by Shance and Yi.
Yi: Shance and I are back to chat a bit about another element of anime couture and character designs. In the past, we have discussed Nekomimi and Hime Cut. In this colloquium, we will talk about something just as popular and perhaps with a more relevant tie to real life fashion: glasses.
Shance: Glasses, huh? In my opinion, glasses rely on the same level of fashion sense as someone would for clothes. Couture-wise, we see glasses that cater to a wide range of needs, fashion being one of them. There are glasses that serve their intended purpose, while there are some that achieve this while also looking pretty good.
For example, glasses that have thick lenses and square frames give out a very nerdy look if worn by the youth, but this suddenly changes if an adult wears this as it gives off an aura of professionalism and adult-like finesse. Another example would be the rimless glasses, which give off a very tech-savvy look if worn with professional clothes, but also look pretty good when worn with casual clothing. A subtle change in color on the frames and it can easily denote a person’s personality, favorite color, or even moods. Even the shape of the lenses can be considered a fashion statement.
Yi: In fashion today, glasses are not a mere functional tool. Rather, they can be an important accessory. However, if the accessory role is taken to the extreme, glasses may make an unsavory fashion choice.
Since arriving in Taiwan, I have noticed an unfortunate trend in eyewear. Many young girls, usually in their mid-twenties, are sporting particularly odd frames. The designs of the frames themselves do not raise eyebrows; the oddity comes from the conspicuous lack of lenses in these “glasses.” They are simply a set of frames. As much as I appreciate glasses—and even own a few fake ones—I could not get a taste for this phenomenon.
How grotesque and ironic! This nonsensical look makes her look unsophisticated and unintelligent.
The complete disregard for function in this aesthetic is off-putting. It seems even sillier when we realize that most of these ladies are near-sighted. Underneath their glassless frames, they would wear contacts. While eyewear can become fashion statements, they should still retain their utilitarian roots, or at least make a semblance of it. In this case, either the glasses serve no practical function, or is a statement of pretension and cheapness.
Shance: See, Yi, this is one of the fundamental reasons as to why eyewear couture is popular among a lot of people. Much like clothes, they give out a very personalized look based on the person wearing it, regardless if it satisfies the utility criterion. The idea that one might look good if he or she wears glasses actually defeats the actual purpose of why a person needs to buy or get one. This way of thinking has also crossed over to the glasses’ close sibling, the contact lens, in that there are stylized versions of such lenses with no other function other than simply being for show.
Yi: That is a compelling point. However, my other objection to this illogical trend in Taiwan, while again relates to utility, has to do more with what is fashionable today. In recent seasons, we have begun to see a growing appreciation for minimal, pragmatic designs—a gorgeous mesh of form and function. When one is completely one favored over the other, the overall aesthetics suffer. In fact, rarely in the fashion industry has either form or function been so ignored. I am relieved to find out, however, that this curious glasses couture is a dying fad. Its surge to popularity is simply a rare viral event that happens once in a while, much like those hideous Crocs from years back—a case of function dominating over form.
Shance: Fortunately, we don’t encounter this problem when it comes to Japanese visual media culture. The creators of the characters portrayed in various anime, manga, games and similar material tend to really think about the reason why the characters should wear their respective lenses. However, it is quite notable that such megane-kyara (glasses characters) are created to be very meticulous when it comes to how they look and how they are viewed by other people when they’re wearing them, so the fashion aesthetic isn’t disregarded but rather effectively integrated as part of character development, even making it so that a character is solidly pegged to a certain pair of glasses. And every time someone remembers such a pair, everyone will remember that character because of his or her connection as the one who popularized it.
Yi: The role accessories have in anime to build characters cannot be understated. I am reminded of an elegant scene from FLCL. At the end of episode three, a previously troubled character Ninamori reveals—in a minor, but glamorous action on stage—that her glasses are fake. The use of her glasses here is particularly clever. An anime about maturity and coming-of-age, FLCL dedicates the episode to Ninamori’s growth from a young girl with repressed emotions and forced pretension of adulthood to someone who embraces her childish adolescence. Those glasses—the glassless rims—represent her flawed facade. We see her wearing these early in the episode as a fastidious class president. At the end, however, she pokes her finger through the fake, absent lenses as the Marquis de Carabas, a fake personality of Puss in Boots, does. Only now, she has a better understanding of that role, and like the ingenious cat, will enjoy the rewards of the virtues of youth.
Shance: That’s a good way to put it. If I am to note an example of a mega-kyara, a good one comes to mind: Narusegawa Naru from Love Hina.
She is usually portrayed as someone who doesn’t need glasses, let alone wear them at all times. But when she studies or needs to read something, she pulls out a pair of very nerdy glasses. The lenses are circular, large and thick, while the frame is thick and metallic. This logical precedence of use over looks makes Naru exude a very nerdy look with just the glasses alone, no matter what hairstyle or clothes she wore. As long as she had those glasses on, she would really look nerdy. This fits her personality as an overachiever in both her studies and in life.
However, do remember that this kind of observation is only seen when the focus of the viewer is fixed to the glasses, not the person wearing it. If we shift our attention to the actual person, our opinions can change in a moment’s thought despite having the same end result of finding the glasses and the character’s importance to each other.
For this, let’s take a look at another example of a megane-kyara: Manabe Nodoka from K-ON!
Nodoka is Hirasawa Yui’s childhood friend, the former getting stuck with the latter to balance the latter’s trait of being a klutz. She’s also a good friend to everyone in the Light Music Club, especially to Akiyama Mio. To top it off, she’s also a member of the student council, making it seem that it’s her obligation to look after the rowdy bunch, specifically Yui and Ritsu. These traits undoubtedly cements her position as one of K-ON!’s well-known supporting characters. With these in mind, we can say that nothing else can suits Manabe Nodoka better than a pair of rimless red. Her role as an important supporting character is embodied by the thick and under-rimmed frame, which supports the lenses much like how she supports most of the main characters (as opposed to over-rimmed glasses, which can symbolize how a character “carries” the rest of a series’ cast or plot with sheer personality alone, a trait mainly seen in protagonists). To make her stand out as a member of the student council, a bright red color is used on the frame. And lastly, to make it so that she doesn’t overwhelm other characters with her presence, she goes with the sleek-and-thin, oval-shaped lenses for a minimalistic touch that can balance with the glasses’ overall look. Pretty neat, no?
But let’s veer off a little on the conventional stuff and talk about what really makes glasses work. To do so, we must find out the answer to the question that presents itself for such a topic: Do the glasses make the person or does the person make the glasses? In order to delve further into this, we need to take our meat and dip it in a different sauce. That is, we need to shift our points of view from the realm of the aesthetic to the realm of the playNow, unlike nekomimi, whose appeal for cuteness is the more noticeable compared to other subsequent attributes, glasses make up for a lot more than just the cute, and it doesn’t necessarily even need to go there. You can say that framing is a factor for this, with differing priorities on beauty and eroticism being achieved by simply wearing a pair of lenses, similar to how the frame of a pair can give differing priorities between preference, need, and fashion. Add a mechanic that brings all of these together and you get the setup you can mostly see in ero-manga or ero-doujinshi; a situation in which the story or plot cannot continue without the character or the pair of glasses, regardless if there is an actual need to wear the latter for the sake of its intended use.
In order to realize this, let’s observe a certain scenario: the Ciel route from the Near Side half of the TYPE-MOON eroge Tsukihime. As you progress through the route, you find out that despite acting like she needed them, Ciel never had any problems with her eyes, yet she continues to wear a pair and act like any megane-kyara who needs them. However, this clash of aesthetics is bypassed by the ero-scene near the end of her route. By using the realm of the play (and by extension, the player’s decision), we see that an outside element, such as major events, a character’s opinion, or the general point of view, can influence how a megane-kyara is received by fans, hence her famous meme (“Senpai isn’t Senpai without her glasses.”). This example shows us how powerful the relationship between a pair of glasses and the person wearing it can become; Ciel will never be the same without her glasses, and a pair will never achieve such viral popularity if not worn by someone with sultry charms like Ciel. Besides, why would I need a valid reason such as fashion or function if I can make a person wear any pair just because I want them to, right?
Yi: Fair enough. I appreciate how unabashed and straightforward Tsukihime is in designing characters perfectly accessorized for its fans. If Ciel has more appeal when she wears those glasses, then she should wear those glasses. Admittedly, I do not mind that Ciel’s glasses are fake probably because they still maintain an appearance of function and, more importantly, serve a purpose. Perhaps in time, I will also warm up to Nodoka’s under-rims.
There is much to discuss with glasses. For example, the relationship between them and self esteem merits a look. As well, the change in personality and the masking aspect of eyewear can be fascinating. After all, glasses have become such a major part of fashion accessories and has inspired its own list of fetishes. It is always a pleasure to begin these talks and throw ideas around with you, Shance!
Shance: Likewise, Yi. Likewise. Until next time, folks!
About the Guest Author:
A good friend and a wonderful writer to bounce ideas off of, Shance is a delight to write with. Our chats and collaborations are always fun and casual with a spruce of sophistication and a taste for anime. Shance blogs at the lovely Rainbowsphere!