“By some need to appear intellectual, non-thinkers will instantly, and without question, subscribe to the opinions of those they feel other people think are educated.” –
In their final summer break as high school students, high school girl Tōko Fukami suggests to her group of friends, Hiro Shirosaki, Kakeru Okikura, Sachi Nagamiya, Yanagi Takayama, and Yukinari Imi, that the no-relationship agreement be lifted after she runs into the enigmatic Kakeru Okikura following the local summer festival. The aftermath has Yukinari attempt a kokuhaku with Tōko, only to be shot down, while Yanagi herself struggles with her unrequited feelings for Yukinari. Meanwhile, Sachi and Hiro begin a slow, awkward and measured relationship, exploring things one step at a time. All the while, Tōko struggles to understand her unusual feelings surrounding Kakeru, who claims to be in love with her and shares her ability to glimpse briefly into the future. As the friends explore new territory, their old friendships begin drifting apart. Glasslip is ostensibly a love story, one that deals with how relationships can unequivocally and irrevocably alter the dynamic amongst a group of once-close friends. Further to this, Glasslip sought to demonstrate that relationships and romance are a fickle dance and can progress in any way, from a gentle pacing seen in Sachi and Hiro, to the challenge that Yanagi faces. In particular, Tōko and Kakeru’s ability to perceive the future, idiosyncratically referred to as “fragments of the future”, would suggest that even with a bit of foresight, relationships are so dynamic that knowing what’s about to happen isn’t necessarily of any benefit – the so-called “fragments of the future” serve to help Tōko and Kakeru very little, leaving them in the same spot as Hiro, Sachi, Yanagi and Yukinari. This is what Glasslip is about, given what the anime had presented during its thirteen episode run. However, Glasslip never quite connected with the viewers, who felt shafted by the anime’s poor execution and unsatisfying conclusion – to this day, Glasslip is widely regarded as P.A. Works’ worst, (parvulum opus can be thought of as a “deficient work”), leaving viewers with more questions than answers.
The main reason why Glasslip‘s reception was so frigid lies primarily in poor lead characters, and the subsequent lack of impact the so-called “fragments of the future” had on the storyline. Tōko is indecisive, uncertain and meanders in her feelings, desiring to keep her old friendships while pursuing a relationship with Kakeru. Meanwhile, Kakeru acts as though he has a grasp on the phenomenon, talks down to the other characters and acts (perhaps willfully) oblivious to the turmoil he causes amongst the small group of friends. It becomes difficult to empathise with Kakeru and his pursuit of Tōko. Similarly, Glasslip had intended to suggest how foresight may not be of much benefit in something as tumultuous as romance; the viewers’ expectations going in would be that an increasing awareness of this phenomenon would allow Kakeru and Tōko to be more truthful with one another. Instead, the two continue to pursue the “fragments fo the future” seriously, which lead the pair to continue stumbling. Rather than coming to terms with how they feel, both try to rationalise their experiences as a consequence of the magic, whose limitations and extents are never satisfactorily defined. The end result of this is that for their troubles, Tōko and Kakeru do not learn anything of note from their experiences. They leave their final summer of high school with a fractured group of friends in their wake: Yukinari, Yanagi, Sachi and Hiro’s futures are just as uncertain, filled with doubt. Glasslip has its characters experience heartbreak and romance, but there is no helpful lesson the characters walk away with, and no payoff for the viewers that makes this journey worthwhile. Because viewers cannot connect with and support the characters, Glasslip‘s themes become lost amidst a tangle of irrelevant, ill-conceived symbolism that ultimately contributes little to the anime, acting as detours and red herrings rather than legitimate metaphors for describing the characters’ experiences.
“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person.” –Leo Tolstoy
The consequence of Glasslip‘s execution results in an unsatisfying experience – after thirteen weeks, no adequate resolution is reached, and the mechanics in Glasslip ultimately impede, rather than assist, the story in conveying its theme. This is what creates the frustration amongst viewers: Japanese and English-speaking viewers alike did not find Glasslip to be satisfying or rewarding to watch, not for any deficiencies on their part, but because the anime had failed to convey what precisely its aims were. For an anime of such deplorable showing, one must wonder if there was any way for P.A. Works to have salvaged Glasslip. As it turns out, the root of Glasslip‘s problems lie entirely with how Kakeru is characterised. Stoic, aloof and arrogant, Kakeru is ill-suited as the male lead of Glasslip – despite appearing to possess deeper understanding of the so-called “fragments of the future”, Kakeru does not give up their mysteries so easily, even to Tōko (and by extension, the viewer). While this is a deliberate choice to depict his fear of attachment, it also impedes with the larger narrative. By acting as though he is superior to the others because of his limited precognition, Kakeru quickly alienates Tōko’s friends, and makes it difficult to close the distance between the two. This is easily remedied by having Kakeru be more open about his power, as well as treating Tōko’s friends more cordially. A Kakeru more willing to speculate on and talk through the “fragments of the future” with others would be able to give viewers a better understanding of why precognition is relevant to the story. This would certainly help Tōko understand where his feelings are coming from and make their relationship more plausible. Further to this, were Kakeru more aware of social convention, Tōko’s friends would be more willing to accept his inclusion in their tightly-knit group. Together, this would allow Kakeru to act as a relatable character who can guide Glasslip‘s progression, and help keep Tōko’s group of friends together even as they explore new directions. Ultimately, this one simple change would have completely altered the course of Glasslip, enough to render it a satisfactory experience; this demonstrates the importance of having well-written characters that viewers can get behind.
Screenshots and Commentary
- In a vacuum, Glasslip is an anime that would earn a 4 of 10 points on the ten-point scale: the solid music and opening sequence merit two points, the superb artwork adds another, and finally, since I am able to discern what Glasslip was trying to go for, we add another point for that. Previous reviews had me assign Glasslip a paltry 3 of 10. However, even with an additional point, this still corresponds to an F grade (0 points on the 4-point scale): the conclusions reached in Glasslip do not correspond with the path it took to get there, and while there’s nothing particularly deep or complex about the series, it does take some effort to determine what the series intended to leave its viewers with.
- The reason why I say “in a vacuum” is because one’s Glasslip experience degrades significantly should they read analysis or interpretations from the community: a lot of the analysis out there contains reference to obscure symbolism and metaphors that only obfuscate the anime’s meaning, making it even trickier to get a bead on what the anime is about. Consequently, in conjunction with the detailed and “matter-of-fact” tone these analyses have, reading too extensively into what others are saying can give one the impression that they were missing something obvious even though they are not. Conversely, my answer to “what is Glasslip about?” is straightforward – it’s a story of how relationships inevitably create rifts in friendship, and how even with magic, there are some things about romance that cannot be so readily addressed.
- I further remark that viewers who struggled to get a handle on what Glasslip was saying, are not lacking in any way or missing anything “simple”: the unusual usage of imagery (especially the stills and glass beads), plus Kakeru’s metaphors and enigmas, would mean that it was Glasslip that struggled to convey its messages effectively to viewers. Again, reading analysis out there too seriously would severely diminish one’s experience for Glasslip further; if I were to watch Glasslip on the basis that it is in intellectual’s work that acts as an analogy to The Myth of Sisyphus or deals exclusively with wabi sabi, Glasslip would score an F- (which corresponds to a negative score), because I would be immediately branded a knuckle-dragger for not having immediately understood what was supposed to be “self-evident”.
- I’ve found that all of the analysis out there reached conclusions based on incomplete evidence: many of those partaking in the analysis ignored aspects of Glasslip, namely, the so-called “fragments of the future”, because these were inconvenient towards their conclusion. As such, while they might say something interesting about what Glasslip was attempting to convey, there remains the fact that the so-called “fragments of the future” are never accounted for. If Glasslip had purely been about wabi sabi, the anime could have conveyed the same theme without the “fragments of the future”: the stills that dominate the anime, seemingly of pivotal (but ultimately trivial) moments, was a rather visceral way of forcing the viewer’s attention towards a moment. Similarly, Kakeru’s arrival and the consequences it has on Tōko’s group of friends would have worked without the “fragments of the future”.
- However, since the “fragments of the future” are such an integral part of Glasslip, any discussion of the anime must account for them. After revisiting Tari Tari earlier this month, my thoughts lingered towards Glasslip, and I wondered if I had been too harsh on this series. Doing a revisit of Glasslip ultimately allowed me to better describe what I think the series to be about, and I reached a new conclusion as to why I found the series to be so disagreeable. With this being said, I still find myself wishing Glasslip had been about a girl who wanted to pursue a career in glass-blowing and ends up making glass beads for someone she likes instead.
- As it turns out, it boils down to characterisation, specifically how Kakeru’s character was presented and utilised. The mystery of the “fragments of the future” in Glasslip needed to be explained in order for viewers to connect it to the story, and Kakeru was supposed to be the agent for this. However, Kakeru’s personality and single-minded pursuit of Tōko meant that the supernatural piece of Glasslip was never adequately explained, or even speculated upon, leaving both Tōko and the viewers in the dark. This simple change would’ve made all the difference, and so, I am left wondering why the decision was made to portray Kakeru as an aloof know-it-all. In fact, I’ve noticed that a lot of the people behind the more widely-circulated analysis out there bear a resemblance to Kakeru’s negative tendencies.
- This could be why so many disagreeable people painted Glasslip as a work of art that required a certain intellectual threshold to appreciate, but I digress. In retrospect, each of Tōko, Yanagi, Hiro, Sachi and Yukinari were reasonably well-written characters with their own challenges and aspirations. Hiro and Sachi represent the couple who progresses through things slowly, while Tōko, Yanagi and Yukinari are in the midst of a love triangle with no easy resolution. Even without Kakeru and the “fragments of the future”, Glasslip would’ve told a compelling coming of age story surrounding a group of friends whose foray into relationship leaves a nontrivial impact on their friendship.
- In many ways, Glasslip is to P.A. Works what Battlefield V was to DICE: both had an infinitely better-received predecessor that served as inspiration (Nagi no Asukara and Battlefield 1, respectively), and both did enough well as to leave people wondering what on earth had happened. Battlefield V had the best weapon mechanics and traits of any game in the franchise, as the weapons were entirely skill-based. The gunplay in Battlefield V was therefore immensely satisfying. However, from a faulty marketing campaign, to a poorly-executed plan for post-launch support that resulted in a lack of content, and bizarre periodic changes to core mechanics meant the game suffered continuously throughout its lifetime.
- Glasslip is similar in many regards: it had some of the best music and visuals of anything P.A. Works had done up to that point, and conceptually, a story about romance during the final summer vacation of high school could have very much captured on feelings of yearning and melancholy to create a moving tale. Instead, a few bad design choices (namely Kakeru) caused Glasslip to vastly under-deliver. Overall, I still found Battlefield V enjoyable despite its flaws: while many practises were poor, the gunplay alone encouraged me to return. Glasslip similarly convinced me to stick around each week: while Kakeru was as unlikeable as can be, Tōko, Yanagi, Hiro, Sachi and Yukinari kept the anime going where Kakeru did not, and I was interested to see how things would unfold among this group of friends as their summer wore on.
- If Glasslip was indeed so poorly done, one would wonder if there is any audience I could recommend this anime to. Surprisingly enough, there remains a group of people who would enjoy Glasslip: folks who enjoy watching anime for exceptional visuals would not be disappointed, provided that they not think too deeply about the story. Like Battlefield V, Glasslip took visuals to a new level, and the visual effects are stunning. By comparison, the real world version of Fukui, where Glasslip is set, looks absolutely drab by comparison. Even today, very few anime have had quite the same eye-popping aesthetics as Glasslip did. Similarly, the music in Glasslip was of a superb quality – besides the inclusion of classical pieces and string to create a feeling of chaos amidst the romance, Glasslip also features a song titled “Sudden, expected loneliness” that summarises everything that Kakeru and Tōko experienced throughout the anime. The song itself is excellent in all regards, and during its nine minute runtime, puts into music what Glasslip was intended to be about. The remainder of the incidental pieces on the soundtrack are varied, capturing melancholy, whimsy and everything in between.
- It is almost impossible to have a discussion about Glasslip without mention of Helene “Soulelle” Kolpakova, whose Glasslip “analysis” became widely accepted as the single most definitive and authoritative interpretation of the anime, despite being incorrect and incomplete (Kolpakova had written her opinions a few days before the finale aired to MyAnimeList’s forums). My attempts to understand Kolpakova’s perspectives since have been completely unsuccessful, since she’s clearly not interested in having a conversation about Glasslip. This particular “analysis” is detrimental to one’s ability to understand and enjoy Glasslip to the maximum extent possible, so I am considering a course of action that will, at the very least, help those who are looking for Glasslip interpretations. I understand that my course of action will not likely persuade those who’ve already agreed with Kolpakova’s “analysis” to change their minds, but at the very least, this will hopefully reduce the visibility of her “analysis”, leaving people free to pursue other interpretations that are less patronising, and better written.
- Kakeru’s preference for sleeping in a tent is intended to mirror his unwillingness to call any one place home, a consequence of having moved around all his life and the corresponding fear of forming attachments because of their potential to be lost. However, this isn’t the central theme of Glasslip – instead, Kakeru’s eccentricities were likely intended to illustrate just how important Tōko is to him, given that he’s willing to pursue a relationship (i.e. attachment) with her despite his initial desire to stay as detached from places and people as possible. The visual metaphors of Glasslip were never complex or difficult to understand, and a common misconception is that “unlearned” people dislike the anime because the symbols and metaphors were in over their heads, that those unsatisfied with Glasslip were “used to stories being spoon-fed to them”.
- I would therefore contend that the hostility towards Glasslip stems from a combination of the anime failing to deliver a satisfying, emotionally meaningful story and the pseudo-intellectual attitudes some have taken towards approaching the anime. One individual wrongly argued that the “fragments of the future” were actually insights into Tōko’s own mind, that she neglects her friends and do not see them as people, hence her fear of losing them. This is untrue, since the phenomenon would not be named “fragments of the future” if they dealt with the present: Glasslip utilised this phenomenon to show Tōko the consequences of pursing a relationship and the rifts it would cause. This separation is supposedly what leads Tōko to value her friends more than before. However, this is not what Glasslip is about: the time spent on Yanagi, Yukinari, Sachi and Hiro shows otherwise (if the anime had been about Tōko, it is completely unnecessary to build out the other relationships).
- One subplot in Glasslip I found meaningful was the newfound friendship between Yanagi and Tōko’s sister, Hina: after she’s indirectly rejected by Yukinari, she begins to take up running to take her mind off things. Yanagi’s route takes her by the pool that Hina and her friends swim at, and with her model-like appearance, Yanagi soon draws the swimming team’s interest. Hina, in particular, becomes friends with Yanagi, showing how the unexpected can occur from detrimental events: had Yanagi not been rejected, she would’ve not become closer to Hina, who sees her as an older-sister like figure with a distinct air of coolness.
- The sheer number of different interpreting of what Glasslip was about, is an indicator that Glasslip had failed as a story. A good story is able to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers to convey a consistent theme that viewers can walk away with. For instance, in The Rolling Girls, despite being very busy, leaves viewers with a message about how ordinary people can make a difference. In the Twitter anime community I am a part of, viewers of different backgrounds and styles each came to this conclusion independently. With Glasslip, however, the central themes have been concluded to be wabi sabi, a desire for a home and attachment to a place, transitions in life, and valuing what’s around oneself, but each of these conclusions result from massive subjective leaps during analysis that conveniently skip over things in Glasslip.
- While good art is indeed open to multiple interpretations, such interpretations necessarily consider all aspects of a work, and not just the parts that allow one to draw the conclusion of their liking. Those who say Glasslip is about home (through the presence of Kakeru’s tent and chickens) ignore the relationship dynamics between Sachi, Hiro, Yukinari and Yanagi. The idea that Glasslip is about wabi sabi through stills fails to account for the “fragments of the future”. A story purely about friendship would similarly not have had such an emphasis on romance. This is why a lot of the analysis on Reddit and MyAnimeList are outright incorrect and not worth consideration: good analysis must involve all parts of a work, not just the aspects that conveniently line up with one’s conclusions.
- When all of Glasslip‘s elements are properly considered, the anime ultimately ends up being a show of how relationships can be disruptive to friendships, and that they are unfixed, ever-mutating. It is not the case that Glasslip was intrinsically difficult to understand that resulted in the dislike against the series, but rather, an unlikeable character whose actions are unlikeable and motivations are never properly shown, in conjunction with the fact that the anime left many questions unanswered. Real life is never as neatly packaged as a story, but it is expected that a successful story leaves viewers with some sort of pay-off (e.g. Tōko pursues a relationship with Kakeru and accepts that her old friendships are permanently changed as everyone matures).
- What I hope readers take away from this post, is that one should always exercise their own judgement and never just blindly accept someone else’s interpretation of any work of fiction as fact. To do so would be to do oneself a serious disservice: instead of exercising one’s own judgement, one would be showing deference to someone who may only outwardly appears to understand something and possessing an above-average ability to express it. The willingness to follow, rather than lead, is responsible for some of the worst excesses in human history, and more often than not, asking the right questions and following one’s own judgement is the best way to go – had a few more people stood up to history’s despots and liars, atrocities and calamities might have been lessened or mitigated.
- It is uncharacteristic for me to do so, as I never presume to tell people what to think or do, but Glasslip is one of those rare exceptions where I will caution readers against placing faith in the various analyses and interpretations out there on Reddit and MyAnimeList. I do not, and will not, hold it against people who enjoyed Glasslip for the things that this series did do well, but people should not force themselves to say they enjoyed Glasslip because of a fallacious analysis. Similarly, those who disliked Glasslip should not feel any obligation to alter their stance simply because someone out there had put together an undergraduate term paper explaining why those who did not get the series were missing something “simple”.
- I’ve deliberately timed this post to coincide with the sixth anniversary of Glasslip‘s finale. It is actually curious that two of my least favourite anime are from P.A. Works, a studio that has also produced my most favourite works. Having dubbed Glasslip as a contender in my “Worst Anime” category, my next move will be to rewatch RDG: Red Data Girl to determine whether this, or Glasslip, holds the title of being the worst anime I’ve ever seen. With this post done, that’s enough negativity out of me: I’ll be returning on short order to write for Oregairu‘s third season, after it ended yesterday, as well as SaeKano: Fine, which recently became available.
While Glasslip is ultimately a failure that offers nothing substantial to its viewers, the series also acts as a resounding lesson that P.A. Works would take to heart. Glasslip had been intended as a condensed romance that drew elements from its infinitely more enjoyable (and successful) predecessor, Nagi no Asukara, the same way Tari Tari had drawn from Hanasaku Iroha to create a more concise experience. However, by failing to write Kakeru as a character viewers could be sympathetic to, Glasslip alienated its characters and viewers alike. P.A. Works would later revisit the concept of using magic to help an individual come to terms with their past and move forwards into the future in The World in Colours. In this anime, Hitomi is sent back sixty years to spend time with Kohaku, her grandmother, as a youth. In the process, Hitomi becomes more confident, as well as accepting of her magic, which had caused her mother to abandon her. While possessing competence with magic, similarly to how Kakeru had some existing knowledge of the “fragments of the future”, Kohaku is the opposite of Kakeru. She is outgoing, cheerful and does her best to look after those around her. However, she is also aware of her own limitations and actively studies to improve herself. Kohaku’s positive influence on Hitomi means that audiences are assured that Hitomi will gain something from her experiences, which results in a much more engaging story. It is evident that writers would not fall to the same mistakes that afflicted Glasslip in The World in Colours; having an approachable mentor figure with an amicable personality made all the difference, resulting in a very touching story of discovery and acceptance. In retrospect, it is quite conceivable that Glasslip may have ended up a more compelling story; although Glasslip remains unenjoyable on its own merits, it nonetheless did pave the way for 2018’s The World in Colours, demonstrating that in the event that P.A. Works ends up producing a terrible anime, they are also able to apply these learnings to regroup and create superior works in the future.