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Firechick's Anime Reviews: Land of the Lustrous



I give this ambitious, all CG anime about sentient rocks...a 90/100!

Let's face it, anime as a medium isn't what it used to be. That's not to say good anime don't get made anymore, but with how current anime seem to care more about following trends and promoting their original sources, anime that are ambitious and dare to be different are much fewer and rarer in numbers than they were before. Back in, say, the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even the early 2000s, people could make huge, sprawling anime that were 26-50 episodes long without worrying about money or success. Nowadays, most anime that aren't huge powerhouse franchises only get 12 episodes at most, and several of them are either barebones isekai or cellphone game commercials. Again, that's not to say all anime are like this, but many who grew up with it, myself included, loved anime for pushing the boundaries of what cartoons were capable of, never hesitating to do whatever the hell they wanted, and challenging the notion that cartoons are only for kids or adults wanting raunchy comedy. But in 2017, a new studio called Orange took on what many considered to be an impossible task: Making an all CGI anime, with slight traces of 2D here and there. Now, CGI in anime tend to be...contentious, and while some anime make good use of it, others not so much, with the latter being much more common. But Land of the Lustrous entered the autumn 2017 anime season with guns blazing and surprisingly polished CGI unlike anything the anime industry had seen up to that point. It quickly cemented itself as one of the best anime to come out that season, with many absolutely loving it and the manga it was based on. I myself didn't get into it until later, and I'm ashamed that I took so long to watch it, as everything people say about this anime is absolutely 100% justified!

So what's the story? Earth is now a barren landscape, with humanity having gone extinct because of how toxic the planet has become, and the only inhabitants of Earth are a mysterious deity, Adamant, and a race of humanoids called the Lustrous, whose bodies are all made entirely of gemstones. All they really do is go about their various chores and fight a mysterious race from the moon called the Lunarians, who often attack them with intent to shatter them and take them to the moon. One young gem, Phosphophyllite, really wants in on the action, but is forbidden from doing so because of how fragile and brittle they are physically. It doesn't help that Phos can't seem to do anything and they routinely screw up on every job they get. Adamant does tell Phos to work on an encyclopedia, which they find boring, though Phos later decides to try to find a job that Cinnabar, an isolated gem whose mercury poison kills everything they touch, can do that doesn't involve patroling the area during the night. But Phos' curiosity and penchant for getting into trouble might wind up getting them involved in something much bigger...and it won't be pretty.

In case anybody is wondering, no, this isn't Steven Universe. Both shows may have a lot of superficial similarities, namely focusing on sentient jewels, but they're two very different entities. Anyway, obviously the animation is the first thing people talk about in regards to Land of the Lustrous, especially since anime hasn't had the best track record with it in recent years. But the fact that people talk about it in a good way means the show did its job in really making it work. There's a lot to go over here: the gems' hair all have this shiny, glassy look that's fitting for their status as jewel people. The character movement is jerky when it needs to be, and amazingly fluid when the time calls for it, particularly in fight scenes, where the animators really get to show off their skills, making great use of creative camera angles, 360 no scoping, battle choreography, and the occasional bit of 2D, particularly in things like facial expressions and body parts whenever the characters' whole bodies are off-screen. Of course, the CGI isn't all the anime has to offer, as the anime also has beautiful background art and some really good character designs.

Of course, only shilling the animation and artwork would be a complete disservice to just how good Land of the Lustrous is, as it has a lot more to offer than just that. My policy on cartoons and anime in general is that as long as the story and characters are interesting and well executed, you can have as bad or good art as possible. Animation isn't necessarily the be-all end-all of a show's overall quality (example being a lot of the very early World Masterpiece Theater anime like Heidi and Dog of Flanders). There are also things like the music, which is very heavily Eastern influenced, with a lot of wind instruments and erhus, with the occasional epic orchestra here and there (And I'm kinda biased here because I love full-on orchestras), all of which are absolutely stellar. Every piece of music fits the mood and atmosphere of every scene using it, managing to elevate the story to greater heights and just being all around well done.

More than that though, I'm especially surprised at how well paced and well put together the whole show is. I mean, it has a large cast of 29 characters, including Adamant, which for a show with only 12 episodes, would be too much for a show of that length to really flesh out or develop (See my review of Lapis Re:Lights in regards to this particular issue), but because of the show's setting and lore, and how the creators managed to weave everything together, every member of the cast stands out and all have their own subtle backgrounds and characterization, even if they're not the main focus. They're sentient rocks living on a small island only interacting with others within their vicinity, or some don't interact at all, so they don't necessarily have overly detailed backstories or dramatic secrets they're hiding, save for a select few, nor are they really the most complex and three-dimensional, but the whole cast is very easy to relate to, all having their own strengths, quirks, and dynamic personalities that really shine, whether they get to let loose or during the more subdued moments of the show, and the animation definitely helps with that. Every episode brings new developments for the characters, many of them changing significantly, multiple times throughout the series, with the lead, Phos, getting the absolute best of it every time they're on screen. The show also takes great pains to make sure they're all strongly acted and that they're not just one-note stereotypes, even if they may seem that way at first. There's also the fact that the show, even with its large cast, is surprisingly well paced. Never does it ever feel like the show is trying to rush through its story beats to get where it needs to go. I said in my Madoka Magica review that if producers know how to make use of the time they have and utilize the ingredients set in front of them to make the best of what they have, that can really help a show's overall quality, with Land of the Lustrous being another result of that.

That said, the anime is still based on an ongoing manga, and the anime doesn't really have a concrete ending as a result of that. Which is par for the course these days, and an anime original ending would probably have soured the final product. The only other real complaints that I have are rather...miniscule, in that I don't like Bort as a character because I feel they come off as too much of a jackass at times, even when it's not necessary, and I've seen some CGI shows and movies that happen to be better animated than this (Kubo and the Two Strings and Dragon Quest: Your Story, with the upcoming CG Lupin III movie being practically Pixar-level quality). But that's no reason to not check this show out, as it's full of engaging characters, complex themes, beautiful imagery, and a world rich with ethereal beauty. Please, do yourself a favor and check out Land of the Lustrous, whether it's the manga or the anime. You won't regret it. I certainly don't!
Tags: anime, houseki, kuni, land, lustrous, review
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