Show: Land of the Lustrous (Hoseki no Kuni)
Studio/years aired: Orange, 2017
Ah, Land of the Lustrous. 2017 brought some interesting shows to the fore, from the depths of Made in Abyss to what was at the time the second season of the ever-popular My Hero Academia. The subject of this review though, managed to stand out on its own merits.
In short, while this series is about a distant future featuring “hoseki,” or gem people collectively, it’s mostly a tale that is a coming of age for the young and impetuous Phosphophyllite, or Phos for short. Without giving it all away, she’s tasked with trying to find a role for herself in the gem society, when all Phos would rather do is fight the moon people who threaten the existence of her home and her fellow gems, who are taken as rare and precious stones by the invaders. In this way, Land of the Lustrous is an interesting take on the coming of age story, as Phos goes on to experience several events through the course of the show that change her for better or worse.
This anime, at least for now, is as good as it gets in Japan with 3-D animation. For a show featuring sentient precious stones, this style actually brings out the brilliance of the different gem lusters and cuts in the action. As someone who grew up fascinated with rocks and minerals, this more academic side of the show- from Phos’ difficulties with brittle hardness, to how different gems and elements interacted, was actually an interesting appeal, beyond the narrative.
It’s a bit of a bizarre show in a vacuum, but the direction it goes in works quite nicely. It’s hard to get into a lot of depth about it without it either sounding confusing or like a massive spoiler, so I won’t, but this show is really about change. With a different aesthetic that is pleasing and a lead character that manages to be engaging enough, it was a solid experience- maybe not game changing, but memorable in its own right.
There’s an interesting character story here with the unique animation to match. If you’re looking for a show that has a unique premise that works, this is as good a pick as any, with a blend of adventure, character and world-building, and a good, if slightly strange premise.
Animation: The 3-D animation is groundbreaking for an anime, and for this style of show, it makes everything “pop” nicely. With a show that features precious stones as the main characters, the style allows the full luster of the materials shine- and beyond that, the world looks lush and stunning. A very good technical achievement! Fight scenes also look fantastic, as an aside.
Characterization: As previous mentioned, Phos is the main character of the series. While the gems of the show are generally classified as no gender (given that they’re precious stone in a humanoid form), the majority of them can be considered female, including our lead. Phos is both an impetuous and silly gem, who in her immaturity longs to join the fight against the “moon people” who attack the gems’ civilization. She of course, is poorly equipped for combat as a brittle and beautiful type of stone in phosphophyllite (Mohs scale hardness 3) and so, the shows mostly revolves around her journey.
The “moon people” are the mysterious invaders who attempt to steal the gems for themselves, as the defenders, despite having human forms, they can shatter and be made into jewelry, ground up, or destroyed like any precious stones. Mysterious as they are dangerous, these strange visitors are shrouded in mystery as they ceaselessly continue their relentless attacks.
Kongo is the leader of the gem society – a mysterious individual who unlike the rest is in the form of a large human man with an appearance similar to a Buddhist monk. He cares deeply about the younger gems he watches over- and possesses immense combat power as well. His past and motivations seems deeper and more mysterious than anyone actually knows, though…
There are other gems in the series worth mentioning- from Cinnabar, a loner who generally avoids other due to her natural poisonous abilities, to Bort, the best fighter of the main squadrons in combat, and Dia- a diamond who despite her hardness isn’t as good a fighter as Bort, but is kind. Each character has their own interesting personalities- and you’d discover more of these characters if you were to pick up the show. (For those who have watched, there’s some good depth to this aspect of characterization in this show, which was interesting.)
Story: “Gems defend home and lives while Phos figures things out” might be a very accurate summation of how Land of the Lustrous goes. Of course, it’s more nuanced than that simple description, but some variant of that statement proves itself to be true. There’s some really solid, interesting moments that occur within the story, but it’s carried more by its characters than by the narrative itself, from what I found. Still, an interesting world is built up.
Themes: There’s a large focus in Land of the Lustrous on what it means to find a place or a role in a society or a family- and in turn, what it means to stay true to one’s self. In this important sense, there’s a question of what one’s worth is defined as- by enemies, by friends, and by oneself, which is an interesting literal and metaphorical question. Of course, there are other ideas at play, such as the secrets that seems to lie in hearts and minds, but the first point is a key idea to consider in this show.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: Pretty solid watch all around. There’s some strange things that do happen, and I’m not sure if the design work in every instance will go over perfectly for everyone who watches the show, but it’s a minor concern honestly. Do note there are plenty of intense moments.
Total: 20.25/25 (81%): A technical achievement as far as 3-D anime is concerned, Land of the Lustrous also proves to have a lead and a story to match the visuals. If you’re pining for something that’s not exactly standard fare, this show may fit the bill.