Every year there are one or two truly special shows that upon first viewing make you throw around the words “instant classic” or “best of the year”. Land of the Lustrous is the 2017 edition of this. In a distant future gems inhabit the earth as people. They are hunted by the angelic-like Lunarians to be made into jewelry. We are first introduced to the youngest gem (at only 300 years young) Phosphophyllite, a paltry 3.5 on the Mohs hardness scale they have no defined role in the world. Phos is given the opportunity to create an encyclopedia of all the natural wonders on the land the gems inhabit, a task they find boring and disappointing.
The manner in which the gems are first introduced, and treated by the anime, is compelling. The gems are genderless, only being addressed by their names or “they”. They have lived fighting off the Lunarians for what seems to be hundreds upon hundreds of years. Their ability in battle, and in many ways importance to the society as a whole, is rooted in their hardness level. At a 3.5, Phos is brittle. But at a 10, Diamond especially their counterpart Bort seem more suited to fending off Lunarian attacks. The society depicts the resilience of life; these gems fend off attacks that seek to turn them into jewelry and decorations. To us, the viewer, these gemstones are most often recognized as just jewelry. Then are we, the viewer, no different from the Lunarians? Coming down to disrupt the peace of the gems? In treating inert gems as living things there is a provocation of thought in our own treatment of decorative stones.
These gems may break or shatter, but they can be repaired so long as the Lunarians do not take them away. This helps create the sense that this world has been in existence forever, though it is established it does have a starting point. The gems fought their way to the surface from the bottom of the sea, fighting for survival and becoming the life we see on the screen. The gems perhaps have replaced human life in this world, or perhaps unwittingly exist alongside human life, or maybe this is a world where human life never existed in the first place. These are the enigmatic questions Land of the Lustrous has us asking at its onset.
One of the biggest boons to Land of the Lustrous has been the slow way it has peeled back layers on these enigmatic questions pertaining to the world and its story. We weren’t thrown into a massive, climactic conflict in episode one. Instead Phos begins to work on their encyclopedia and this venture allows us to be introduced to multiple characters. This opening episode provides us with a small glimpse into concepts that may play an important role in the future, namely the gem Cinnabar. And episodes two and three are connected but in the same way serve to peel back some more layers without giving the viewer too much too soon.
As we move ever closer to the takeover of CG animation it is good to see a show that is enhanced by having it. The colors and motion that CG is capable of are necessary to really giving Land of the Lustrous its aesthetic. And it captures its action scenes with a surprising fluidity. There have been countless examples of shows that fail to use CG animation well, creating a widespread belief that CG equals not good. That of course is far from the truth, and this anime showcases what CG is currently capable of and gives me hope for the future that more shows will be able to harness these capabilities just as well.
Land of the Lustrous does so much so well it’s interesting to look back on its slow beginnings. We started with just a dreamlike world, a unique aesthetic, and countless options for the story’s progression. What we wound up with was truly special. Early introductions to Phos and Cinnabar are quickly paid off with smart dialogue and events that build their characters immensely. Many other gems, such as Diamond, Bort, and Rutile the doctor are all given their due in the story. By building the characters up the way this show does, the story and world-building are strengthened. Nothing is ignored, and despite this truly whimsical premise everything winds up feeling real.
Land of the Lustrous is currently being simulcast on Anime Strike.