|A good bit of mystery, great visuals and locations, strong finish, excellent OP/ED
|Some of the cast were more developed than others, the ending may be too open for some people, the lack of answers early may frustrate people
There are always shows in a season that surprise you and capture your attention. For me, Houkago no Pleiades was one of those shows. This was a series that constantly had me asking questions. It gave bits and pieces of the whole story, but often you were left with as many questions as you got answers. In a sense the mystery of why the antagonist was fighting the main cast and what would happen when the characters accomplished their goal was a major draw for me each week. We got to know the cast as time went along, but the show kept its cards close to the vest until close to the end. While some people might have been left confused or frustrated in not having enough answers, I had a lot of fun in trying to figure out what the truth of the matter was.
The story is pretty well done and again a big part of it is the mystery. You have the main cast (Subaru, Aoi, Nanako, Itsuki, and Hikaru) brought together in order to gather fragments of an engine. This engine just happening to belong to a ship of an alien, who basically leads their little group. Just from the start you have an interesting combination here since you have a focus on space, aliens, and magic. The girls are basically given supercharged brooms that let them fly and attempt to gather the fragments they need. The main focus for a lot of episodes is tracking down a fragment be it over the ocean, in the atmosphere, or in the depths of the solar system. This is a show that recognizes that these girls have magic and therefore is willing to throw them into far more extreme locations than one might expect. The main issue usually is the fact that they have another magic user who is more than willing to get in their way. For most of the show he remains unnamed and his reasons for challenging them for the fragments is unclear.
As much as the episode has a race or struggle to get the fragment first, the major focus is on the characters. Each episode does a good job developing at least one of the main girls or touching on the mystery. We get to know just why these girls were brought together to track down the fragments and what issues they’ve had in their lives that made them suitable for the job. It usually is only an episode or two for each girl, but you still get a good understanding of their background and current personalities. The other main focus of the episode is usually a meeting between Subaru and the mysterious boy Minato. Subaru just finds her way into this green house like building. Usually she gets there going through any normal doorway in the school. Minato is usually helpful in giving Subaru some moral support when she needs it. Subaru is the type that really does need some guidance and support now and then. The mystery surrounding Minato is one of the key aspects to the show, who this guy is and why Subaru constantly finds her way to him.
The cast is quite good, though the main focus for the characters tends to remain on Subaru, Aoi, and Minato. Subaru at her core isn’t an unusual type. She’s someone who is a bit isolated, lacks confidence, and really has to start from the bottom in terms of becoming a skilled magic user. She’s the entry character who guides us through things. She was actually close friends with Aoi in the past before they ended up separated so this is a bit of an exciting reunion from her point of view. Subaru grows as much as anyone in the entire show, she finds her voice and chases the things she believes in. She just has to go through a lot of difficult times along the way, but that at least makes her growth believable. You can’t help wanting to see her succeed. Subaru is a girl who loves the stars more than anyone in the show and her knowledge of constellations does give some helpful information as the show goes along.
In some ways you could consider Aoi to be the tsundere of the group, but it’s more that she’s just not openly honest about what she wants. She has her own issues from the past and struggles early on in expressing herself. Her past with Subaru brings both fun and friction into the early parts, though she is at the core a good person. Aoi just gets a bit frazzled and everyone can usually tell when she’s just unable to be honest with herself so she never gets frustrating.
I’d like to go into depth win Minato, but there isn’t much one can say without spoiling. He is an unusual guy and pretty mysterious. Subaru just happens upon him and finds that he always seems to find a way to give her the support she needs. When she runs into an issue with her friends he can give some help that leads to her figuring out what she needs to be doing and taking action herself. I will say that by the end I quite liked his character and think he had some excellent reveals before the end. The connection between him and Subaru is a nice facet of the show that appealed to me. They really do have some nice moments throughout.
In some ways I can’t help putting the remaining members of the group together. They all have their own attributes, but they only really get an episode each to be developed. In some ways you could treat Itsuki as the adventurous type. She definitely enjoyed pushing their rides to their max speeds and testing her limits. Someone you might expect to act more reserved, but is pretty willing to refute that expectation numerous times. In some ways can act as the tomboy of the group.
Nanako is an interesting character because she basically acts as an interpreter for the alien who is asking for their help. He’ll blurb out some explanation about fragments or engines or what they need to do and she will turn that into words. It can be easy to forget about Nanako as a character and just treat her as a walking interpreter. But, she still gets her own focus in the show and you can see why she’s a bit of an unique person. Wearing a pretty classic witch outfit out in public and just seeming to be a strange person. She does have her reasons and she is a nice person once she gets a chance to speak out.
Hikaru is definitely another energetic type in the show. She does tend to drive conversations since she’ll speak out on issues and get annoyed more than most at the intruder who keeps fighting them for the fragments. Her personal issue doesn’t become as obvious until the show reaches her character episode. At that point, you can understand her a bit better. Hikaru really does have a softer side that she tends to not show off much and will instead act out and pull some crazy stunts with her “drive shaft.” She’s not so much the speed type, but more acrobatic.
Visually the show is really quite nice. As was said before they really cover a variety of locations in this show when it comes to gathering fragments. You get to see some beautiful sights in space and even a few times on Earth. They go all over the place and you get to see planets and stars up close. The characters look good and the locations do as well. There really wasn’t moments where I thought they just botched something. The location shots and the characters really make for a great visual experience. There is some good fast-paced action and seeing them try to catch these colorful fragments can be quite the fun time. They rarely repeat a location so you can expect to be surprised and entertained by where the cast goes and what you get to see along the way. Some of the flight scenes do have some CGI in them, but I don’t think that was a negative in this case.
The music in the show was good to my ears. They had a nice series of tracks for the more action scenes, for the softer moments and in general they had a nice selection of background tracks. They often used the same tracks for similar scenes, but nothing unusual in that respect. The voice work was good from my point of view as well.
OP [Stella-rium] by Kano: (A)
I think the OP/ED combo for this show was actually really good and one of the better ones this season. The OP had a really good song that I enjoy listening to on its own. It has a really good energy to it and I can’t help wanting to listen to it with every episode. Visually it doesn’t have any real weak points and does a good job showing off the main cast, their antagonist, and just some nice effects. See the girls flying around and going after fragments. It is a great way to start an episode.
ED [Koko kara, Kanata kara] by fragments: (A)
The ED was that soft kind of ending that is a great way to unwind after a good episode. Plus I really do like it when shows get their cast to sing the OP or ED. Having them sing the ED together just made it feel like there was more emotion to it. A lot of still shots and slowly panning back from up close with this ED, but that worked. You just get the feeling of the bond these girls are building together and how close they are becoming. It’s a very calming song that I think is worth a listen each episode just like the OP.
At its core, Houkago no Pleiades is a really nice show. The mystery slowly is revealed and you start to understand why a lot of these things are happening. The ending isn’t setting up for sequels, but rather just closes out the show. It is one of those endings that leaves it a bit up to the viewer to determine what will happen next, but I don’t mind those. It does resolve the major conflicts, but simply lets you imagine how the characters will go forward. It’s not a bad way to end a show. In some ways it is a bit bittersweet, but for me it doesn’t go too far.
Houkago no Pleiades was one of the biggest surprises to me. I didn’t expect much more than some cliche magical girl stuff, but it did a great job. It was a really nice show to look at and I enjoyed learning about the characters along the way. It didn’t feel like any episode didn’t move the relationships forward or deepen our understanding of a character. A very surprising and enjoyable show. It’s a single cour show that is willing to go into some unusual locations for this kind of magical girl show. For me it was easily an A-. As a whole it just did a lot of things right.
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