Saturday 11 April 2015

First Impressions: Wish Upon the Pleiades

Wish Upon the Pleiades

Things have been a little quiet for Gainax over the past few years. Sure the legendary anime studio have produced a string of anime adapted from various sources (Medaka Box, C3-bu and Magica Wars), but in terms of original products there hasn't been a peep out of them since Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt way back in 2010. But proving that the loss of some of their leading staff members (who've gone on to form studio Trigger) isn't the end of them, they're back with a brand new magical girl series - Wish Upon the Pleiades. Well, it isn't technically new since the show is based on a bunch of Youtube shorts the studio produced back in 2011 in association with automobile company Subaru. But hey, it's great to have you back Gainax.

Although Wish Upon the Pleiades previous appeared as a four-part ONA (original net animation) series that was about half an hour long in its entirety, don't be put off if you haven't checked those out before diving into this series. As most probably expected this series starts things off from scratch, expanding upon the extremely brief plot that the original ONA set out. The story follows Subaru, a slightly clumsy high school girl with a particular interest in astronomy and the stars. One when attempting to enter her school's observatory she finds herself in a strange greenhouse, where she meets a frail-looking boy. Immediately after that, a small alien leads her to a magically sealed room where she finds a group of magical girls - including her childhood friend Aoi. The girls explain that they have been selected by the alien (the Pleiadian) to assist it in recovering pieces to its broken spaceship engine - which in the wrong hands could be potentially destruction. Despite Aoi's protests, Subaru is determined to help in any way she can, gaining powers of her very own as the five girls set out to successfully retrieve their very first piece of the engine.

Once upon a time a new original Gainax animation would have been the talking point of any anime season, but these days it sadly feels like a blip on the radar. Sure it's got some particularly stiff competition to go out against (Trigger's Ninja Slayer: From Animation, Digimon Adventure Tri, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan and the second half of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works to name a few), but you'd think something from one of the directors of FLCL (a legendary piece of Gainax insanity) would have attracted more attention. Maybe it's because Wish Upon the Pleiades lacks anything recognisably Gainax. For a studio that so many have tried to replicate over the years, it's quite disappointing to see this just feel look and feel like another addition to the already overcrowded pool of magical girl shows. The designs and animation haven't had much of an overhaul since the original shorts, and while they were pretty impressive there for a full-length series it doesn't really strike as anything other than passable.

And even though the story has been drawn out into a full-length series, Pleiades still bizarrely seems to be rushing things a bit. It only took one episode to be introduced to the all of the girls and for Subaru to gain her powers, all while we feel like we know absolutely nothing about her. The only clear bit of character info that came out of this episode was the rocky former friendship between Subaru and Aoi, which does seem to become a bit more complex since the original ONAs. Like the animation it's not a problem of anything being particularly bad, just that everything is so decidedly average. And that makes something even less memorable than being outright bad.

Maybe Wish Upon the Pleiades needs a few more episodes to truly get the ball rolling, but nothing about this first episode filled me with the same level of wonder and excitement many of Gainax's other original projects have. And that's the biggest shame of all. I really hope this once great studio still has some magic left in it, but unless it's got some real surprises up its sleeve I don't think this is going to be the series that proves it.

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