What’s it about? 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
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).
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).
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.