Subaru has a Magical School Girl Anime, And It Makes Sense in JapanInsights
Believe it or not, Subaru who made their name in the WRC and renowned for their rally-inspired cars, sponsored the production of an anime last year. Car makers tying up with Japanese animation studios is nothing new, after all anime is a legitimate medium watched by young impressionable adults in Japan just as much as soap operas and dramas are to the rest of the world.
But while anime productions like Initial D and Midnight Wangan had influence the popularity of Japanese cars profoundly, whereas Toyota made a light-hearted coming of age anime with product placements inside. Subaru’s collaboration doesn’t play by that formula. Instead they went with making a celestial magical school girl anime. Basically think about it as a Sailor Moon anime, except with a WRC-winning carmaker behind it.
Titled Wish Upon the Pleiades, the clues to its link to Subaru might not be so apparent. Watch the opening title sequence and try to spot the influences of one of the world's most renowned car makers.
Aside from the main character’s name being Subaru, and Pleiades being the star cluster from which Subaru derives its logo, the most notable hint at this strange collaboration are well, their shiny staffs which aren’t reflective, but made to look like the headlights of Subaru’s current model line-up in Japan.
For most of us who grew up in Subaru’s WRC halcyon days, making an anime on magic and school sounds like the people in Subaru had been spending one too many days locked in their parent’s basement. But in Japan, this sort of anime is just the right medium to reach out to the young adult male demographic.
As it turns out cute sells in Japan, especially the sort of cute you would find in Japanese anime. Japanese refer to this phenomenon as ‘moe’, which is described as a strong sense of emotional attachment fans of the genre feel towards their favourite characters. Since the 1970s, corporations in Japan had used this medium as a form to communicate information to the public. By the 1980s, nearly all state-sponsored institutions have used the Japanese manga art form as an official communicative medium.
One of the least likely places to find the usage of moe is seen in Japan’s Self-Defence Force, the JSDF, who has started to adopt this art form in their communication since the end of the Cold War. Instead of communicating the expected archetype cool and macho persona as seen from movies such as Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise and first-person shooter games like the Call of Duty series – both being made in collaboration with the American military industrial complex and the Pentagon – the JSDF’s preferred method is, shall we say, a little less threatening.
photo credit: Monsieur_Ashiya
In 2011 the JSDF’s Fourth Anti-Tank Helicopter Squad decked out one of their AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters in the imagery of an anime character, and even gave it a name, Aoi-chan. By the following year the helicopter was joined by three more, each with their own individual anime character. Despite the dichotomy, all four helicopters proved to be a hit amongst young males in Japan. As reported in Vice, the usage of moe in JSDF recruitment posters is also said to have increased recruitment, as is the case of the Okayama Provincial Recruitment centre seeing a 20 per cent increase in volunteers in 2013 after the debut of three adorable anime mascots.
Looking from Japan’s unique cultural context, the idea of a magical school girl anime does make a lot of sense, especially for a brand that is trying to build their presence back in their home land where car ownership amongst young adults is declining. WRC served its purpose in building Subaru as a maker of performance cars, but moving on into the 21st century where car buyers are drawn in by other interests - such as fashion and gadgets - Subaru needed to move on to a new medium in order to tap into a new audience.
For the rest of the world however, that WRC connection is still very much present, and as we have observed twice at the Tokyo Motor Show, Subaru has gained a strong reputation as as a maker of cars that are hugely popular with Eastern Europeans where its robustness is prized.