It's rare when I have nothing to say. My job as a pastor requires me to write well over 3,000 words a week. I have written The Anime Review for over a decade now, often creating sprawling articles that say more than necessary about shows that aren't worth the effort. Sure, every now and then I suffer writer's block, but I push through and finish the article or sermon anyway. (The only times I miss deadlines are when I haven't actually finished watching a show, not because of a lack of words.) So when I hit something I can't really write much about, it's truly a strange moment.
That's what I found sitting at the computer a couple of days after watching Glassy Ocean, a short film (about 23 minutes long) dating from 1998. It's Japanese, but really, it's not anime. It owes a debt to the surrealism of the French, both in its plotline (if you could call it that) and in its visuals. It is intriguing for two reasons -- its score and its uniqueness. If you've been frustrated by the sameness of everything that you've seen recently, Glassy Ocean might be something to make you think, "There is still creativity in the world." But then again, you might just be bored.
Normally, in my third or so paragraph I try to come up with a description of the show's plot that doesn't give it away. Well, in this case, to describe what happens would probably make the experience moot. The nutshell? A boy stands on an ocean liner looking out into the sea, and he imagines an aquatic world of glass where an old man catches flying fish with his cat. When the old man finds a whale in mid-flight, he invites others to see, and he remembers events from his past. Watching those reminiscences is what makes up the whole of the short.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the crew on this piece does not have a long resume of anime-related projects. According to Anime News Network, the music was contributed by Yutoro Teshikai, who also was behind the score of the experimental mindbender Cat Soup. Looking back at that review, I can see many similiarities...both are shows that are more about the art than the story, and both have great music. It's too bad Yutoro Teshikai hasn't done more work in the animation realm, because it's his talent that keeps this from being a monotony. If you can find the show just to listen to it, I could go with that recommendation. The graphics are nothing spectacular, though it is visually intriguing. While there is some CGI on display, it neither helps nor distracts, in my opinion.
While comparisons with Cat Soup aren't out of line, unlike Cat Soup there's nothing that makes Glassy Ocean truly click for me. I commented on Cat Soup that it had no point, which was a problem, but do fever dreams really have a point either? Glassy Ocean is unique in the fact that you won't see anything else like it. I liked a lot of what I saw. But it doesn't particularly linger in the mind, either. It's quite slow, and while my 15-month old appreciated its pacing, I don't think many other people will. How can a 23-minute short feel slow, anyway? It's the kind of show I admire and respect more than enjoy.
This really surprised me, because Glassy Ocean in some ways is similar to shows like Aria the Animation, which aren't really plot driven but intend to inspire a mood. With no expectations, this could be like a nice sea breeze, something light and airy that doesn't have to do anything but provide a little cool air. In fact, I think children might really get more out of this than adults, as they may be able to appreciate the work without having to have it all explained. (As it turns out, as I was researching this piece, I learned that the director is actually a children's author, and this is an adaptation of his previous book. That explains a lot. And thanks for the tip from Justin Sevakis' own review at ANN.)
So, the question is, are you interested in an oddity based on a children's book with great music and virtually no actual narrative? If you like art films, you'll love it. If you're just waiting for the next volume of Naruto to hit the shelves, don't bother. The rest of us who sit in the middle? Well, it's easy to find on the Internet, so it might be worth a quick download for a change of pace. Perhaps that's the best choice, because still after writing this review, I'm just not sure I had anything to say about Glassy Ocean. Maybe I was just meant to experience it. Maybe that's the point.
Glassy Ocean -- nothing objectionable -- B