Land of the Lustrous Series Review: Beautiful But Not Without Flaws

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Overview:

Land of the Lustrous kind of took me by surprise during the Autumn 2017 season as its CG animation made it stand out from the crowd but for once in a truly beautiful manner. The story follows Phos, the youngest of a group of living gem stones who are hunted by Lunarians who wish to break them up and take them back to the moon. Phos, being incredibly weak, has no job or purpose though over the course of the season will undergo a startling transformation.

Review:

Previously I discussed Phos’ transformation as a character and the cost in a feature post because while watching this is the part that consistently stood out to. Phos wasn’t just bitten by some radioactive spider and then getting a training montage and poof, superhero material here we are. Instead, Phos’ personal growth and transformation are characterised by the extreme loss of identity and the pain that self-awareness can bring as well as the understanding that just getting stronger doesn’t mean things will work out okay. It is a powerful idea and one that is delivered in a glistening package.

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Land of the Lustrous was one of my favourite shows of the Autumn season because it felt unique. Part of that is because of the visuals and animation. These characters won’t be confused with characters from any other show (at this point) and the world they are in is truly vibrantly alive. However, I’m not enough of a sucker for pretty visuals that just looking sparkly and pretty would be enough to really capture my interest for the season. Phos was also a major draw as a character who started out semi-annoying but by mid-season had become one of my personal favourite characters of all time. But what really sells this show for me is that despite this really being Phos’ story, hers is only one story that is ongoing in this world and though we only see glimpses of the other stories when Phos’ journey intersects with the other characters, it all creates a sense that this world we are seeing is genuine and complex (even if a lot of the characters seem quite simple at a glance).

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However, that leads logically to the show’s greatest weakness and that is that 12 episodes barely scratch the surface of anything. The only real narrative arc that we’ve seen is Phos seeking and finding a purpose and while that was glorious it leaves the audience with so many unanswered questions about the gems and the Lunarians and the weird snail things that appear for about two episodes and then cease to have any presence in the story. Basically, this show is crying out for more. More time to develop these ideas and this world. More time for the story and characters to evolve and find their way. Just more of everything.

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And there’s a lot that this show has in it that you are going to want more of. The ridiculously cute moments between the pairs of gems or when they were chasing the 108 puppy things around are just adorable. While this might seem vapid in the context of the rest of the story it shows you how normalised the gems are to the events unfolding around them. They live a very, very long time and their lives have been fairly much stagnant. They throw themselves into these small moments of joy in a way that you would expect of a six year old to go from tears to full smiles in the space of handing them a chocolate anything (yeah, don’t let me baby-sit your kids, it will end with chocolate for sure – and tears but that).

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Then there’s the action sequences. Episode 10 in particular showed an extended fight sequence that crossed multiple locations and just found the perfect mixture of nail-biting tension and fantastic movement and fighting. But all the fights, as brief as some are, managed to impress visually and ramp up the tension of their episodes. Also, unlike so many other shows, our main characters are never guaranteed victory or protected by plot armour. Loss and failure loom large as themes and pave a lot the way for Phos’ transformation so you can never tell the outcome of a battle before it begins.

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The supporting cast are fantastic if slightly under-utilised and at this stage quite a number are still fairly background with little known about them. However, while the focus has definitely been Phos, other characters such as Bort, Dia and Cinnabar have all been given some decent depth as characters and Alex, Rutile and Sensei were starting to get a bit more of a look toward the end of the series.

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While the opening theme probably won’t be one you are going to bop along to, it fits the show really well and like everything else it is gorgeous to look at. The music and sound within the episodes is something really well integrated into the story and the ideas it seems to be trying to convey. There’s some heavy religious undertones at times and the sound direction (particularly when the Lunarians are on screen) most definitely reflects that. But even just the sounds of the world are beautifully portrayed and help to bring the setting to life.

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Basically I loved watching this. My only real issue is that it ends without resolving everything but it didn’t leave me howling in frustration either as it did bring Phos’ journey to a reasonable resting place. Please let there be another season of this and in the meantime I would definitely recommend giving this one a go when you can if you didn’t watch it while it was airing.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James


Land of the Lustrous Episode 7: Poor Phos

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Review:

Winter has arrived and the gem stones are for some reason hibernating. I’m not sure what the logic is here given their hardness and abilities have mostly been representative of the gem stone they are, but being solar powered and needing to sleep in winter just doesn’t fit with that at all. Unless this is some throw back to the whole myth about humans that Phos was told earlier, but even then, humans don’t exactly hibernate in winter.

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I was glad that Amethyst very quickly pointed out that Phos hadn’t done anything wrong in the previous episode. Bort is still a jerk, but at least some level of sanity prevailed for the other characters. However, this may have actually been worse as Phos is now carrying an overwhelming sense of guilt about their own uselessness and feels terrible because there was no real consequence.

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What really gets me about this is that it is so realistic (despite the setting). Phos gained stronger legs and naturally assumed they could do more to help, but has realised the physical change has changed nothing about who they are and even if it does allow them to do more, the rest of their body can’t keep up. Growing up, changing, these processes are painful for a reason. With every step forward you realise how much further you have to go, and right now Phos is really struggling with this because most of these gems haven’t changed in hundreds of years. This leaves Phos ill-equipped to process the idea of changing. All of these uncertainties come to a head when Phos listens to the ice-floe (yes I know how that sounds to people who aren’t watching the show). I am very curious to see how this plays out next week.


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Friday’s Feature: Just Add Cute

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As anime fans, I’m sure we’re all aware that Japan has a serious thing for cute (kawaii). This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it is one of the things that makes Japanese culture incredibly fascinating to outsiders. That doesn’t mean it always makes a lot of sense.

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While not a recent trend, it seems that pretty much every scenario you can think of is being marched out in anime form, with a group of cute female characters ready to sell the show. While it makes sense for the cast of an idol based anime (such as Love Live) to all be pretty adorable, why does a show about anthropomorphized battleships (Kantai Collection) need to have such a cute cast? While it’s a nice juxtaposition of expectations (warship/cute girl) it doesn’t really help the humanization of a weapon as the appearance of the girl continuously betrays the spirit that they are supposed to embody.

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Though probably the first anime I watched where this was a thing (mostly because these kinds of shows don’t overly appeal to me) was Chobits where we had a computer in the form of a girl. While this wasn’t just a gimmick of cute girls, come watch, but rather a more serious look at isolation and a need to make connections (in between other stuff) we still essentially see an appliance being given not only a human form but a very cute, female human form.

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Although, if we forget machines for a minute, we then have the anime that have dragons (yes, my very favourite fantasy creature) spending the vast majority of the series just looking like yet another cute girl. Oh wait, she might bite. Tragically the one example of this I clearly remember is Dragonaut: The Resonance (please let me forget that and never, ever try to review). Toa spends almost the entire series bouncing around as a pink haired cutesy while not much of anything happens anywhere else in the series. Okay, there are other dragons and some are even guys but the main focus here is the pink haired girl. There’s some kind of plot that involves the guy who used to have a sister who died tragically in some sort of incident and you can probably figure out where that is going in terms of his relationship with Toa.

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I’m not actually making fun of the idea of anthropomorphization. Terry Pratchett does a brilliant job of giving Death ‘life’ as a recurring character in his Discworld novels. What I’m wondering is whether the market is being over-saturated by some of the more cookie cutter versions of this trend. Where the standard anime girl types are being forced into moulds simply to put a new facelift on a story we’ve seen before with characters we will forget almost before the end-credits are finished. When done right, giving human characteristics to something can make it fairly memorable. When done poorly it just feels like gimmicky story telling for the sake of it. Plus, the highly sexulaised nature of some of these characters (or at least the fan service that appears relentlessly in these shows) makes the whole thing less an exercise in creative settings and characters and more a targeted fantasy (though again, this isn’t across all of these types of shows as like every other genre there are some that get the mix right and deliver quality entertainment and others that embrace the trashier elements).

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Moving away from cute girls, I certain some of you must remember Makuranodanshi. Who could forget a show about personified pillow boys talking directly to the camera as they lulled you off into a completely creeped out state or into complete bemusement. Each episode featured a different boy  talking to you as if you were there about to go to bed. There were 12 episodes so 12 different personalities and looks to choose from. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer my pillow not to talk to me.

Turning it over to you. Which shows do you think suffered from the ‘just add cute’ mentality or which shows do you think nailed this idea of using cute as the lure but then delivered a good story?


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