Season aired: Fall 2017
Number of episodes: 12
Genres: Fantasy, Action, Sci-Fi
Thoughts: At first glance, Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni) seems unattractive because of two things: its CGI and how its premise seems to copy the hit U.S. cartoon, Steven Universe. However, after watching the series in its entirety, I can safely say that the CGI is one of the best parts of this anime series. And, for the case of Steven Universe, aside from the personified gems being the main characters, these two series cannot be any more different in plotline and themes.
In a world without humans, a family of sentient, humanoid gems live under the guidance of a mysterious Sensei. Time and time again, creatures called Lunarians appear out of the sky to hunt the gems down, gather their pieces and then disappear. Phos, the spunky protagonist and the living form of the mineral Phosphophyllite, is one of the weakest gems amongst the family and is unable join the fight against the Lunarians with his siblings. Because the activities of his family are completely centralized around their defense against the Lunarians, Phos is filled with loneliness and has a longing to become stronger in order to truly join his family.
The first few episodes seem very typical of a shounen manga. There’s the weak, overzealous MC who befriends the dark, brooding powerhouse and promises to bring joy to that angsty character’s life. Along the way, the MC vows to become the greatest fighter there will ever be. But that’s where all similarities end. As painfully cliché and slow as some of the first few episodes can be, all I can say is patience. The plotline begins to pick up around the 5th episode, and everything from character development to plot twists begin to happen all at once, leaving the viewer hanging on the edge of their seat.
Character development, in particular, takes a huge twist for not only Phos but for the audience as well. And I loved every moment of it. The way that he grows and matures is very different from many anime protagonists. In fact, I enjoy his unconventional growth as a character so much that I’m not going to spoil it in the review, so that new audiences can watch and discover it on their own terms. But the success of this anime comes from more than just the plotline and the characters; it’s really thanks to the whole production team.
The animators did an absolutely incredible job on the CGI. It lends itself not only to beautiful, scenic backgrounds and cinematography, but also to the uniqueness of each character. From Diamond’s shining, faintly translucent hair to Bort’s pitch black hair, CGI contributes to this extraordinary package instead of detracting from it. In my experience, CGI in past anime lacked fluidity, art, and left the viewer feeling uncomfortable with what felt like a lack of budget. But when it comes to the CGI in Land of the Lustrous, the action scenes are extraordinarily fluid, the textures of each character are rich, and even the lighting is utilized perfectly. There were so many scenes throughout the entire series that I would frame just for the beauty of its CGI.
The team also made an excellent choice on handling the intermission cards between each episode. Each intermission covers a gem and its position on Mohs scale, which is a scientific scale used to analyze gems and their hardness, showing the intensive research done for this anime. Though this information isn’t significant to the overall story, you can connect certain fighting skills of the characters with their gem attributes. An example is Diamond’s attack style. He clearly attacks the Lunarians much more recklessly and impulsively than his fellow siblings. He does so because even if he is hurt in the process, his body’s hardness allows him to utilize himself as a secondary weapon, in the situation that he loses his sword. In a strange way, this story proves to not only be fun but also educational.
The ending is frustrating, but in a good way. It left me desperately wishing for a second season to fill unanswered questions, and if an anime series can have its last episode leaving me like that, then I say it is a successful anime. The only flaw I found is the number of characters that are introduced but barely explored. Aside from Diamond, Bort, Antarcticite, Cinnabar, and Phos, there are at least ten other gems introduced. Unfortunately, the other gems remain relatively undeveloped. As a result, they became nothing more than “insert” characters to the storyline. They left me with no impact or opinion on them as characters or their contribution to the story as a whole.
But that’s the only criticism I can give to the anime. I am personally someone who favors a slow beginning if it means a well-paced, well thought out, and well developed storyline in the long run. By the time the central plot hits the ground, I had already forgotten how slow the beginning was simply because I was enjoying the anime so much. Land of the Lustrous is an anime with beautiful CGI, a well thought out plot, and incredible character development packed along the way. Honestly, anyone who’s willing to look for a good and unique story should check out this anime. It has action, it has humor, and best of all, it has heart.
I am planning to rate all my anime based on the anime rating system that Japanese anime critics use. I will have 5 categories, each with the top score of 10, and then a final multiplier of 2.
Voice acting: 7
FINAL SCORE: 82/100