[Review] Land of the Lustrous – episode 1

In the distant future, a new life form called “hōseki” (gems) is born. The 28 gems must fight against the “tsukijin” (moon people) who want to attack them and turn them into decorations, so each gem is assigned a role such as a fighter or a medic. Though she [sic*] hopes to fight the moon people, Phos is a gem who is given no assignment until the gems’ manager Adamantine asks her to edit a natural history magazine.

Source: Anime News Network

[*Due to Anime News Network’s editorial decision to accept the use of feminine pronouns for agender characters in the summary and reviews for Land of the Lustrous (despite gender-neutral pronouns in the subtitles and manga translations), we will no longer link to the ANN preview guide in our reviews, effective immediately and retroactively for this season, and from next season we will no longer use summaries from the ANN encyclopaedia to introduce our reviews. – Amelia, Editor-in-Chief]

A small figure in the middle of a field of flowers. the sun is bright in the center of frame

I want you to know that the first draft of this review was written entirely in caps-lock. This anime, you see, was made for me… and no, not because I’ve been recapping Steven Universe since 2014 (as fun as that reference is, the two shows were probably in production simultaneously, making this mostly a happy accident). A distinct, experimental visual style? Check. World-building that’s ripe for body horror? Check. Potential for queer romance? Check. A cast full of genderless characters? Triple check. (Someday I’d love to see media with nonbinary characters who aren’t mostly skinny androgynes, but baby steps.)

While it’s a shame that Land of the Lustrous is an Anime Strike title, meaning many won’t have the money to see it, I will give Sentai one thing: we’re now two-for-two on responsible subtitling regarding genderless characters (the other was Made in Abyss’s Nanachi). While Crunchyroll’s subs are still struggling as recently as the Kino premiere, Land of the Lustrous successfully discusses its entire cast with neutral terms in a minimally awkward way (which is something of an inevitability, given that the singular “they” was out of popular usage for over a century).

a greenhaired figure holding a clipboard, facing away from the camera, talks to a red and yellowhaired person in a suit and doctor's coat. The doctor holds a severed hand and leg

Still, I’m just about prepared to name this my premiere of the season. It’s gorgeous, for one. The opening fight scene is a little bit of a strain on the eyes, since the very bright-haired, pale gems (sorry, old habits, y’all) are set against equally vivid, slick-looking grass, but later scenes begin to hit the sense of contrast between the manufactured gems and the natural landscape a little better; by the end of the episode, there’s a clear sense of distinction.

The 3D art is also downright breathtaking at points, smartly utilizing obvious CGI effects to add a sense of uncanniness in a manner similar to KADO: The Right Answer while also selectively using 2D mapping on the gems’ faces to make them more expressive. In short, it looks damn good.

The gems themselves have the look of angular, ball-jointed dolls; while the choice of ultra short-shorts for their uniforms is eye-rolling, especially when the only character who’s overtly masculine-coded rather than femme/androgynous is their leader, they do at least look uncanny in their silhouettes (which I hope is the point rather than this being a case of Escher Girls Syndrome).

a pale figure with green hair lying on the grass; their limbs and face are shattered and show green glass on the inside, the same color as their hair

And then there’s that body horror. Land of the Lustrous’s gems are categorized by the Mohs Hardness Scale, leaving their bodies in danger of cracking or even shattering from a sufficient amount of force. A gem can always be put back together, if all of the pieces are recovered. But they also seem capable of staying conscious with limbs removed, faces splintered, etc. It’s bloodless but evocative and, given that the “moon people” might make off with parts of a gem while it’s still alive, it has plenty of potential for horror as well.

There’s plenty of world-building, some of it painfully unsubtle in the “as you know” kind of way and some naturally introduced, like following Phos to the doctor or observing the extent of Cinnabar’s (mercury?) poison. And it helps that Phos makes a solid protagonist, hungry for fame but quickly moved to empathy once they realize the depth of the lonely, poison-radiating Cinnabar’s plight. There are allegedly 28 gems living together on the planet—we’re introduced to six (well, six and a half) in the premiere—so there’s plenty of room to spread out and explore the ensemble.

Check it out if you’re able. I’m already hoping we get two cours.

Phos flies backward as a redhead leaps forward, generating a massive coppercolored wave in front of them to defend the pair from falling arrows

 

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  • I’m really digging the CGI. It’s about as good as could be expected! Also, Phos is voiced by Kumiko’s VA, so that’s a win.

  • DiamondWitch

    As of the current volume (LOTL is a manga adaption that’s currently up to 8 volumes, with 2 out so far in English), there hasn’t really been any romance (However, Rutile is very much caught up in a tragic relationship. With who? Not telling till we get there.)
    This adaption is so beautiful and more than anything I’ve ever hoped for!

  • TheSojourner

    This is one of the most interesting and intriguing looking shows of the season… of many seasons, and not just because of the visual style. The moment I saw the first trailer I thought “I bet I’m going want to watch this!” Ah, if only it wasn’t on Strike.

  • i wanted to love this one, but sadly i just didn’t get it, but maybe some time in the future i give it another chance

  • Johanna d’Ell

    I actually found it kind of alienating how hard the subs tried to be gender neutral. At least for Cinnabar they do use a specific pronoun (彼 [kare], which is decidedly male) in the Japanese version, and they use it several times. Considering that in Japanese you can basically get around using any specific pronoun, I found the usage of it rather significant. Also, I didn’t hear pronouns used for anyone else, which makes it all the more special. So its interesting that the translators decided to ignore that and have Cinnabar referred to without any gender like everyone else.
    Other than that, this show is just really not my kind of thing because I find it rather hard to relate to Phos (or anyone, really). It’s just all a bit too abstract for me.

  • smashman42

    Gah! Yet another Strike title that seems really interesting! Being in AU was hoping Crunchy or Animelab (that I have subs for) had it, but nope. Seems like we only get one in three Strike titles down under through these two. 🙁

    If anyone outside the US is looking for this, because.moe (availability search site) lists it as on a (new? I’ve never heard of it) streaming service called HiDive (for UK and AU at least, CA looks to be out of luck). Looks like there’s a free premium trial period for new users, not sure if you can see it free ad supported after a delay or not. It did let me watch the start of last season’s PriPri ad supported.

    Yeah, no affiliation with either of the sites mentioned above of course. Not selling stuff, just trying to help others see this stuff legally instead of hitting the pirate sites.

    • HiDive is the rebranded Anime Network streaming service (idk they used to be part of ADV Films from early 2000s) and also because.moe is actually a wonderful site for looking up streaming services in major English regions!

  • Caitlin

    That strikes me as a fairly weak excuse. There could be other reasons for them to be bulky – for example, being larger and sturdier would give advantages in melee combat. Additionally, people can have a variety of different builds – while the characters of LotL are pretty uniformly slender and hippy, there are people of all genders with narrow hips, broad shoulders, large rib cages, etc. Even without accounting for fat and muscle, there is no real reason to have a single body type.

  • Vrai

    It could have to do with the many other interesting, unique, and progressive elements of the story that I mentioned in my review, as well as the fat that Sensei is a figure of dubious trustworthiness in the narrative whether or not the other gems think he hung the moon.

  • f5ff99

    You might only watch the first episodes of shows, I don’t know, but I just want to post a content warning for other fans who are trans and experience body dysphoria, episode 4 basically goes full body-pillow and has the jellyfish character grope their own bouncing breasts.
    A few other minor things, the “I swear they’re 100 years old officer” phenomenon, and there are some bizarre ass-jutting poses, even during an otherwise dramatic medical scene in ep 3.

  • f5ff99

    It’s not a documentary, and therefore internal “worldbuilding” reasons for why things are done badly or made boring don’t hold water.