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

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

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Land of the Lustrous Episode 12: Phos’ Resolve

Review:

While this isn’t a perfect ending by any means with time wasted on the introduced character who ultimately contributes little to this season (though probably serves some greater purpose later) and overall no actual answers to the greater mysteries of this series, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied by how this show came back to where it began. Phos has found her purpose and mission, which was what she was seeking. Her self-reflection that she was jealous of the younger her just highlights the destructive process through which she found this purpose but she has found it and that was a lovely note to end on. And it wasn’t just Phos. Many of the gems are seeking a new path or direction where before their world was characterised by stagnation. There’s a sense of movement and purpose that was missing early in the series.

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The other thing that was satisfying was Phos remembered and kind-of delivered on her promise to Cinnabar. While this isn’t the perfect solution, it does offer a small bit of real hope to a character who before was grasping to the false hope the very naive Phos threw her way. Again, this plot is far from resolved but it does bring us to a good rest point.

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Without a second season, this anime is most definitely unfinished, though it doesn’t leave me feeling bitter about the lack of resolution having seemingly tried to bring some things to a rest even while setting up a conflict for the future. I’ll do a full review of this series soon.

Also, a reminder that the reader’s poll for best and worst anime of the season will close at the end of this week. If you haven’t voted click here.


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 11: I Hate To Say Anti-Climatic But…

Review:

I am a big fan of this show and have thoroughly enjoyed the watch thus far, but episode 11 delivers one thing I find really frustrating. Episode 10 was beautifully tense and dramatic building up to a wonderful climax leaving us with a cliff-hanger. Episode 11 resolves and diffuses any tension from that in about two minutes. It just feels kind of cheap in the end and in most shows I wouldn’t even bother to comment on it, but I’ve come to expect more from Land of the Lustrous.

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However, it isn’t all doom and gloom with the plot being progressed nicely as Phos realises everyone knows Sensei has a secret and she determines that she isn’t content to just let it be. It will be interesting to see what this decision leads to in the final episode of the season.

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Which is why part of me is concerned about the awakening of a new character because I do wonder just how much we’ll be left hanging at the end of this series.


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 10: Bort, Phos & Dia

Review:

I was really happy to see some of the old Phos back this week. They certainly are still not the Phos we met at the start of the season, but they have definitely not lost all of their spunk which was kind of a welcome sight. I certainly had a good laugh when she asked the jelly fish about whether she should team up with Bort.

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Outside of those lighter moments however, this episode is probably the most tension we’ve seen from this show. Phos is still suffering from losing Antarcticite and a new lunarian has appeared that is more than just a bit of a handful.

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However, Phos teaming up with Bort isn’t just about Phos and Bort. Bort’s partner, Dia, comes back into the story this week and the complex relationship Dia and Bort share gets put in the spotlight. I really loved it when Dia admitted she’d encouraged Phos to change so really couldn’t say anything about the two teaming up. My heart nearly broke when Dia claimed that Bort was never wrong as a rationalisation for why she was fine with losing her partner. And then we see Dia in this situation:

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Of course nothing is resolved in this episode and now I’m waiting impatiently for next week to roll around so I can see what the outcome of this fight will be, though part of me wonders if I should be prepping for heartbreak.


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Friday’s Feature: On Transformation and Loss

To change yourself is to lose yourself and yet, transformation is an entirely necessary part of living. Everyday we grow and learn and experience and the world changes around us. Those who stay the same get left behind.

It isn’t really a wonder that so many stories focus on the notion of transformation, growth and change. Because we live, we are constantly in a state of flux and the one lesson everyone learns growing up is that sometimes changes are hard.

Because I’ve been watching Land of the Lustrous, which has Phos’ transformation both physically and as a character at the centre of its narrative, this topic has been on my mind a lot so I wanted to have a bit of a look at how anime has dealt with transformation. Then I realised that it was way too broad a topic to look at because literally everywhere I looked I found examples that would be worth discussing. So instead I’m having a quick overview of some examples of characters who have undergone transformation and looking at what they’ve lost in the process of their changes.

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Starting with the more superficial physical transformations found in magical girl stories, I thought about using Sailor Moon as an example, but then I realised a far more literal example existed within Shugo Chara. This boppy little series features Amu, a girl who doesn’t believe her inner character matches her perceived external character and so wishes to become more true to herself. Imagine her surprise when she finds and then hatches three guardian characters who literally transform her into a different kind of character.

For Amu, the initial experience is one of humiliation. As Ran, the cheerleader, does a chara change with her at school leading to Amu confessing to the Prince of the school during assembly and being publicly rejected, Amu flees the scene. She rejects that this could be part of her character and doesn’t want anything to do with the eggs and their annoying inhabitants.

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And yet, with Ikuto shows up to steal them from her, she risks her own life to claim them back, surpassing her own limit and performing a full character transformation allowing her to survive the fall and the launching herself into the air to experience a freedom she never knew existed.

Basically Amu’s transformation forced her to give up something and that was the image she’d been projecting of herself at the school. It hurt and was painful (and being a pre-teen girl she assumed humiliation was on par with the end of the world) and yet she came out the other side newly transformed and stronger. However, her transformation being externally imposed is temporary, whereas the fear of facing the kids at school is longer lasting. It isn’t until much later in the series where Amu accepts that the Guardian Characters are a part of herself and a part she longed for and begins to accept those elements of her personality.

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Still looking at heroes of a sort, I thought touching on Midoriya from My Hero Academia might be in order. Now Amu was wishing for a transformation and her wish brought it about, however in Midoriya’s case he could have wished forever and it wouldn’t have changed his reality. He was born without a quirk and was not going to get one. This in itself had a massive transformative effect on Midoriya as he grew strong in so many other ways. Bullied and heckled by others at school, while Midoirya certainly developed some ‘quirky’ behaviours such as mumbling to himself and generally being a little bit shy at putting himself forward, he continued to think and learn about heroes and their powers and strategies. He didn’t allow his quirkless nature stop him from moving forward even if his dream seemed well out of reach and unobtainable.

This in itself could have been a fascinating story about the child who worshipped a hero and then had to come to terms with never reaching the dream to which they aspired. We see it in Midoriya’s face as a child when he realises once and for all that he will never get a power. That is a crushing moment and could have been the defining moment of his life is he’d allowed it to be and not reforged himself.

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But that isn’t the end of transformation for Midoriya. He meets All Might, his hero, and at first learns the harsh reality that sometimes heroes that we worship aren’t exactly the flawless visions we have of them. Yet, he is not discouraged. Inspired anew by the experience, despite how it turned out, Midoriya then rushes into same Bakugou when he sees him in trouble.

All Might, having found what he was looking for, wants then to pass his power to Midoriya but understands Midroiya’s body can’t handle it. This is somewhat different from most kid get super power stories in that in this case it isn’t just ‘have some power’ but the kid is asked to work first. To build up their body and to prepare to receive teh power. Fortunately the sequence is mostly a training montage but we see the lengths to which Midoriya will push his body in pursuit of a dream that he should have put aside quite some time ago but hadn’t.

Then he gets the power.

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Dream achieved, right? Well no, because then we would have no more story. As Phos will attest, just gaining power isn’t enough. You need to know how to use it and your body needs to understand how best to use it, its limitations, and more importantly, how much you can use without breaking yourself. That last one is particularly a problem for Midoriya. Despite the training he did in preparation, there really isn’t a way to prepare a normal boy’s body to safely contain all of that power.

Time and again we see Midoriya break under the weight of his own power. Each time he learns a little more and gains a little more control, but the process has been painful and not without longterm repercussions.

Along the way, Midoriya has lost the dream of one day being a superhero. Instead, he lives the reality of training to make that dream his own and despite disillusionment at some of the institutions, he continues to strive to make the dream real knowing full well what it has cost him and what it will continue to cost him as he transforms himself into the vision he has of an ideal hero.

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Lastly we move to Phos and the reason for this post from Land of the Lustrous. As the youngest and weakest of the gems, she was ridiculed, left out, given no purpose and she desired change. Yet, unlike Midoriya, Phos had no real drive to begin that change herself (sorry, using her for ease of writing, I know Phos is technically genderless). For Phos had accepted the reality of her situation and that was that she was weak and incapable. Wanting more was one thing, but actually trying to change anything was too hard or too much.

Yet, the motive for change was still there and we see that in her small act of rebellion when she enters the sea. It ends badly for Phos and yet it is the catalyst for change (both figuratively and literally). Her legs destroyed and replaced by a different material, she gains power, and yet it still isn’t enough as she learns in her first real battle. The fact that a small physical change has occurred isn’t enough yet to give her what she needs.

That longing to continue the transformation is exposed by the ice floes which leads to the loss of her arms the the inclusion of gold and platinum in her make up.  While the loss of her legs was unfortunate, the loss of her arms is devastating. Her memories are irrevocably lost as is a part of Phos’ personality. This change is clear almost immediately, but becomes far more prevalent after we see the loss of Antarcticite. Phos becomes almost unrecognisable as both the physical and emotional transformation have taken her so far from where she started.

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For Phos, gaining strength is the literal surrender of who she is and the material she is made from. Her body now an amalgamation of materials is far stronger than it was, but how much of Phos remains? That is a question that needs to be answered in the next couple of episodes because it has become clear even Phos realises what she has lost is never going to be recovered.

It is hardly a definitive post about character transformation but it is a good starting place for considering what it means to be transformed and to grow. What are some of your favourite character transformations from anime?


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 9: After Winter Comes Spring

Review:

Regardless of what happens in this story in the final three episodes (assuming 12 episodes is correct) this has been a fantastic tale to watch unfold. Phos’  desire to change has pushed her throughout the whole series and now we finally start to see the real impact of that desire.

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Early in this episode she is barely recognisable after spending the winter working on learning to control her new form and body. And like every other step she has taken, this one isn’t easy or flawless and it isn’t without its problems. The impact of losing yet more memories also becomes clear in this episode.

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I certainly have some concerns about what this show will do for a finale because it doesn’t seem likely that it can actually give us the final answers about this world and a satisfying conclusion in the time remaining, but I might be wrong. Either way, this one has been well worth the ride so far and continues to be a beautifully presented and intriguing viewing experience.


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 8: Phos is Golden

Review:

For all that Land of the Lustrous has some pacing and narrative issues, the overall anime continues to be an intriguing and pleasing viewing experience. Being easy on the eyes (and sometimes truly beautiful) certainly helps in this, but it is also how the story remains fairly ambiguous but not annoying. The world these characters inhabit is alien to the viewer and while occasionally we get a small exposition dump, for the most part we’ve learned about it as we have travelled with the characters and primarily Phos. It is amazing how well this show has managed to make me care about Phos despite her having many character traits that usually annoy me to no end.

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And it isn’t just Phos. For all that the time we spend with some characters is brief, each leaves an impression on the viewer. They come into the story with a purpose and they don’t linger about unnecessarily. While this doesn’t make the story particularly realistic (of course it is a story about anthropomorphized gem stones so what do you want) it does make it very engaging as there seem to be no wasted moments or interactions even when you don’t initially see the point.

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Episode 8 is a fascinating episode and I am going ot have to rewatch it at some point. Phos’ transformation takes a really dramatic turn and that certainly was interesting and did grab a lot of my attention. So much so that other points such as some of the master’s moments and the behaviour of the Lunarians, interesting though it was, didn’t quite get as much of my attention as they required and thinking back I’m certain I’ve missed some of the finer points.

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I’m not going to claim Land of the Lustrous is any kind of game changing anime, but it is certainly doing its best to feel distinct. It isn’t quite like anything else I’m watching this season and while stories of weak underdog characters who gain strength are plentiful, the transition that Phos is undergoing has given this standard trope a unique feel. Really enjoying this show this season and eager to see where it will go now.


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 7: Poor Phos

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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Land of the Lustrous Episode 6: Not Yet Enough

Review:

I’ll get it out of my system first: What is Bort’s problem? Is Phos hadn’t been there, Amethyst would have still fought and been captured so the fact that Phos was relatively useless at the end there, doesn’t actually make any difference to the outcome. It wasn’t Phos’ fault that and Phos didn’t do anything wrong.

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With that out of my system, this week we spend some time with Zircon and Yellow Diamond who are apparently a team, though Yellow struggles with the concept of teamwork. We also learn that many of the gemstones we may have expected to see around have already been taken by the Lunarians and a lot of them had previously been partnered with Yellow.

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We also see Phos continue to try to find some purpose and to be of some use, buoyed by the feeling that they are stronger now because of their new legs. Yet the loss of memories from last week isn’t forgotten by the show. With the Master asking Phos once again what happened in the ocean.

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Okay, it is another case of convenient character memory loss to keep from revealing something to early in a plot, though what that something is I’m not sure except that the Master definitely reacted to the word ‘human’ so now I want to know (which is exactly what the show was after). Another beautiful episode and this story continues to be pretty compelling.


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Land of the Lustrous Episode 5: We Can Rebuild Her

Review:

Last week’s cliff-hanger is resolved this week when we meet the Lunarians and realise they really don’t intend to honour any agreement with King (the pink snail thing that tricked Phos). They want more of the gems before they agree to release more of the snails (not that we believe they ever intend to). Fortunately, King’s brother wakes up and the Lunarians momentarily retreat. Also fortunately, King isn’t such a horrible person as to abandon Phos entirely and though we don’t see the how, we do see that Phos is deposited back on the shore next to Cinnabar and with some of her broken parts and some shell pieces (to make up for her missing legs).

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Still, to assume this means everything is fine would be kind of naive given we already know that the gems will survive even if they are taken apart, but they will lose any memories held in the missing pieces. Phos has lost both legs and while it takes the other characters a fair while to catch up, she is clearly no longer the same sassy Phos we met before and there are clear gaps in her memory.

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Just how much of her personality change is shock and how much is permanent I guess we’ll find out. However, the introduction of new material in her legs that might still be stronger, and has clearly already given her some speed, certainly introduced new possibilities for the direction this story will take and next week looks like it will be fantastic. This show continues to impress and I look forward to the next development.


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