Club’s duty to unite the engine fragments, Subaru is tasked to proverbially unite her six friends. Yes, including Minato.

And to understand why that is, I must turn to the SPOILER portion of my review.

Boys

This isn’t just about magical girls. It’s also about magical boys.

All of our characters had lived separate lives in different time dimensions, yet came together in this present existence to find the fragments. In a sense, the multidimensional traveler Pleiadian brought them together because they had wished upon its blown up space ship! Across different spans of space-time, Subaru’s relationship to people like Aoi came and went, and those connections also extend to Minato.

Subaru vaguely remembers a time when she was visiting her sickly mother in the hospital, where she met a young boy who was undergoing treatment for a serious illness. There, she learned the wonders of the stars, and even developed a close friendship with him. That was her first instance in meeting Minato.

But in truth, that was just one version of Minato in her timeline, and as we learn more about how much time is weaving in this series, we learn that there are at least two Minatos: the one in the garden world, and the one who collects the engine fragments for himself.

When the light first from the explosion first appeared, the sickly Minato also made a wish on that star to be set free from his illness. When he did, a mysterious little boy whom he called Elnath appeared, and Elnath gave Minato the ability to fly. Minato and Elnath went on to search for engine fragments together, when Minato comes to a very diametrically opposing conclusion: if they were to get the fragments together, the power from them could only grant one of their wishes. Would it help Elnath get back home, or will it save Minato from his suffering existence?

From this, Minato makes a change of heart and transforms into the black Minato that the girls know in the present. But this time, he’s gathering the fragments with a different wish in mind: to wipe himself out of existence. But while this version of Minato hope to break free from his own existence, the sickly Minato remains in that hospital prison, that becomes a garden beyond the school’s planetarium, in Subaru’s dream world.

Hospital

Subaru sees the real Minato. But is he the one she wants to see?

Subaru wants to help her friends and Minato, but feels like she fails at saving any of them. Part of her also wants to move forward, yet part of her fears that once the fragments are found, these fun times will be gone forever. Where can she find the wisdom to let go of these worries and do something for herself?

We don’t like to part from our friends or family, and yet there will always come a time when we must, whether in death or a change in situation. We would like to think that the good times with them will last forever, and fear that any changes in that situation will never be just as good in the future.

But for Subaru and her friends, that change doesn’t have to be something out of our control. For them, they make those changes happen for themselves on a personal level. And when Subaru transforms into her own black outfit for the sake of that change, her resolve becomes much more clear.

KissBlack and White in this series do not have any moral attachment to them, as Minato and Subaru seem to trade colors at the end of the series. Having said that, there aren’t really any “bad guys” in this series either; just characters who make adjustments to their thoughts and feelings for each other, depending on the situation. And just as these two reveal their utmost wishes, their feelings are very sincere.

Minato still believes that one day, he will disappear from all existence, and seems to accept that situation. That means every one of his existences in space-time will disappear completely. But even so, Subaru wishes to someday reunite with that Minato, no matter how many dimensions she has to cross in order to find him. And with that, Subaru knows she can accept the change in her future situations, because she is in control of that change.

So when the fragments are finally reunited, our six principle characters return to the origin of time, to a place where all of their existences began before they went their separate ways, in this series’ brief explanation of string theory. And when asked to make their final wish to be wherever they want to go, the answer is clear.

For Subaru, Aoi, Hikaru, Itsuki, and Nanako, they all chose to be themselves: the girls they always wanted to be.

pleiades-12In time, we will experience situations good and bad. We don’t always like to see changes in ourselves or others, but they will happen, and we will inevitably be separated from the ones we once knew. It seems existentially depressing that we are alone in our own universe, as people and things come and go in our lives, so minuscule in the age of the entire universe. And yet, there is something that is existentially hopeful that we can still make our own choices about these situations, and the hope that we might reconnect with these past moments and make new connections along the way. And knowing that, we can always find meaning in our memories, and make changes to ourselves with confidence.

To sum up whatever I just covered, I would like to end with Subaru’s own final thoughts, words that I believe speak to this series and its overarching message:

“The stars in the night sky spend a long time passing each other by, repeating the sadness of being alone and the joy of meeting one another… When I look up at the starry sky, it makes me think of the people I still have yet to meet, somewhere. That someone is looking up at the starry sky in the same way. And the stars are watching over all of us from up in the sky.”

pleiades-endSo if you are looking for an anime for all those po-warm feelings that will also make you think even a little, then watch Wish Upon the Pleiades. Thank you for reading this, if you got through the entire thing. May our paths cross together again soon!

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