Land of the Lustrous‘s first episode is incredible.
Anime is good right now. There’s countless shows, both airing and in my backlog, that I’m enjoying or hope to enjoy. Really, I have too much on my plate. Yet. With such harsh competition Land of the Lustrous still stands out.
Lustrous boasts a rich and expressive use of colour elevating itself from the ‘standard’ anime palettes. This isn’t to say shows like Girl’s Last Tour are disappointing this season. Not even in the slightest. Last Tour‘s post apocalyptic war-scape washed over by white snow, is genuinely beautiful and effective. It is simply the case that when it comes to powerful scenery. Emotionally charged colour palettes, and a Certain Kind of world setting. Lustrous nails exactly the kind of aesthetics that I love from anime. Where emotional realities are the focus, and world building for the sake of presenting a world takes the backseat.
Lustrous‘ world setting isn’t merely allegorical or fantastical in its own right either. Phos, our protagonist, is given the job of creating an encyclopedia of the world. As the only Gem without a job, in this world of quasi-immortal crystaline people. This set up presents us a lens from which we, the viewers, can explore and learn of the world. However, Phos isn’t alone. We aren’t simply exploring this world and learning of it’s mechanics and customs. The relationship between Phos and Cinnabar promises to be integral. A show which simply showed me Cool Stuff TM would matter very little to me. A show that is showing me Cool Stuff TM via a lens of humanity and our relationships. That means everything.
Humanity in a show about person-like rocks may seem contradictory, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. ‘Humanity’ isn’t about DNA. It isn’t about flesh and blood. The separation of “what it means to be a person” from “what it means to be a human” really isn’t a distinction we need to make. Whilst I cannot remember nor find where I read it, the idea that if we were to discover rational life on Mars, they too could be human is probably correct. Nier;Automata also manages this. Throughout playing it you will never meet a human animal, but the humanity within the androids and robots that form the characters of that game are undeniable. They may have different requirements, different capacities, and different conceptions of the world but they are still emotional, rational, thinking beings. Even as they struggle under the oppression of humanity’s history.
The characters in Lustrous are similar. They are constructed out of, partly, inorganic material. They are thinking rocks. They shatter. They melt. Yet they can survive and be rebuilt. Pieced back together from the crystalline fragments of their previous whole. They are gems shaped like androgynous children. Waif-like and wiry. While they certainly fit within ‘traditional’ androgynous expectations, which can be frustrating as a general trend for gender nonconforming characters, that also allows their underlying immortality all the more horrifying. The body horror they can live through is simply brutal. A reminder that they definitely are something Other. They aren’t human.
Yet. Phos is a lazy rock. They wish to fight, even though they cannot. They laze around, back-chat, and are an absolute brat. Those are not the actions of someone without humanity. To aspire, to dream. These are all traits we would only expect from people (or in this case a character that we are to take as being a person). Their inhumanity is juxtaposed with the clear and blatant humanity. The fact they can survive such horrendous acts, the fact such horrendous acts are so unimportant to them, doesn’t weaken how brutal it is to see it. They are human and they are not.
Cinnabar is a toxic rock. They exude a poison that corrupts and destroys those around them. They are unapproachable. Lustrous may be presenting us with a world and society drastically different to ours. Our conceptions of gender, sexuality, and personhood may be inapplicable. But that never stopped Simoun from being queer all the way through. Cinnabar’s a coded character. Self-destructive, self-denying, and cursed through their own existence. It would be very difficult for me not to latch on and project my own humanity onto them, for even amongst the queerness of the setting, Cinnabar is still depicted as diegetically queer.
The episode opens with Cinnabar curled up in an archway of rock. Twin moons shining down on their solitude. An archway of rock and the tranquil sea depicts them as isolated, even as their own reddish colour pervades the rock around them. Whilst summaries online promise Lustrous will be a action-fantasy show, more than that this episode promises it will be an incredibly lonely show. Cinnabar and Phos both lack a place in the world. A place to belong to. Phos lacks a role that they can fulfil, and want to fulfil. Eudaimonia, the ability to flourish, evades them. Whilst Cinnabar has been giving a job that which appears useless and ultimately serves to separate them from the rest of their society.
They’re both fundamentally isolated people.
They’re both fundamentally lonely.