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Friday, January 26, 2018

Anime Hajime Review: Land of the Lustrous

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Land of the Lustrous. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

When there is all the time in the world, it can be hard to find your place in it.

At an isolated academy, there exist a remarkable group of people. They never age, they never die, and they try to live their lives one day at a time. Yet what is most remarkable is that these people came from the Earth itself. Their bodies are not made of flesh, but rather gemstones.

Among this group is Phosphophyllite, better known as Phos (voiced by Tomoyo Kurosawa). When compared to her sisters, Phos is one of the weaker gem people. With a hardness level of 3.5, she is prone to shattering. That and her childlike personality make her a bit of a headache.

Despite this, Phos wants to be of use to both her sisters and her beloved father figure, Master Kongo (voiced by Jouji Nakata). Because though their life may be quaint, it is also threatened.

The gem people find themselves facing off against the Lunarians. These mysterious invaders hunt gem people for the beauty that form their bodies. It is Phos’ dream to stand side by side with her sisters and face this enemy.

In her desire to do so, Phos starts a journey she can never return from. The purpose she finds may not be the one she was hoping for. And the truth promises no comfort.

Series Positives

Of the many things I can say about Land of the Lustrous, there is one that sticks out. One that was apparent from the opening seconds. And one that only grew more impressive and more powerful the further this story went along.

For other anime, I would start with this aspect. In the past, I have mentioned how some series have had some kind of standalone feature. Something that rises above the rest and can give an otherwise average show value. Land of the Lustrous had such a point.

But there was something else. There were several things else. What Land of the Lustrous had, most series would kill for. And some have gone to great lengths to ensure this one thing was front and center. Even if it meant sacrificing the other things that make a show worth watching.

From beginning to end, Land of the Lustrous was gorgeous. And by “gorgeous” I mean stunning. And by stunning, I mean breathtaking. And by breathtaking, I mean beautiful. I have more to say about this, except there’s something that must come first.

With its animation secured, Land of the Lustrous had to make sure everything else was passible. The story needed to make sense. Characters needed to work. There needed to be a functioning vehicle to get from point A to point B. There could be hiccups, there could be low moments. As long as there wasn’t too much irritating nonsense, everything should have turned out alright.

With such an advantage going in, is it even possible for a show to mess it up? Absolutely. In fact, there was a series from the same Fall 2017 season as Land of the Lustrous that did that.

Children of the Whales had phenomenal artwork. There were wonderful colors, movements, and imagery. The story wasn’t half bad either. Unfortunately, the rest was too much baggage.

Even with so much going for it, Children of the Whales fell flat.

And now, here was Land of the Lustrous’ turn. Could this deliver something to compliment this level of animation? It’s hard to believe that such a goal is unreasonable. Too bad that’s no guarantee against the unattainable. Did this meet the standard its artwork set?

Every part of me is saying the same thing. No, that didn’t happen. This show didn’t give an okay story. The characters weren’t average. There was almost nothing about this series I can claim as fine.

Instead, Land of the Lustrous saw what needed to happen and said, “Screw that. Minimum isn’t good enough. Meeting the bar shouldn’t be the goal. Setting it should be.”

This series didn’t do what it had to and then stopped. It kept going. This show gave us an amazing story. It gave us fantastic characters. It gave us solid progression, effective atmosphere, and everything else to make an amazing viewing. The animation was but one shining crown jewel alongside many others. And would you believe it, it wasn’t even the brightest.

Land of the Lustrous was outstanding.

The Animation

As was the basis of that entire beginning spiel, this series was like candy for the eyes. Every episode had numerous examples of incredible imagery. Coupled with an encaptivating score, many scenes were nothing short of moving.

In the sun, the snow, under the sea, the many different locations painted a vibrant landscape. This series knew what there was to work with and made the most of what it had.

There were two circumstances during this show where I was beside myself. One was a stretch of this story that took place during winter. The other was nighttime.

For the former, there was this air of silence. Given what was going on, this was fitting. There was this feeling of otherworldliness. The vastness of the empty white fields was peaceful, yet chilling. It was easy to build up a sense of tranquility. Then when danger arose, it was tense.

For the majority of Land of the Lustrous were color was in huge supply, having it missing here was lonely. When there were hints of the usual blues, reds, and the rest, what should've been comforting wasn’t. When there was variety, it came with a reason. And not all reasons are welcoming ones.

There was one scene, which I will get into more during the Story section, that left a huge knot in my throat. The snow was starting to melt and Phos was staring off at the first sunrise of spring. ln a single shot, the entire weight that was that long winter was there. This show did not need words to express something had changed. From that point on, things were going to be different.

The latter example, nighttime, was always a treat. But these moments rose whenever Phos interacted with Cinnabar (voiced by Mikako Komatsu).

The entirety of Cinnabar’s story was tragic. Her presence was always around even when she wasn’t on screen. And she wasn’t on screen much when compared to the other characters. When she was, though, and there was a full moon out, I mean wow.

The way the lunar light bounced off Cinnabar’s beautiful red hair was stunning. Yet it was impossible to appreciate this with any sense of joy. There was sadness in these scenes and the artwork enhanced what was already strong.

Could you say these moments with Cinnabar were only for the sake of doing cool things with the visuals? I can almost understand where that’s coming from. This is something I’ve accused other shows of doing many times before. The difference here was, God damn it if it didn’t fit so well.

If a series has good artwork because it’s a thing it can do, that isn’t one hundred percent a negative. There were many scenes in Children of the Whales I was enjoying because of the images I was seeing. Too bad that’s only doing the job halfway. If there’s no structure supporting the animation, it’s much easier to break it. 

Let’s do a comparison. On one side we have Children of the Whales as a stained-glass window. On the other is Land of the Lustrous as, fittingly enough, a gemstone. We’re talking jade or harder. It would surprise me if it took you long to find someone who would say both items are beautiful. Then an accident happens, and you knock them off the table. What’s the result?

Well, you can pick up the stone, brush off the dirt, and go about your business. The stained-glass, on the other hand, is going to shatter like any other window.

Moving away from that, the character designs in Land of the Lustrous were great. Each of the girls had the same basic structure. It was simple. But it was that simplicity that bred diversity.

The black clothes and pale skin contrasted so well with the vast array of hairstyles. This was where most of this show’s color came from. Some of my favorite looking characters included Phos and the before mentioned Cinnabar.

Other notable examples were Rutile (voiced by Yumi Uchiyama), Amethyst (voiced by Kanae Itou), and one of my top actual favorite characters, Antarcticite (voiced by Mariya Ise). Diamond (voiced by Ai Kayano) was a little bland for my tastes. That was until she would fracture. Then we could see the shine of her namesake.

And there was also Ventricosus (voiced by Chiwa Saito). Though not a gem person, it would be foolish not to include her.

With characters based on precious gems, they couldn’t be anything less than dynamic. That brings me to what is Land of the Lustrous’ most important aspect.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll have noticed whenever CGI shows up, I have something to say about it. And the things I have said have tended to be less than positive. This is a shame this has turned out to be the case.

I don’t think CGI is bad. It is through CG, we can have stories and shows that can be bigger and grander. The problem is, most times when I see it in anime, it looks like garbage.

More often than not, series shove CG into scenes and it is not seamless. It stands out, it looks weird, it doesn’t fit with what’s going on. Whether in the background or foreground, it hasn’t mattered.

Then God forbid there’s a character model rendered in CGI. Although the whole thing is animation when this happens characters look like manikins. They look artificial. They don’t belong in their surroundings. The worst kind of magic shows are the ones where you can see the wires.

I don’t have many good things to say about CGI because there aren’t many good examples in anime that come to mind.

But now we have Land of the Lustrous. This is what can be done. CG, like any tool, is effective when used in the correct way. In fact, I don’t think this show would have worked with traditional forms of animation. It would have taken far too long, and this series would have lost its polish.

Also, Land of the Lustrous remembered something critical when using CGI. The best way to hide its marks is to make it so they are not the thing you focus on.


There were points in this series where I lost myself. Land of the Lustrous became enrapturing. Yeah, that’s a good word. There would be stretches where I was laser-focused on what was going on. It’s great when that happens.

No matter how fantastic a series may look, visuals are a secondary aspect. A powerful one, don’t get me wrong. I have said some anime are worth checking out if not for the artwork alone. But if the only positive thing there is to say is how a show looked, then somewhere along the line it missed the point.

Story takes priority. When that happens, it doesn’t matter what something looks like. A series can look like trash, but that’s fine. It’s a negative point against said series, sure. Except you’re going to need a lot more than that to take down a strong narrative.

Then if you get a solid story and outstanding visuals, then you’ve got something special. When this happens, these two forces can play off each other. They can work in tandem. The greater this connection is the blurrier the line between which is which becomes.

Therefore, Land of the Lustrous was something special.

Was there a single moment I would say was my favorite? A moment, no. A section, yes. There were certain places this story wanted to get to. As is the case with all stories. Except these goal markers weren’t the only thing. They should never be the only thing. A series should never undervalue the journey from plot point to plot point. 

Think about the times when important moments in a story happen. Most shows, if not every, want these instances to resonate. Even in a bad series, these sections tend to be among the better aspects. This makes sense since these are what give a narrative purpose. But what of the effort that went into these moments?

A story needs to decide, does it want to get the job done or does it want to take the extra step?

In the State of California, there are many ways to get to and from the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The most direct and most common way is using US Interstate Highway 5. It will get you where you need to go. Plus, this road doesn’t go through a barren wasteland. There are things to admire while you are driving. On a good day with careful planning, the trip can be quick and efficient.

But I’m warning you now. California is infamous for having some of the worst traffic in the United States. And two of the biggest hot spots are Los Angeles and San Francisco, with LA being the worst of the worst. So, while Interstate 5 may be the most common route, it can be a headache-inducing drive. You will not have a fun time if you get stuck.

Alternatively, you can also take California Highway 1. This will require a lot more effort on the driver. This road is quite winding, and it will add a couple extra hours to your trip. There is only one reason why anyone would want to use this route. It’s because Highway 1 is the trip. It follows the Pacific Coast and the ocean will be at your side almost the entire way.

Yeah, it will take longer to complete, but you will be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque road on this planet.

I imagine you can guess which direction Land of the Lustrous took.

That’s why I can’t say there was just a single moment I liked the most. Getting to those points was beyond fascinating. And with that being the case, there were two segments that stuck out. Please keep in mind, these examples were among many.

The first came in episode four, Soul – Flesh – Bone. The main scene it was leading two came at the end of the episode. When it came, it felt like it was the natural progression of this story. It didn’t come off as forced. It wasn’t shoehorned into the plot. If what happened was ever going to happen, this was the place to do it.

By itself, this scene would have been fine under its own merits. But had that been it, this would have only been a simple plot beat in this story. Rather than it being the cap off to a section of outstanding storytelling.

I won’t go over everything because why would I want to ruin that for you? While this was happening, there was a dialogue exchange between Phos and Ventricosus. It was like any normal conversation two actual people would have.

Except they were discussing the lore of this world. They went into who the gem people were, their connection to the Lunarians, and what came before both. Instead of relying on exposition, these two compared the legends of their people. Thus, there was enough to get an understanding. But not enough to ascertain the full truth. 

It was during episode four when I realized how invested I had become in this story. A random noise outside my window grabbed my attention long enough for me to realize an hour had passed. Had that not happened, I would have lost any sense of time until this series was over.

The second example stretched over episodes eight and nine, Antarcticite and Spring. This part of the story took place during the gem people’s winter hibernation. Phos wanted to challenge herself and decided to stay awake. As it would turn out, that decision would turn…eventful.

Back in the Animation section, I mentioned a certain scene. It was where Phos was looking off at the first sunrise of the new spring. Although the art added depth, it was everything leading up to this moment that gave this scene its true power.

This was a transition period for Land of the Lustrous. Where we were at the beginning was over. This series had transformed itself. Things had become a lot more somber. There was this air of disillusionment.

I may have had more things to say about my last example, but don’t let that fool you. This series already had me on board after the opening episodes. My attachment only got stronger along the way. But it was during this segment where I realized something.

Land of the Lustrous was more than pretty pictures. At the core of this show was a story with something to say. It dealt with themes such as loss of innocence, growing up, and finding purpose. It took the topics of loss, family, and trust and put them under the lens of immortality.

Phos had an amazing character arc. Seeing her become the person she became at the end of this series was chilling. And this was not only due to the things that happened to her, but also how well this story presented it.

I would love more than anything to go into detail about each of these points. I won’t, though, and I have two reasons for that.

One, this review is getting kind of long. So here is a quick rundown of some other things I liked about this series.

The characters were fantastic. This was a family. They had been together for centuries. They bickered, they argued, but they were still close. There were characters introduced early that didn’t have much screen time afterward. Except, their presence never went away. They were always important even though they weren’t always around. And then there were characters introduced almost at the last minute and they didn’t feel weak.

I mean, how do you do that? This show found a way.

This series’ atmosphere was phenomenal. It was comforting. And that was weird since things also became super volatile. There was a sense of danger and safety at the same time. There was a great moment that illustrated this in episode five, Return. It was such a defeating instance and it was so damn good.

The tone was spot on. This series had it all. It was funny, it was sad, it was triumphant. There were high points, low points, and everything in between. This show was heartwarming, sweet, and at times cuter than hell. But it was also tense, gripping, and foreboding. The one emotion this show didn’t trigger was boredom.

The second reason why I don’t want to discuss anymore, I didn't have this knowledge going in. I want you to be able to come up with your own thoughts. I don’t want to influence your conclusions since they should be yours. This series is a perfect environment for your interpretation skills to get fired up.

There is one last thing I will say and then I will move on to the Series Negatives. And I can promise you, that section is not going to be as wordy. “Why”, you might be asking. That’s easy.

Land of the Lustrous wasn’t just the best series to come out of the Fall 2017 season. It was one of the best series to come out of 2017.

Series Negatives

At the end of Children of the Whales, it promised a second season. There was no such promise at the end of Land of the Lustrous.

This story was great, but it did not end. There are so many different things this series can still do. This world that it created was not spent. I’m nowhere near done with this show.

That said, the ending to Land of the Lustrous was satisfying enough. This is the first chapter of a much larger tale. But my God is this worrisome.

I’ve said it many times. Second seasons are never guaranteed. Certain criteria need to be in place to even have the best possible chance for one. And this goes beyond whatever quality the first season might have. Don’t believe me. Always remember, Maken-ki got a follow up with Maken-ki Two. That’s bull crap, but that’s what we are dealing with.

Going off this, there was one storyline Land of the Lustrous didn’t focus on that much. Given how critical this was to everything else in this show, you can’t miss this discrepancy. By doing this, it pushed a character who should have been second to Phos into the background. Granted, this is the gateway to a season two. And it wasn’t as if this character was never not important.

Also, this show did a great job of keeping exposition in check. But after watching the first episode, you’re going to think I’m a liar. There were times in the episode one where characters were informing the audience. They said things people who had known each other for hundreds of years should not have been saying. Whenever this came up, you could only wish it wouldn’t become a reoccurring issue. And if the last section was any indication, this series granted that wish.

The final thing I want to bring up is a tiny nitpick.

There were a few occasions when the transition between seriousness and lightheartedness was choppy. One such example came in episode five and it was coming off the coattails of that one awesome scene I mentioned.

Phos was not in the best condition and had become quite dejected. She didn’t have a ton of energy and had been through a lot. When she was talking with her sisters, she was accepting the flack she was getting. After all, she did deserve it. Then when Master Kongo appeared, Phos went back to being her usual self. Instead of taking her punishment as she had been doing, she resisted in her typical goofy fashion.

Couldn’t Phos have gone back to this the next day?

This was the most glaring instance of this issue. And in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that big. So, the other times were even less noticeable.

That about covers everything negative I have to say about this show. I told you this section wasn’t going to be that long.

When the only things going against a series are the less than occasional oddities, I call that a win. In regard to a possible second season, my confidence is high. I won’t be expecting one until at least 2019, but fingers crossed.

Final Thoughts

Watch it. It’s that simple.

Breathtaking animation. An amazing story. As well as multiple other reasons make this a series well worth your time. This show gets so many things right. It took what were blemishes in other anime and proved how they can work.

This was a pinnacle product of 2017 and it joins good company. Company that includes Little Witch Academia, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon, and Princess Principal. If you liked even one of those show, you’ll do fine with this.

Land of the Lustrous gets a massive recommendation.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Land of the Lustrous? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on my social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.

I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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