In its short lifespan, Studio Orange has produced a number of visually dynamic series, from Black Bullet to Norn9. But it was their 2017 adaptation of Haruko Ichikawa’s manga Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni) that would prove to be their most audacious and sumptuous-looking series to date. History will remember this twelve-episode run as the turning point for CG anime, one which has earned the respect not only of critics and commentators, but also of anime fans at large. Although there have been plenty of CG anime over the years, Land of the Lustrous has little in common aesthetically with Knights of Sidonia, Blame! or Ajin. It’s altogether more traditional looking, with sweeping grassy vistas possessing the artistry of a Miyazaki production, and skyscapes that could have been designed by Makoto Shinkai.
Where the CG animation truly comes to life, though, is with the crystalline characters that inhabit the so-called land of the lustrous. Not to be confused with Steven Universe, the world is populated by a handful of ‘gems’, sentient precious stones in the shape of girls with loves, loathes and agendas of their own playing out in complex, sometimes queer coded, relationships (more on that here). Whilst glittering in the sun and sporting the properties of crystal or stone, each gem’s hair also behaves like, well, hair. Light and bouncy and fluttering in the wind. This effect just couldn’t be accomplished with 2D animation.
That alone might not be worth the praise that’s been heaped on the show, but the action sequences most definitely are. The gems each have a role to play in defending against the Lunarians, a race of angelic-looking beings who want the gems for jewellery – a parable, perhaps, for how women’s bodies are objectified and turned into commodities. Their arrival is heralded by music as frightening and beautiful as they are and the action scenes that unfold have an immersive fluidity, a kinetic power that can easily rival anything adapted from the pages of Shonen Jump. Some of these sequences even unfold like the kaleidoscopic weirdness of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, itself a trailblazer for CG anime. Combined with quiet, more introspective moments and it’s easy to forget it’s a TV series you’re watching and not a movie. Such are the cinematic stylings and careful attention to movement and flow.
Despite the struggle between the Lunarians, the gems and the often sleeping (sorry, meditating) sensei, the series macros in on Phosphophyllite. Not only is Phos the youngest of the current gems, she’s also one of the most fragile. Coupled with her ditsy personality and accident-prone nature, she’s something of a liability among her fellow gems. The series sees her trying to find her place and purpose in the world. Desperate to be useful, Phos first accepts a job compiling an encyclopaedia, then later finds herself transforming and evolving over time, just like how real gems are formed over millennia. In doing so, she helps her friends in ways she couldn’t have imagined.
Even with Phos’ existential crisis driving the thrust of the story, to say the show has a plot would be overstating things. Outside of the action, things feel more slice of life, with a mix of mundane and the fantastical reminiscent of Humanity Has Declined and a ramshackle plot structure to match. Although the ending of this first series provides some closure, so much remains unanswered demanding a second series. The sooner, the better.
Extras: clean opening/closing animation; disk credits; also available from Sentai Filmworks