(This post contains spoilers for the animated adaptation of Land of the Lustrous.)
” (…) even if we break into pieces, as long as we collect enough parts, we can be put back together. (…) But thanks to that, we have grown completely incapable of giving up on anything”.
A land populated by mesmerizing beings who dwell in time frames beyond those of humans. I was quite tickled that this setting could provide such a touching example of a coming-of-age story.
I could choose to bring up so many separate aspects of inhumanity found within Land of the Lustrous, at least on a surface level. Some are slight tweaks of little narrative importance – biological/geological differences in body composition between the gemfolk and our kind, for instance. Others are so emblematic of the core premise, so synonymous with experiences of loss depicted, and still so very alien – the notion that their breaking is both physical and mental, memories and “bones” melded into one. There’s obviously an argument in favor of we as humans also seeing physical and mental changes go hand in hand, but never to this extent or with these immediate repercussions.
The lustrous are born in an island, surrounded by a vastness that matters not. They are taken in, taught, catered to and trained. They begin fighting, and then continue doing so for the rest of their lives, an infinite amount of time that stands only as a question mark lightly remarked upon. What do the lustrous wish for in the midst of this haze? What do they see in the future? Time is for them something seemingly marked by losses and gains.
Was everyone okay at White Hill today?
Did you find anyone new at the Chord Shore?
Who replaced Antarcticite while we slept?
An eerie foe awaiting a stutter in their thought processes, a dull reflex, a miscalculation, an emotional burst – removing one of them time and time again. On and on, they defend themselves and complete routine tasks, finding joy in companionship and in their beloved Sensei, forestalling the end to their eternal watch. No final victories, only temporary successes awarded with head pats.
In such a stagnant environment it’s therefore no wonder that someone like Phosphophyllite (or any of the other gems, for that matter) could still be around after centuries of napping under the sun. A 300-year old gem with whom we of soft flesh and brittle life spans could empathize with and root for.
Immersed in the setting’s intricacies, I was astonished by the sincerity and crushing weight of Phos’ challenges. The humanity in their efforts and reactions, emotions and desires. For Cinnabar they wracked their mind and heart so, for Ventricosus they traveled far into the blue-green expanse, and for Antarc they braved shrieking ice and resolute Lunarians. The green-hued gem’s struggle for purpose repeatedly lands them in the pits of despair and regret, the waves of failure gently crashing into them, on the receiving end of disappointed looks, pitying smiles.
Little by little Phos rebuilds who they are, salvaging bits and pieces from each new experience. Just like humans, the lustrous are resilient (or is it the other way around?). Dreams of valor found in battle turn dour with trauma, fallen comrades haunt the hallways at night. Doubts and anxiety bite at their heels, and the powdered finish becomes one of many masks worn in front of others.
In the end, for all they may have changed, they’re still recognizable – look far enough into the weary eyes and you’ll find an unmistakable glint of playfulness, a goofy and well-intentioned sparkle. Trapped reflections of past times shining through.
The personal journey that Phos undergoes resonated with me, brimming with emotion.
It left me yearning for more, about them as well as about all the other lustrous. Dia and their self-confidence and self-esteem issues, their multi-faceted relationship with Bort mixing admiration, tenderness and deep resentment. Cinnabar and their altruistic resolution to abandon all hope of a normal life and shared bonds, a self-loathing exile waiting to be taken away. Faded Yellow Diamond, unrelenting Rutile, studious Alexandrite fanning their hatred, and many more. Their grief and their loneliness was palpable.
Land of the Lustrous threw me into a vortex. Even now under still, gleaming waters, I can only look back, write and hope against hope that more will follow of this beautiful, gripping tale.