Land of the Lustrous
In a distant future, the Jewels (more-or-less humanoid figures, each made of a particular precious or semiprecious stone) battle to keep their master ("Sensei") and each other safe from attacks by beings called the Lunarians, but it's been a war of attrition that the Jewels aren't winning. But two of the Jewels think there's more than meets the eye here.
It's interesting to speculate about what our descendants in "deep time" (thousands of years or more in the future) might be like, and what they'll be doing; or, if our species doesn't make it, what a successor species to ours (if there IS one) will be doing. But it can be a bit depressing, too. Humans didn't invent predation of, cruelty toward, or exploitation of, others; the biological world already had done that. (We didn't even invent war; as Them's! Dr. Medford said, even ants have THAT.) But thousands of years of civilization have failed to purge these dark desires to inflict harm from us- as events occurring even as I'm writing this (late February 2022) are acutely reminding everyone. No, I fear that whatever sentient creatures are born of Earth in the future, human or otherwise, won't enjoy the luxury of being pacifists, whether it's humans who've moved to another world (Simoun), or even mineral beings such as the Jewels in Land of the Lustrous.
Now, while I know the Jewels don't really HAVE genders, I may occasionally use feminine pronouns for them in this review. Partly it's because their VA's are female. Partly it's their iridescent hair styles (the only part of their mineral bodies you actually SEE unless they're damaged; the rest is covered with pasty makeup.) Partly it's because their general physiques seem female- with the exception of an apparent lack of breasts. (They are extremely lanky, though.)
But the main reason I'm doing this is because their leader ("Sensei") is apparently male, and "his" relationship to the Jewels seemed to me one of traditional male exploitation of females. While he is apparently able to literally "smoke" the invading Lunarians with just a wave of his hand, he nevertheless has the Jewels be the first line of defense, letting them be subjected to being blasted into shards and/or captured by the Lunarians- and the Jewels' numbers, already meager, keep dwindling. There's something strange going on here, but there's a subtext in the show that only two Jewels who are NOT deeply part of The System can feel free to ask hard questions about it. One's an actual outcast; the other wants to fit in, but can't quite manage it.
Phosphophyllite (Phos for short) is the main character, and is the one who wants to be a regular member of the defensive force, but is not considered tough enough (only 3.5 on Moh's 10-point hardness scale), and is inept as well, so Sensei has to give her an apparently make-work job to justify her continuing existence in the group. In fairness, those weaknesses of hers are real enough, and, despite their dismissive attitudes toward her, the other Jewels nevertheless DO make concerted efforts to save her when her carelessness and/or bad judgement causes her to face nearly complete destruction. (This happens more than once, by the way.) But she hears voices the others don't- even if some of those voices urge her to do some seemingly ill-advised things- and the "microorganisms" that give the Jewels life in HER case seem willing to accept replacement parts that are not exactly factory equipment. (Phos "goes through some things", as Mr. Trump would say, but while the Wiki article on the show suggests that her personality undergoes a gradual transition, I would say that there's a MAJOR change in her demeanor after a particular event.)
The other Jewel who, because she ALSO is not part of the status quo, is willing to give it a hard look, is the TRUE outcast. Her name is Cinnabar, which is mercury sulfide. (She always has little globules of mercury floating around her.) Her chemistry makes her toxic even to the other Jewels- her very touch can damage them- so she's effectively in exile, assigned "night duty" (even though the Lunarians supposedly never attack at night), and having a cave as her residence instead of the comfortable building the others share. But, again, we're shown that outsiders can see things that insider's can't- and have a freedom to question that insiders don't.
As far as I can tell, the Lustrous backstory- how things got to this point- falls more in the realm of fantasy rather than science fiction, and some of this (particularly the business with the snail) ventures frankly into the surreal, but I can be cool with that (see comments on the "Doorbell" and "Toujin Kit" segments of Genius Party), and the Jewels are a mostly pleasant lot (except for maybe Bort, their strongest warrior, who carries a chip on her shoulder most of the time.) There are occasional flashes of wit and humor- I liked the Amethyst twins, and found Diamond surprisingly sensitive for someone with a hardness of 10. But most of my sympathy was for Cinnabar, an outcast through no fault of her own.
I usually find CG-generated characters to be too pallid and lifeless, but come to think of it, that's EXACTLY how you'd EXPECT rock people covered with makeup to look, so it seemed fitting here. (The liquid-metal FX I thought a bit excessive, though.)
The Lunarians are depicted as kind of living statuary, with an obvious nod to Hindu iconography. They reminded me quite a bit of the visual design of the Shangri-La "Assault Ships" in Noein. Other anime series I could name with Indian artistic influence include Children Who Chase Lost Voices and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind-it's even more obvious in Miyazaki's manga version of the latter.
I did have a quibble: at one point a Jewel is chemically digested and re-precipitated. Since the usual method for repairing a Jewel is literally to paste her broken pieces together, I didn't see how this could work in THIS case, since the re-formed material wouldn't have the same shape as the original pieces.
I enjoyed this quite a bit, though I wish there was more OF it. (Apparently there's only the one season of the anime, but the manga continued the events beyond what's here.) For a different (albeit much more "adult") take on what Rock People might be like, try N. K. Jemisin's novel series The Broken Earth. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Amazon actually rates this one! They give it TV-14, for violence I guess; there's one actual "death", and quite a few...shattering experiences.
Version(s) Viewed: Amazon Prime video stream
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Land of the Lustrous © 2017 Haruko Ichikawa, Kodansha/"Land of the Lustrous" Committee.
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