Land of the Lustrous
Episode 9

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Land of the Lustrous ?

In “Spring,” the cold weather is over, but the sunshine and blossoms bring little relief with them. It's clear that Phos will never forget that long lonely winter, and how could they? Phos may be 300 years old, but recent events have made me realize that Land of the Lustrous is their coming-of-age story. Here we have an episode about change, sometimes so sudden and terrifying that it leaves familiar characters and spaces enigmatic and unknowable. This week's episode is a testament to Land of the Lustrous' range—even in a new and serious era for Phos, the story retains a lightness and whimsy that expresses the full emotional spectrum of the series.

Phos has grown a lot. They've cut their hair. They've physically altered their limbs until they are as unrecognizable as their cold new personality. When Kongo observes this change and insists that they rest, Phos numbly refuses: "If I were to stop here... I could not bring myself to face Antarcticite." Phos has become as chilly as the winter they've stayed awake to guard, but that doesn't mean they are emotionless. Rather than an absence of emotion, Phos' new disposition comes from an urge to bury their grief as if beneath the surface of an ice floe. "I'm afraid to even close my eyes now,” Phos says to Antarcticite's remaining shards. “Because every time I do, I see you..." This latest episode makes it clear that Tomoyo Kurosawa has an incredible range as Phos's voice actor. Even as Phos undergoes such a major change, there are still glimmers of the old self just beneath the mask.

Kongo is the first to note how Phos has changed. But when the gems wake up, they're fascinated by Phos's alien new body. The CGI is really paying off now, showing Phos's malleable metal limbs flowing as fluidly as tears. All of the gems who once rebuffed Phos as vain and useless now want to spend all their time breaking, fixing, and observing their comrade. When the newly popular Phos asks for help, Kongo tries to make a joke—and I didn't miss how he reiterated the punchline twice, in the manner of somebody unaccustomed to joking around. Amidst the heavy stuff, the ensemble cast scenes are still filled with humor and sweet moments depicting the gems' more playful sides, all without trivializing Phos's struggle.

And we can't forget about Cinnabar—even if Phos has. Even after the loss of Antarcticite, the greatest tragedy was yet to come: "Cinnabar... is who, exactly?" After so many episodes building up Phos's affection for Cinnabar, this felt like a punch in the gut. Their undying affection for Cinnabar was one of the building blocks of the story. Now, Phos and Cinnabar have nothing to say to one another. Even conflict or misery would be preferable to their reserved exchange, leaving them both alone. "With great power comes a sense of solitude,” Kongo says of Phos. When Bort observes Phos's new strength, Phos can only lament that nothing good has come of it. "I had always dreamed of being out here fighting. Now it's just a dangerous line of work." Phos has everything they ever wanted, but at what cost?

I can't believe I didn't like Phos when I first met them. Now that I've been through their journey from flippant childhood to a severe and brooding adolescence, I see them now as the most relatable and emotive character in Land of the Lustrous. This episode nails the way that trauma changes people a little and then all at once. In a world as foreign to our own as this one, it's gratifying to watch people struggle and overcome their hardships the same way as we do.

Rating: A

Land of the Lustrous is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

Lauren writes about geek careers at Otaku Journalist.

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