My latest review is up! This time I take a look at Land of the Lustrous.
First Published on UK Anime Network.
Now, where do I begin? I have tried time and again to work out the best way of describing Land of the Lustrous to people, but on each and every occasion I feel that I have failed to portray the sheer beauty of this series. It is a difficult series to sell without spoiling, as beyond the gorgeous visuals the real allure of Land of the Lustrous is in its plot twists and mysteries. During our awards podcast in December I unsuccessfully made the case for Land of the Lustrous in a number of categories, with the series only coming away with runner-up titles in the Best Moment and Best Character awards. This series really deserves more…
Land of the Lustrous is set in the far future, in a land surrounded by the bounty of nature: seas, fields, beautiful coastlines, and more - with no sign of human interference at all. Populating this land are the Gems, a life-form seemingly evolved from precious gemstones, and their Sensei. Each of the Gems exhibit various traits of the Gemstone from which they derive their name, including a hardness rating based on Mohs scale of mineral hardness, even their refractive index is taken into account in the way the light shines and shimmers through their radiant coloured hair. Geology nerds rejoice! (I’m not one myself, but I still very much appreciate the level detail there.)
The Gems are under constant threat from the Lunarians, a race of people from the moon, who largely resemble something from Buddhist imagery and whose appearance initiates a somewhat haunting shift in the series’ soundtrack. To say they are as beautifully realised as the Gems themselves is compliment indeed to the animators. The Lunarians want to capture the Gems and turn them into jewellery. Yes, you heard that correctly! This leads to some serious body horror moments - especially later in the series - as Gems shatter, lose limbs, and fight for their very existence against a seemingly unassailable foe. Thankfully for the Gems they can be reconstructed if their lost fragments can be found. Though those fragments hold memories, so missing pieces mean missing memories. This is something which comes into play in interesting ways as the series progresses.
Enter our protagonist the irrepressible but clumsy Phosphophyllite (Phos), who - at a mere 300 years old - is the youngest and one of the weakest of all the Gems. Prone to breaking at the slightest touch, with a hardness rating of only 3.5, Phos is judged unsuitable for battle, despite their protestations to the contrary. As such Phos is without a job, and eager to do more. Though this eagerness, paired with a devil-may-care attitude, really rubs the other Gems up the wrong way. Phos wants to find a place in the world, a useful place, but is seen as being lazy and often just ends up getting in the way. Thus Sensei assigns Phos the task of creating a natural history encyclopaedia, a job seen by some – including Phos - as busywork.
Phos is advised to seek out Cinnabar, one of the other Gems, who is in a self-imposed exile on the night-watch patrol, due to their poisonous nature. Cinnabar contains mercury, which makes for some particularly unique and spectacular battle sequences when Cinnabar is involved. Cinnabar’s control over their poisonous nature isn’t trusted by the others and the Lunarians never attack at night, making Cinnabar a “worse good-for-nothing” than Phos in some eyes. Though they are their own harshest critic. This results in Phos promising to find Cinnabar a better job, one which will allow them to live a more fulfilling life. Thus we arrive at the point where the series begins in earnest, as Phos somewhat reluctantly embarks on a voyage of discovery and growth, from irritating young upstart to something much more. Cinnabar is aloof and cold towards Phos, but Phos’ perseverance – irritating though it may be – eventually wears them down and the pair begin to understand one another. The rest of the series deals with the repercussions of Phos’ promise, and to say this series goes to unexpected, dramatic, and emotional places would be a serious understatement.
I cannot really delve much further into the plot without hitting serious spoiler territory, but this series does not pull any punches. There is a constant feeling of existential dread, the Gem’s lives are every bit as difficult and dramatic as the premise might indicate, with each Gem bringing a unique and individual approach to the issues that face them. There is no shortage of intrigue and the series introduces layer upon layer of mystery about the world, and the Gems, with each character adding their own piece to the puzzle. This is thanks in no small part to some serious hurdles they are forced to overcome, and more than one emotional gut punch to boot. By way of example Diamond is a strong and highly valued Gem, who gets into trouble pushing themselves too hard while struggling to get out from under the shadow of the more capable Bort. While, Alexandrite is a Gem longing to find out everything they can about the Lunarians, but who flies into an uncontrollable rage whenever they meet one. Then there is Antarcticite, a Gem who is liquid for much of the year and only solidifies during the winter, who is hence tasked with looking after the other Gems as they hibernate. And that is barely scratching the surface of the Gems…
Land of the Lustrous is animated by Orange CG animation studio, who are 3D animation specialists. Though you may be surprised to learn that this is their very first title as lead studio. While a series almost entirely animated in CG would normally ring alarm bells for many fans I simply cannot overstate how beautiful Land of the Lustrous is. Right from the gorgeous, other worldly, and kaleidoscopic opening sequence through to the more traditionally animated ending sequence. It is highly stylised and the character designs fit the series perfectly, the backgrounds and vistas are stunning, and the action sequences are spectacular. Between the fluidity and dynamism of the action sequences and the detail of the shattering Gems you simply will not find a better looking CG animated series in motion. Though it doesn’t just look great in motion, you could happily capture almost any frame and use it as a gorgeous wallpaper on your desktop or mobile device.
Land of the Lustrous is a real gem of a series, the animation is highly polished and the story is as engaging as any diamond. You would need to have a hardness of 10 on the Mohs scale not to be moved by the series’ events. Though annoying at first (deliberately so) Phos will worm their way into your heart. Land of the Lustrous is an addictive series which will have you craving more after each episode, it will draw you in with perfect pacing and heart-rending cliff-hangers. The only disappointment to be found here is that the series leaves you hooked and longing for more, as it ends on a potentially pivotal moment. And that is no real criticism at all, we can only hope a second season follows quickly before the series begins to lose it’s lustre.
You can currently watch Land of the Lustrous in streaming form on HIDIVE.
10 - A real gem of a series, highly polished and resplendent in its beauty.