Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni) Fantasy Manga & Anime Review

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Published:

07/08/2022

No matter how old we are, we are never too old to daydream – to imagine fantastic worlds full of spirits, dragons, or superpowers we wish to have. It is a beautiful trait to possess and you should nourish it until your last breath. Why is it beautiful to daydream? Because, people who dream about fantasy worlds and pour their thoughts into novels, movies, games, or paintings leave a part of themselves behind when they are no more.

It is a fulfilling feeling when you create something with your mind and provoke deep feelings in those who read, watch or experience your fantasy treasure. But those who just enjoy other people’s imagination are really lucky to be alive today, as well. Today, when you have so many books, movies, and games at your feet. And manga, of course.

So, now, let me introduce you to another man’s fantasy treasure presented to us by the name “Land of the Lustrous”. Explained in one sentence, it is a fantasy manga about a new jewel-like race that fights against the Moon people (Lunarians) on planet Earth many, many decades after our current time.

But, explained a bit more deeply, we are taken in a time when our planet was struck six times by meteorites and it resulted in destroying life and changing the face of the Earth, leaving only a single island behind. As time goes by, new races appear, jewels who look like us, as humans and they cannot die. Our main character is Phosphophyllite (I know, long name), or simply, Phos. Phos is one of the weakest jewels and such, cannot fight against their enemies, the Moon People (Lunarians). Her hardness is 3,5 which means she breaks easily on impact.

But that doesn’t mean that Phos doesn’t want to prove herself on the battlefield. So, you have people who represent various jewels and their “hardness” affects their position on the battlefield. Throughout this fantasy manga it is quite obvious, the stronger and unbreakable you are, the more value you present in their little society.

The manga was written by Haruko Ichikawa and it appeals to the more mature demographic as it is being categorized as seinen. That is a plus in my book since I do prefer seinen manga. But you won’t find anything unsuitable for the younger audience. It has 11 volumes and it is easy and fast to read. But then again, if you’re not much of a reader, Land of Lustrous was adapted into an anime using CG animation.

Don’t let the CG word scare you, the anime is actually visually stunning and a true gem to the eye. It has 12 episodes and covers most of the events that are portrayed in manga. And so far, only the first 35 chapters were put on screen. In order to know the full story, it would be preferable to pick up the manga first.

To keep my content relevant, I’ll focus on key elements of the Land of the Lustrous – the visuals, the story, the characters, and the overall audience reception. During these four points, I’ll objectively compare the manga and the anime.

Stop reading if you don’t know the plot yet, but are interested to see it in the near future!

SPOILER ALERT!

The Visuals

Land of the Lustrous is presented in a black and white format, but that doesn’t mean it fails to deliver when it comes to stunning visuals, the sparkling exterior of the characters. Haruko Ichikawa creates beautiful and stunning fantasy work, playing mostly with black and white, very rarely using gray in her art. Scenes are vibrant, captured in a fast-moving motion, even though they are nothing but still drawings on the page.

As you read the story, you can almost hear the frailty of the gems during immersive battles. On the other hand, sometimes it is tricky to decipher some of the drawings because a lot is happening or you meet some of the not-so-beautiful fantasy creatures.

Where anime fails are the scenes of pure brutality and sheer finality of some actions. In black and white, beheadings look far more grotesque and gruesome, while in anime, you get accustomed after a second or third slice.

Houseki no Kuni - Fantasy Manga - Lunarians
Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga – Lunarians

What I am trying to say is that as you read the manga, there are scenes where black and white format presents the specific moment more cruelly, and there is no animation to help you fulfill some of the motions. Instead, it is up to you to use your imagination and picture in your mind some scenes colder, more disturbingly, more grotesque… The manga becomes alive in your mind in your own way and the more people read, the more variety of the same novel exists. Fantasy born in our minds is a rather strong and beautiful power we possess. And may I say, sometimes we can imagine more disturbing scenes than what anime does for us.

Anime is in color and it simply lets you enjoy as the story unravels before you in a way that the animators imagined the movements of the characters. The best example here is Diamond, who is really gorgeous in black and white pages and the artwork never fails to show you the crystallization visible on her hair, but it is also stunning to see it in color.

When Phos tells Diamond that she can’t look at her because she shines so brightly, I understood it better when I saw it in color. The color which changed as the sun shined through her crystals, was simply gorgeous. Manga showed us the beautiful sparkle of a diamond, but not at that level. It lacked the vibrancy, the glow, the very hardness of the character’s exterior.

Houseki no Kuni - Fantasy Manga - Diamond
Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga – Diamond

The Story

It is best for me, and for you if I let Sensei, leader of gem-like people describe how it all came to be in his own words.

Six shooting stars once visited this world. All six of them fracturing and giving birth to six moons. Nearly all life fled for the seas, and on the empty shores appeared a lifeform suited to the barren world. Among the prospering life forms, those who were too late to flee sunk to the bottom of the ocean. On the sea floor, they were consumed by microorganisms, transformed into inorganic substances, and over vast stretches of time, they were systematically arranged, forming gemstones. They rose once again to the shores. And they became…

That is how their fantasy legend goes. And they spend their eternity fighting Lunarians who wish to harvest them for their gems. During this time, we are introduced to the different roles each gem has and their everyday conversations. As the story progresses, we learn that before the sixth meteorite struck the planet, humans were still inhabiting the Earth. That part doesn’t really come as a revelation since we knew that it was the planet Earth, we were talking about so there was a good chance that humans lived on it before those six disasters.

In the manga, we learn about their origin in the first chapter, as Phos recites it to Sensei. In anime, it is introduced to us through the narration of the second episode. I honestly don’t mind the difference, I love the narration, but it was fun to imagine Phos all out of breath as she struggled to keep up with Sensei while reciting the origin of their species at the same time.

And as the sixth meteorite struck the planet, it is believed that humans were split to their very core, forming three species – bones, flesh, and soul. Gem-like people could represent bones, Ventricosus and her species Admirabilis the flesh and Lunarians the soul which strives to be whole again. The Lunarians are coming more often now, attacking more frequently and Gems are eager to stop them.

Houseki no Kuni - Fantasy Manga - The Lunarians, Admirabilis, and Gems
Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga – The Lunarians, Admirabilis, and Gems

One thing is rather obvious since they (Gems) are immortal, they don’t experience life the same as someone who will die one day. They don’t understand the concept of death and they don’t feel fear if the winter will be too cold, or summer scorching red. If they break, they will be reassembled. That is how their everyday and entire life looks like. What is interesting, these gems their bodies are made of, retain memory, so if they stay fractured for a thousand years, they can still regain consciousness after gluing those parts back together.

One of the main protagonists, Phos, seen as annoying, useless and fragile, gets her wish fulfilled when Sensei lets her join the battle against Lunarians. Phos, just like all other Gems, strives to make Sensei happy and proud. For him, they will fight and shatter, and fight again. And they never question him, his decisions, or who he is.

But Phos lacks the skill of battle, and the path in front of her isn’t an easy one. Throughout the story, it is just a matter of belonging, friendship, acceptance, and purpose they wish to understand. As time goes by, Phos will discover new talents and change. She will mature, change, take on a new role, and as she grows up, she will start to question everything she was taught before.

Whether you’re immortal or not, everything in nature changes. If things don’t constantly change, would we even exist today? Or maybe it is better to ask this yourself – is it worth living then?

When the winter came, all Gems went to hibernation. Well, all except Phos who couldn’t fall asleep. So she stayed awake with Sensei and learned that while they were asleep every winter, another gem formed in the coldness, called Antarcticite, and was only present during winter. Phos and Antarcticite formed a team and a bond.

It was during this winter that Phos grew up, became stronger, and adapted new metals into herself, but also lost her companion. Because she was weak, Antarcticite tried to keep her safe and lost her life instead. Something, Phos can’t live with. Her main motivation that keeps her going is now the recovery of Antarcticite’s shards.

Houseki no Kuni - Fantasy Manga - Antarcticite
Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga – Antarcticite

As winter goes by, all of her companions wake up and realize that Phos has changed, matured – acted as if that little playful Phos was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, everybody wanted her on their team, talk to her, test her abilities… After everything she went through, now she was visible to them in a way she always dreamed of. But, this time, it wasn’t fulfilling. Not without Antarcticite.

After some time, Phos starts to doubt Sensei and his decisions. Who is he really and are Gems really in his best interest? There is a feeling she can’t let go of since their encounter with the Lunarian who Sensei addressed with “Poor Shiro, what happened to your hand?”, giving him the look of recognition and a pat on the back. As if he was fond of the Lunarian before their eyes.

Phos even asked him does he send Lunarians back on the Moon, believing he shows mercy which he shouldn’t, but he simply responds how he helps them find peace. I don’t want to spoil any more of the plot, but I’m just gonna say, that single moment is where the plot thickens.

That single moment lets Phos see something that was hidden, something that was taken as an undisputed order from Sensei by other Gems. They never question him, but at that moment, a doubt was born in Phos’s heart. There was a moment where she even stopped for a moment and thought to herself, “Have I just allowed myself to imagine the unthinkable?”. Did she just dare to question their leader, their father figure, their Sensei?

Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga & Anime

Her fantasy world came crashing down on her, feeling of overwhelming guilt dared to drown her, and yet, at the same moment, it felt like she put on glasses for the first time in her life.

Strife was created and the Gems were no longer whole.

Phos decided to learn more about Lunarians, try to catch one, and establish a conversation with them. Learn about them and learn from them, are Lunarians more than just enemies who hunt them for their bodies. Could they know something more? Something that would change the entire game of cat and mice they play for centuries?

The deeper I went into this fantasy story, the more I was mesmerized by it.

The Characters

It seems that the characters in this story are gender-neutral, even though I have been using the pronoun she/her throughout this article since they do look feminine. Translation in English used feminine pronouns and the original text in Japanese used male pronouns. For example, when Benito was explaining to Phos where Cinnabar is, Benito used the term “she” or “that girl”. And a bit later, when Phos was inside the slug, everyone addressed her as he.

There are 28 gems formed as humans and they are not all equally important since some of them break more easily than the others. Of course, the number is not static, and there can always appear a new gem. What is nice about this manga is that you are slowly introduced to each character so that the story doesn’t overwhelm you.

These characters are quite memorable and very different from each other, personality-wise and appearance-wise. I really liked Cinnabar because she is separated from the others. The reason is her poison that drips from her body and is harmful to other gems, which she cannot control.

So, Cinnabar keeps her distance from others so that she doesn’t cover their bodies with this poison. They won’t die because of the poison, but the sun won’t be able to light up those parts and they won’t be able to move. That’s why they have a special doctor who scrapes that poison off or heals them if they are in need of anything else.

At the same time, she feels lonely, useless, and unwanted. She is a very contradictory character. On one hand, she keeps resisting the Moon People, and on the other hand, she wants to give up and let them take her away. I know I am talking more about Cinnabar than I should of Phos, but she was definitely more interesting.

Fantasy Manga & Anime Comparison - Phos & Cinnabar
Fantasy Manga & Anime Comparison – Phos & Cinnabar

Phos, on the other hand, everybody sees her as a nuisance, she breaks easily, she serves no purpose in their society and she is just a thorn in their eyes. At least at the beginning. She wants to fight and prove her worth, but Sensei asked her to write an Encyclopedia instead, about everything around them. Each and every character is perfect in its own way, but they are all envious of each other and all they see are virtues in others and flaws in themselves.

For example, Diamond is the shiniest and doesn’t break easily compared to others, but she doesn’t see herself as perfect. She strives to be like Bort. Strong, unbreakable, a better version than what Diamond is now. Anime is better in this area since you can see the color of each character’s hair the entire time, while in the manga you only see it in some instances. Each and every character is memorable, special in its own way and I would say, alive.

Houseki no Kuni - Fantasy Manga - Phosphophyllite
Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga – Phosphophyllite

Every Gem in this fantasy story has struggles, desires, specific movements and it actually invites you to care about them. Wishing you could extend your hand and help them. They don’t seem unbeatable, but rather the opposite. They fight for hundreds and thousands of years and they still lose their companions, they still get shattered and they still wish to be useful to their Sensei. It is a fantasy to us, but an everyday struggle and survival for them.

There is so much I could say about each character, but then you’d be reading a small fantasy book and my purpose is to create a desire to read the manga. You have Gem twins Amethyst 84 and Amethyst 33 who look like identical twins, or Alexandrite who changes the color of her hair when she places her sight on Lunarians and acts like a psycho who got her dose of sugar. Or beautiful Ventricosus (you’ll understand later if you don’t know what I’m saying) who reminds me a bit of Shirahoshi, the princess mermaid from One Piece.

Houseki no Kuni – Fantasy Manga & Anime

The Audience Reception

Well, it is obvious that anime, so far, covered the first 35 chapters of the manga. It is presented to us in 12 episodes in which some things weren’t shown, to keep the pace fast and going. And altering some of the scenes so that the impact is stronger in a reader’s eye. My personal advice is that when it comes to this fantasy, manga definitely contains a lot more of the story. It doesn’t matter which you see first, I believe it is better to read manga and then watch the anime.

Or you can watch the anime and then read the manga from chapter 34 or from the beginning to experience that stunning fantasy work. Again, manga delivers some of the scenes more on point than the anime does. The conversation in manga flows like a river and it makes sense how everything happens. In anime, it sometimes feels like the lines don’t follow the emotion like they were just placed at that moment. For example, when Diamond realizes that Cinnabar knows how to help Phos who is in a slug’s shell. I understand that is hard to achieve, but that scene was better handled in the manga.

But one thing is very important to mention when it comes to this fantasy manga. In a scene when Bort fights against a massive dog-like Lunarian, the animators took liberty with the scene and made it majestic. In the manga, you only get to see one scene where Bort dangles over Lunarian’s head before she makes the impact. And that is pretty much it. In the anime, she travels up his body and blocks his attacks until she reaches that certain point of giving the death blow. And I warmly recommend that you look up that scene and watch it. That is the moment where you don’t blink or you’ll miss that CGI masterpiece.

That is in case you wish to only read the manga, but if you intend to watch anime too, when you get to that point, everything will seem in place and perfectly orchestrated.

I hope I managed to show a bit of Land of Lustrous to you and create interest. I dived very carefully into this story, not really expecting much, but I felt immersed into the story very fast and was really taken by all the gems and how the story grew more complex. I actually wanted it more complex as I read the story and the plot slowly revealed itself to me. I warmly recommend this story at least once in your life and I hope you will be mesmerized as I was.

If you enjoyed this little fantasy read, I warmly recommend, set your eyes on 50 Best Anime With Magic That Will Enchant Your Soul!

Or if you wish something a bit different and brave, read Top 30 Anime with Nudity, Ecchi and Steamy Scenes!

I hope I piqued your interest and that you wish to read this fantasy manga for yourself – Houseki No Kuni Manga Online.

Or you can watch season 1 of Houseki No Kuni.

Categories AnimeAnime ReviewsGraphic NovelsMangaManga Reviews

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