Houkago no Pleiades – ONA
GAINAX’s unusual joint anime project with Subaru makes its debut on YouTube, and the only real connection to the Japanese car manufacturer is the Pleiades star cluster that its name and logo are based upon. (Subaru is the Pleiades’ name in Japanese.) Much like the later promo videos suggested, this is actually a magical girl anime at heart, in the more traditional sense than SHAFT’s offering this season.
Comprised of four mini episodes that were all released simultaneously, this Original Net Animation (ONA) is more of a one-shot anime than a series. However, despite its relatively short length, I quickly grew fond of the characters and was surprised by the wide range of emotions depicted. Coming in without any real expectations, I was impressed by the way the show immediately grabbed my attention too, starting with the surreal opening scene and mysterious encounter shortly after. There wasn’t much in the way of an introduction as to what’s going on, yet it wasn’t the least bit jarring since it was pretty evident that was the effect the writers were going for. For the most part, I was just as lost as the main heroine Subaru (Takamori Natsumi), but answers came when she stumbled upon a clubroom with four magical girls. Seeing her friend Aoi (Oohashi Ayuru) among them, she soon becomes a magical girl as well to help their Pleiades alien club president find a way home. Joined by Itsuki (Tateno Kanako), Nanako (Fujita Saki), and Hikaru (Makino Yui), they take to the skies to gather star fragments.
While the premise itself was pretty outlandish, everything happened fairly quickly so there really wasn’t any time to start asking questions. Coincidentally, therein lie the beauty of it, as Subaru was dragged into collecting “Engine Fragments” for their president, only to find out that the boy she met earlier, Minato (Kuwashima Houko), is their enemy and doing the same for some unknown reason. They battled, then there was a bit of a rift between Subaru and Aoi, before they made up and faced Minato again. Admittedly, the whole becoming a star bit was odd since it wasn’t explained in any detail, but I found myself too immersed into the presentation of it all to dwell on twenty or so minutes of plot not making perfect sense. All I know is that there were a lot of aspects that I like, ranging from the character interactions to the mysterious cosmos, which left me wanting to see more of this unusual project.
Quite honestly, I still don’t know what the purpose of this joint venture is since it doesn’t really promote Subaru (the car manufacturer) in any way, but if it was a means for GAINAX to dazzle everyone with one of their productions, featuring great character designs and concept art that translated beautifully on screen, they sure achieved that in my books. In fact, watching this ONA made me wish more studios would receive funding to take a bit of a risk and test viewer reception by creating conceptual anime shorts, in hopes that one of their creative ideas will catch on and get the green light on a television series. After all, I went into this show with very little understanding on what it’s about, yet came out with a feeling that it’s a unique take on magical girls that I want to watch more of. I can only imagine how many other seemingly unusual concepts never make it beyond the planning phase, when some of them could have turned out as “positively surprising” as this one. It was cute and had an inexplicable charm to it.
Of course, I gather having Subaru’s financial support helped a lot with getting Houkago no Pleiades out the door. Interestingly enough, it also featured a lot of end card illustrations from various artists in the ending sequence. A lot of them are really nice too. See below.