Land of the Lustrous, also known as Houseki no Kuni, is a 2017 anime by Studio Orange based on a manga of the same name by Haruko Ichikawa. The story follows Phosphophyllite (Phos), the youngest of a race of immortal gem people, as they try to find a purpose for Cinnabar, an outcast from gem society, and join the fight against the mysterious Lunarians, who come down from the moon to abduct the gems. It is art, and every single aspect of Land of the Lustrous is a piece of art in its own right: beautiful animation, powerful music, emotional voice acting, clever writing, and deep characterization. Together, they create a show which is as close to perfection as possible.
Unlike most contemporary anime, which are primarily 2D with computer generated (CG) elements, Land of the Lustrous is CG with 2D elements. Normally, that would be enough to turn someone off of an anime entirely. Do not discount Land of the Lustrous because of its medium. In this case, CG is not used for laziness, and is, in fact, a huge strength. It allows for consistency in the characters and complex lighting and staging that makes every single frame of the show a visual marvel. The 2D elements which are added on top only heighten the beauty of the show, because they add those strengths as well. Most character expressions, for example, are drawn in 2D in order to add detail and subtlety which the 3D model would have difficulty conveying.
The soundtrack of Land of the Lustrous has the ability to not just explain emotion to you, but to impress it upon you. Cinnabar is pain and yearning, the instruments seem to cry out to you with desperation to be heard, and you become distressed that there’s nothing you can do to help. Sunspot is anxiety perfectly encapsulated, bells ringing, music building up your stress, your breathing quickens as you expect something horrible to happen. Listen to both these tracks now and try to deny that they are powerful. Contrastingly, Early Afternoon is playful but also relaxed, like a normal day where nothing can go wrong. These songs, along with the rest, are masterfully utilized throughout the series to place every emotion exactly where it belongs.
The Japanese voice acting is phenomenal, and the language barrier seems like it isn’t a problem at all for understanding each of the characters’ feelings and motives. You can clearly tell that Diamond feels inferior and dissatisfied, even though they smile and use kind language. Jade obviously puts on a mask of authority to hide their own uncertainty and childishness. Rutile acts detached and authoritative, but their weariness and investment still cut through. The best example of voice acting, however, is the main character: Phos. Phos, voiced by the amazing Tomoyo Kurosawa, shows a clear character journey just through their voice. They start off sounding childish, even annoying, but also unsure of themselves and contemplative. By the end of the series, their character, and their voice, has matured considerably, but it is never a sudden shift and they are still clearly the same person throughout.
Even all the beautiful visual and auditory art put into the series would not be enough of a draw if the story was lackluster. Fortunately, it shines. Ichikawa is a master of storytelling, balancing mood, mystery, themes, characterization, and tropes. Often, the story will tease a direction it can go, some path well-traveled that will make the audience relax for a moment, thinking they know exactly what will happen next. Then, it suddenly goes somewhere else entirely, somewhere new and clever. Land of the Lustrous does not waste time on filler, but it also has time to contemplate, slower moments that let the audience rest. Every single moment is well spent. It introduces characters as they’re needed, instead of trying to cram them all into the first episode. It hangs on to some scenes just long enough to convey the mood, before moving onto the next thing. Nothing over stays or under stays its welcome.
Each character the show chooses to focus on is interesting. Phos, of course, is the character which has the most investment attached to them. They are earnest and funny, and even approach being annoying, but they are also contemplative and aware of their shortcomings, which makes them likeable. Watching Phos attempt to achieve their goals only increases how much the audience cares for them, seeing them succeed and fail and grow as a person. By the end of the series, Phos seems grown up compared to the place that they started, but that change is bittersweet.
Luke Simonson ‘23, agrees with the assessment that Land of the Lustrous is a good show, saying it has “very good 3D animation, the plot has been enslaved by the themes but they are good themes, it’s pretty good overall.” So if Land of the Lustrous is good enough to be described that way three times, why haven’t you watched it yet? Nancy Zhen ‘21 says “Not gonna lie, I don’t think many people read it, even though the series is an absolute gem (pun intended).” It’s true that the show does not have a large fanbase, partially because the distribution rights were bought by Amazon Prime, which is not a major source of anime, and partially because it lacks the mainstream appeal of anime for younger audiences, like the current juggernaut, My Hero Academia. Still, even though it isn’t mainstream, some Whitney Young students have heard of it, like Miles Wandless ‘22, who said “well it was recommended to me by someone else and I looked up a synopsis and it had a really interesting concept, but I just haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.” Reading the synopsis provides only basic information about the plot and worldbuilding, and says nothing about how the show is a masterpiece. In order to understand this, click the spoiler free example links of animation and music to get a small taste for yourself of what the show’s art has to offer. You should watch Land of the Lustrous.