Land of the Lustrous
by Paul Jensen,
Hello, 2019! We're back to business as usual just in time for the first releases of the new year, so let's jump right into it. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Land of the Lustrous
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Shelf Life Reviews
I took a look at Land of the Lustrous for this week's review, and I even managed to get through the whole thing without making a "diamond in the rough" joke. You're welcome.
The story is set on an isolated island, which is home to sentient, humanoid beings made out of living crystal. While they're effectively immortal since they can be put back together after even the gravest of injuries, they live under constant threat from another species known as the Lunarians, who try to break them apart and harvest them like precious stones. Phosphophyllite, or Phos for short, is a particularly fragile gem who has been tasked with compiling an encyclopedia instead of fighting against the Lunarians. Phos quickly gets sidetracked from that task after meeting Cinnabar, a gem who patrols the island alone at night. Cinnabar carries a corrosive toxin and is therefore isolated from the rest of the gems, but Phos vows to find a more fulfilling purpose for Cinnabar.
While I normally wait until later in my reviews to talk about a show's art and animation, both of those are of particular importance in Land of the Lustrous. This is one of Those Darn 3DCG Shows, which typically come with caveats like, “If you can just ignore the clunky character animation, it's actually pretty good!” In this case, however, I feel like I can recommend Land of the Lustrous without any of those little qualifying statements. I've watched a fair number of CG anime over the years, and this the first time I've felt comfortable saying that this style of animation actually makes the show better. Whether it's the sparkling, translucent appearance of the characters' hair or the way they crack and shatter when they're injured, these crystal people might as well have been tailor-made to play to the strengths (and mask some of the weaknesses) of CG. Apart from a few brief moments of awkward motion, I was generally able to sit back and watch Land of the Lustrous without being distracted by any of the computer animation. The visuals look natural and intentional, and that's exactly what needs to happen if this technique is ever going to be viable from an artistic standpoint.
Of course, there's also a story and some characters lurking behind the headline-grabbing animation. Between the stark, otherworldly qualities of the setting and the non-human nature of the main characters, I'd argue that Land of the Lustrous feels as much like an old myth or fable as it does a modern piece of entertainment. You'll need a bit of patience to really get into this one; it doesn't fit neatly into any obvious otaku niches, and the questions it poses don't always come with clear or satisfying answers. Still, it's an enjoyable series to watch as long as you're willing to meet it on its own terms, and it feels fresh and creative from beginning to end. The writing touches on some intriguing themes and ideas, and the story takes Phos on a compelling journey from being the unreliable new kid to a tough but world-weary member of the team. It's quite a dramatic character arc, too; any strength Phos gains comes at a serious cost, and there are a few scenes that will absolutely break your heart if they catch you off-guard.
I do have a few gripes here, and most of them stem from the length of the series. At just twelve episodes, Land of the Lustrous is too short for the world it's trying to build and the story it's trying to tell. There are a lot of loose ends left hanging around at the end, including seemingly important characters who disappear after a few episodes and sinister secrets that are openly hinted at but never properly revealed. Even Cinnabar, who is supposedly one half of the show's central relationship, gets surprisingly little screen time. While Phos gets a full and satisfying character arc, the overall narrative feels like it's barely gotten through its first act by the time the final credits roll. Unless another season gets made at some point, you may need to look to the original manga for a proper ending.
This Blu-Ray release from Sentai Filmworks sits somewhere between a standard set and a full-on collector's edition. It comes in a steelbook case with a slip cover, and the cover essentially acts as a visual frame for the metallic box art on the steelbook. The overall effect is pretty cool, and it's one of the better-looking package designs I've seen in recent years. Sadly, the on-disc extras are pretty sparse, though there is a full Spanish dub along with the Japanese and English audio tracks. I went back and re-watched a few episodes with the English dub after going through the whole series in Japanese, and from what I can tell it's a solid production across the board. I also have to give both the dub script and the subtitle track bonus points for avoiding using gendered pronouns for the mostly genderless cast without being overly awkward or obvious about it.
Land of the Lustrous may be a bit of an acquired taste, as you'll need to give the story a couple episodes to get going before it really becomes compelling. Even then, it's the kind of series that you need to pay attention to and engage with in order to get the most out of it, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as easy genre entertainment. It is, however, a clever and compelling show, and it'll stick around in the back of your mind for quite a while after you watch it. If it flew under your radar when it first came out, now's as good a time as any to give it a shot.
That's all for this week. We got our first Shelf Obsessed entry in quite a while during the holiday break, so come back next week to check that out along with our next review. Thanks for reading!
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