GLASSLIP Episodes 1-8
by Matt Packard, Aug 29th 2014
When I was a kid, this was a common antidote for boredom: run around the neighborhood, gather friends, overturn every rock in sight, collect a multitude of bugs, place them in an empty jar, and watch. One time out of every ten, a near-perfect miniature ecosystem formed within the jar, like a tiny echo of the subjects' old reality. One time out of every ten, gladiatorial carnage ensued and within minutes the bugs would consume each other in a spectacular fashion. But, far more often than not, they simply meandered pensively around the bottom of the jar, bumping tentatively into its clear sides and each other as if intoxicated by the haphazard diffusion of so many elements within the confined space. GLASSLIP begins as an innocuous slice-of-life centered around a group of five friends, but it soon ends up like that jar of bugs—a directionless, clumsy, slow-motion waltz with too many hesitant participants, carried out inside a transparent cage.
The friends are Touko, Yanagi, Sachi, Yukinari, and Hiro. A few months shy of entering their last year of high school, they've been faced with the possibility that their friendship might not stand the test of time, a realization brought about partially by the arrival of transfer student Kakeru, who promptly drives a wedge into the group. This fear of the future is very real and inherently relatable, but even before it gets lost in the unfocused turmoil of GLASSLIP, it's rendered tame by the show's stubborn refusal to paint any of its characters as more than one-dimensional masses of laser-focused love and/or hatred. Long-standing friendship of the type the series is attempting to portray is an extraordinary thing, a seed watered by the shared memories of countless hours spent together, countless conversations about any conceivable topic, mutual trust and mutual acceptance. GLASSLIP turns its nose up at all of that and rushes head-first for the soap opera content—who secretly loves who, who hates who, who knows about such-and-such embarrassing event, and so on and so on. It wants the juicy reward without doing any of the pesky work associated with writing backstories, writing dialogue that reinforces the relationships presented, and considering character motivations. In the long string of unhurried conversations which comprise the first eight episodes of GLASSLIP, there are precious few which have to do with anything other than dating in its most algebraic and impersonal “I would like to be with X but X wants to be with Y, oh no” sense, and the result is a robotic, emotionally hollow host of characters, defined by little more than their appearances and who they do or do not like.
The supernatural element introduced in early episodes—main character Touko's ability to see flashes of the future when she gazes into a piece of glass—isn't helping. The idea itself and the lack of explanation for its existence aren't problems; there are plenty of slice-of-life shows in which a drop of fantasy serves to make the troubles of the characters clear and either assuage or amplify them. The foresight occurrences could have complemented the show's uncertainty-of-the-future theme, and helped make a character out of Touko by allowing her to reflect on her situation and consider what lies ahead. Instead, the premonitions to this point have largely been throwaways. Sure, Touko briefly considers each one, and she's occasionally preoccupied by them to the point that they distract her from everyday life, but her thoughts never approach any personal realizations or epiphanies. In recent episodes, some of the visions have taken on a darker nature, which holds a small promise of intrigue, but for now, they feel like just another half-realized idea stumbling aimlessly inside GLASSLIP.
So many of those questionable little tics accumulate that it converts GLASSLIP from an uninvolving experience to a genuinely baffling one. All of the classical music, played atop scenes of perfunctory teen relationship drama, seems misplaced at best. The occasional still-frames, which freeze the onscreen image and overlay it with a sketched, watercolor-like aesthetic, come across as completely random. GLASSLIP's dialogue is stilted to begin with, but once in a while a character will let fly with a line no human being would ever say; recently, a girl rode her bike up alongside a jogging boy and requested that he “please stay attractive,” with that classical music still going full swing in the background. These individual incongruities all add up to create a unique problem. Something is always happening in GLASSLIP, but at the same time it's abundantly clear that nothing is happening at all.
I wouldn't call it a saving grace, but the series is quite well-produced, courtesy of P.A. Works. Between GLASSLIP and the recent Nagi no Asukara, they seem to have mastered the art of crafting idyllic seaside towns, and as a result, it's difficult to find a scene here that isn't flush with brilliant, sun-struck visual detail. The color palette is bright, natural-looking and attractive; the backgrounds, both the sleek architecture of the town and the forests and fields that surround it, are lavish and densely textured. Key character designs stray slightly toward generic territory, but they're plenty distinguishable from one another, and with the exception of some off-model moments in recent episodes, the sheer quality of the art and animation can't be faulted.
Nonetheless, at the eight episode mark, GLASSLIP is an ill-conceived mess crawling toward an unknown destination. The awkward, drunken, low-stakes chaos is strangely captivating in its own way, and the pretty visuals might make it an easier pill to swallow, but there's not much here to recommend this late in the game. While there's always the promise of future developments, I don't think GLASSLIP has much of a future at all.
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