The Infinite Zenith

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A Glasslip analysis: Deciphering what Glasslip intended to be about through its opening sequence and its impact on viewer expectations

“We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation.” —Ivan Illich

Though a fair number of viewers do indeed watch the opening sequences of an anime when a season starts, it would appear that the visuals and even lyrics in an anime’s opening are often overlooked in anime discussions. This is somewhat unfortunate, given that the opening sequences of an anime can yield some rather unexpected insights into what an anime is intended to be about through its choice of visuals. Glasslip has long been held to be a difficult-to-understand anime owing to its execution, which resulted in the anime branching outwards in several directions, each of which were not incorporated neatly into the story as a whole. When the finale had aired, agreement was universal amongst the audience that this anime had failed to satisfy expectations. In order to understand why this disappointment resulted, it is necessary to take a look at the opening sequence of Glasslip: set to ChouCho’s “Natsu no Hi to Kimi no Koe”, the opening depicts the livelihoods of a group of friends during its ninety-second run. Starting with Tōko rushing off towards class and meeting up with Sachi, the opening immediately presents Tōko and Saichi as friends. Similarly, Yanagi and Yukinari share a strong friendship, as well: prior to Kakeru’s arrival, the two trained together and supported one another as friends. Meanwhile, Hiro is already hinted as having feelings for Sachi, when he gazes at her conversing with Tōko at Kazemichi. All five friends are seen together at the cafe to establish that this is a closely-knit group. When the frame switches over to Kakeru listening for something, the opening aims to convey the notion that this new character is of a lesser-known background. The decision to immediately illustrate Tōko’s “fragments of the future” after Kakeru’s appearance, while she’s working at the glass shop, and the subsequent scenes viewed through a glass bead, serves to illustrate that this new character, an outsider to the group, will act as a catalyst for the events of Glasslip. To be featured in the opening, this phenomenon is implied to play a significant role within the anime proper, and its failure to have been explored properly accounts for why Glasslip is consistently said to have fallen short of expectations.

Taken together, the imagery in Glasslip‘s opening shows that the anime is about two elements. The first is that there is a focus on a group of friends where relationships begin to take shape and over time, gradually alter their dynamics. To reinforce this notion, they are depicted as closely-knit such that once events are instigated, the extent of the impact imparted by relationships can readily be seen. These events are instigated by Kakeru, who is implied to share an unexplained connection with Tōko. This tie is thus expected to be the element that sets in motion the events of the anime. Consequently, the audiences’ expectation for Glasslip is that the anime will be about relationships, and that there will be an adequate explanation for the phenomenon that seems to link Tōko with Kakeru. The usual rationale for including supernatural elements in an ordinary world is that authors wish to demonstrate that some things, such as love, might not be so easy even in the presence of additional powers that are long perceived to simplify the process. People have long wished for the power to delve into someone’s mind and retrieve their thoughts at will to better understand them, and authors often aim to show that these powers might not be the rose-coloured capabilities that most might otherwise regard them to be. This leads to numerous possibilities, varying between extremities: Tōko’s group of friends could fall apart under strain from Kakeru and Tōko’s perceptions, or these powers somehow aid the friends in accepting one another’s relationships and feelings. So, the second element is expected to be the effects of a supernatural phenomenon on the progression of love, and how it proceeded would reflect on the author’s opinions of said powers.

Additional Remarks and Screenshots

  • I promise that this will be the last time I speak of Glasslip: this exercise was born of my asking the question “how can I utilise the credit-free opening sequence screenshots”? After viewing the opening sequence several times, I realised that the opening was meant to do two things. The first is to reinforce the idea that Tōko and her friends have a well-established equilibrium in their group’s dynamic.

  • The second is meant to emphasise that the so-called “fragments of the future” are most certainly meant to play a significant role in Glasslip. From an objective perspective, Glasslip succeeded in depicting the changes in Tōko’s group of friends following her lifting their no-relationships clause, but failed entirely with respect to dealing with the supernatural aspect. Some have tried to dismiss it altogether – because said phenomenon is explicitly present, it cannot be conveniently ignored simply because it could not fit with one’s conclusion.

  • Numerous viewers have expressed dismay that Yanagi was stuck in such an anime and felt that of all the characters, she merited better development. The opening shows that, prior to Yukinari’s botched attempt to ask Tōko out, Yanagi had been quite close to Yukinari.

  • Similarly, Hiro gazes longingly at someone, and the camera changes frames to focus on Sachi. Even prior to Glasslip‘s beginning, it’s clear that in spite of Tōko’s no-relationship clause, feelings between her friends are beginning to emerge. Looking into things further, it becomes clear that Tōko is enjoying the current times and has little desire for the status quo to be disrupted, for she very much loves her friends and the stability there is in the moment.

  • It therefore should come as no surprise that some viewers believe the theme of Glasslip is about companionship, a fear of loneliness and the “fleeting nature of a moment”, better known in Japanese as mono no awareMono no aware is a concept that stems from the Edo period and deals with a sort of gentle melancholy in knowing (and accepting) that things are transient. It does fit with Glasslip quite nicely.

  • However, I would only award partial credit to such an answer, given that such themes can be explored without the presence of growing relationships and couples. In Glasslip, the notion of dating, asking out people and dealing with the fallout associated with unsuccessful kokuhaku are at the forefront of all discussion once Kakeru arrives and Tōko dissolves their group’s relationship ban. This single action should immediately let viewers know that relationships form a critical part of Glasslip, and that Tōko’s decision is in part motivated by Kakeru’s arrival.

  • Inspection of this image finds that Tōko is reading an English II book, another subtle but telling detail that the opening is set only a short ways before Glasslip itself began. The strength of Tōko and Sachi’s friendship is also shown here: the two are seen together in a few moments during the opening, although it was not sufficient to predict Sachi’s kokuhaku to Tōko. Said confession of love proved to be unexpected, but also inconsequential.

  • While shown extensively in the opening, Yukinari and Hiro are not seen in their school uniforms, given that Glasslip is set during the summer. Given that this is the group’s last summer together before graduation, the summer itself takes on a special kind of significance as each friend would strive to make the most of things. Instead, when the no-relationships clause is dissolved, much drama and chaos ensues.

  • Glasslip is stylised as a single world, but one must wonder what the title itself must mean. “Glass lip” would be a logical decomposition, and this is shown in the end credits. However, the phrase does not have an inherent meaning in English. I would imagine that it is a metaphor of some sort: we might suppose that “lip” in this context refers to a “a projecting edge on a container or other hollow object”, such that “Glass lip” refers to the edges on the a glass surface, such as a pitcher, where the glass bends around and alter the glass’ optical properties.

  • It’d be a stretch for this definition to encompass the beads that Tōko is fond of creating. The reason why glass is so emphasised in Glasslip is probably because it’s something that’s transparent and therefore, can be seen through. However, depending on the refractive properties of said glass, light passes through it differently. Consequently, the view through things like a glass bead appears quite distorted.

  • To illustrate that Kakeru is a new comer, the opening has him shown with his back facing the camera first, before changing to a front shot of him with his backpack to his right. This image is evocative of a wanderer, not dissimilar to J.R.R. Tolkien’s rangers and already paints him as someone who’s used to travelling about.

  • It is therefore significant to understand why P.A. Works chose to immediately cycle to a scene of Tōko, whose eyes begin sparkling after she looks upon glass. The decision to have Kakeru and Tōko back to back signals that Glasslip is intended to detail a phenomenon further: going from the sequence of events in the opening alone, it is clear that Kakeru and Tōko share a bond through the glass. As such, it is a valid expectation to imagine that this relationship would be explored further.

  • Numerous frames in the opening sequence are filtered by a glass lens of sort, becoming distorted to the edges, and even where it’s clear in the centre, the field of view is covered with snow. I’ve previously noted that looking through a glass bead is akin to considering the future, in that it’s going to be uncertain even if one can visualise what’s happening. This forms the remainder of the moments in the opening sequence.

  • I absolutely love “Natsu no hi to kimi no koe” (The summer Day and Your Voice), which is performed by ChouCho (of Girls und Panzer‘s “Dream Riser”). The lyrics speak plainly about what it must feel like to be in love. A light, breezy instrumental component complements  ChouCho’s beautiful voice, and amongst all of the openings I’ve heard in an anime, “Natsu no hi to kimi no koe” stands amongst the top with Lia’s “My Soul, Your Beats” and Aya Hirano’s “Bouken Desho Desho”.

  • If asked about praises I’ve got for Glasslip beyond its exceptional artwork, the soundtrack and opening theme would be the things I’d mention. “Natsu no hi to kimi no koe” is good enough to bring me to the verge of tears, and the soundtrack itself is quite good, featuring a variety of classical pieces interspersed with motifs that set the atmosphere for different scenes in Glasslip. On the soundtrack itself, one track differentiates itself above the others: titled “唐突な当たり前の孤独” (“Sudden, expected loneliness”), it’s a gentle, elegant piece that runs for nearly ten minutes.

  • Properly composed, music is can tell a story on its own, and “Sudden, expected loneliness” seems to fit Kakeru’s emotions as he arrives in Hinodehama, with a piano presenting a hopeful, optimistic tone. Strings come into play, weaving with the piano  as he meets Tōko and comes to the realisation he’s fallen in love with her. His hesitancy, and doubts, are reflected as the song slows down, as he recalls that he also desires someone to be with, and somewhere to call home. As he comes to terms with his feelings, the music crescendos into motifs from “Natsu no hi to kimi no koe”.

  • The song then takes on a wistful feeling, as Tōko does not immediately reciprocates, but the strings then swell up, symbolising how both Tōko and Kakeru accept their feelings for one another. The more melancholic aspects suggest that, though this is a happy love, there are also sadder elements as well, hinting at the heartache that accompanies the discovery of a new love, and that for every love that blossoms, someone may inadvertently, unintentionally get hurt in the process.

  • Consequently, “Sudden, expected loneliness” is the one song on the soundtrack that succinctly captures all of the feelings and emotions present in Glasslip as the different characters come to terms with their own feelings. Not very many soundtracks feature a single song that is able to aurally represent an entire anime’s worth of thematic elements, attesting to the power that music may have when it is composed from the heart. As such, though I was not really a fan of how Glasslip turned out, I do not begrudge the notion that there are definitely redeeming factors in Glasslip.

  • With that being said, I can sympathise with all of the audiences who found only disappointment in Glasslip: here was an opportunity to tell a unique love story that was ultimately squandered by poor writing. I stress that those who did not understand Glasslip are not deficient in any way, given that the anime itself simply was not coherent and consistent about its main theme. On that token, those who claim to “understand” Glasslip are largely deluded if they think that the lack of coherency is a part of the art and somehow makes Glasslip “deep” and “meaningful”.

  • If asked to give Glasslip a numerical rating, I would awards this series a three out of ten, with points scored for the exceptional music and artwork, and no points awarded because ultimately, it was not able to deliver a worthwhile story to the audience. I kid not when I say that even something like Kiss X Sis has a more substantial plot compared to Glasslip (and yes, I did watch Kiss X Sis but had considerable difficulty writing a reflection for it).

When everything is said and done, Glasslip is able to only minimally tell this story by means of exploring the first element- Tōko’s friends appear to have reached a new equilibrium after their summer ends: Hiro and Sachi are together, as are Yukinari and Yanagi. Naturally, Tōko and Kakeru also come to terms with their feelings. This is a group that’s no longer as closely-knit as they were previously, and it is clear that as their summer draws to a close, their dynamics have shifted. However, when exploring the second aspect, the plot is strewn with symbolic debris that obfuscates the intended theme. If Glasslip had discarded these “fragments of the future” and merely focused on the characters, the end result would have been a familiar but well-executed story about the impact of relationships. Otherwise, Glasslip would have needed to use the “fragments of the future” much more extensively to deal with the implications (and limitations) of magic on something as complex as love. The opening illustrates that Glasslip is clearly intended to make use of these “fragments of the future” as a central element in its plot. When the anime failed to make use of this aspect to tell a more complete story about the nature of love, audiences naturally disapproved. While proponents of Glasslip may rationalise to their heart’s content that the anime “was rewarding in the end” and “everything’s [very] simple”, the fact remains is that a critical element (important enough to warrant inclusion in the opening) was inadequately explored. As such, Glasslip essentially delivered half an anime to the audiences, explaining why Glasslip is poorly regarded amongst the viewers.

9 responses to “A Glasslip analysis: Deciphering what Glasslip intended to be about through its opening sequence and its impact on viewer expectations

  1. ninetybeats September 15, 2015 at 00:44

    This is really interesting, things just go unnoticed when you look at like an obligatory part of the series. Maybe I can give this a swing myself. I’m curious to keep reading your interpretations.

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    • infinitezenith September 15, 2015 at 14:36

      I’m not sure if I personally would watch Glasslip again to catch any more details. For me, it felt like it could have all the makings of an excellent anime, exploring love in a new way. The opening sequence and song seemed to support that, and then everything, for the lack of a better phrase, was shot to shit.

      For the longest time, I wondered if there were any subtle clues that Glasslip was intended to do what I felt it could have done, and watching the opening song in a bit more detail finds that they were angling to do so. With that in mind, the resulting product did fall short of what people were expecting.

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      • ninetybeats September 16, 2015 at 01:13

        I definitely wouldn’t watch it again. I just liked the breakdown you made, not necessarily the anime itself. My feeling was that Glasslip suffered from budget cuts judging from the many usage of still frames. Glasslip was from the same director as True Tears, which also felt a bit scraped together. Perhaps it was done intentionally to give it an artistic touch.

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        • infinitezenith September 16, 2015 at 14:15

          The stills are purportedly used to emphasis important moments (or at least, some claim), but in practise, they never were anything more than what you’ve noted: filling time.

          Truthfully, I find that things done solely for the sake of being avant garde, artistic, tends not to be too effective at conveying a particular message. Glasslip, if it started out as a love story that turned into abstract art, would have failed in its aim to entertain its audience, and quite honestly, I would rather a series tell a meaningful story using conventional methods well, rather than making use of artsy techniques that might be novel, and failing to capture the viewer’s interest.

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  2. Alyson Burston September 17, 2015 at 06:29

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  3. soulelle July 1, 2019 at 23:31

    I don’t understand this. I’ve never heard this requisite for metaphors to be explicitly stated. Aren’t metaphors useful because they don’t have to be explained, i.e they’re inherently implicit? What would be the point of crafting a metaphor only to explain the thing it’s trying to convey? Glasslip was interesting because there was very very little exposition. The vast majority of character progression is implied very subtly.

    And I think precluding this point of contention is the kind of ridiculous idea that metaphors should have one canonical, definitive meaning. Isn’t it universally agreed that art and meaning is subjective? Why would the lack of strict definition for a metaphor be a bad thing? A lot of great films craft narratives that allow a lot of leeway for personal interpretations, e.g. Synecdoche, New York, Eraserhead to name a couple of well-known ones. Why should Glasslip be treated any differently? Not saying that Glasslip is high art or anything, but it also does explicitly reference Camus, specifically The Myth of Sisyphus, which if you’re familiar with the book, should clue you in to what is being said about Touko and the “fragments.”

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    • infinitezenith July 2, 2019 at 22:27

      It’s good of you to finally drop in – now we may have a chat, you and I. The point being made in my article was that the metaphor, in the “fragments of the future” and associated visual effects, was not something that could be ignored. My main gripe with your conclusion was that you left out these. Given your remarks and succession of questions with very little to do with the matter at hand, I’ll address your questions talis qualis to the best of my ability, noting that my post was about how Glassslip‘s opening sequence set the expectation that the “fragments of the future” have a much greater weight and impact on the series’ themes than they actually did.

      In my post, I do not go into the realm of what a metaphor is defined as, having gone on the assumption that a metaphor is a figure or speech or visual that is meant to represent something that cannot be literally represented. There are no assertions made about what can and cannot be a metaphor. With this in mind:

      1. Art is subjective, but there are things that are more widely accepted with regard to what a symbol or metaphor represents. Doves, for instances, are nearly-universally accepted as a symbol of peace. A work that attempts to show doves as being a symbol of violence will need to work additionally hard to make the symbol fit.
      2. The limitations of Glasslip do not stem from its usage of metaphors, but rather, its inability properly tie in the “fragments of the future” with the relationship challenges everyone is facing. One can reasonably surmise that “love is complex to the point where even supernatural intervention is insufficient for one to make the best possible choice”, but since this fails to account for Yanagi, Yukinari, Sachi and Hiro, it cannot be said to be particularly appropriate in describing whate everyone else goes through. The series therefore should have either have the “fragments of the future” apply to everyone else, or outright omit it.
      3. Simply because Glasslip references Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus does not automatically mean that the themes that Camus deals with applies to Glasslip. Camus was referring to the absurdity of the human condition in that people toil away endlessly at their jobs to seemingly no end, but by accepting absurdity, Sisyphus would be at peace, and enlightened. If this theme applies to Glasslip, then Tōko and Kakeru would have understood the absurdity of their feelings and be content with leaving them as such, since the struggle to make their feelings known would be contentment: this implies the nobility of unrequited love, which certainly is not what Glasslip wanted to present to viewers.

      If it had been the case that I had been so limited as to miss something obvious and unfairly dismiss Glasslip as a failure, then reception to the series would have been much more positive. However, this is not the case: numerous others share my pain, and given the sort of writing I do for other shows, I am not particularly inclined to say that I am missing anything to the point where I need to be clued in to anything. You were unsuccessful in convincing me that my arguments are insufficient, and even more unsuccessful in giving me reason to support your conclusions, but I do thank you for taking the time to swing by.

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