Studio Orange’s adaption of Haruko Ichikawa’s manga series was the standout series that surprised in the winter 2017 season. The first season was 12 episodes and covered roughly 30 chapters. Even so, it was beautifully crafted and continues to foster a niche and fervent community.
The post-apocalyptic series is set in a familiar earthly world inhabited solely by the immortal gemstones known as the Lustrous. The series follows the youngest gemstone, at 300 years old, Phosphophyllite, or Phos. Young Phos is a sarcastic being who pushes the limits but has just enough charm an intrigue for one to root for.
The story takes place in the future where Earth has been ravaged by six meteors. Signs of life were minimal. However, the Lustrous persevered for millennia until finally emerging as fully body beings. It isn’t all paradise for the Lustrous though. Their natural properties radiate sparkle and a mysterious interest that make them targets for the Lunarians.
The so called Moon people occasionally descend from the heavens and attempt to poach the gems. This is one of the many mysterious surrounding the anime’s landscape.
Before proceeding, there’s some clarification due. The gems carry feminine traits. They also are sometimes referred to with she/her pronouns. However, they stem from translation errors. Mangaka Ichikawa has confirmed the gems to be non–binary.
Living in a communal setting led by their sensei, Kongo (Gem name Adamant), Phos is conflicted in trying to find their place in their society. Their hardness level places them on the weaker side and prevents them from fighting the Lunarian’s. They’re also naïve and lack the intelligence for more responsibility.
Kongo-sensei creates a unique task for Phos. Create an encyclopedia to preserve their history. Phos sees little value in the task and only yearns to join the battlefield. Getting little help from their fellow gems, they turn to Cinnabar.
Cinnabar is a gem who is an outcast in their own way. They emit a poison that poses danger to the other gems. Being forced to live outside the commune, their contributions are done in the night. Cinnabar is initially reluctant to help Phos but a series of events changes their dynamics.
Meaning where it matters
Land of the Lustrous is easily accessible and complex at the same time. It’s easy to digest for most audiences and plenty to take away from thematically without grasping for straws. At the same time, there’s more meaning on different levels without having to analyze every frame or line of dialogue.
There’s plenty of obstacles and lessons Phos navigates through that humans have lived through. Visually and thematically, the mangaka draws heavily from Buddhism. The series puts forth questions of belonging and growth that encapsulates principles of the Indian religion.
Even in a place of comfort, is there room to continue growing? How does one adapt to a world constantly changing and differing from the environment one knew as a kid? Where is your place in the world?
The series is not unique in its plot, but its approach is what allows a viewer to emotionally latch onto one of the multiple gemstones. They’re distinct in their own way and are placed in complex scenarios that are never over the top or forced.
Take a look at Madhouse’s 2021 Sonny Boy. It’s an anime with human protagonists that deals with much of the same topics as Land of the Lustrous. While Sonny Boy has merits of its own, the approach could not be more distinct to Land of the Lustrous.
It uses nontraditional story telling often omitting major plot-points instead choosing to focus on character interactions and reactions to said events that are never actually shown and only discussed in dialogue. The abstract approach pays dividends as the series comes to a close, but it’s much harder to follow than Land of the Lustrous.
Usage of CGI in anime is a debate that will be here until the end of time. The anime community has largely rejected the use of CGI in its medium as some have argued it being a cop-out when it comes to producing quality animation. TGON has previously covered its use and how, when used correctly, can elevate a scene. Take a look at its use in Attack On Titan’s most recent episode!
What if the use of CGI exists as a constant in an anime series and not just a feature technique? Land of the Lustrous does just that.
The intricacies and natural composition of gemstones alone calls for the use of CGI. Through this method, Studio Orange animates the characters with dignity. Lighting plays a crucial role with the composition of the gems. Light bends and refracts seamlessly off the gems and its only possible with CGI.
The tool is at its peak when its fightin’ time. Beyond the beautifully choreographed fighting sequences, the nature of the gemstones is on full display. They might not bleed like humans, but they do break and are built back up again. The first episode gives one of the smoothest demonstrations with Cinnabar. The mercury-like poison they emit is displayed as an offensive tool rather than a handicap when it comes to fighting. Watching the first episode alone, viewers are able to see how Cinnabar uses the mercury to their advantage in the same manner Studio Orange uses CGI to its benefit.
Land of the Lustrous’ Dubious Future
Unfortunately for newcomers, there’s a lot to be desired in terms of content. By no means was it the quality of content but the quantity. The 12 episodes currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video only cover around 30 chapters. The ongoing manga sits at 103 chapters.
There’s been little word on the lack of a second season by any creative directors. Studio Orange is still around. They currently work on Beastars. Ever heard of it?
Beyond the anime, the manga has evolved for the better. It maintains most of the roots covered in the first season. Much of the charm and intriguing surrounding the dynamics between the Lustrous and Lunarians remains. There’s no reason not to dive into the manga once you binge the first season.