A strange and wonderful experience!

It’s as if that phrase was made for this anime. The only thing “anime” about this show is that it is actually “anime.” It’s about as unusual as anime could get and still be anime. And yet it elevates the medium to still even greater heights. Astounding artwork, amazing characters, and engrossing but lightweight storylines adorn this most interesting work. I’ve seen few shows like this. It truly is unique, unusual, foreign, mysterious, imaginative, strange—and wonderful. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 9

Hopefully all of you have seen this show by the time you read this (I never recommend reading my reviews if you haven’t seen the show in question—spoilers and all that). Therefore you should recall the setting for this series. The Earth has been shattered by the impacts of six meteors, destroying most of the life on the surface. Indeed, the surface might be just the tiny landmass we see in the show. The human race has “evolved” into a varied set of beings, one of which is the gem people, who are the main focus of the series. And these beings, these individuals, are completely unforgettable. 

One wouldn’t think such an odd species of creature could make for such quality characters. Yet these gem-based characters are all extremely remarkable. Part of their memorability comes from their unique individual appearances, all of which relate them to their particular mineral. But that alone wouldn’t make them memorable. Each of them has a very unique personality as well: personalities that are quite captivating. Their personalities don’t appear to relate to their mineral qualities (as far as I can tell), but they are as unique and individually beautiful as the gems these minerals constitute.

The writing creates a lot of this personality. The various characters’ motivations, their innermost selves, come out through their conversation. The dialogue isn’t anything spectacular, but it’s perfect for this series. For example, I don’t remember a lot of what was said in most of the important conversations, but I remember who participated in them and, more importantly, I remember my responses to them. I remember Phos’ first encounter with Cinnabar and the harsh contrast between the two. I remember the conversation between Phos and Ventricosus (the slug-like creature from the sea people called the Admirabilis) right after they first enter the ocean, and how powerful some of Chiwa Saito’s lines were. I remember most of the conversations between Phos and Antarcticite, though I see them now through the dark glass of sadness. I vividly remember Padparadscha’s admonitions to Phos just before S1 wrapped up. The dialogue is not Monogatari-level powerful, but full of feeling without being dramatic. It’s unique, doesn’t use a lot of typical anime tropes, and leaves you remembering the emotion of the conversations.

Which brings me to the second big part of these characters personalities: their voice actors. Phos herself is extremely excitable and full of energy and curious sayings, and Tomoyo Kurosawa (probably best known as Kumiko in Sound! Euphonium) does a magnificent job with her voice. Like many other things in this show, her voice is not anime-typical, and I love what she does for this character. She makes her memorable all by herself. 

Tears of gold.

But behind her comes a parade of some of the most well known female seiyuus in Japan at the time of this show’s release (2017). Mikako Komatsu (Overlord, Nisekoi, Jujutsu Kaisen, Nagatoro, Magia Record, Re:Zero, A Place Further Than the Universe, Bloom Into You, so many great supporting characters in so many great series) plays Cinnabar. I’ll never forget the suppressed rage and heartbroken fatalism in her voice. Ayane Sakura, one of the prettiest names in anime voice acting, plays Bort. If you thought “Huh?” when you read that, so did I when I first learned it. Ayane Sakura, as in Ochaco-chan (MHA), Yotsuba Nanako (The Quintessential Quintuplets), Haru Onodera (Nisekoi), Natsumi Koshigaya (Non Non Biyori)…really?? Yep, really. That’s versatility; that’s talent.

It doesn’t end there! Ai Kayano (Darkness, KonoSuba; Shiro, No Game No Life; Menma, Anohana; Alice, SAO) puts on her sweet voice and adds the crowing beauty to Diamond. Goshenite is voiced by Saori Hayami, whose silky voice is most memorable as Yumeko in Kakegurui. It didn’t seem like this character had enough dialogue to even warrant such a prolific VA, but I like the overkill as always. Also from Kakegurui is Mariya Ise (remember the Smith & Wesson wielding sadist Ikishima?). It’s hard to believe she’s playing the cold Antarcticite here. Antarcticite appears in no more than two episodes and yet is completely unforgettable, in great part due to Ise-san. 

Romi Park isn’t as prolific as some VAs, but she’s instantly memorable in anything she touches, her deep and royal voice astonishing the auditory senses. You all probably know her as Edward Elric from FMA and Zoe Hange in AoT, but I remember her as Teresa in Claymore, the Kiryuin matriarch in Kill la Kill, Batsubami in Kakegurui (again), and the heart-stopping Yayoi Shinosuka in White Album. She appears in one episode here as Padparadscha, and I shall never forget this character because of her. Rutile’s VA, Yumi Uchiyama, isn’t quite as well known, but who among us doesn’t remember Puck from Re:Zero and Mare from Overlord? She does a great job with this character. Lastly, my favorite VA, Chiwa Saito, as in the great Senjougahara from Monogatari, plays Ventricosus, the Admirabilis king. Her few conversations with Phos once she returns to her more human form (and voice) are hugely impactful. Once I recognized the voice, I knew why. Everything Saito-san touches, if you will permit me the irony here, turns to gold.

I went on a bit long there about the VAs, but I can’t overstate the impact all these amazing seiyuus have on this series. They take an artwork-driven series and almost make it a character-driven series. Given how heavily artwork-driven this show is, that’s saying a lot. I love all these characters so much, and a big chunk of that love is based in these voice acting performances. Nothing I’ve ever seen quite reaches the Monogatari stratosphere as far as voice acting goes, but this is as close as I’ve seen. Or heard, I guess I should say! This show is already quite an auditory experience, and these VAs put it over the top. They are the crowning jewel in an already great set of characters. I loved every minute of listening to this show. It’s not a stretch to say I could’ve listened to this show with my eyes closed and enjoyed it. That’s a spectacular compliment in any anime, and even more so in an anime that’s most well known for its artwork.

Artwork

Rating: 9

I can’t help myself. As visually astounding as this series is, it doesn’t crack the upper tier rating of 10 for me. I can’t help it. I can’t help that it’s CGI.

Let me say a couple of things about this. First, I’m not biased against CGI. I’m always for the anime medium pushing its visual limits, providing it doesn’t lose sight of its past (a gross atrocity it would be if the industry ever lost sight of its origins and let that filter over into anime artwork). But most CGI in anime is hideous. Perhaps its hideous because it’s bad (Ex-Arm) or because it’s so unusual and unexpected (I recall several moments from the recent So I’m a Spider, So What? as I write this in 2021). But whatever the reason, most people see CGI in anime and thoughts of RWBY seep into their brains, and the fight or flight sense kicks into gear. So from the first frame of this series, our senses are on alert. I was very ready to dislike the artwork in this anime.

But second, there is such a thing as good CGI. Most of us can point to multiple examples, but the recent Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song is an apt example. The visuals in that show will draw you in and absorb your mind, drawing you into that world. The artwork in Land of the Lustrous does the same thing. I could not take my eyes off it as I watched. It’s interesting that both of these series involve mineral substances. Probably just a coincidence?

It is beautiful. It’s so beautiful it’s hard to describe. It’s not typical anime artwork. It looks really weird sometimes. The movements are strange. The “camera” motion is unusual. But it is beautiful. The colorful, gleaming hair and matching eyes will dazzle your senses, in much the same way a roomful of fine jewels might. The characters’ ultra thin bodies are not very appealing, but their non-humaness is well portrayed in this aspect of their physiques. And hey, finally an anime with an all-female cast that doesn’t sexualize at least one of the characters! Ventricosus excepted, but she’s the only exception, and it goes by quickly, and she’s not one of the jewel people. But I stray. Phos’ modifications, mostly her golden arms, are a final magnificent touch on the beauty of the art in this series. It’s all just really shiny, really unusual, really attractive in an abstract sense, and really beautiful to behold.

Subarashi. Hontone utsukushii.

I mentioned the hair, but I have to address this color aspect once again. The colors are astounding. The gleaming hard yet not hard appearance is dazzling and amazing. I love that the eyes match the color, as do the eyebrows. And hopefully all of you noticed that the insides of the characters’ mouths also match their hair color. This was the cherry on the top for me! This little touch gave me a thrill all by itself. That kind of creative attention to detail is worthy of the highest praise.

One of my biggest objections to CGI is that the faces, and usually the eyes, on characters aren’t as expressive as with other drawing and animation methods. That is not the case in this show, and that’s remarkable. Somehow the artists here overcame a problem that almost every other CGI animated show has. Phos’ eyes are moving all over the place, her green eyebrows and eyelashes flashing emotions around ceaselessly. These characters’ eyes in general are very pretty (again like Vivy), and they don’t lose expressiveness just because they’re CGI. I’m proud of the artists for that!

There is an abstractness, a foreignness, in the artwork that’s highly commendable. This is a post-apocalyptic world. We’re pretty accustomed, in works of this genre, to seeing regular humans still existing after the apocalyptic event, often alongside mutated, evolved, or otherwise uglified humans, usually accompanied by some grotesque mutants of other kinds. But this is different. The story deals with this in an interesting way, but visually this world feels very foreign. And I like how it’s portrayed. Think of alien worlds we see in science fiction, or even the typical isekai or fantasy worlds in anime. We don’t see anything like this. A powerful imagination, equipped with a high level of attention to detail, devised these characters and their forms. From the lithe jewel people, to the extreme metamorphosis abilities of the Admirabilis, to the bizarre forms and features of the Lunarians, this world feels uncomfortably both familiar and very unfamiliar, and it’s very effective. The designs play a huge role in that feel.

Yes, great CGI artwork does exist! Here is one of the best examples of it. From all the things I mentioned above to the battle sequences and everything in between, it’s all a huge visual treat. Imagine getting a desert made from things you couldn’t imagine tasting that good all made up into a sweet decadence unlike anything you’d ever tasted before. That’s what this show is like visually. It’s an amazing and engrossing visual experience.

Story

Rating: 6

The story is simple, a little disjointed, but effective. Our main character, Phosphophylite, doesn’t have anything to do. These jewel people live together on a fairly small island (probably meant to be a remnant of Japan, but that’s just a guess) and they simply exist. The stronger ones fight off the Lunarian raids. The weaker ones have other roles. Or none at all, in Phos’ case. So she sets about finding a purpose in her life, essentially. This leads her to new relationships and meetings, and adventures that she never could have dreamed of, both good and bad. These things shape her into a “stronger” being as the story unfolds.

So it’s a simple framework, but there’s lots of interesting parts within it. I’ll discuss a handful of those briefly.

The fact that these people are “gems,” formed from fragments of the substances that wash up from the sea, is interesting. Basically, in the aftermath of the various meteor impacts (yes, more than once I thought of NGE), humans died off or learned to live in significantly different ways. This part of the story gets a little bizarre at this point, so much so that it’s hard to follow. People descended into the sea and somehow “lived” again through an evolutionary process that produced these mineral deposits and a couple of other things. Eventually those deposits made their way to this little island and someone began forming them into “people” based on their mineral type, the creatures we see in the show. And based on their mineral type, they have a “hardness,” a real measure of gem stone hardness called Mohs hardness scale (you lapidaries will understand this; the rest of us don’t). This hardness is an important part of their daily lives.

The hardness obviously is important to the story. While there doesn’t appear to be a hierarchy on the island (apart from Kongou being the “sensei”), the “harder” people garner a lot of respect. But other than this, the role of “hardness” in this story is difficult to discern. It may not even play a role beyond simple interest factor. The me that likes to make things complicated—the academic critic me—wants to find some deeper intent behind this hardness. But as of now, I cannot. I can’t even correlate it with anything specific. The harder gem people often are older, but this doesn’t completely hold true. Bort isn’t that old (if I’m not mistaken), and I’m pretty sure Diamond isn’t the oldest. The closest correlation is fighting ability, since the more durable jewel people can take much more impact during battle. But even that doesn’t particularly hold true. For one thing, there’s plenty of “softer” jewel people fighting: Cinnabar and Antarcticite are both less hard than Phos, or at least comparable, yet they’re entrusted with solo roles where most of the jewels fight in pairs. On top of all this, “hardness” doesn’t even help that much in battle. Bort and Diamond take massive damage despite being the hardest. So if there is anything to this “hardness,” I cannot see it. It may simply be there for interest and to play a little role in the story. I haven’t been able to deduce anything deeper from it.

Every synopsis of the story I’ve seen says the Lunarians are attempting to capture the jewel people so they can turn them into…jewelry, of all things. This is curious. We only see the Lunarians use jewels once, and that was part of a toothed weapon of a thing with sapphire teeth. The Lunarians themselves look like they’re made of the gases that compose stars. They are monotone, and even their adornments are the same color, if adornments they are and not just odd protrusions on their bodies. Perhaps they make decorations for their homes out of the gems, instead of for wearing? Or maybe—the complicating me says—they have some other purpose. 

Chiwa Saito delivers some of the most important lines of the series here as Ventricosus. She is beautiful.

Tied into all this is the myth that Chiwa Saito expounds to us as Ventricosus: part of humanity’s evolution after the meteor strikes was to separate into three parts. Those three parts are: flesh, which constitutes the Admirabilis, who live under the sea; soul or mind, consciousness, which is the Lunarians, who live on the moon (hence their name); and bone, which, you guessed it, is the jewel people, our friends on the remaining surface of the Earth. This is a fascinating bit of creativity on the writers’ parts. I presume they are drawing on other Eastern creation myths as a basis for this, but that’s only a guess. They could have imagined this whole scenario. Either way, it’s a fascinating plot point. 

I further guess that this has a lot to do with why the Lunarians really want the jewel people. I could speculate all day, but that would take time. I will simply say that it’s likely the questions Phos has regarding Master Kongou’s origins and purpose have something to do with this; that possibly Kongou is truly a Lunarian overseeing the surface of the Earth for some reason. He seems readily able to defend the jewel girls when he gets to the battlefield in time, and at least his clothes take significant damage once. Point being, he doesn’t appear to be working with the Lunarians; his opposition to them seems legitimate. I don’t think we have a Promised Neverland situation here. But I don’t rule it out either.

So I’m not certain what role all these seemingly interrelated things play. If nothing else, they’re simply mysterious, adding interest to the tale as only mysteries can. They certainly contribute to the otherworldly feeling of this show. The myth itself might be “true” in the story, but right now it’s just a myth, and quite effective as such. It possesses explanatory power of historical events which our present set of characters aren’t privy to the whole truth of yet. To the viewer, it’s fascinating, adding to the mystique of the show and making for lots of interesting dialogue.

Purpose of life is a big theme in the show. This is one of the more obvious aspects of the show, and probably because it’s such an overused theme in anime. We kind of expect to see it once we meet an aimless character like Phos. What I find curious is the forms it takes in this anime. First it takes the form of Master Kongou tasking the idle Phos with creating an encyclopedia of their little world. For several episodes, Phos wanders around the island, sometimes consulting with other jewel girls, sometimes musing to herself, making absolutely zero progress on her task. I have no idea what role this is playing in this story. Eventually, through a series of unfortunate events, Kongou relieves her of that task, and we don’t really hear about it after that. Then we have the thing with Phos forming a bond with the sad Cinnabar (written as “shinsha” in the katakana; also confusing, as the katakana Japenglish often is), promising to find her a new “job” other than the outcast night patrol. Finally, after her mutation, Phos decides she wants to find out the truth of how they all got here. The last scene in S1 is her standing before Master Kongou, prepared to quiz him about their origins and his true intent. So her “purpose” seems rather inconstant.

This theme plays a bit of a role in Cinnabar too. Poor Cinnabar can’t be around the others because she secretes a corrosive liquid substance that defies the laws and physics and floats in little pools around her. It poisons living things and damages the gem people other than her. It’s pretty effective against the Lunarians, but damages the other jewel people, so they have to keep their distance from her. She feels ostracized, even though that’s not the case, and has taken up a meaningless night patrol (the Lunarians have never appeared at night) in order to have some purpose in her life. As Phos pursues her task of creating an encyclopedia, she encounters Cinnabar and talks to her, forming a sweet bond with her. Sweet, but inexplicable. I don’t know why Phos feels more connected to Cinnabar now than she did before. It’s another thing that’s hard to explain in this story, just as Cinnabar’s fatalism is.

We’ve all been here before.

This story is a lot sadder than you’d think too. Cinnabar drips with an angry depression, hating her life and wishing it would end, yet not doing anything actively to bring that about, imagining herself friendless and unneeded. Trouble follows Phos around for a while. Anytime she’s paired with someone or if she gets attached to someone, usually that person gets taken from her one way or another. A couple of the jewel girls are lost to the Lunarians during the show, and this is very sad when it happens, as these girls were just merrily going about their business only moments before. Antarcticite’s loss is the hardest to bear. I’m not sure why, but I became attached to her character pretty quickly. Perhaps I admired her lonely strength, her suppressing her kawaii tendencies, or the beautiful voice of Mariya Ise performing her dialogue. Either way, I didn’t expect her to be taken away. Yet she was, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. It was hard.

The show is full of lively conversations and behaviors. It doesn’t seem like it should be sad. Yet moments like those, and the general feeling of the show, make it feel almost depressing. It’s a pretty strong effect. If it wasn’t for those lively conversations, this show would weigh on the heart a lot more than it does. It’s a curious effect, and not totally unwelcome. Perhaps it gives a certain humanness to these non-human characters, and that is anime.

The last curious plot element I’ll note is the jewel girls’ memories. Their memories are stored in their entire bodies. Or perhaps it’s better to simply say that when they lose parts of their bodies, even chips here and there, they lose parts of their memory. Again, I feel like there’s more to this than what’s just on the surface. But also, that could just be me. This could just be another curiosity in the story.

So it’s hard to get too excited about the story. There isn’t much to it other than these random curiosities. Those curiosities are interesting and add to the mystery and otherworldliness of the story, but they seem to lack explanation, making me feel like either I’m missing something or that the storytellers didn’t do a good job putting all their puzzle pieces together. As in, “Here’s a bunch of interesting pieces; let’s put them all together and see what comes out.” That’s all fine and good, but it leaves the curious mind unsatisfied. I will remind the reader that I do not require an explanation for every mystery in a story, but when I see a mystery that seems impossible for me to discover or even imagine an explanation for, I feel a little disappointed.

But that being said, the curiosity factor in this story, as well as the feels (which there are plenty of), are sufficient to make the story interesting. It might leave you with a lot of confusing questions, but it will still entertain you as it buzzes by quickly. S1 was over before I could even become too confused about all the things that seemed so inexplicable, and I was smashing my keyboard searching for S2 (as yet nonexistent unfortunately). So it continues to maintain my interest, even now as I discover holes here and there. I still enjoyed how the story unfolded, and I think it fits well enough with the other parts of this show. Story can afford to take a backseat when such characters and artwork are on display.

Overall: 9

That being said, this show comes that close to perfection, and yet also that far. If the story turns out to be really clever in the end, I’ll bump up the rating of this show. Because everything else is really, really, really good. And it’s CGI. You know I really liked it if that’s the case and I’m giving it a superior rating.

I mentioned this show is a fascinating auditory experience. Mostly that’s because of the beautiful voices of the VAs, but also the music is fantastic. I believe it’s a combination of electronic (appropriate given the CGI; does that follow?), orchestral, piano, and traditional Eastern instruments. The result is an almost eerire, dare I repeat it again, otherworldly sound. The closest thing I can liken it to is Mushishi. If you’ve seen that anime, you probably remember how traditional instruments are used there to enhance its otherworldliness, and how impactful that effect is. In Land of the Lustrous, this peculiar music is most noticeable whenever the Lunarians appear. For a while I thought this was a sound effect that was supposed to be coming from the Lunarians themselves, until at least one instance where the Lunarians appeared and these sounds didn’t play. Either way, it’s quite remarkable, and quite strange, and has a great effect on the show. The opening song was curious too, in a good way. The ending was very emotional. It usually enhanced the sadness of the show; if a particular episode was really sad, that feeling got a lot stronger when listening to the ending music. So much of the music fills your heart with longing. Longing for the situation to turn out well for the girls. Longing for the simple beauty of the lives of these characters. Longing for something beautiful that’s deep beyond our reach. So even the music played a powerful aesthetic role in this series.

I really liked this show, and I really want S2 to happen. I understand the manga is still ongoing. Sidetrack: I can’t imagine this as manga. One advantage of the CGI in this show is the reflective, shiny brightness of the gem-hair, etc., aforementioned. It’s quite pretty and very remarkable. I don’t see how you could achieve any of that even in colored manga. I stray. So since the manga is still going, I presume there will be a S2 at some point. I can’t imagine that this show wasn’t successful. Yes CGI does turn some people off, but I don’t think it turns off people so much, and in such great numbers, that many could have missed this show. And if you saw it, you almost certainly liked it. There’s a lot to like, and in my opinion not a lot to dislike. This show—I will say it—is a gem. And hopefully a not-so-hidden gem. It is very deserving, and if S2 is ever announced, I will be bouncing off the walls in anticipation.

Some things will always be there, and will always be beautiful.

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