If a tree falls alone in a forest, does it make a sound? If a story has meaning, but no one is able to understand it, does it truly have meaning? If we are all marbles rolling around on the floor amidst the marbles of many other stories, is there meaning before the moment when we collide and change courses? Is the meaning in the moment of impact, the moment of change? Or is it something more fundamental and tied up with the very act of existence? And, most importantly, is there anything of value to be gained from searching for this answer.
I’m currently rewatching P.A. Works’ original 2014 anime series, Glasslip, a wispy, weird, and abstractly concrete show about a group of five high school friends and what happens to them when an outsider appears and disrupts everything. Or… it’s something like that. If you’ve seen Glasslip, you likely understand my hesitancy to place a definitive description on it. If you haven’t, just understand that Glasslip begins with six episodes of relatively rote end-of-high-school-light-drama-bolstered-by-fleeting-magical-realism, and then quickly evaporates into a mist of confusing, increasingly impregnable, and (in the end) ultimately empty events, conversations, and scenes.
That is to say, Glasslip isn’t a very good show by any conventional measurements… and it’s not a very good show by any experimental ones either. Back when the show finished its TV run, I called it a “failed aesthetic experiment,” a descriptor I’m no longer sure accurately describes the show—although I do think it gives a pretty decent impression of what it’s like to watch Glasslip.
Despite this, I’ve remained vaguely (in truth, everything about Glasslip is vague) fascinated by the show since that time. Despite all my criticisms of the show’s character work, plotting, composition, and general craft, the abstract and ambiguous nature of the show left just enough of a feeling of mystery with me that I’ve always felt I missed something big. That is, I’ve always felt that there was some kind of meaning left in Glasslip that I never quite grasped, that amidst the fragments of distinct aesthetic-thematic-subtextual points (still yet as obscure as a vision seen through darkened glass) Glasslip was trying to say something.
In short, I may have been rolling a boulder up a mental hill again and again, only to have it roll back to the bottom on me before I could reach the summit. Chickens flying the coop.
Around the time Glasslip ended, a friend of mine (@Insomnist01) on the Crunchyroll forums wrote up an interesting piece relating author Albert Camus (who’s frequently referenced in Glasslip) to the show itself. You can read the entirety of his post—or not—but somewhere between his writing and Glasslip, there’s the question of the meaning of life or the possibility of living a life without meaning. And what does that have to do with Glasslip‘s lack of cohesion and general grounding in, well, anything approaching meaning? My friend took this guess:
If this reflects the design philosophy for Glasslip then it may explain the show’s apparent allergy to explaining shit. There’s no profound insight at the end of Glasslip because the profound insight at the end of Glasslip is that there are no profound insights. Life cannot be explained, only described as we see it. If that’s insightful, welcome to Paradoxville.
Obviously, if you take this explanation, you could see even the act of writing this post to be a futile (read: meaningless) endeavor. Or not, if we return to the marble metaphor I made in this post’s introduction. Does me bumping into Glasslip and attempting to assign meaning to the fragments of a message in the show grant it meaning retroactively? Or is that meaning simply inherent to me?
And does Glasslip need to have meaning anyways? Can’t it just be allowed to rest as a show too caught up in being abstract to project any sort of significance outside of its own sphere of existence?
Maybe it’s just the hint of having meaning that’s enough. Maybe Glasslip is like the tease of life, the moment of glorious certainty in the midst of the baffling episodes of being human and thinking and living. You can look, but in the end all you see is fragments. Nothing more and nothing less. Of course, holistically I don’t believe that about life. I believe it does have meaning. Maybe that’s why I think Glasslip must as well.